Quality Control engineer Thomas “Tillie” Mann spent months tracking down The Stereotypes to play some beats for Lil Yachty. He was a big fan of the production group’s work with Bruno Mars, and thought the quartet might be able cook up some magic for the young Atlanta rapper’s debut studio album Teenage Emotions. When the hitmakers finally made it to the studio to play a pack of beats for Yachty, however, he wasn’t familiar with their discography and didn’t give his full attention to the session.
It didn’t matter, though. Thanks to their experience working together, Tillie knew he could bring out the best in Yachty regardless of the situation. The Detroit native took the reins by picking out the beat which would later become “Better.”Before Yachty left the studio for the evening, Tillie coaxed him to record a one-take verse and took over from there.
“I was just working on stuff all night, mixing and moving stuff around,” Tillie remembers. “I cut some of the stuff he said in the verse and moved stuff around and made a hook. Then, I went in and made a verse. I woke up the next day and sent it to him and he replied like, ‘This is my favorite song now.’”
This is just one example of the expanding role of engineers in hip-hop, who must increasingly handle responsibilities beyond tracking vocals and mixing songs. As many rappers record new material at a breakneck pace and rely on Auto-Tune more heavily than ever, engineers play a key part in bringing an artist’s vision to life while serving as a critical ear for new music as it’s being recorded. It’s in this role that Tillie has excelled, helping Quality Control become the influential record label it is today.
As long as Tillie can remember, he has been around music. While growing up in Detroit, Tillie would accompany his mother, who was once a backup singer for George Clinton, to the recording studio. While she was laying down vocals, he would keep himself occupied by messing around with instruments while nobody was watching. Eventually, Tillie was able to play the drums and a few chords on the guitar just from watching the countless hours of rehearsal.
In addition to developing a natural ear for music, Tillie discovered a talent for tinkering with gadgets. Both of these skill sets came in handy when his older sister was offered a record deal with Aretha Franklin and needed someone to engineer and produce her vocals. Although she decided to go to college instead, the experience piqued Tillie’s curiosity. He soon started working with artists on the local scene during his early teen years, forming a group in which he rapped and served as the engineer.
This experience proved useful when Tillie moved to Atlanta in 2006 at the age of 16. While trying to make it as a producer, he started working with rappers like Lil Scrappy and Rocko, but everything changed after meeting Rich The Kid in 2012. The “Plug Walk” rapper introduced Tillie to Migos a year later, and he become one of the group’s closest collaborators after joining Quality Control in July 2013...