Grammy & Oscar-Winning Writer/Producer D’Mile Writes Hits With Silk Sonic (“Leave the Door Open,” “Smokin Out the Window”) and H.E.R. (“I Can’t Breathe”)

(photo credit: Monhand Mathurin)

In less than two years, hit songwriter & producer D’Mile has won several of the biggest awards that a songwriter can hope to achieve. Impressively, he recently won three Grammy Awards including Song of the Year and Record of the Year, for co-writing & producing Silk Sonic’s #1 hit, “Leave the Door Open.” He also contributed to Lucky Daye’s EP, Table For Two, which won a Grammy Award for Best Progressive R&B Album.

On top of this, in 2021 D’Mile won two of the most prestigious awards. He won an Academy Award for Best Original Song, for co-writing H.E.R.’s “Fight For You” for the movie, Judas and the Black Messiah. He also won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year, for co-writing H.E.R.’s “I Can’t Breathe,” which was written following the killing of George Floyd. Both of these songs were written by D’Mile, H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas.

Here’s an excerpt of our interview with D’Mile, about his collaboration with Bruno Mars & Anderson Paak of Silk Sonic, and their #1 hit, “Leave the Door Open.”

Along with these awards, D’Mile has gained notoriety for his major contributions to Silk Sonic’s best-selling album, An Evening with Silk Sonic. He co-wrote & produced all the songs, including the hits “Leave the Door Open,” “Smokin Out the Window” and “Skate.”

D’Mile (whose birth name is Dernst Emile II), grew up in Brooklyn, NY, and he learned to play piano and other instruments at a young age. By the time he was a teenager, he had begun to write songs and learn about production. Then at age 19 he got his first break, co-writing a song for Rihanna’s debut album, Music of the Sun. Soon after, he also had cuts with Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson.

In 2018, D’Mile collaborated with Beyonce & Jay-Z for their album as The Carters, Everything Is Love, for which he won a Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Also in 2018, D’Mile co-wrote H.E.R.’s hit “Could’ve Been” (featuring Bryson Tiller).

Bruno Mars, D'Mile and Anderson Paak at the Grammy Awards.
Bruno Mars, D’Mile and Anderson Paak at the Grammy Awards.

In addition, D’Mile has worked with other top artists including Justin Bieber, Justin Timberlake, Alicia Keys, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, Chris Brown, Ty Dolla $ign,  Lil Wayne, Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, Diddy, Ciara and Charlie Wilson.

D’Mile Interview

We are pleased to do this new Q&A interview with D’Mile. He discusses his collaborations with Bruno Mars & Anderson Paak of Silk Sonic, with H.E.R., and with other artists.

DK: I read that you play piano and several other instruments. How did you get started as a musician?

D’Mile: I got into music from my parents. My dad is a music teacher; he gives private lessons to this day. And my whole family is in music one way or another. So I grew up into it in my household.

DK: When did you start writing songs and learning how to produce?

D’Mile: I started to write stuff when I was 5 or 6, but I took it serious when I was around 15. At 19, I had my first big placement.

DK: Which artist did you place your song with?

D’Mile: It was with Rihanna for her very first project (Music of the Sun, in 2005). It was a song called “That La, La, La.”

DK: How did you connect with Rihanna?

D’Mile: It was through a production team called Full Force that I had the honor of working with at the time. They were telling me, “There’s this new girl Rihanna from Barbados that Def Jam has signed.” At the time, I had this track that I gave them, and they said it would be perfect for her. So they got it written to, and she cut it about a day or week later. The turnaround time was really quick. It’s funny…I didn’t get to meet her at the time. I actually didn’t meet her until about a year ago. It was really brief (laughs).

Here’s the video of Silk Sonic’s #1 hit “Leave the Door Open,”
which was co-written by D’Mile.

DK: Also early on,  you worked with Mary J. Blige and Janet Jackson. Can you talk about your work with them?

D’Mile: At that time, it was a similar situation where I had the song ready, and Mary J. Blige heard it and they loved it and they wanted to keep it. It was the same with Janet. And it’s funny because years later, me and Mary are cool now (laughs), but I didn’t get to work with them in person when I first started. And then you get to meet them later on. It’s interesting how it works out that way.

DK: In 2018, you co-wrote the song “Boss” with Jay-Z & Beyonce on their album project, The Carters. How did you connect with them?

D’Mile: It was a song that I produced and did with Ty Dolla $ign…me and Ty Dolla $ign have worked a lot together. We wrote it, and I think Beyonce heard it from our publisher. She loved it, and then she kept it for a while and held it for the right time to come out. And that’s how that happened.

DK: You’ve collaborated on songs with H.E.R that have won big awards. First, can you tell the story behind writing “I Can’t Breathe,” which won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year?

