Derrick Milano On Working With Megan Thee Stallion, Nicki Minaj and Pop Smoke
The 100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers limited series podcast gives music fans a front-row seat for conversations with songwriters behind some of the biggest hits of yesterday and today. You’ll learn the stories behind the songs from the people who wrote them. Each episode will focus on one writer: sometimes, they’ll just talk about one song, other times, they’ll talk about a number of hits.
New episodes will be released each Monday through November of 2020.
100 Years of Radio – 100 Years of Hit Makers special podcast series is produced in partnership with Beasley Media Group, XPERI (HD Radio), and BMI in celebration of the 100-year anniversary of the first commercial radio broadcast.
Billboard called Derrick Milano “hip-hop’s secret weapon,” and it’s easy to see why: he’s written on a number of massive hits including Megan Thee Stallion’s “Hot Girl Summer,” as well as the “Savage” remix with Beyonce, and “Yikes” with Nicki Minaj. He also worked with Pop Smoke on Meet The Woo 2. We spoke to him about all of this, as well as his social media presence.
Let’s start by talking about “Hot Girl Summer,” and you got involved with working with Megan Thee Stallion.
Yeah. “Hot Girl Summer” came together… I was in [a studio in] L.A. I was actually had like maybe fifteen more minutes left in the session. And I was able to pull up beats from this producer, Bone Collector. And I was like, “Yo, this would be a fire record for Drake.” I said, “I think it’d be dope if we had Drake and Megan [on this record].” So I did a hook on it. And then I hit up Juicy J and I was like, “Yo, I think we should add some drums to it to make it more, of a Megan vibe.” So he added some drums to it. We sent it over to Megan. Unfortunately, Drake was unable to do it. So we got Ty Dolla $ign. And then I told Nicki Minaj about the record, and then Megan asked her to be on the record and then the song just came about. That was one of the records that I really stand behind because I was able to A&R it from the beginning to the end to see it go from literally nothing to it what it is today.
You mentioned A&R-ing the whole thing. For those who don’t know what you mean, what do you mean when you say you “A&R” a song?
When you basically put the whole thing together. Coming from the producer, the writer and then getting it to the artists and then handling all the business and then bringing everybody else in on the project.
Once they give you a verse or something, do artists want to hear the final cut before they sign off on it and it goes out?
Most of the time, depending on certain artists, you know, certain artists, just the person that they’re working with, especially if they agreed on the record prior. So I know at that particular record where Nicki ended up cutting her verse, it was kind of what it was. It was kind of already a finished product.
Once the news came out that Nicki was gonna be on a Megan remix, people were really looking forward to that. Was there a lot of expectations on you, like, “This is better be good?”
Yeah. That was my first time really working with Nicki and her trusting in me on something. So, like, I really felt like it had to go a certain way. That’s a song everybody’s going to be singing, for a long period of time. Just off of the saying, “Hot Girl Summer.” And just with what is going on right now with women’s empowerment. It was really one of those records that was kind of kicked it off, to be honest, in my opinion.
And you know, people look at Nikki, “Oh, she doesn’t do this…” Nikki helps everybody. So, her doing that record with Megan was really giving Megan that light and that shine. And I think it was a really good look on both parts.
Was “Simon Says” the first song that really put you in the game?
What was the first song that really put you on?
Ummm…. [laughs] I signed a non-disclosure agreement on it. But it was a really, really, really, really, really, really big record for really, really, really big female artist.
I don’t want to be a part of violating that, it sounds like there’s a lot of lawyers behind that.
[Laughing] Yeah, I didn’t say anything wrong! There’s a lot of female artists.
Was “Simon Says” the first time people knew it was you?
No, I actually did “Bestie” for Bhad Bhabie. That was a record that a lot of people kind of tuned in to just after the Kodak Black situation. And then Kevin Gates’ “Me Too.” It was big for his career, and a lot of people kind of knew about that. “Simon Says” is one of those ones that kind of just came kind of later.
To me, that song wasn’t really publicized and really big enough for people to kind of attach that to my name. You know what I’m saying? I feel like it was another controversy with that record. I had another person’s name attached to it, which kind of made them feel like they did the song and they contributed to it. But it wasn’t. I kind of left it alone just because of that type of situation, you know? And I didn’t really tell too many people that, you know, I really had too much to do with that record.
