Rihanna’s ANTI leak (er, official release) late on Wednesday night was a surprise for everyone, even those who had actually worked on the album — which is a lot of people. Among the higher-profile credits are DJ Mustard; Grammy Award-winning songwriter James Fauntleroy; multifaceted super-producer Jeff Bhasker; and, of course, Aubrey “Drake” Graham. Another you may not know yet but will soon is Mick Schultz, otherwise known as Jeremih‘s go-to producer, who conjured ANTI‘s greasy dirtbomb “Desperado.” “No one knew when it was actually coming, and on top of that, no one knew I was working on it,” he tells SPIN over the phone from his Los Angeles home. “When it hit last night everyone was like, ‘Holy s**t! You worked on this? What?'”
Schultz, who worked on Late Nights: The Album and produced Jeremih’s sultry breakout “Birthday Sex,” picked “Desperado” back up after it had been sitting around for a year because he thought it would be a good fit for RiRi. “There’s urban undertones, a lot of distorted guitar,” he says. “I have clean pop stuff, and I have other types of dance vibes, but I wanted to give Rihanna something more left-of-center, weird, real dark.”
Aside from helming a song that’s probably been streamed 13 million times already, Schultz has been keeping busy. The 26-year-old has been working on a couple of tracks with Usher and songs for [actress] Keke Palmer, and next week he’ll release a new version of “Birthday Sex” co-writer Keith James’ 2015 cut “Not My Day,” with Cee-Lo Green on it. Below, check out SPIN‘s interview with Schultz, discussing Rihanna writing camps, and why the two biggest albums of his career were so delayed.
How are you doing? Is everything crazy over there right now?
It’s a little crazy, but it’s cool. People I work with in the industry, my friends, my parents, my dad — it’s just amazing to watch people every second talking about the songs, and which ones they like. That’s the best feeling. As soon as it came out, I was like, “I gotta take a break.” I just wanted to go on the Internet to see what people were saying.
So you knew about as much as everyone else.
I told some of my friends I was working on the project, but Rihanna kept everything so tight: Her guys brought the tracks over to her at her house, and they didn’t leave her house. Her manager kept telling me, “I think it’s coming out this Friday… Wait, I think it’s this Friday… Wait, I think…” I knew a lot of the times people were talking about the album maybe coming out some Fridays, I knew she was still working. Once she announced that tour, everyone knew that she wasn’t going to tour if the album wasn’t going to be out.
Were you prepared for the delays after how long Late Nights: The Album was delayed? Or was it different each time?
It’s a totally different process. Jeremih’s like a brother to me; I’m on the real inside of what he’s doing with his albums, so Late Nights — everyone asks, “What’s the real story, why is it delayed?” With Rihanna, creatively I don’t know if she was completely happy. With Jeremih it was a lot of miscommunication and people not making the best decisions. There’s a lot of people that have to help make the right moves, and Jeremih didn’t want to release the album until everything was intact the right way.
How did you hook up with Rihanna on “Desperado”? Who reached out first?
The guy that wrote the lyrics and the topline is [Krystin “Rook Monroe” Watkins]. We’ve done stuff with artists I probably can’t talk about. He was working on Rihanna’s stuff, and she has a place in Malibu actually right down the street from me. I didn’t even know! He’s like, “You should come over and maybe do something for her.” I went over to her place and I brought a couple tracks I just felt would be cool for her project, even though I hadn’t heard anything. Rook wrote it in one night and a few days later I was informed Rihanna loved the record. I was like, “That’s dope.”
It seems like every producer in L.A. has written a song for Rihanna’s album.
Over the past five years I’ve heard of Rihanna writing camps, and writers and producers getting together and trying to come up with a record to pitch to her. It’s really hard, no matter who you are, to shoot in the dark and bring a record to her and be like, “Here.” She’s been working on it for a while, so it wasn’t like there was a specific week when everyone was like, “It’s Rihanna time!”
Did you know about any of the other songs? How do you feel about where “Desperado” is in the sequencing of ANTI?
I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I saw the track list, I was like, “That’s a pretty ideal slot to be in.” It’s not really about the album as much anymore: People listen to singles and skip around, but if you’re gonna put it in the album, I’m happy with five.
It’s like being in the middle of a long table at a dinner party.
Yeah! First song you get into it; two, three, four are heavy hitters… It’s like a baseball lineup. Five, especially since it comes after the record with Drake, is great.