grammys 2022

Silk Sonic Producer D’Mile Honored His Late Mother by Making Grammys History

D’Mile, center, won three Grammys for co-writing and co-producing “Leave the Door Open” with Silk Sonic. Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

D’Mile didn’t get to accept his first Grammy onstage. The 37-year-old producer found out he won Song of the Year with H.E.R. for “I Can’t Breathe” in 2021 while watching the ceremony on TV, unable to attend because of COVID-19 protocols. But this year, he more than made up for it, winning Song of the Year for the second year in a row — a feat never before accomplished in Grammys history — for his work on Silk Sonic’s “Leave the Door Open.” (And he had good odds of repeating the win, considering he was also nominated for H.E.R.’s “Fight for You,” which he won an Oscar for in 2021.) When he got to the stage, Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak gave D’Mile his moment in the spotlight first — to dedicate the award to his mother, the Haitian singer Yanick Étienne, who died March 30.

Along with being an influential vocalist in Haitian music, Étienne made her mark on the pop world by singing backup on Roxy Music’s “Avalon” and contributing to multiple solo albums by Bryan Ferry. Like his mother, D’Mile — born Dernst Emile II and named for his father, also a producer — has had his own varied career. He was a go-to collaborator for Ty Dolla $ign in the mid-2010s before becoming one of the busiest hitmakers in R&B, working with not just H.E.R. and Silk Sonic but also Khalid, Victoria Monét, and even Beyoncé and Jay-Z on their Carters song “BOSS.” He won three Grammys last night for “Leave the Door Open,” and his influence is all over the R&B field: He also produced Lucky Daye’s Table for Two, which won Best Progressive R&B Album. D’Mile spoke to Vulture the day after the Grammys about honoring his mother with his wins and his work across R&B.

How’s it going?
Amazing. I feel overwhelmed. I’m just in disbelief about what happened last night.

How was the rest of the evening after the show?
It was crazy. We went and partied — I was out till like 3:30 in the morning. Everybody was congratulating me, and it was good to be with some of my friends as well and fellow winners. I got to see Bruno and Andy afterward. I don’t know if you could tell by my voice; it was a good night.

It sounds like this past week has been a total whirlwind. You dedicated your Song of the Year win to your late mother, who passed a few days earlier. What made you decide to still go to the show?
I told her I was going to bring one back home before she passed. I just knew that she would want me to be there and keep living and make her proud in public or however. I don’t think she would want me to not go. So I really went for her.

How did that moment feel for you, going up there when you won Song of the Year?
Everything went kind of fast, and I was just trying to hurry up and get to the stage. By the time I got up there, I started feeling the emotions a little bit. It was just such a surreal moment. And Bruno told me in my ear, “Yo, man, say something about your mom.” Once he did that, I was like, Oh, man. I tried to hold it together. It was just crazy to be in front of all those people and be able to even have a chance to dedicate it to my mom. That was my favorite part of it all.

And your mother was a musician too.
Yeah, my mom and my dad. I wish I’d thanked my dad. He’s the reason that I am a musician; so is my mom. That was my college. That was my high school. That was my school of music, being home and seeing them work, working with them, growing up with them. My mom, she was a Haitian artist. And her first project was probably my first anything on a project, when I was 6 years old. I did a little interlude with my dad for it. I guess it was destined to happen that I would be doing music and end up where I’m at right now.

You won Song of the Year last year too. How are you making sense of breaking that record?
Man, these past two — even three — years have been just a wild ride for me. I definitely didn’t expect to set a record. Even when I heard that it was possible, I was like, Wow, really? No one’s ever done that? It’s just wild to me that I’m at the Grammys, let alone winning, and last year being able to win an Oscar. I’m just honored to be doing what I love and getting noticed for it. I hope it inspires somebody else who’s coming up to keep going because I think I’m a true testament of if you keep going and you don’t let this whole thing bring you down — it’s right at that moment, when you feel that way, when everything will start going up. That’s what I was feeling, and that’s what happened to me.

You won awards for your work with Silk Sonic. What was your reaction when you saw Anderson was wearing that wig to the show?
Oh my God, I was laughing. I thought he was only going to wear it for the first couple shows during their Las Vegas residency. But he’s riding this whole thing out. He’s wearing it everywhere. So I get it now — that’s his thing. It’s hilarious to me. I love it.

You worked on the whole album with them, which must have made for a fun time in the studio. Is there a standout moment from making the project that you think about?
It’s definitely hard work, but I think every time we get to the finish line of a song, like, Yes we did it. Especially when we did “Leave the Door Open,” we all knew that we had it. After however many versions, however many different ideas, once it was done and we got it all together, that was everything for me. But really, every song had a special feeling just to get it all done.

You’ve had your hands in a lot of different R&B projects. You worked on H.E.R.’s “Fight for You,” and the Lucky Daye EP. What is that like, for you to see so many of these different artists who you’re collaborating with getting recognized?
It makes me so happy because these are all my friends. I really view them as more than just people I work with, from Bruno to H.E.R. to Lucky. I’m extremely proud of Lucky. It was his first one, and that meant the world to me because we had a similar story of almost giving up at one point, kind of at the same time. Then we decided to work together, and two, three years later, he’s a Grammy winner for the work that we’ve done. And I’ve known H.E.R. since she was 11. It’s a great thing to do this with the people you know and love.

Silk Sonic is about bringing that ’70s and ’80s sound back. When you’re working on a project like that, how do you make sure it still sounds fresh and is something that belongs in the 2020s?
I think of a Quincy quote that I hear: “You got to leave some room for God to happen in the room.” And I believe that very strongly. I just go off the vibe depending on who I’m working with. I try to tailor for whoever that artist is. I’m always nervous the first time I work with somebody, but then magic happens. I don’t know if it’s a specific formula besides just, once I get in the room with them, it comes together. That’s the part where God comes in.

That’s interesting to hear because you’ve got these projects that are playing with throwback sounds, and then you have things like the Lucky Daye EP and your work with Snoh Aalegra, where you’re incorporating electronics and trap influences. What is it like for you to switch between these two hats — making things that are both R&B but in different musical languages?
It’s cool. Sometimes you might have to get me at the right time — if I’m in the zone of one kind of thing. But I think I can switch it up well enough. I just grew up loving all types of music, not just R&B. One of my favorite bands is Paramore. I’m just really into music in every way. Growing up and listening to those things, having the understanding, makes it easier for me to be able to switch it up. The ’70s is one of my favorite eras of music. The ’80s is definitely one of my favorite eras of music. And then the ’90s, 2000s was in real time for me. Biggie Smalls was my introduction to hip-hop. So I don’t know what the word is, but I’m just into it all.

You talked about having so many big breaks over the past few years, and now winning Song of the Year twice in a row, winning these other Grammys, winning an Oscar. What are your goals at this point?
Just keep going up from here. Whatever God wishes for me is what I want to go for. I have ideas here and there and goals in my head that I do want to set, but I might not want to jinx it yet until it’s looking good. Eventually doing stuff with my own artists and being able to break my own artists, have my own label, is one of the next things. I’d like to get more into movies, scoring, which I think would be interesting and challenging. I’m definitely ready. But really just anything that comes my way. If it involves music, there’s no ceiling.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

D’Mile Honored His Late Mother by Making Grammys History