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Mike Dean on Weed, Producing for Tupac, and Watch The Throne 2

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Fame is an arbitrary thing. Mike Dean could walk down a crowded Manhattan street without nary a glance in his direction. Yet if you read album credits you’ll see Mike Dean listed on genre defining releases like Scarface’s Untouchable and pretty much every album Kanye has ever put out. He may not be famous, but you can bet a lot of famous people know him. And that recognition is growing at increasingly rapid pace.

Not only did he teach Selena (yes the slain singer from Texas) how sing properly he also produced arguably Pac’s last record, Scarface’s “Smile.” These days he’s still in the mix (get it?) with the Gods of the game namely Jay-Z, who Dean has been working with on and off since the 1990s.

Now with Watch the Throne 2 on deck and who knows what other crazy shit Kanye and Jay have cooking up, Dean is still working with the best in the business and it’s only going up from here.

What’s up Mike Dean? Good to see you.
Thanks man. Likewise.

So we covered a lot of stuff about how you got started out in the biz with Selena last time we spoke. I’m going straight to rap this time. What the fuck is up with Watch the Throne 2?
[Laughs] Too soon to talk about that. Work is under way but I’m superstitious about talking about things prematurely. When 808s and Heartbreaks came out Kanye didn’t use any of my mixes so I tend to keep this quiet until it’s certain.

That’s reasonable. You’re a humble dude too. I’m sure you don’t want to brag.
[Laughs] Maybe.

So, shit man. You’re working with Kanye and Jay, which is like top tier. But some people don’t know you’re also working with some of the young boys too.
Yeah that’s right. Been working a lot with Freddie Gibbs. We’re making a lot of good music together. I always liked, like gangster rap. I’ve worked with Big KRIT who I think is very talented also in a different way.

Well that’s still the upper crust of the relatively new crop of rappers. Anybody who we might be surprised by?
Angel Haze.

So how is it working with Jay versus ‘Ye?
Well… it’s the same. They’re the same in a way. They’re both about pushing boundaries.

So I just found out recently you made “Smile” for Scarface and Tupac?
Yeah.

What was Pac like in the studio?
Quick. He was very quick. He wrote a lot of verses right there in the studio. He’d be working on several things at the same time. I was pretty angry when he died. Sad but angry.

So you smoke a lot of weed. How do you manage to do that and still maintain such high output?
I don’t know. It helps me concentrate. It helps me with my knee pain. [Laughs]

Is that how you get the script in Cali? Tell them you have chronic knee pains?
[Laughs]

Let’s get back to the music. How did you feel the overall reception has been for Yeezus?
It’s been great.

Do you think people got it or do you feel like maybe it went over their heads?
Well everyone is doing like A, B, C so it takes a second to catch up to Ye’s shit, you know? The bubble that people are in… takes a second to get used to the advanced [unintelligible]. Eventually though, they’ll like a drum pattern here and a verse there and they get it.

So what’s a day like for you?
I get up in the morning. I smoke. Watch TV and make some tracks. Lately I’ve been getting out into this nice weather swimming, walking, biking, moving around.

How important is it to have a home studio?
Some people need to get up and go to the studio when they want to work. Like maybe the discipline isn’t there to work from home. But I’d rather have the studio here so I can work whenever I feel like it.

Do you find that you work better during the day or are you like a night owl with it?
Depends. It changes all the time. It sometimes depends how what I’m working on at the moment really.

Do people ever act funny towards you being a white dude in a predominantly black genre?
Nah. Not anymore anyway. Early on maybe but Rap-A-Lot wasn’t like that at all so overall, no.

So what’s the most important thing you’ve learned after the Rap-A-Lot experiences?
Publishing. Have that straightened out. When I was younger I didn’t really care. But it’s important figuring out publishing and points. Also with the live shit. That’s a side of me I was always missing. Now touring with Kanye that’s in my life.

That was a big part of your life right? Because you came in the game touring with Selena.
Yeah I like to tour. It’s fun. Aside from the Kanye stuff I’ve been getting more into DJing.
Oh man! That would be crazy! What kind of stuff would you play? All Rap-A –Lot?
[Laughs] No all kinds of shit.

Ha. Like your career.
Yup. All kinds of shit over here.

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