Mike Kuz is more than Dave East’s engineer, he’s a creative force artists like Mary J. Blige, Wyclef Jean, and Royce Da 5’9″ have trusted with their visions. He now produces records that play during the NBA Finals, but never forgot the lessons he learned from the legends he’s been blessed to be around.
“[Nas is] not closed off. He’s good vibes and says a few words. But what he says is going to be impactful. I remember him giving a critique to East one time,” Kuz told REVOLT. “I think it was something simple about the tone of his voice on a word or something like that. Stuff like that is stuff that only a master would recognize.”
In this “Studio Sessions” installment, the Steel Sessions co-founder discusses working on a rap project at Harvard University, unreleased Mary J. Blige and Dave East records, and Kevin Hart hitting up the studio. Read the exclusive conversation with Mike Kuz below.
You’ve worked with Dave East, Jadakiss, and a plethora of legends. What were you doing in the studio with Kevin Hart?
(Laughs) That was over at The Compound. Shout out to my guy Set Free. He does a show over there called “The Starting Five.” On that day, Kevin Hart happened to be the guest. Free also has a studio in that space that I and Buda & Grandz helped put together. Kev went into the studio, and Free had a beat ready for him that we cooked up. Shout out to my guy Alistfame. He told Kevin, “I’m a Chocolate Drop fan” (laughs). Kevin didn’t even hesitate. He was absorbed by the beat for a little bit and asked, “What beat is this?” And Free told him, “It’s your beat. We made it for you.” He said, “I never had my own beat” (laughs). So, he just started going in, man. It was hilarious.
He did it in one take?
They weren’t even takes; he just went off for probably two minutes or something. He did it all off the top.
People don’t really know how deep your influence is on the game. Didn’t you work on one of Drake’s biggest albums?
When I was coming up as an assistant engineer, I got to work on Take Care. There’s a song on Take Care called “Lord Knows” with Rick Ross. I recorded the gospel choir on that with my man Keith Parry. He was one of the smartest, most efficient studio guys I knew. And he was always somebody you could call with a technical problem or just as a friend.
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What was a session that challenged you?
One of the early ones I did was a month-and-a-half lockout with Wyclef [Jean]. That was a crazy one because I was very green in that session. Clef is very unorthodox, so he was there breaking many of the rules I was learning, like how you record, where you record, or how you get audio from here to there. I saw him do this, thinking, “You weren’t supposed to do it that way. I thought you were supposed to record in the booth.” Clef also liked to mess with you if you were the new guy. On top of learning all that, he was also putting pressure on me in a playful way.
How was watching Dave East and Mary J. Blige collaborate?
We still have a couple of joints with East and Mary in the vault. I’m going to keep my fingers crossed. But working in the studio with Mary was amazing. She’s super friendly, down to earth, easy to talk to. I discovered we were both Capricorns in the studio, so we had a little Zodiac bond moment over that.
What was their creative chemistry like?
They have a good level of familiarity. If you’re making music in the studio with people, you feel like you’ve known them for a little bit.
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How have you seen Nas influence East in the studio?
First off, Nas isn’t an attention-seeking type of person. He’ll give his two cents, but then he’ll do his own thing in the cut. He’s always cool. I got to have some conversations with him in those sessions. He’s not closed off. He’s good vibes and says a few words. But what he says is going to be impactful. I remember him giving a critique to East one time. I think it was something simple about the tone of his voice on a word or something like that. Stuff like that is stuff that only a master would recognize.
East has also been filming “Wu-Tang: An American Saga” since 2019. How has it affected his recording schedule?
There would be days when he needed to be on set really early the next day, so we wouldn’t go too late in the studio. Or, he’d be coming back from a shoot really late. He’s had some co-stars pull up.
In addition to Nas, who’s another legend you learned from?
Royce Da 5’9″. I did a session with him at his Detroit recording studio, Heaven. We were in the studio for five days straight, and he was awake the entire time. It was crazy because Royce was older than me, making me feel like an old man in there. Royce is an established artist. He has joints with Eminem. He got a huge catalog. He has Slaughterhouse. This isn’t someone you feel has to stay awake for five days to make music in the studio. Seeing somebody you feel is years ahead of you still beasting is a dope revelation. This session was in 2018/2019. I met Royce in 2013 at Stadium Red while he was working on that Slaughterhouse album that never came out. I didn’t expect to form that type of relationship with any of the guys because I was just there working. But Royce and I definitely hit it off. We stayed in touch and kept building.
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What do you have coming up for the rest of 2023?
Myself, Set Free, and Buda & Grandz just did a song called “The Game” that’s been played during the NBA Finals. It’s a song with Rick Ross, Fat Joe, and The LOX. I’ve been cooking a lot with my guy NymLo and 183rd. We scored a background track for the LeBron James Shooting Stars movie. I worked on Dave East’s Book of David deluxe album. We will release a group called Sage and The Crowe soon, which is not even rap. I’m going to be releasing the instrumental tape soon. We got a project with Katt Rockell coming out. She did all the singing vocals that you hear in Book of David. We also got to go to Harvard. Shout to my guy 1000 Words. We went to Harvard and cooked up a project, a lot of dope rappers. I will be cooking with my guy Don Mykel and Iman [Nunez], with whom I do a lot of work. We’re just going to keep making these beats, finishing these records, and giving them all to the world.
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