Origins & 808 Mafia
TM's an Atlanta lifer, born there in 1987 (not '88, as his name seems to imply) and forming a loose clique called 8800 Block while in high school (where the number actually comes from). "TM," as he tells it, initially stood for "Track Man," but now acts as a double entendre for his "trademark" on beats, as it were. His interest in beatmaking was sparked by two factors: his love for horror movies and his cousin's Fruity Loops program:
"I woke up and walked to my cousin's crib one morning, and I seen in his room that he had a program called Fruity Loops. He was making a beat, and I was like, ‘Man, I wanna make a beat, show me how to make that Michael Myers' [starts imitating the “Halloween” theme, below]. So he showed me, and I made my first beat and went around the whole neighborhood, playing it out of little boomboxes and shit."
That interest in old-school horror soundtracks over the soul, funk and rock that provided the sonic blueprint for early hip hop is key in modern trap music, where heavy synths, eerie piano lines and synthetic percussion have taken the place of dusty loops and drum breaks. "I love old hip hop, ‘cause it reminds me of when I was a kid," TM says, "But I don’t want to make it. It kinda bores me. So I mixed the scary shit with the hard knocking 808 to give you that feel, the chest pump, that feeling like you wanna get drunk or whatever." However, he did look up to Lil Jon, an ATL icon who had risen from a background role to the forefront of tracks like "Get Low" and Usher's "Yeah." "Everybody wanted to be like Lil Jon," TM says, "I saw him everywhere."
Once he started taking music more seriously, he would join 808 Mafia, a production crew responsible for most of his notoriety at this point. TM credits the late Brick Squad member Slim Dunkin (who was tragically murdered in 2011) with hatching the plan to form the group, whose founding members were TM and Southside.
"Before [Slim] died," TM says, "He saw things that I think nobody else saw. He saw this whole transition to us taking over the whole music game." He and Southside had always been close, but were having their issues before the group got together, and so Slim had to tell TM, "'Bruh, y’all need to work it out. Y’all would be the most premier production group ever.'" Thankfully, they did, and 808 Mafia quickly racked up jobs for artists like Waka Flocka Flame, Gucci Mane, Future, OJ Da Juiceman, 2 Chainz and Young Thug. With a foreboding sound and a name to match, they'd soon become one of the most in-demand production teams in the game.