When you get involved in a controversy like that, especially early on in your career, that’s the thing that people are always going to ask you about.
Yeah, of course. You know, because it’s because at the end of the day, you’ve got to keep your face clean and you got to make sure that you handle every situation. You know, you’ve got to handle every situation professional and certain stuff that doesn’t need to be said, doesn’t need to be said and stuff that needs to be said, needs to be said.
When I saw what was going on in that situation, I kind of just fell back a little bit just so I didn’t mess up my situation, dealing with Megan.
Probably good judgment. Speaking of Megan, talk about “Savage,” because that’s one of the songs in the conversation this summer for sure.
Yes. So the song was already done. Shout out to my brother, J. White. He produced it. And, you know, I had got a call from Daniel, from Roc Nation, and he called me. It was like, “Yo, are you busy right now?” This is literally when quarantine first started, and I was, “Nah, what’s up?” He was like, “Yo, can you go to the studio and record?”
And I was like, “All the studios are locked. I said, but I have studio equipment at the house. I could set it up. I haven’t recorded myself in a while, but what do you need? I’ll try to do it.” So he was like, “Well, B wants to jump on the ‘Savage’ remix and you know, we’re just trying to find verses.”
And I was just like, “Well, I’ll take some tries at it, you know, I’ll figure out, you know, if I can put it together and see if you like it.” So I worked on it a few times. He called me back. He was like, “Yo, we like this. We like this. Can we change this? Can we change that? Some other writers are working on it. Can you send me this part? Let’s try to do it like this.”
I kinda went blank for a couple weeks, maybe three to four weeks or something. I don’t hear anything about the record. I didn’t know if it was gonna come out. I didn’t know the situation. But me and J. White were always on the phone and I kept telling him “Something tells me that this is going to be a big record.” So then I got the phone call from [Beyonce’s team at] Ivy Park, “Hey, congratulations. B used some of your parts on the “Savage” remix.” So I was like, “What?”
It really didn’t hit me until the song came out, and the song came out literally the next day. So when the song came out and I was just seeing everybody talking about the lyrics and everybody talking about Beyonce jumping on it, it just made it a fire situation. And then once again, that was another record that I was a part of in Megan’s career. For me, coming into the songwriter world from being like an artist and trying to do both. I feel like you get a lot of credit when you help break artists. And, you know, started with Megan from the Fever mixtape to that one and then had to ‘Hot Girl Summer’ into the ‘Savage’ remix it put it on a [different] level.
You’d worked with a lot of stars by then, but the idea that Beyonce’s going to be on something you made has to be a different level of sort of pressure.
Yeah. Being in L.A., it’s a whole bunch of producer camps, a whole bunch of writing camps and people always trying to shoot ideas and work on stuff for certain artists. So for me to get my first Beyonce a placement on a rap record… it kind of means a lot to me. Especially coming in the game and working with, you know, all the top female artists in about a year and a half span.
So you’re writing Beyonce’s lines for the remix. Yes. So how does that work? I mean, you’re writing for Beyonce and it can’t be generic and has to be something that she connects with.
They were really on trying to focus on captions and really just current event lines that people are saying every day. Stuff that could go viral, stuff that could be made into a meme. So, you know, shout out to everybody, it was a few writers on the record and everybody put together certain passages.
What’s one of the lines you wrote for her?
“I heard they askin’ for the queen. They brought some cameras in here.” And then, “All this money in the room I think some scammers in here” and, you know, just a few other lines. But, you know, that was one of the lines… people were like, “What does Beyonce know about scammers?”
But she liked it enough to say it.
She’s not thought of as a rapper, but when she does, she’s good.
Because her tone is amazing. Her delivery is amazing. And she’s so polished with music that is just kind of, you know, it kind of flows.
Talk about working with Nicki Minaj on “Yikes.”
Yeah. So, you know, Nicki, that’s my big sis. And I’m like, she’s been one of the people in the industry that really changed my life and my perspective on just the music business and understanding certain things, the game that she gives me and the wisdom that she shares with me all the time is just amazing just because I grew up listening to her.
So, you know, with the “Yikes” record, after coming off “Hot Girl Summer,” she was like, “Yo, we just need to keep working. We need to keep working.” We were in a studio and me and her were just going back and forth, laying down melodies. She would go in the booth, put words on it. She’ll ask me, “What you think about this word?” [I’d say,] “That word is cool. What do you think about this?” [She’d say] “That word is cool.” And then she’ll come up with another word and it will be. “Oh yeah. That’s it. Let’s just try that.”
