Meet the Man Competing Against Himself in Multiple Big Four Categories at This Year’s Grammys

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Mastering engineer Mike Bozzi is a nine-time Grammy nominee for his work with Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino

When Mike Bozzi heads to the Grammys this weekend, he’ll be competing in opposition to himself with 5 nominations throughout two of the Big Four classes. That’s as a result of he’s the mastering engineer behind the Kendrick Lamar-curated Black Panther: The Album and Post Malone’s beerbongs & bentleys (each up for album of the 12 months) in addition to these initiatives' massive singles -- "All the Stars" and "rockstar," respectively -- and Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” (all up for document of the 12 months).

He’s been right here earlier than. Bozzi is a nine-time Grammy nominee for his work placing the sonic icing on tracks by hip-hop and R&B artists starting from SZA to Snoop Dogg. He earned his first album of the 12 months nomination in 2014 for Lamar's good child, m.A.A.d metropolis. “It’s all the time humbling, while you notice how a lot music worldwide is put out,” he says of this 12 months’s nods. “It’s enjoyable to be round for one more cycle.”

A hip-hop head who grew up in Los Angeles and Ontario with a father within the radio enterprise, Bozzi bought his begin helping Brian Gardner, the lauded hip-hop engineer who mastered OutKast’s storied 2003 album SpearkerBoxxx/The Love Below -- the final hip-hop venture to win album of the 12 months. At the upcoming Feb. 10 ceremony, a win for the rap-dominated Black Panther soundtrack might finish the draught, and the importance isn’t misplaced on Bozzi: “It could be greater than simply me.”

Just days earlier than the large night time, he tells Billboard how he met Kendrick, what it was like to listen to Gambino’s momentous “This Is America” earlier than the remainder of the world and why he needs -- lastly -- “to win a goddamn Grammy.”

You’re clearly a hip-hop man. What was the primary rap track that blew your thoughts?

“The Message" [by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five]. That was the primary hip-hop track I ever heard. In these days, early ‘80s, everyone appreciated Journey or Night Ranger, you realize? It was rock bands. Public Enemy, to me, was like heavy metallic -- actually aggressive, however saying an entire lot of stuff that blew me away as a suburban white child. Run-D.M.C. and The Beastie Boys’ first albums have been actually like, "Oh, that is cool." At that point, N.W.A. wasn’t a nationwide factor but. But I do keep in mind driving round in my good friend’s Honda Accord, pretending to be the fellows in N.W.A. as a young person. 

What have been you doing while you discovered about your Grammy nominations this 12 months?

I awoke, turned on the TV and checked Twitter. I had hoped that the Childish Gambino monitor was going to get a document of the 12 months nom, as a result of it was an impactful monitor. With that music video, it was a “holy crap” second. So I actually was solely anticipating that, and holding out slightly hope, since they expanded the Grammy classes, that possibly Black Panther would slide in, which it did. They introduced Post Malone final, and I simply form of chuckled -- to not be an asshole, nevertheless it was like, “Oh my gosh, this is able to be a dream. Is this a dream?” It’s form of wild. It’s not misplaced on me that that doesn’t occur all that often.

You've mastered Kendrick's final three albums -- good child, m.A.A.d metropolis, To Pimp a Butterfly, and DAMN. How did your relationship with the rapper begin?

Kendrick is the artist that bought the highlight pointed in my path. I bought a credit score on good child, m.A.A.d metropolis as a result of that they had employed my mentor [Gardner] to grasp that album. My mentor was out of city for the weekend, however they wanted to wrap issues up, so I spent that weekend within the studio doing last-minute adjustments and remastering just a few issues. I believe that [Kendrick and Top Dawg Entertainment] appreciated the hustle, as a result of that’s who they're. They’re not able to work at 10 within the morning -- they need to work at 10 at night time till six within the morning. Knowing how nice the venture is, it’s simple to place in silly hours. I believe I proved to them that I used to be keen to hustle with them. I believe that I’m a part of their recipe. By the time To Pimp a Butterfly got here round, I had already finished a venture for Schoolboy Q for TDE. Most artists and engineers have folks they favor for his or her initiatives. Luckily I get to be that man.

How did the Black Panther soundtrack arrive in your fingers?

I bought “All The Stars” simply earlier than Christmas of 2017. I actually left any individual’s Christmas social gathering to come back into the studio to grasp that track. I had finished SZA’s [Ctrl]. When any individual calls you with a Kendrick Lamar or SZA venture, you drop what you’re doing, and also you undergo that session. I don’t know if on the time I noticed it was associated to the film or not. It was each the primary track I mastered for the Black Panther soundtrack and the final track I mastered for the Black Panther soundtrack, as a result of it got here out as a single first, after which they modified the SZA verse for the album.

The soundtrack was very a lot a hip-hop album. I handled it like, "Here’s a TDE hip-hop venture, simply with one million options on it, and god, it already sounds good -- don’t screw this up. [Laughs.] The widespread thread of the drums from the film and Kendrick being completely different characters actually pulled that entire factor collectively. You have that Jorja Smith track that’s good and mellow and easy, however then you have got an excellent aggressive banger after that. “Seasons” [by Mozzy, Sjava and Reason] simply flooring me as a result of it’s completely different languages and a distinct temper. And after that you've got one other hype, lit monitor. It’s enjoyable to verify every thing lives in the identical world.

What kind of suggestions was Kendrick supplying you with?

