Board + Pen: D’Mile – Rated R&B

Board + Pen: D’Mile – Rated R&B

D’Mile undoubtedly knew he wanted to create music from a young age. Receiving piano lessons from his dad as early as age three, he went on to play the acoustic and electric guitar, bass guitar, and drums as he got older. (Currently, he’s more into the bass guitar.)

After putting demos together for power players in the music industry during his teenage years, his hard work paid off at age 20, placing the track “That La,La,La” on Rihanna’s 2005 Music Of The Sun debut that he co-wrote and co-produced. It was indeed the beginning of his incredible career. 

A few years later, he worked under super producer Rodney Jerkins as a part of his Darkchild camp. This would bring him major chart success as he contributed to five tracks on Janet Jackson’s 2008 album, Discipline, including the lead single “Feedback.” As a young boy, it was a moment he honestly manifested.

“I remember when Janet Jackson did the Velvet Rope Tour,” D’Mile recounts to Rated R&B. “I was like, ‘Man, I wish I could be a part of that band.’ I remember having the DVD and in my dad’s studio in the basement where we used to live, have the joint on the big speakers. I had a drum set, and I would play the whole concert along with the drum set as if I was part of the band. I know that was a moment where I was like, ‘Yeah, I want to do something.’ I don’t have to be in the forefront. I never wanted to be an artist, but be a part of the process, be a part of the music in any way.”

In 2005, he participated on Mary J. Blige’s The Breakthrough, his first Grammy Award-winning album. Fast forward 16 years and three nominations later, the Brooklyn native won his first Grammy with H.E.R’s “I Can’t Breathe” for Song of The Year. A little over a month later, he became the recipient of his first Oscar, winning Best Original Song for “Fight For You” from the Judas and The Black Messiah soundtrack. 

In the game for roughly 20 years, D’Mile has worked with some of the most distinguished R&B legends, including Brandy, Toni Braxton and Usher. On the flip side, his work with current R&B mainstays like H.E.R., Lucky Daye and Ty Dolla $ign have garnered him deserved attention.

With a number of current R&B artists he’s prominently worked with over the last four years, there’s a transmissible peart connection where live instrumentation lives at the base of the sound. But whether he distortedly flips a mid-2000’s rap hit (H.E.R.’s “Something Keeps Pulling Me Back”) or creates one of the most notable love songs of the 2020’s (Snoh Aalegra’s “Whoa”), his artistic versatility is one to celebrate.

For Rated R&B’s Board + Pen series, the Grammy and Oscar-winning producer dives into seven deep cuts and fan favorites he’s contributed to throughout his esteemed career.

Ty Dolla $ign featuring Kendrick Lamar, Brandy, and James Fauntleroy — “LA” from Free TC 

That one was already a song before I got involved. Kendrick Lamar already was on it. I think Brandy was already on it. One day, Ty, I guess, felt like it could be better or that he just wanted to go a different route with it. I think he was kind of trying to go for a, I don’t want to say Dr. Dre vibe, but [something] more dramatic. I guess the other one was a little too Dr. Dre. I think that’s what it was inspired [by], anyway. He had put me in the room with the other producer, Marlon [“Chordz” Barrow].

[Ty] had us both do a version of the track and [Marlon] had his that he came with that day. I was already working on mine that day. Me and Ty kind of were working on it together, actually. When Marlon came in, he played his version and he liked a lot of what we did so he put both of them together, somehow. His version, that whole intro and everything, that was on his side of it, but when the beat dropped, that was my version. Then the ending, when it’s all orchestral again, that was his version.

It was a lot of mixing and matching and that might have taken a couple of days to get done. I always like when other people play on my stuff, besides me, especially if you’re the artist and it’s like, I’m seeing your talent right now. I think Ty was actually the one playing the guitar on that, which was dope. Later on, he called Benjamin Wright and was like, “Yo, I want some strings on my album.” He has a relationship with Benjamin, who did all the orchestra arrangements, because of his father. It turned into a very L.A. anthem.

