Hip-Hop

Producer PLUSS on Making Kendrick Lamar's Grammy-Nominated Song 'HUMBLE.' & His Friendship With Mike WiLL Made-It

PLUSS
Diwang Valdez

PLUSS

When PLUSS sits down to make beats, he creates with no particular artist in mind, but somehow, his beats always land in the right hands -- which include Lil Wayne, Beyoncé, Ty Dolla $ign, Kendrick Lamar and more. It could be fate or pure luck, but PLUSS counts it as a “continuous flow of blessings.”

It all started with a move to Atlanta, where PLUSS, born Asheton Hogan, met his childhood friend Michael Williams II, who produces under the moniker Mike WiLL Made-It. The pair met in high school at a time when Hogan had begun to pursue a career in rap but realized he didn’t have any beats to rap on or any money to purchase them -- so he made his own. 

“I fell in love with beatmaking around 13 or 14. I really wanted to rap at first, but I didn’t have any beats and I remember I went over to one of my homeboy’s house and saw the FruityLoops beat program on his computer and that just blew my mind,” he tells Billboard. “I went home and downloaded it on my mom’s computer -- I wasn’t even allowed to use her computer, but I did it anyway -- and tried to make beats on my own. After a while, I realized I liked making beats more than I liked to rap, and even though I sucked in the beginning, it’s been a process that just keeps getting better.”

Over time, PLUSS and Mike WiLL’s pairing became a match made in music heaven as the duo teamed up on a slew of records, including Wayne’s “Love Me,” featuring Drake and Future (PLUSS’ first major placement), Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” -- the latter earning the producer his second Grammy nomination following Bey’s “Formation” nod in 2016. PLUSS’ solo résumé also features work on Lecrae’s “Blessings," Ty Dolla $ign’s “Dawsin’s Breek” and more.

Still on a high from his Grammy nomination, PLUSS spoke with Billboard about creating alongside his longtime friend Mike WiLL Made-It and the process of crafting his two Grammy-nominated hits. 

You definitely had a major 2017, working with Kendrick on “HUMBLE.,” Lecrae’s project and Ty Dolla $ign’s album. As you reflect back on the year, what kind of emotions come to mind? How does it feel to see how far you’ve come?

It feels great, it still feels like just the beginning. I feel like we wrapped it up pretty well. I made great connections this past year just working with great people – I’m on the same mission they’re on and that’s to be great in what you do. It felt great to get those kinds of accomplishments and then to get the Grammy nomination at the end of the year just topped it all off. There’s no greater feeling as a producer, still feels like a dream a little bit. 

How did you fall in love with beatmaking?

I think I fell in love with beat making around 13, 14 and I really wanted to rap at first, but I didn’t have any beats and one of my homeboys used to have this little blue beat machine and it had like eight buttons on it and then one day I went over to his house and saw the FruityLoops beat program on his computer and that just blew my mind. I went home and downloaded it on my mom’s computer -- I wasn’t even allowed to use her computer but I did it anyway -- and tried to make beats on my own. After a while, I realized I liked making beats more than I liked to rap and now I’ve just been making beats ever since. I sucked in the beginning, but it’s was just a process to get better. 

So you had no training at all and just taught yourself?

Before I met any producers friends, I had already been making beats for like three, four years and then I met Mike in high school. We had a math class together and became really cool through a mutual friend and turned out he liked to make beats as well. So we clicked really well just off that and were on the phone bouncing back ideas, playing beats over the phone -- this was like 16, 17 at the time. Ever since then, me and Mike stayed super close, always kept it 100 with each other and it just elevated from there. 

Who were some of the producers that inspired you growing up?

Pharrell, he’s definitely one of the hardest to do it and he’s still doing it; Timbaland, Lil Jon, Shawty Redd, Just Blaze, Kanye West and a few pop producers like Max Martin.

Where did the name PLUSS come from?

When I was 13, I called myself A13 -- it was so cheesy because my real name is Ashton. Mike and I had already been friends and were starting our own little fake production company with our little teenage crew. I was calling myself A13 and in the middle of class change in high school, Mike comes up to me in the hallway like, “How you feel about A+?” and I looked at him like that’s super hard. [Laughs] I loved it because in high school I was nerdy and then over time, I dropped the A and just called myself Pluss.

What was it like growing up in Canton, Ohio?

I did my first eight years up there. I moved here [Georgia] when I was 8 or 9, but Canton, Ohio, was really like that movie Friday Night Lights or like Remember the Titans or any movie where football runs the city, Canton was one of those [places]. There was nothing else going on. When I was younger, my mom had me in all this other stuff. She had me in soccer and baseball. I did a little bit of football, but that was about it. After I realized music was my passion, I didn’t want to do anything else.

2018 Grammy Awards

How does it differ from Georgia?

Canton, Ohio, is just super cold and a real rural area. It’s small, everybody knows everybody. Georgia just has so much more opportunities for you to become almost whatever you want to be and Canton, Ohio, just wasn’t the place for what my vision was. Georgia runs at a faster pace than Canton as far as the people’s mentality, and I feel like I really became who I am in Georgia. I don’t think I would be presented with the same opportunities. I moved back up to Ohio once when I was 16 and I stayed for about six months and went right back to Georgia because I didn’t miss anything.

At what point did your career start to take off? What was your first major placement?

