Lil Mike: From A&R To Real Estate Mogul & Prison Reform Advocate

Lil Mike

Lil Mike talks about his love for music, getting his start as an A&R, working with Pusha-T and OT Genasis, flipping properties, prison reform, Black excellence, and more!

Lil Mike is here to change the narrative for black people all across the world. Hailing from Virginia Beach, Virginia, the 26-year-old embodies the definition of an entrepreneur, with a huge unwavering passion for music, real estate, and prison reform.

With his dad from Brooklyn New York and his mom from North Carolina, both relocated to Virginia in their early 20’s. Residing in different neighborhoods in Virginia Beach, Mike comes from humble beginnings in the hood. Revealing he didn’t have much growing up, by the grace of God his parents worked so hard and diligently so they could live above the standards. Going to school back home as well, Mike’s living in almost every city in the 757 Hampton Rose area, including Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Given his own personal experience with the criminal justice system, Mike is adamant on justice and equality for everyone. Reeling in his own background throwing parties and A&Ring for Pusha T, Mike continues to prove his talents in areas far beyond music.

AllHipHop: How did your love for music come about?

Lil Mike: My love for music came because my dad used to have this group he used to help finance called Black Sheep. I grew up in that atmosphere, how my connections in the industry started. During that time, I started getting into parties and promotion. Always liked all types of music. Justin Combs, Lil Twist, all these individuals I’d bump into a lot of places, going to New York over the summer with grandma.

It started with me throwing parties and investing into the afterparties at a young age. You start meeting new people, people behind-the-scenes. Mark Pitts, thank you. Uncle Mo really taught me the game of the music world behind-the-scenes, that’s how I got into music. I never wanted to be the front face of it. My thing to make sure they stayed in the limelight, that’s how I got into the system of A&R business.

AllHipHop: Talk about A&R-ing for Pusha T and O.T. Genasis.

Lil Mike: Uncle Mo was very close friends with my dad, helped raise me. Him and Mark Pitts were best friends. I had a lot of people who rapped or sang. They started teaching me: “okay you got an ear for music, an ear for talent and sound.” At first, I’d send good music to people. It turned into “we don’t want the music, we need the whole package.” I took that same concept and used it everywhere I went. Bumped into Busta Rhymes, started sending him music. Worked with O.T. Genasis, one of the first main artists I started working with in the studio.

AllHipHop: I love O.T., he’s the best.

Lil Mike: That’s my man, shout out O.T. I started learning the process. At first, I was road managing between him, French Montana, Busta Rhymes. I was a part of the entourage, I wanted to do more. Fast forward, everyone that wasn’t from Virginia is what got me into the music world. Pusha T, Pharrell, Missy, they’re seeing what I’m doing in the outside world. I’m in the same place they are, it turned into a whole urge of incorporating me into the things going on. Now of course Pusha T and his new record label, I still play the position of bringing talent to whatever platform I see is accepting artists. Seeing what they require, the prerequisites they want of each artist.

Now I want to be a part of the whole aspect, not just bringing them there but wanting to have a piece of what they do. When I bring people to the table, I have a percentage of what they do and what comes out of each artist. That’s how the whole A&R business worked for me, being able to have certain connections and getting certain people on the phone is what put me in that position. Being seen in certain places, being respected in that world. Coming from where I come from, that’s really big. A lot of people come to me from who I was around, it happened overnight. I was doing it, not realizing that’s what I was doing. I started calling myself a consultant because I didn’t want to be tied to any direct label or any direct group. I wanted to be able to shock whoever I had with talent to major labels, get whatever best deal we can get for them.

AllHipHop: Talk about all that you do: entrepreneur, real estate mogul, prison reform advocate.

Lil Mike: I started off doing parties, the revenue I made off parties I’ve grown I always had in my mind. It’s crazy because I was 18, me and shout out to the dude named Chris (Big C) out here in Virginia Beach.. I knew this lady named Ms. T who at the moment was managing French Montana. I call Ms.T, French Montana had that song “whoa, whoa, whoa” [“Ball Drop”]. I said “what would it be to book him?” My first show was with the Migos, but it was split. Secondly, I wanted to do it by myself. They charged me $10K. Normally for anybody else, they’re charging them $15K.

I told the people at the club I’m still paying them $15K, they gave me half of it so in reality I only had to come out of my pocket $3K. The show did pretty good, making over $100K that night. After the split, it was $50K or $60K. Me and French were so cool, he liked how I moved. With me being so young, he said “we’re going to go to Richmond then New York, you should come.” I hopped in my car and went. Mr. Johnson always was doing houses, my brain’s like “okay I’m paying rent.” I’m living by myself. I have my own property, a condo. I wanted to be in a position where I don’t have to pay no rent, I can own myself and always have that.

I’m doing a lot of parties. I came back home, there’s a property. He said “you want to get into property, you can buy property.” There’s one he had for $30K in Northern Virginia. I’m 18 at the time, I purchase it all cash. It’s a distressed home and I had it. I’m not focused on real estate, but I know in my brain I want homes. I’m making a lot of money at a young age so I buy a car. Still make sure every time we make a large amount of money, I go and buy a distressed property from Mr.Johnson. It gets to the point where I’ve got 3 homes and 2 lands, then I get locked up.

