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Top Writer/Producer Mike Elizondo Co-Writes Big Hits For Eminem, 50 Cent and Mary J. Blige

By Dale Kawashima
Mike Elizondo
Mike Elizondo

With a spectacular string of hits, Mike Elizondo has steadily emerged as one of the most consistent hitmakers on the hip-hop, R&B and pop charts. Working primarily with hip-hop giant Dr. Dre, he has co-written & produced two of the biggest hits of the past two years, 'In Da Club' by 50 Cent, and Eminem's new smash single, 'Just Lose It.' He also co-wrote the top hits 'The Real Slim Shady' by Eminem, 'Let Me Blow Ya Mind' by Eve (featuring Gwen Stefani), and 'Family Affair' by Mary J. Blige.

Elizondo has co-written multiple cuts on several of the biggest-selling albums of the past five years. He co-wrote eight songs on the new Eminem album, Encore, six songs on the breakthrough Get Rich Or Die Tryin'  album by 50 Cent, four songs on The Eminem Show, and three songs on The Marshall Mathers LP. Elizondo has also co-written songs for many other, notable artists, including Jay-Z, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg, D-12, Xzibit, Nate Dogg, Macy Gray, Nelly Furtado, Mandy Moore, Obie Trice, Warren G and Truth Hurts.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Elizondo learned how to play three, different instruments at a young age: piano (at age 9); tenor saxophone (age 12); and bass guitar (age 14). He would have jam sessions at his house with his father, who was a professional musician & songwriter. Then in high school, Elizondo formed several rock bands, for which he played bass and wrote songs.

Following high school, he helped form and co-wrote songs (with producer Richard Wolf) for a R&B/rock band called Budahat, which was signed by Atlantic Records in 1995. 'Getting a record deal was like Music Education 101 for me; I learned a lot about the record business and publishing,' recalled Elizondo.

As it turned out, Budahat's album was never released. However, the Budahat deal did help Elizondo build connections, and led to him getting session work as a bass player. 'Valerie Pack (the production coordinator for Richard Wolf Productions) started plugging me in with top producers like T-Bone Burnett, Matthew Wilder and Matt Wallace,' said Elizondo. 'Eventually, I also got calls to play bass for (Dr.) Dre and Glen Ballard. I was able to work on many sessions, which gave me the opportunity to pitch myself as a songwriter. People started to call me up to write with them.'

It was in 1997 that Elizondo began writing with Atlantic artist, Poe. He co-wrote four songs for her second album, Haunted. Elizondo's work with Poe led to him signing a publishing deal with producer Steve Lindsey, who had a co-venture deal with Windswept Pacific. 'Steve was the one early on, who truly believed in my potential as a songwriter,' said Elizondo.

Mike Elizondo
Mike Elizondo

Soon after he signed his publishing deal, Elizondo began working extensively with Dr. Dre, not only as a bassist, but playing keyboards and guitars. In addition, he became a co-writer on several of Dr. Dre's projects. 'The first song [I co-wrote] that came out was 'The Real Slim Shady',' recalled Elizondo. 'I initially played a bass line on the song, and Dre, Tommy Coster Jr. and I built the track from there. Em (Eminem) then heard the track, and he wrote the rap to it.'

'The Real Slim Shady' subsequently became a huge hit, which established Eminem as a superstar artist, and propelled The Marshall Mathers LP to worldwide sales of 16 million units. It was undoubtedly the breakthrough for Elizondo's career also. 'Having a hit song on the radio definitely changed my world, in terms of being in the music business,' he explained. 'But I really didn't have time to think about the success. I was busy in the studio working with Dre on several other, artist projects. We started working with Eve, Mary J. Blige and Xzibit.'

Elizondo discussed the creative process of collaborating with Dr. Dre. 'We have a routine for writing and recording. We would show up at the studio at 3:00 pm, almost like a day job. Then Dre would usually throw up some drum beats, and then we'd fire up the keyboards and G5 (Apple) computer. I would play keyboards and guitars. Sometimes we would work with other writers, such as Scott Storch, Mark Batson and Che Pope. We would find sounds that meshed with Dre's grooves.'

After working on various projects with Dr. Dre, and collaborating with other artists (such as Macy Gray and Nelly Furtado), Elizondo & Dr. Dre began writing for Eminem's follow-up album, The Eminem Show. They went to Detroit to work at Eminem's new studio, and during an intense, week-and-a-half period, they wrote several songs which made it onto the album. 'Em is very prolific,' said Elizondo. It was like the old Motown style of working, with a group of us creating the music and tracks in the same room.'

Following the tremendous success of The Eminem Show album (which he co-wrote four songs, including the hit 'Business'), Elizondo &  Dr. Dre focused on writing with 50 Cent, who had signed a co-venture deal with Eminem's Shady Records and Dr. Dre's Aftermath Records. The duo co-wrote four songs for his Get Rich Or Die Tryin' album, including the breakthrough hit, 'In Da Club.'

'[Dre & I] actually wrote the track six months before, but the artist we were working on at the time passed on it,' recalled Elizondo. 'But we felt strongly about the track, so we stashed it away until we played it for 50 (Cent). He loved it, and he fiercely started writing the lyrics. About an hour later, 50 had written the entire lyric. He came back in the room and started singing (the now famous intro) 'Go Shorty, it's your birthday, we're gonna party like, it's your birthday'.' Notably, 'In Da Club' also turned out to be the first cut which Elizondo received a production credit with Dr. Dre. He is now credited as producer (with Dr. Dre) on all of their cuts together.

After Get Rich Or Die Tryin', Elizondo & Dr. Dre worked on other artist projects, including Mary J. Blige (the hit 'Not Today' (featuring Eve), which also appeared on the Barbershop 2 soundtrack album), Busta Rhymes, and Aftermath artist The Game (the single 'Higha'). Separately. Elizondo collaborated with Macy Gray on two projects: a song for the 2004 Summer Olympics, and the theme song for the NBC-TV series, Miss Match. He also wrote a song with Doyle Bramhall, which Eric Clapton has recorded for his upcoming album.

This past July (2004), Elizondo & Dr. Dre traveled to Orlando, FL to write songs for Eminem's latest album, Encore. 'We went to Orlando to do the album, because it was a way that Em could bring his kids; he works best with his kids nearby,' said Elizondo. 'We worked at Transcontinental Studio for two weeks. We were able to come up with 10-13 tracks per day. We had two rooms going; one room where we would write the music, and another room where Em would write to the tracks. He ended up writing nine, complete songs in just two weeks, which was amazing. One of the songs we did was 'Just Lose It,' and another was Em's political song, 'Mosh'.'

With the release and massive sales of Encore, and the success of the single 'Just Lose It,' Elizondo is continuing his tremendous run as both a hit writer & producer. It appears likely that his success story will continue for a long time. Currently, Elizondo is back in Los Angeles, collaborating with Dr. Dre on songs for 50 Cent's highly anticipated, follow-up album. In addition, he is working on new projects as an independent producer & writer. Elizondo is developing two, promising artists, which he has signed to production deals.

'I love working with Dre, and I'm also looking forward to working on my other projects,' said Elizondo. 'I feel very blessed that I've had such great opportunities, and to work with such great people. I have a strong faith and belief in God, and I believe everything I create musically is me giving back to God. There's no way I could have planned my life the last 8-9 years. I'm doing what He wants me to be doing.'

     
   
 
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