We recently caught up with Producer/Songwriter Mike City for an interview on Instagram Live. During our conversation, we talked about his origins as an artist, linking up and helping to introduce Sunshine Anderson, creating “I Wish” for Carl Thomas, creating “Full Moon” for Brandy, working with Donell Jones, Dave Hollister, Usher, JoJo and El DeBarge, and what he’s currently working on.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s start out talking about your own album “City Limits”. Take us back to Mike City as a young singer/songwriter/producer.
Mike City: Just having fun and trying to do me. Not really abiding by any rules in particular, just doing me. Like you said, I was really early on the rapping and singing. I knew it was going to get to that. Just having fun. I got to spend a lot of time in Miami, doing the album down there.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What influenced you to rap and sing to begin with?
Mike City: I don’t know. I love hip hop and I love all types of music. Really when I started getting into producing, I wasn’t really on R&B like that. I was on Hip-Hop beats.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about some of the hits you’ve created in R&B. Start with the Sunshine Anderson debut album. You discovered her and helped create “Heard It All Before”, “Lunch or Dinner”, that whole album. Talk about creating that album.
Mike City: Me and Sunshine go back, we went to college together. I was leaving and she was coming in. I think one of my friends from choir told me I had to hear her sing. So I went and met her, and we were talking, and I asked her to sing. I told her to sing “Baby Don’t Cry” by Lalah Hathaway. When she sang that joint, I knew it was a wrap, we had to work together. I knew right then that she had what it took.
YouKnowIGotSoul: “Heard It All Before” is still such anthem to this day.
Mike City: The crazy part about it is, I forgot I even had the beat for it. I was playing it and we had started working on her album, and she said she wanted the beat. It was so easy to write because the song was really truth. I knew the dude. It was easy and true. She had to even laugh because I knew the dude the song was about! A lot of times in people’s album, those types of songs come late. That was the second or third song we did, so we knew we had that already. I did that record way before Carl Thomas’ song came out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about that Sunshine Anderson album in terms of working with a brand new artist and help break her career.
Mike City: It’s special because we go back. We were working since her freshman year in college. When we were finally able to give her the call that we were going to go to L.A. In the music industry, there are a lot of false starts. It’s just crazy how everything goes down. I remember one time I went to a show with her and Leelah James. We were all together and they didn’t have my tickets at the door. I was mad. Mind you, it was Carl Thomas and Dave Hollister headlining the show, and their managers didn’t have my tickets at the door. And I was with Sunshine and Leelah James. We left and went to go get something to eat. But a month or two later, everybody knew who Sunshine Anderson was. And a year or two later, everybody knew who Leelah James was. It’s just crazy how everything works out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You worked on a few albums with Sunshine Anderson. What’s your chemistry like with her?
Mike City: We just get each other, I can’t even describe it. Her voice is just so different and lovely at the same time.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You wrote the Carl Thomas song “I Wish” as well. What do you remember about creating that song?
Mike City: That song is a true story as well. I need to find her and buy her a real nice dinner! I used to live in North Carolina, so I had go back and vote one time. I remember seeing her from a distance and I didn’t know it was her, and I was about to get at her again! It just came together. A friend of mine was cool with Carl, and knew he was looking for songs. That was going to be my record! I wasn’t even thinking about shopping the record! Carl loved it and we went and met with Puff at Daddy’s House. I was up there working with Ruff Ryders at Yonkers at the time. We went to Daddy’s House for the meeting, and my friend had on a Ruff Ryders shirt, and I don’t know if Puff got mad, that might have been when The Lox and Puff thing was going down. Long story short, he kicked us out of the studio! A week later they called me back, Puff came and got me. The next thing you know, I get kicked out Daddy’s House, to being up in Electric Lady Studios and Hit Factory!
YouKnowIGotSoul: After getting hits on newer artists like Sunshine Anderson and Carl Thomas, what doors did that open for you?
Mike City: It opened up a lot of doors, but you’ve got to be ready for it. You got to stay grounded and can’t be overwhelmed. When the time came, I was ready. I said let’s go. After Carl, Dave Hollister worked with me, that was great. Jimmy Cozier was after that. Then I started working with Brandy and I actually met a lot of people through her, she knows everybody.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the work you did on that Dave Hollister album “Chicago ‘85…The Movie”.
Mike City: Dave is a beast. He’s one of those singers when you hear him sing, you say Lord! So when we got together, we did “Keep on Lovin”. Then after that, I had the song “One Woman Man” for him, and he didn’t even want to do it! I never demoed the song, we were just sitting and I sang it to him. He liked it but didn’t want to sing it. Then Gerald Busby from his label DreamWorks came in and heard it. He told Dave he needed him to do the song. He said it would be the first single before we even cut a verse! So Dave agreed to do it. We had to set the whole mood in the studio, I told him let’s make it feel like we are in a lounge, and smooth it out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Not only is Dave Hollister a vocal beast, he’s so versatile. Very underrated artist.
Mike City: With people like Dave and Carl, half the time we are in the studio messing around. Because when it comes time to cut the record, we can cut the record so quickly, they are so great. One time, me and Tank did a song that never came out, but Tank came in and did the song in an hour and it was good! Then he went to go catch a flight. I remember when I did “Love It” with Bilal, he chewed gum the whole time! That was how he recorded the record. Jimmy Iovine came in laughing. After he did that session, he took a flight and went to Paris. Crazy.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Is it tougher with newer artists? Does it take longer and take more patience?