AllHipHop: What’d you get locked up for?

Lil Mike: I get locked up for marijuana. I come home, I start thinking I want to do something else. The club grind for me, I want to do something with the proceeds and not focus on that. I’ve had my own club, but people started playing with me. A lot of older dudes were hating so it was hard to get a show or a certain type of artist or to do something. I started to want property. I got with this other guy doing property, he’s looking at everything I have and said “you’ve got a strong hand. You can put these on the market and make $200K each one.”

That’s when I took the first property and put $30K into it. Got with a realtor, put it on the market and it sold for $185. Once I seen that check, it was all she wrote. Started doing that, went into all of the low income areas because I didn’t want to focus on the high end. I even started looking into New York, Virginia Beach, everything was so expensive. I always told myself I want to have something brand new and real nice in certain areas where I came from. This whole gentrification process going on in Northern Virginia, they started tearing down these parks and these hoods but I own the land here. I own certain homes, already building here.

I already have so many properties because from a young age, I‘m thinking “why don’t I own a home for $20K or $30K?” These certain homes, now they’re $60K, $80K to get distressed. The land is $40K. It’s been up since then. I met other guys who started getting into it. I appreciate Mr. Mohammed who’s now one of my managers, also a consultant for a lot of things I do. Mr. Mike Muhammed structured everything I had going on, because I was everywhere. Here doing the parties, here working as an A&R, road manager for this person, everything was so overwhelming.

AllHipHop: You guys came together to form Reform Virginia Now, what’s the premise?

Lil Mike: We formed that because I’m on probation, I had to stop doing the road management. I got a job offer from Diddy, I got a job offer from Khaled, I had a job offer from Special ENT. I couldn’t take it because my probation officer said “no you can’t travel, we’re not going to let you travel. This is probation, you can’t do what you want.” I was going to court trying to get him to let me travel and they wouldn’t allow it. Now, I have to focus on everything I had going on here. I had to stop and turn down a lot of great, life-breaking opportunities that a normal person wouldn’t get.

The whole focus of Reform Virginia is taking people in the system who’ve made mistakes and are fighting for their life. Whether you’re on probation or you got locked up for something, the whole stringent rules that probation holds on you is a revolving door. You get in there, they expect you to do all these different things that are hard. It pushes you back, it doesn’t allow you to advance in life. It doesn’t allow you to reform. For me to succeed with all this on my back, I told Mohammed “let’s do this.”

Shout out to Mohammed, he got me in front of governors, presidents, the mayor, everybody who hopped on board pushing the fact of what’s going on. I put my case on full blast. I had to prove to the world what my mistakes were, what I was locked up for, what I did. We used that as a stepping stool to open the door for so many different people following the same steps that Michael Rubin, Jay Z did using Meek Mill’s case. I was on probation in 2 cities for the same thing: marijuana. Dealing with them for months and months. The same day they freed Meek Mill off of probation, Chesapeake did that for me the following day. Mr. Mohammed put together a packet and a whole presentation that followed that same guideline and same path they’re using, but used it from factual data from Virginia Beach.

We’re very successful, we get so many cases. We have a team of 5 lawyers we work with. We’ve got a lot of people into office. I’ve learned a lot the legislation process. It’s been so knowledgeable and such a blessing because a lot of cases I’ve seen overturn, a lot of people we brought out from the system and jail that were sentenced to 25 or 50 years, it was ongoing. To see them freed, I know it’s worth it. It brought a light to a lot of situations. I started getting into economic development, opportunity zones. There’s a re-justification going on in many cities. In Virginia, there’s 14 opportunity zones and places of that.

AllHipHop: What are your goals?

Lil Mike: To bring a lot of events to the city of Northern Virginia Beach in order to rebuild these areas, which we’ve been doing. For us as black people in order to have that generational wealth, you actually own apartment buildings and homes. A lot of things we can do and places we can invest into and have money allocated to whatever we want to do from the city, from the government that we don’t even know we have access to.

AllHipHop: Touch on Black excellence and what it means to be a strong black American.

Lil Mike: Black excellence is taken from where you come from, who you are as a black man. How it’s been so hard for us for 400 years of slavery that we’ve had to endure and deal with. To be able to come from a certain type of background and having an outlook on what and how hard it’s been on with a black person in general to do and accomplish certain things. I look at Black excellence as a goal and an accomplishment, like “I did it.” You take me and things I’ve been through, where I’ve been through, doing all together 8 years and I still did it. There’s still a chance. We think because of our mistakes and the places we come from that we’re not eligible to do or accomplish certain things. When we do accomplish these things, it’s an excellence. It’s a vibe, it’s a whole aura it gives you. I did this and it’s black only, we’re getting this same respect that other ethnic groups are getting. That’s always a blessing, something to be proud of and boast about.

AllHipHop: Anything else you want to let us know?

Lil Mike: Whatever you put your mind into, whatever you put your heart to, be more whole-heartedly into it. Know that you can do it. Know that no matter what you’ve been through in life, there’s always a chance. A lot of people, we look at our downfalls. We look at what we’ve been through and allow it to pull us back, not realizing if you’re looking behind you, you can’t see what’s in front of you. Keep pressing forward and it’s going to happen.