Janet Jackson — “Luv” from Discipline

I was with Rodney Jerkins at the time in New Jersey. It was just us at his studio — me and the rest of the camp. That particular day, I had an artist that I was working with named Tas (Tasleema Yasin). We were doing a lot of stuff together, one being “Feedback,” another one being this song. I was living there while I was out there. I woke up one day, came up with an idea in my head, went downstairs to the studio room and started the track.

I remember telling Tas, “I can hear this either being for Janet,” which was an aim. Rodney wanted everybody working on some Janet stuff or Mariah Carey. I know she was looking at that time too. For whatever reason, I felt like that could have worked for either one of them. So we spent that whole day trying to figure out and work on what the song should be. Tas was great with her melodies. I think I even did some melodies on there too that made it.

My boy, rest in peace Lashawn Daniels, helped us ‘cause he came in later on and heard where we started, and helped us finish it. By the end of the night, we were just like, “We got one.”  I think there’s a video out there of us dancing in the studio, just all excited. Me, my boy Mikey, who was engineering and Tas. Lashawn had already left, but we were still blasting the song in the studio. We could not get enough of it. 

I know I was trying so hard, but he [Rodney] wasn’t biting, or he wasn’t responding to any of the other stuff before that I was trying to do. So I was like, “Yo, if he says, this is whack, he’s tripping.”  Low and behold, I sent it to him, and the next day he was like, “She’s going to cut it.”  I would say that’s the only one that I intentionally did for Janet. 

Mali Music featuring Jazmine Sullivan — “Loved By You” from The Transition of Mali

I love that song. I think we finished working on something, but we had time to do another. He [Mali Music] said, “I got these two ideas that I could play you.” So he picked up a guitar and he played me one other idea, which I can’t even remember if we even did anything to, and then he played “Loved By You” on a guitar. I was just like, “Yo, whatever that is, let’s do this one. Let’s start with this one.” I told him to go into a booth and literally recorded it just how he played it for me. He recorded his guitar first and then, I think I had him cut his vocal, at least a scratch of it first. Then we started building the track. I think he’s a great piano player. A lot of people might not realize but anybody who knows him [knows] he’s a great musician. I didn’t even want to play piano on that. I was like, “You play that!” (laughs) and I’ll just build around that. It was a good session. I think I hopped on the bass. I did the drums, added some extra like electric guitar stuff.

When we were done that day, I was listening to it, listening to it, listening to it. I was like, “We need some strings.” This is one of the times when I really got to orchestrate for it to happen, to get like a whole string section. His A&R at the time he tells me about his guy in Detroit, he goes by Piranhahead. Great arranger. That’s the first time I got to work with him. I wasn’t able to go out to Detroit and I guess we didn’t want to drag the man to come out, or he wasn’t able to. We just had a phone conversation about how I envisioned it. I’m the type [of producer] that wants to hear what you hear. So I did have my few pointers here and there, but I still left it open for him to go ahead and do it. He sent it back, [and] I was like, “This is perfect. I ain’t got no changes.”

Diddy – Dirty Money — “Shades” featuring Bilal, James Fauntleroy, Justin Timberlake and Lil Wayne from Last Train to Paris 

I remember the first time I met him [Diddy], he had some of us come to his crib and he played some crazy stuff that he already had so far for this album. Some of those songs in particular that he played didn’t make it, but oh my God, I was just like, “What the heck?” I remember going back to my studio after that and I immediately started on some ideas. I don’t think that [“Shades”] was the first idea I did. I think it was later on. I didn’t really do the track with him yet at this point, but I started the initial idea on my own. Then I just sent it to him and I’ll never forget the text. He was like, “Yo, this beat changed my life.” I was like, “Oh shoot. Okay. He loves it.”