Mike City: It depends. I know what the talent level is going in. So you know how hard you can push someone. I’ll be honest, there have been certain situations on even major labels where I had to stop and tell the A&R, I didn’t know how that artist is signed. We can’t work miracles. You want to work with people and have fun. But I’ve been spoiled. These are top echelon singers. Even before I started doing records, I was working with people like Crystal Johnson. If you aint right, they will look at you sideways! These singers know what they are doing, you have to be able to communicate and speak the same language. You have to know what you’re doing and they have to have a belief in you that you know what you’re doing. I was working with Kelly Price one time, and I walked somebody out to the car, I came back, and she was basically done with the record! She’s a beast. I get along with those singers, I understand them. I know who a beast is within 5 to 10 seconds too.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Did you get that impression from JoJo when you worked with her on her first album?
Mike City: I knew she was beast level immediately. I worked with Chris Brown as well, early on. They took the song off at the last minute. But I’m probably one of the first people who told Chris Brown he could write and he had something in him. We did this song called “You”. His whole energy, I knew he had something to say.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Let’s talk about your work with Brandy. You did “Full Moon” with her, and even songs later than that, like “Open”. Talk about the “Full Moon” sessions. You were using her voice like an instrument.
Mike City: Yea, she had a lot to do with that. Our energy together, we got to know each other really good. She used to come pick me up, this is when I knew she was really a star. I lived in Beverly Hills and she came up to pick me up, I lived across the street from an elementary school. This was right after Moesha went off. She came and all of the kids across the street knew it was her and she had to drive off and come back! Then we went to a store and that’s when I knew she was a star, she was putting things on her tab at the Louis Vuitton store. She introduced me to a lot of people. Whitney Houston. Over at her house, just people flowing through, fun times.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about building the song with Brandy.
Mike City: Both of us are nuts in our own way. Our energy together is crazy, we are like brother and sister. It’s all love, she knows what I feel about her music. She’s going to make sure I do my best and she does her best. Out of that sequence, I want to say we did “Open” first. They should have kept it for the album, but they put it on the Osmosis Jones soundtrack. A lot of people really love that song. Then we did different songs. Big John Platt was A&Ring that project, and he told me to do a happy song for her. I remember I just started coming up with “Full Moon”. I think when she came in and looked at me, like what was that? I was just starting. Next time she came back, and I had the hook done. We laid the hook right then. But I promise you it took two weeks to write “Full Moon”, and that’s the only thing I did for two weeks! Literally two weeks to write “Full Moon”.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How long does it normally take you to write a record?
Mike City: Not two weeks! That one was on my mind for two weeks, so it prohibited me from doing anything else. She kept calling asking if I was done. I knew I had to get it right. So once we got it right, it was right. Even after that, they were trying to take “Full Moon” off the album! She named the album “Full Moon” out of spite!
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about the Donell Jones song “Spend the Night” you did.
Mike City: That was crazy. I remember when I did it, Dre had just slid me some drums. So I wanted to use those for this Donell Jones song. Shout out to Dr. Dre. That’s why I had it just leaning like that. That song wasn’t even a single, but if it was, it would have jumped off.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Another great song you had with Donell Jones was “Finer Things in Life”.
Mike City: Yea, I try to come with the bounce and the feel good. There’s not really a timing on these songs. People don’t know when I did that song. I used to as an ASR-10 all the time, now I use Logic. It’s your movement and how you do it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Love the work you did with El DeBarge on his comeback album 10 years ago. Especially the song “Lay With You” with Faith Evans.
Mike City: That was fun. The song was written with El DeBarge in mind. I was already working with him on other stuff. I had to remind him he’s El DeBarge! When I was coming up, it was Michael Jackson, Prince, and El DeBarge! I had to give him that pep talk. He’s a beast, and Faith Evans is my homey. It was all love when she blessed it.
YouKnowIGotSoul: How do you approach working with a legend like El DeBarge?
Mike City: I was just trying to give him some chords that would make him feel good about getting in there and doing them. I was a fan and student of DeBarge. It was all fun and all love, we were just vibing out.
YouKnowIGotSoul: What was it like in the 2010’s as a producer when R&B was losing popularity?
Mike City: It’s always tough when the labels don’t want to get behind something. You got to cycle through that and create your own content. I started doing my own stuff. Now, whether labels want to do it or not, TV and film love it. Everything doesn’t have to be trap. My first major placement actually was on a Bay Area rapper Rappin 4-Tay as a producer.
YouKnowIGotSoul: Talk about what you’ve been working on recently.
Mike City: My whole thing right now, I’m on a mission. I’m just going to create as much fly content as possible. When everybody is ready to go out, I’m not hard to find! Me and Carl Thomas have to get back to do what we do, we’ve been talking. I had been talking with Dave. I’m partial to people I came out with. We kinda helped push this new thing forward. My door is always open for that. I got a project coming out with Booker T in London, it’s soulful house, it’s called “Made in Quarantine”. I’m doing instrumental albums. I’m pushing that from the vault. I’m just always working. At the end of the day, I want to let my body of work speak for itself. I’m not for everybody and I’m cool with that.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You worked with Usher on his “8701” album on the song “Hottest Thing”. What do you remember about that?
Mike City: Yea, he was already a star by then. I am mad at him that I was not on “Confessions” though, I was supposed to be on “Confessions”! We had a record we did. We never got in the studio, he was so busy running around, he was really Usher at that point. I was also supposed to be on Michael Jackson’s album. But things happen. Me and Luther were supposed to get in, but he got sick. But I’m just blessed. I did a song with Stevie he got in his vault! It’s all fun when you get to really hang out and work with these people. But you’ve got to be prepared and up for the task. Like when I worked with Babyface, I knew I had to be on point. When they’re in the studio, you can’t be a bum.