Producer duo Mike & Keys have been in the game for almost a decade. Formerly known as the Futuristiks, they have created an extensive catalog and a solid resume of production credits working with prominent artists like Eminem, 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Lupe Fiasco, Jeremiah, Skeme, Problem, Dom Kennedy, and Nipsey Hussle. They were a primary catalyst for Nipsey Hussle‘s highly-anticipated debut studio album Victory Lap. A key part of the recording process and students of the game, they relentlessly continued to sharpen their skills and craft while working on Nipsey’s album for well over two months at Paramount Studios in Hollywood, California. Hip-Hop continues to grow within the culture, but finding humble producers who stay true to the saying “You get out what you put in” is rare and obsolete. Mike & Keys are looking to pave their own lane in a very competitive field where artists are waiting for plays to happen. They took initiative while sharing their story.
RESPECT.: Tell me a little bit about yourselves from the beginning?
Mike: My name is Michael and I’m originally from Hammond, La. and I’ve been doing music probably for about 10 years. You know I’ve been blessed to be able to be in the music industry and meet all the people we’ve met in the years we’ve been in the industry. We’re still learning as we speak. It’s 2017 and we’ve been doing this since 2008.
Keys: This is Keys. My real name is John Groover and I’m originally from Sacramento, Ca. How I started doing music, my dad was a pastor in church. I never played in church but I’ve always been around musicians. I hung out with them and that’s pretty much how I was able to be inspired by the music, it was being in church. I just took it serious when I was senior in high school and like somebody came up to me and told me “You should do music. There’s something about you that you have a talent for music”. He was like, “You probably don’t see it yet but you definitely have that gift”. So, I basically went to pursue that dream and got it cracking.
RESPECT.: When y’all talk about growing up and your childhood inspirations what was the music and the sound that came with it? Who did you listen to?
Keys: Definitely moms and pops, they had a bunch of records. They had the Janet Jacksons and the Marvin Gayes and all that Motown stuff. I was always brought up in the Soul genre like Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. When I got older in high school, I was listening to J Dilla and DJ Premier and of course Snoop. All of that hip-hop, you know, was just a bunch of music that I was inspired by.
Mike: I mean for me, my dad was in a men’s mass choir with all of my uncles. It was like 12 of my uncles and then like 8 of my cousins. They was in a mass choir called Sweet Home Baptist Church mass choir. So my dad always collected like Rance Allen and The Canton Spirituals. I was always listening to that early on just that’s how I really got inspired by the music. The first person was really Rance Allen in music and then obviously I grew into hip-hop like Timberland, Dr.Dre, Snoop, Hi-Tek obviously but it definitely started from gospel music first. Like that’s all we listen to in my house was gospel music 24/7.
RESPECT.: As far as gospel inspirations in your youth, were you in the choir?
Mike: I played the drums. I definitely played the drums in the choir from a child on until I got 18. I definitely learned in church you learn timing first more than anything so that helped me with timing being in church.
RESPECT.: How did you two meet as far as the whole team and collaboration?
Keys: I knew a guy named Phonics first. He was part of our group, The Futuristiks and that’s pretty much how I ended up meeting Mike. There was a lot of us like 6 or 7 of us but then it ended up being me and him. So like 2008, I was in San Diego with him and we just started making music together and then we ended up moving out here to Los Angeles and built a career off that.
RESPECT.: As far as now, y’all had 6 or 7 people then what makes the chemistry work between you two as far as getting the work done now?
Keys: The trust. It’s like a trust thing. I trust his ears and he trusts mines. We both know how to do the same thing making music wise so it’s a trust thing. We trust each other musically.
RESPECT.: Explain to me what is your day to day routine. Do you both get up in the morning and it’s like “Hey bro it’s time to go to work”?
Mike: We pretty much have a set schedule Monday through Friday. It’s not a job but it’s a job. We have a schedule where we get to the studio like 11 or 12 everyday. Some days we have scheduled sessions with certain artist sometimes we have stuff that we are working on ourselves. It just varies but we definitely have a Monday through Friday. It usually ends up being Saturday too. We try to get at least one day off on Sundays just to spend time with our families. I have a daughter and we all are family people. We always try to do that. We put in a lot more work in the studio, more than people would think.
RESPECT.: As far as being in the studio, is it a 40-hour week, is there any overtime?
Mike & Keys: Definitely overtime.
RESPECT.: So you both are producers on Nipsey Hussle’s debut album Victory Lap. How did ya’ll create that chemistry and become a part of that process?