Puff, he’s in a similar, different, but similar kind of a process of really trying to go through every option of making the best of a record. The whole process of that whole project was like that. So that song probably turned into like a year or two of it being done because at the beginning, it was just Puff on the record. [James] Fauntleroy wrote on that. I remember nearing the end of the project, I’m hearing Lil’ Wayne hopped on it. I’m like, “Oh, shoot. Word?” Then I’m hearing Justin’s [Timberlake] hopping on it and I’m a huge Justin fan. At that time, I was just like, this is crazy. I remember seeing the Pro Tools vocals and I was like, “Yo, I could literally mute this and just hear him.”

Even after I heard what they did, we did some post-production. Even post-produced after he laid down and Lil Wayne laid down their parts, that was special. And then Bilal hopped on it, at the end of it. I was just like, “Okay, what’s happening?” It was an ongoing process of just getting that right. At one point, I think that song had so much stuff happening, so much more stuff that we had to bring it back, but Puff is just like that. He wants to throw everything in the pot and then skim through that and see what to keep and take out and yeah, that’s how it happened. I think I heard it almost didn’t make the album but thank God it did.

Mary J. Blige — “In The Morning” from Stronger with Each Tear

Even before Mary got on it, that song was kinda old. I think I did it in 2006. It was a song that I just had with some of the writers in the camp at the time at [Rodney Jerkins’]  studio, Anesha and Antea [Birchett]. They’re sisters from Detroit. Those are my homegirls. So I just did a track one day and gave it to them and they wrote to it in their rooms and ever since, I was like, “Man, this could be something!” 

I’ve been trying for like three years to see who it could go to. I think Mary was the goal, to be honest. But you know, everything in its time. Later on, it finally happened. Because it was old, there was another version of it. I had to update it a little bit and so I reproduced it. Most of it was programmed at first, but then I ended up incorporating real instruments. I played the bass on it. We played the piano. We did the drums. Ron Fair got to do the strings on that record, which he did a beautiful job. I wish I was there to see that, but he killed it. 

Brandy — “Camouflage” from Human  

“Camouflage,” again, it was another situation (like “Luv”), but this time we were all out in L.A. and so the focus was Brandy. That’s all Rodney was working on. So every room was working on that. I had my room and I just started playing with sounds. Well, actually, I think I came up with the chords first and I built a track around that. Claude Kelly, who wrote it, walked in the room and heard what I was doing. Instantly, he was starting to hear stuff and he wanted to write to it. When we were finished with it, Brandy came and heard it. She loved it.

I remember them rushing upstairs to tell Rodney, like, “Yo, you gotta hear what D’Mile and them are doing downstairs,” but of course, Rodney took his sweet time (laughs). Eventually, he came down and I wasn’t so sure if he liked it at first or not. I couldn’t tell. Eventually, of course, he did and so did everybody else. Then the next couple of days, she cut it. First off, to see Brandy record anything is amazing. It was just amazing to see how that goes down. She’s one of the best vocally, so that was fun to see.

The Carters — “BOSS” from EVERYTHING IS LOVE 

That was a track that I had laying around, actually, and I never really finished it. We do a lot of tracks where the track is really all my vocals with all those harmonies and stuff. Me and Ty [Dolla $ign] have been known to do a lot of those. One day, he asked me if I had any more like that. I remember it was [around midnight]. I was about to go to sleep and he hit me. I got up, and I was like, “Damn, I only got two right now like that” because the process of doing those [type of tracks] are a little longer, so I sent him one and I sent him what became “Boss.” When he heard it, he was like, “Yo, this is crazy. I got something to it already.” Nothing happened to it for like a year until we got the call that Beyoncé wanted it. Then nothing happened again for like three or four years (laughs).

But she held onto it all that time and I sent them everything they needed. I got to finish it a little bit after Ty wrote to it. He sent me the vocals back then we sent it and he took it from there. I wasn’t sure if she was going to keep my vocals in there, which, that’s kinda my thing when I do that. I’m like, she’s Beyoncé, you might want to change it, but it was cool to say that I’m singing on a record with her and JAY-Z at that because I didn’t even know Jay-Z was going to hop on it until like two weeks before it came out. That was crazy. 

Stream our Board + Pen playlist: D’Mile on Spotify and Apple Music below.

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