I believe I was about 21 or 22 and Mike had called me like he’s about to come over because he has something for me. So he came over and plugged his phone up to the car and started playing this beat that started out with a beat I made a couple months ago and then I just heard Future’s voice coming in singing, “I’m on that good kush and alcohol” and I’m like, "Wait, what’s that?"

I continue listening and I’m like that’s Lil Wayne and Future on my beat and I was totally blown away – Drake hadn’t done his part on it yet, but later on, Drake put his piece on it and it ended up going platinum. At that point, I figured the only option was to take this and go all the way serious and live my dream because that’s all I wanted to do. That was my first placement, at 21 years old. 

Now after getting a major placement like "Love Me," how did you continue to develop and sharpen your production style?

I was really big on listening to my own beats. I still listen to other music, but I’m the type of person that could listen to my own type of beats all day long and really just dissect what I like and what I feel like I could work on. I was introduced through Mike to these two guys Large and P-Nasty and they were Ear Drummers as well and they had a sound, to me, that was so remarkable, clear, and crisp, and I began to just get around them and soak up the fundamentals.

I’d say they helped me grow and elevate my sound to a point where my mixes were coming through, and my drums were knocking a whole lot harder. Through those two people and Mike as well -- because Mike always had an ear for sounds that didn’t sound like anybody -- I got the ability to produce and innovate. 

When creating your beats, where do you start? 

I’m a big melody guy; I like playing with melodies first and my process is almost different every time. Like, it could be a 20-minute beat or it could be an hour or it could be a couple days, but I start off with melodies almost every time and build around that so by the time I’m finished with it, the melody might not even be the same. Some people start with 808 or drums but I look for a sound or an instrument first because that’s how I get my motivation for that beat. 

You had another major placement in 2016 with Beyoncé’s “Formation,” and she’s not very forthcoming when she has new music. How did you end up working on “Formation?”

Me and Mike WiLL was just cooking up at my house, just bouncing ideas back and forth and then Mike got word that Beyoncé was looking for some records and we thought Swae was amazing to knock this out with. So Mike pulled up on Swae [Lee] with the beat and him and [Slim] Jxmmi just came up with some lines and they had just laid it down. Sometime after that, the record got to Beyoncé and she really liked it.

So she flew us out to New York and worked on it for like two days -- mixing, adding more bass or whatever -- and she let us hear the whole album and the concept. We left and went back to Atlanta, then a few months later, we got the call that she was performing it at the Super Bowl and it was just plot twist, after plot twist after plot twist. The song became a part of history almost and I really enjoyed making that record and being a part of that experience. “Formation” showed me a lot about myself and the potential I know I always had. So the picture definitely got bigger especially after hearing Beyoncé wants one of your beats. 

Then 2017 you worked on Kendrick Lamar’s “HUMBLE.” It must have been surreal to go from one big artist to another. Did you know your beat would land on Kendrick’s album DAMN.

I had no clue Kendrick even got on that beat. Me and Mike made that beat one night in Atlanta and after we cooked up that beat, I didn’t hear anything about that beat for months. That beat was actually one of those 20-minute beats, real quick, 30 minutes tops. One day I was at the studio and I got a call from a friend who works at LiveMixtapes and he was like, “Yo, if you had anything to do with this new Kendrick record, I’m naming my first born child after you.”

I didn’t know what he was talking about. So I go on the internet and of course, the internet is on fire about the song and I’m just in the studio making beats. I see this record called “HUMBLE.” and it’s the beat me and Mike made months ago and when [Kendrick Lamar] dropped the song. He also dropped the video and I’m just like, "This is big." I called Mike and before I even said hello he’s like, “Yeah” and he didn’t even have to say anything because it was just crazy. Mike knows Kendrick and we really cooked it up just for fun. I had no idea what would happen once we were done with that beat. To hear Kendrick get on it, I’m almost certain nobody else would’ve done that beat justice the way he did. 

Walk me through the moment you found out "HUMBLE." was nominated for a Grammy.

I was at home when I read the Grammy nominations and to see “HUMBLE.” on there was like wow. I wasn’t surprised because I knew the song was great. It was great to see that Grammy nomination for the second year in a row, it was definitely a great accomplishment -- it still feels like a dream. 

There’s been a lot of talk of producers being taken advantage of by labels and artists who are underpaying them. How have you managed to steer clear of that?

I really just make sure everybody on the same page and I got a good team around me who’s all trustworthy. There are people around me who have a better sense of the business side of music than I do and I learned a lot by just being in it for the past five, six years. I’ve been good at making sure I keep the right people around me but it’s hard to do that in this industry sometimes because not everybody is trustworthy. 

What has 2017 taught you about yourself that’ll help you make your 2018 even better?

2017 taught me to stay true to what I always believed I could be and not get caught up in doubt. It taught me to count my blessings because I never want to feel like I’m out of ideas. 2017 taught me to stay true and remember what I do it for. When I was younger, I didn’t know who I was making beats for or what but this past year was definitely a growing year and 2018 is still a growing year. I came into this year with more assurance.

Can we get an update on SremmLife 3?

It’s a higher vibration than the past two. On this one, you’re gonna get Jxmmi and Swae like you never heard before because they grow every time they drop an album. It’s gonna be a great album and a great gift for everybody.

2018 Grammy Awards