Mike: We’ve been working with Nipsey since 2012 and just the building process, I think what people don’t understand about music is like when you make music with someone you guys have to be friends first. You can’t just be sporadic people, so us working on this album has definitely been a working progress and plan that we’ve all have been working on for a very long time. So when people ask us are you guys the executive producers, are you guys the main producers. Yes, we are one of the main producers but we definitely have been there with Nip everyday since the beginning process of the album.
RESPECT.: So in addition to Victory Lap, did ya’ll have more hands-on with past projects too?
Mike: Yes, for instance with the Slauson Boy 2 project and with the ‘Marathon Mondays’ those projects wasn’t the plan. That was just us working on Victory Lap and we knew that we couldn’t put out Victory Lap right now but we had to put out some music. So we just started putting pressure on ourselves to make music every week, to come out with some new content just to see what people would think.
Keys: A lot of those songs, Nip had already but we just switched them up and put new beats on them. He had verses but we made songs out of his verses and added somebody with a hook and put a feature. For instance, the one with Freeway. He had a verse already that was on another beat but we took that and put it all together.
RESPECT.: Was Marathon Monday all created like last year or was that compilation of records over the past few years?
Mike: That was all last year.
Keys: We did all of that literally every Monday like last minute. Sunday nights clocking in.
RESPECT.: So when he said April it’s go-time y’all got it going?
Mike: Yea, we was like we gotta do something. What can we do in the music game that nobody is doing. We are going to drop a song every Monday. We were like a song, it’s whatever. If the song is a minute if it’s three minutes whatever, we are going to drop a song. We have to like, we put pressure on ourselves to do it every Monday. We knew the fans would want it.
RESPECT.: So let’s say now with the completion of the album. That’s the momentum and the anticipation of now like bro,it’s a career changing thing. How do y’all feel about the work ya’ll are putting in and just knowing paying your dues is going to pay off while ya’ll are becoming a masters of your craft?
Mike: I mean for us, we’re just happy that Nipsey gave us the opportunity to like produce an album versus giving artist beats. I think what we are really good at doing is like producing an album, calling in producers and writers. It’s not just about us, it’s about you know sometimes you have the right people around to make it happen. I think Nipsey trusted us with that. He trusted us like to bring in people because we would always press Nipsey like “Man like us do this and let us do that”. He was like “Well then ya’ll do it then”. We started taking initiative and started doing it like you know. He said the song Picture Me Rollin’ it got Kent from Overdoz on it. That was a song we did it was just a verse on it and we like had to put somebody on it to make it sound tight. I sent a text message to Kent and he came in the next day and did the hook and then the song was out and people really liked. Then, like a week later we seen it on Duke basketball’s website. Man, that meant something to us. The music that we are making is motivation music for athletes. We love sports first of all and we are competitive so I think we are making music for people that are competing, whatever athlete. It can be a baseball player, basketball player, or a soccer player. I think that energy is the same. That’s what we try to portray in our music.
RESPECT.: When it comes to hip-hop culture, what does RESPECT. mean to you?
Mike: I think it comes from respecting where you come from and respecting your elders. I think that is the real key. For instance you know, in hip-hop at one time you could sample just for the love of it. Now it became a real business, you can’t sample no more. Our thing is when you say respect, when I think of respect, if we’re going to sample Daz from a Tupac album and we know Daz made that beat. Why would we sample the record? Why don’t we just call Daz and have Daz come in studio and create a vibe with Daz versus just trying to sample it and tamper with his record? That’s what we called respect because we respect Daz and what he has done. A lot of people be in love with something so much and don’t know why they love it but then don’t respect it and we respect it. We sample and we understand what respect means in hip-hop and it’s everything. I think there’s no greater feeling than respecting it while you like it. On respect, you have to respect the game. People like Rance and 1500 or Nothin’ have been in the game for a minute. When you say respect the game, we was able to learn from them and just and not be in the way and just be able to learn and that’s like the respect for them. When you ask what is respect that’s respect.
Keys: Just you know like, you gotta respect the people that did it before you and that shows for the generation that’s ahead of us and younger than us. If we show respect to people that was older than us then it’ll show back. That’s my take on respect.
RESPECT.: Going into the next chapter of Mike & Keys, what can we expect, what’s next?
Keys: Our album and putting everybody we messed with like 1500 and cats like Nip, everybody all of our friends, we want to make album with all the homies and make a compilation of that and let the world hear it.
Mike: It’s something we definitely been working on, you know what i’m saying. We’ve got a lot of songs with artists and songs that we actually like and put on a compilation. When people think about compilation it’s not just us doing beats. It just really putting out a fire project for people to love, you know because now it’s Apple Music and Spotify. You can really tune in on what you like. We can make two versions or three versions of what we have and they enjoy it. It doesn’t necessarily be a lot but it’s just going to be really good music. That’s the goal, putting out our own music and just keep putting our own music out however it is.