Producer of the Year Mike Dean on Kanye West’s ‘Chaotic’ ‘Donda’ Sessions and Vibing With Lana Del Rey

Mike Dean Hitmakers Producer of the Year
Courtesy of Morgan Rindengan/

Mike Dean is fielding texts from Madonna, promoting his latest solo album, “4:22,” nursing a joint and trying to answer interview questions. But there’s beauty in the chaos. Variety’s Hitmakers Producer of the Year does it so effortlessly — like a modern-day maestro conducting his own symphony — as he tries to remember the news of the various records he’s worked on.

In March came word that “For the Night,” the posthumous record by  Pop Smoke, the Brooklyn drill rapper killed in a 2020 shooting, had been certified four-times-platinum. Dean, a co-producer on the song, was tasked with adding the “flutes, bells and whistles” to the ominous track. “It was a little weird,” he admits, of the circumstances. “I didn’t know him personally, but it’s always hard [to lose someone].” Despite the tragedy, the record peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and and the cert further solidified the late artist’s legacy.

Over a three-decade career, rappers with whom Dean has been inextricably linked include Kid Cudi, Travis Scott and Kanye West, whose long-awaited 10th studio album, “Donda,” he worked on this year. Beginning in August, West held three public listening events — two in Atlanta at Mercedes-Benz Stadium and another in his hometown of Chicago at Soldier Field, each more of a spectacle than a chance to hear a body of music. After each one, West would go back to the drawing board and demand seemingly endless revisions.

Dean was present for both Atlanta events and is somewhat shocked “Donda” wound up sounding so seamless. “It’s really good,” he says of the album. “It came out pretty cohesive. I’m kind of surprised because it was chaotic in the making. I was flown in at the eleventh hour and it was pretty stressful. I had to mix a ton of songs really fast. I think I did like 35 songs in 10 days.”

Dean and West’s collaborative relationship dates back to 2003 when West started working on his debut album, “The College Dropout.” Since then, Dean has been an invaluable instrument in the creation of all of West’s albums, including 2010’s critically acclaimed “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” and 2013’s “Yeezus.”

But it’s not their similarities that make West and Dean a power duo. “We are like yin and yang,” says the Texas native, who toured with Selena Quintanilla in his early days. “We are real opposite personality-
wise,” he says of West, “and have entirely different skill sets.”

Dean, a six-time Grammy winner, has recently cultivated a musical partnership with singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey, working on the song “Wildflower Wildfire” from Del Rey’s eighth studio album, “Blue Banisters.”

“It was really cool,” Dean says of their collaboration. “She had a rough sketch of the song and an outline, so she came to my house, we expanded on it and firmed it up a little bit. Hopefully we do more in the future.”

Dean is focused on the road ahead, and 2022 sounds like it’s shaping up to be another fruitful year. Not only is he continuing his partnership with music platform Beatclub, he also boasts upcoming projects with Christine and the Queens and Scott as well as his own compilation album featuring music from numerous artists he’s worked with over the years — and that’s a lot.

Dean remains in high demand from artists across multiple genres, but there are occasions when he doesn’t gel with someone. He has a simple solution for that. “Sometimes we don’t see eye-to-eye or don’t have the right vibes,” he explains, adding with a laugh: “Like a bad first date, you just stop calling back.”