D’Mile: That was a cool one. The beginning of the pandemic happened, and [with the killing or George Floyd], the Black Lives Matter movement and the riots going down. During that week, I think H.E.R, and (songwriter) Tiara Thomas were together and talking about the state of the world, and especially the state of America. I guess it compelled them to start writing the song, and as soon as they got it to a certain place, they reached out to me to help them finish it, because we’ve worked together a lot. So they sent me a rough voice note which was just H.E.R. on the guitar and singing. As soon as I heard it, I kind of teared up—it was beautiful. Then I knew what to do…what I felt it needed. So I worked on it and sent it back to them and they loved what I did. Then I think we hurried up and tried to get it out there for the world to hear.

Here’s the video of H.E.R.’s Grammy-winning song “I Can’t
Breathe,” which was co-written by D’Mile.

DK: You also wrote with H.E.R. and Tiara Thomas the song “Fight For You” for the movie, Judas and the Black Messiah, which won the Oscar for Best Original Song. How did the three of you write “Fight For You”?

D’Mile: We all happened to be in L.A. at the same time. There was this opportunity to write a song for this movie, and H.E.R. & Tiara called me to see if I was available. I had a tight schedule at the time, but I was able to make a date to go out to them. And the great thing was that we actually got to watch the whole movie before we worked on it. We sat down for two hours and watched it, and then we decided to write to it, and what we ended up writing was “Fight For You.” And I think because we saw the film in real time, we were able to capture whatever emotions that we were feeling, and we put that into the music. We were able to knock it out and we sent it off, and [the filmmakers] loved it.

DK: You’ve just won three Grammy Awards for your work with Silk Sonic. How did you connect with Bruno Mars and Anderson Paak and start working with them?

D’Mile: I met Bruno about two years ago through a mutual friend of ours named James Fauntleroy (a top writer/producer). He connected us and I had my first day with him. We were just jamming and getting to know each other, and ever since we’ve been working everyday for two years. Somewhere along the line, Bruno knew that he wanted to do something with Anderson Paak. They got together one day while we were working, and then it took a life of its own and it became Silk Sonic. It was a long process of all the stuff we did together at that time, to create the whole project.

DK: You co-wrote and produced all the songs on the Silk Sonic album. What was it that made you, Bruno and Anderson such a good team in the studio?

D’Mile: I think one thing is, we could all pick up an instrument and play (laughs). Anderson is amazing on the drums, and [we could play different instruments]. So it was like we were our own band in the studio. Especially during the pandemic, everything was shut down so all we saw was each other. So I think we built that chemistry, being lovers of music and being lovers of soul music. We just jammed every day until we come up with something we’d like, and we put it all together.

Here’s the video of H.E.R.’s Oscar-winning song “Fight For You,”
which was co-written by D’MIle.

DK: “Leave the Door Open” became a #1 hit and won Song of the Year and Record of the Year. How did you write this song with Bruno, Anderson and Brody Brown?

D’Mile: It was definitely a process…it took a while to get it right. It started with Bruno having the idea and the title, Leave the Door Open. He knew that was the concept he wanted. The rest of it was figuring out how to bring it to life. So we started messin’ around with different versions and ideas of how we could make this an incredible record. We went down the rabbit hole (laughs) of literally asking, “What’s the sound? Should we change this? Should the lyric be that?” We tore it apart and then put it back together again plenty of times until we cracked the code. It was all of us hoppin’ on something until it felt right.

DK: You’ve also worked a lot with (R&B artist) Lucky Daye, and you won a Grammy with him (for Best Progressive R&B Album). Can you talk about your work with Lucky Daye?

D’Mile: Yeah, that’s my guy. We’ve known each other for years. We started working on music for him around 2017. We were both in the mode of sort of giving up on music at the time. He came to me and was like, “Man, this is my last chance. I want to do this project for me, and I want you to help me.” And I was like, “Okay. I’m not doing anything else” (laughs).  Then he played me one or two songs that he had at the time, and I loved it. I was like, “Yeah Man, I’m already a fan of you anyway. Let’s do it and see what happens.” So the whole first project (called Painted) we did together was that. And then this recent one (Candydrip) came out and there’s a lot of me in it, too. We just have this chemistry. Musically, he’s the guy I go to get my creative juices flowing. We have a chemistry together and do what we want, and we don’t think about what everybody else may think. We just put it out there for the world to hear.

DK: Currently, I’m sure you’re working with many artists. Do you have some recent projects that you can talk about?

D’Mile: Yes. I’ve been working with Ella Mai; her record is coming out next month. Also, Victoria Monet…we’re finishing up her project soon. India Shawn is on the way. And there’s a lot more coming.

Dale Kawashima is the Head of SongwriterUniverse and a music journalist. He’s also a music publishing exec who has represented the song catalogs of Michael Jackson, Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Motown Records.
Dale Kawashima