So we were able to really, like, put it together, together. And one thing about Nicki… a lot of people always wonder, like I always get tagged on Twitter where people are like, “Oh, Nicki has writers” and this, that an a third.
Nikki writes her own music. It’s just that Nikki likes to get influences off of like flows and ideas and she has no problem collaborating. And that’s what people kind of get this situation twisted up with her because she really can rap. And, you know, as times change and flows change in certain styles, a rap might change. She just likes to be around and in tune out was going on. And what’s the new thing? And that’s what somebody like me and people who she works with come in and be like, “Yo, maybe we should try this.” And she’s so open to working, she willing to give [other ideas] a chance. So, you know, that was a fun record to put together.
Sometimes artists work with ghostwriters. At least she’s giving you the credit and saying, “Hey, that’s the guy I work with.”
Have you ever been in a situation where you’re at a party, at a club, even at a store and a Megan song is being played and you’re watching somebody digging it and you’re like, “Yeah, I wrote a song or I helped write that song.”
I’ll be in the club a lot. I go everywhere. [When it happens,] In my mind, I’ll be like, “Wow, they don’t even know.” But sometimes the people that I’m around might bring it up and then I just play it off. But I never really was the type of person, the kind of like, you know, kind of be in public and then just kind of take away from that artist and say, “Oh, yeah, I did this,” and “I did that.” But if they ask or if it comes up, I’ll say “Oh, yeah. I contributed to this record. This is something that I did work on.” But yeah, I went out yesterday and there was: they were playing the Beyonce “Savage” remix and I was like, “If these people only knew.”
What do you think are your signature songs? Where are the three songs that someone should listen to, to understand what you do?
I would definitely bring up “Hot Girl Summer.” I would like to let people know that I wrote about eleven or twelve songs on Kiana Lede’s album, KIKI.
And then also “Christopher Walking” by Pop Smoke masterpiece. Rest in peace. That’s the first song that me and him worked on together. And that’s the song that really got people really saying “We outside”. And then us being locked in inside and people want to go outside, just make the situation, like a bigger situation. And then, you know, due to his passing, a lot of people were tapped into his music and want to learn more about his story and wanted to hear more stuff about him. So that’s one of his. I think that’s that might be one of the last music videos that he put out before he passed. And, you know, there’s always going to be a song that touches me. Just the fact that I saw the star in him and, you know, me and him being able to come up with something that everybody is saying is kind of like “Hot Girl Summer” and certain lines in “Savage,”, which just makes it a moment.
How did you get involved with Pop Smoke?
Shout out to Steven Victor. He hit me up one day when I was in Miami, and was like, “Yo, I’m working with this kid. His name is Pop Smoke. I’m not familiar if you know who he is.” And I was like, “For sure, I know who he is.”
I said, “To be honest, DJ Boof hit up Nicki and was telling Nicki about Pop.” And Nikki ended up jumping on the [“Welcome To The Party”] remix. And at first, I didn’t really understand the record. And then kept listening to it. “OK, I understand it. It’s a whole different sound.”
So he was like, “Oh, so you’re familiar with the sound? Well, we’re working right now. We’re finishing up his album. You know, we just need some stuff, bruh. I know you can deliver. I know you can deliver. I’m sending some beats put some stuff on it and send it back.”
So he sent me some stuff and I was like, Man, this one right here,” which was the “Christopher Walking.” I said, man, “This is special.” I loaded it up, recorded. I sent it over to Steven Victor, and then, you know, he went crazy for it. Pop Facetimed me: “This is crazy!” They recorded it that same day. Wen back to New York. Shot the video and it came out maybe four days later. So after the song came out, Steven Victor was like, “Yo, can you come in New York and just work with Pop and finish the album?”
And I was like, “Yeah, bruh, I really like his sound. He reminds me of 50 Cent,” and 50 Cent is my favorite artist. So I flew out to New York and we were locked in for like for like four days working on Meet The Woo 2, which was his last project. And then, you know, when it came out, it was mixed emotions. Some people were like, “Oh, it sounds the same.” And I’m like, “Nah, it’s definitely elevated.” He has that star quality. And then, you know, due to his passing, it made people want to go back and listen to it again. “Oh, wow. This was an amazing project.” And shout out to Steven and Victor and 50 Cent and Ryan Press for putting together the album that came out and made people want to go back again and see the growth and the development.