Kendrick is at his mastering classes -- like, each one in every of them. To me, that claims rather a lot. [Producer] Sounwave, who’s additionally nominated a bunch, is within the mastering classes. Their consideration to the element, all the best way up till it’s actually completed is superb. You can inform that, with the inside circle of engineers and producers that he works with, there’s a belief constructed between them. But Kendrick is form of quiet in what he’s in search of. He may simply need to flip a phrase up, or flip a line up, or flip one thing down -- last-minute, smaller element issues that don’t appear important however are completely the fitting transfer. He’s a lot greater than a rapper, it’s ridiculous. He’s an artist on many fronts. If you’re simply superficially listening to his work and saying, “Oh, that’s simply one other rap album,” you then’re not paying consideration.

At mastering, usually we get issues which might be already accomplished, and there’s not a whole lot of revision finished to a mixture. For him to have the ability to make a name within the 11th hour earlier than we flip one thing in within the morning is superb. That’s really an artist realizing and never second-guessing himself -- making the choice to do one thing and doing it. And each time he’s finished one thing like that, it all the time works. I believe on the To Pimp a Butterfly album, he and [producer Derek] Ali took an iPhone into one in every of our different studios and have been simply yelling some stuff into the telephone. That ended up on the album. Who does that at mastering? That’s probably not a traditional factor. 

Let’s swap gears to “This Is America.” What have been your first impressions while you heard it?

I used to be form of anticipating extra of [“Awaken, My Love!], after which to listen to what was delivered was like, "Oh, okay, now we’re speaking. We’re not attempting to go for easy, soulful, heat ‘70s vibes. This is an aggressive monitor. Let’s make it aggressive. There are components in it which might be very quiet and exquisite, after which it simply will get loopy loud, so let’s do this." But I don’t assume I actually, absolutely bought the entire thing till I noticed the video. When I watched the video, it was positively a “holy shit” second.

Did you have got any inkling of how impactful it could be?

Not actually, till I noticed the video. I’ve been fortunate sufficient in a really brief time frame to have a pair issues that I believe transcend simply music. Like [Lamar’s] “Alright” monitor being a Black Lives Matter anthem for that summer time. I’m not saying I made it an anthem or something, however to only be concerned with issues which might be greater than an album launch is actually cool. I’m proud to work alongside these folks with these messages.

“This Is America” has so many beat switches and sonic components. How did you method that from a mastering perspective?

I all the time need to honor what the combination is and the issues which have musicality -- just like the African chanting, the drumming in that track. The quieter part jogged my memory of ‘80s Paul Simon. I needed to maintain the fantastic thing about these devices as clear as I might preserve them. But when these beat switches come on and it will get extra aggressive, there’s a whole lot of nervousness and rigidity. The message of the track is unsettling. So, to amplify that slightly bit with mastering in any manner that I might was a purpose. My cue is to tug out the weather that provide you with that unsettling feeling. Later on in that track, the underside finish is available in slightly bit extra, and also you need to really feel that fullness. But that track most likely would’ve been nice unmastered. A terrific track is a superb track.

Was Donald Glover -- a.okay.a. Gambino -- within the studio?

Nobody got here in for that one. That was a typical case of, “Hey, I’m going to ship you this monitor, you ship it again to me to listen to.” I’m positive Donald Glover had one thing higher to do this day. [Laughs.] It’s actually flattering that folks belief you with their artwork, and I really feel honored to work on all these initiatives, however I'd additionally love to satisfy these guys, so there’s a face to the title.

What was the method like for beerbongs & bentleys?

The Post Malone folks, I’ve by no means met anyone in that entire camp. But we’ve mastered two albums, they usually’ve been comparatively profitable. Manny Marroquin blended each these albums, and Manny’s an incredible mixer, so I didn’t need to do rather a lot. I did “rockstar” manner earlier than the album got here out, after which “Psycho” was the one after that, and generally you don’t know: Is this going to be an album six months from now? Or are these simply one-off singles? Who is aware of anymore? And then it was like, “Well, right here’s 14 extra songs, and right here’s the sequence -- do what you do.”

I’m tremendous nitpicky and significant of my very own mastering, and I believe most good engineers are important of themselves, so I would hearken to it just a few instances myself after which make little changes and let any individual hear these. I’m continually going again at it.

The Grammys don’t have the perfect status in terms of recognizing hip-hop. What do you assume must occur for that to vary?

I believe hip-hop will get a foul rap. I need hip-hop to win an album of the 12 months Grammy. It’s now not, “Hey, is that this a fad that’s going to stay round for this business?” Hip-hop drives this business. But hip-hop will get handed over rather a lot. The solely option to change that's to turn into a member and vote for it. I encourage people who find themselves concerned in hip-hop and who've sufficient credit to be a voting member. It’s $100, however you have got a say. It’s like voting for president. You can bitch and moan when you voted for the opposite man and misplaced, however when you didn’t vote in any respect, then I don’t need to hear what you’ve bought to say about it.

What would it not imply to you to take residence a Grammy on Sunday?

I do know there’s lots of people who don’t put any inventory in successful a Grammy. But I desire a goddamn Grammy! I’d particularly like to win one with the TDE folks, as a result of they introduced the eye to me. Personally, it could validate 20 years of questioning if that is value doing. Before I bought the chance to run this room, there was a whole lot of, “Am I ever going to get a shot?” I used to be elevating a household and paying my payments. And I’m a three-time junior-college dropout. It would validate all that point of questioning whether or not or not I had what it took.

On a much bigger degree, it brings consideration to the style that I really like. I grasp each style, however I are likely to do principally hip-hop and R&B, and I’m completely proud of that if it’s all I ever do. It could be greater than simply me or a Kendrick album. We’ve been ready round for [a hip-hop album to win album of the year] for years. That’s to not discredit any of the opposite nominees --- these are all superb albums. I simply really feel prefer it’s been hip-hop’s time.

Meet the Man Competing Against Himself in Multiple Big Four Categories at This Year's Grammys