It’s a sad story because he was probably about to explode and get a whole lot bigger.
Man… Yeah, it was a sad situation.
So what is next for you? You’re an artist first. Obviously, you’ve got some great writing gigs that have sidelined that. Are you working on a record or are you working on writing with other people for their records now?
So I’m really be focused on doing executive producing projects now. So I’m in the midst of me finishing my project. I’ve been working with a lot of new artists that kind of have the same effect that the Pop Smoke had, where they just need that record to just keep elevating them. So I’ve just been working with a lot of new artists and executive producer projects and also I’m also going to labels with my own situation and I’ll put my own money up to put my stuff out, you know, and sign my own acts and bring people in like that. So that’s that’s really my next step is really like boss moves. So really moving like an exec, moving like Babyfaces in and the Jay-Zs in the music industry.
So, talk about your record.
I’m putting together a project. I’m debating on a name, if I want it to be “Wow: A Legend” or “Fifty Shades of Gray.” My real last name is Gray. The whole idea of “50 Shades” is that I can turn into 50 artists and be 50 artists. You know, when it comes down to being the songwriter. “Wow: A Legend” is just something that I’ve just been branding just so people can just be like, “Wow: A Legend” when I make posts [on social media]. My project is almost done. It sounds amazing. I got other features that I want on the project. It’s a big record that’s about to come out. And, you know, I’m really excited to get the reaction off of that. When I work with certain artists, I don’t have to give them my sound. So I’m kind of blessed to be able to put out my own music and not be compared to the artists that I work with.
It’s hard to launch a project t without being able to perform on TV shows
Yes and no. It could be if you never was an artist before and you kind of just came in brand new. But I kind of had a fan base already before. And my people were kind of like, “Where’s the music with the music? I see you working with everybody else.” And then just off my interaction on Instagram and my interaction on Twitter and just little stuff that I post that people kind of gravitate to and grab.
A lot of people don’t understand that: you have to be some type of you have to be influencer. You had to be one of those people that people see and be like, “What are they doing every day?” And I was realizing just before quarantine first started, I was doing this stuff where I was just like imitate all the artists from 2000. Like, all of them. And I was dressing up like them. And I was doing the same exact stuff that they were doing in music videos. And it was picking up. It became a moment. And then I had a conversation with somebody and they were like, “Yo, if you want to take the music serious, you don’t wanna come off as a comedian because people are going to start looking at and be like, ‘Yo, this dude is so funny, it’s so funny.’ And then you put music out, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we kind of like your comedy better.'”
So I kind of backed off of that. But I understand my influence and I understand that certain stuff that people gravitate to… like I did something on Instagram the other day when I was just like girls need to… they’ve been complaining that they need men to do this and this want to do that and get them this. And I said, “Get it yourself.” And I said, “It’s the little stuff that matters, like maybe you should pay for our haircuts and they could get you a car.” My haircuts cost one hundred dollars. And I had maybe like 13 girls or 14 girls send me a hundred dollars just for a haircut. You know what I’m saying? So I just look at the situation and that type of stuff where people are kind of like interested in seeing it. And then I look at it when it gets to a bigger platform of working with the right PR [firms] and working with the right digital marketing teams who are able to put yourself in people’s faces certain different ways and understand algorithms. And I really understand that part. And my whole thing was just getting that confidence and just understanding like certain things that I could do to get people to gravitate to who Derrick Milano. Right.
That’s smart, too, because that’s getting exactly to the people who are most likely to be most interested. Of course, since you understand algorithms you know that you’ve got to keep feeding it.
You got to! You can’t really take a break. I mean, you can. But, you know, people want to see everything I’ve been understanding people want to see visuals before they see a picture with music playing in the back. And, you know, just little stuff that doesn’t come off corny. You know what I’m saying? Because a lot of people, they use that cloutchaser word. And that’s something that I’m not going to do. I’m not going to try to force people to go to me or try to buy into who I am, doing some dumb stuff and exploiting myself and do stuff like that. Like everything that I’m going to do and what I’ve been doing has been something that I would actually do in real life. And people who know me like that, know “That’s something that Derrick would do.”