Inside Track: FNZ

Finatik & Zac De Boni
By Paul Tingen

FNZ are Finatik aka Michael Mulé (left) and Zac De Boni.

Hard work and a love of sampling have made FNZ the hottest production duo around.

“When we started flipping samples in 2018, very few were doing that. We’d send our packs to people, and they’d say, ‘Oh, man, can you send me some non‑samples, please?’ And we were like, ‘Sorry, but no, this is what we’re doing. Take it or leave it.’

“Since then sampling has made a full‑scale comeback. Look at Jack Harlow’s ‘Lovin On Me’, Drake’s ‘First‑Person Shooter’ [both 2023], and Drake and Future’s ‘Way 2 Sexy’ [2021]. Since then everyone has followed suit and is chopping up samples. We love it, because it’s the foundation of what we do.”

Speaking is Michael Mulé, aka Finatik, one half of FNZ, the other half being Isaac ‘Zac’ De Boni. The production duo have been involved in hits by Kanye West, Kid Cudi, 21 Savage, Nicki Minaj, Drake, the Kid Laroi, Jack Harlow, Burna Boy, Offset, Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, Future and many more, earning three Grammy Awards in the process.

Slow Burn

Except for Kanye, all FNZ’s above‑mentioned big‑name credits date from the current decade, when major success finally hit. With credits dating back to 2009, it means that the duo spent considerable time getting to where they are now, working hard to improve their skills, and making the right connections.

“For years the stuff we were making wasn’t cutting through at the highest level,” comments Mulé, “because it wasn’t as unique or polished as it should have been. We didn’t have an identity yet. The feedback let us know that we weren’t ready yet. We weren’t getting the song placements we wanted, and we weren’t working with the people we wanted to work with. We spent a long time figuring it out. I think it was when we started working with artists like A$AP Rocky [2012] that the music we were involved in making began to represent our true soul in terms of experimenting with different colours, different atmospheric sounds and generally sounding different. After that it wasn’t until 2018‑2019 that we made stuff that when Kanye heard it and Drake heard it, they were like ‘Yeah, let me get on that.’”

Mulé: “For me it started in 1999, when I saw the Beastie Boys with Mix Master Mike on Australian TV. He was going nuts on a Vestax turntable. I was like, who is this guy? I became obsessed with turntablism.

Sowing The Seeds

Although they are now based in LA, the duo are originally from Perth, Australia, where their love of sampling was kindled. “For me it started in 1999,” recalls Mulé, “when I saw the Beastie Boys with Mix Master Mike on Australian TV. He was going nuts on a Vestax turntable. I was like, who is this guy? I became obsessed with turntablism. I saved up enough to get some turntables and a mixer, and started researching music and collecting records. I got heavily into the DJ battle circuit, with DMC championships, under the name DJ Finatik. This plateaued when I was 16, after which I started making beats. I again saved up money, to buy an Akai MPC2000 and other studio gear, and I studied what people like DJ Premier, the Alchemist and Pete Rock were doing. For a long time I was really bad at making beats!”

De Boni’s starting point was different. He played piano, and then, “at the age of 14 or 15, a friend of my brother introduced me to Fruity Loops. I began using it, and made beats for friends. From there I went to Reason and other software, and just kept hacking away at it. I was terrible, but for some reason kept going. When I got a bit better, a mutual friend introduced Mike and I. We lived maybe 15 minutes from each other.”

“Zac started coming over to my mum’s house,” continues Mulé. “I had an MPC4000 by then, and a Digidesign Digi 002, with the mixer, hooked up to Pro Tools. The 4000 was a huge, clunky piece of equipment, but it was great. We had a Yamaha Motif Rack synth as well. We made beats from scratch, often using samples.”

California Dreaming

Finatik ‘n Zac, as they were known, gradually built a reputation as the best beatmakers in Perth. At one point De Boni also attended the SAE Institute in Perth to sharpen his studio skills. But they had dreams of moving to the US, where, says Mulé, “the music was created that we were fans of. A friend of ours had a show at a small radio station in Perth called Groove FM, and did interviews with big producers from the US. One of the guys he interviewed was Jim Jonsin, and our friend got him to listen to some of our music. Jim said he wanted to sign us, but as time went on, we heard nothing and lost contact.

“We were doing regular jobs at this point. I worked at my mum’s café and Zac at an Italian restaurant. Eventually we realised that if we wanted to make this happen, we had to fly to Miami, and contact Jim as soon as we got there. So we did, with all our equipment, and he was just gobsmacked and shocked that’d we’d flown across the world. This was in the beginning of 2009. Three months later he signed us. We continued travelling up and down between Perth and Miami, and at the end of 2010 we moved permanently.

“Jim would be in his main studio, with artists like Kelly Rowland, Pitbull, Usher, and so on. We could come in, meet them, and then we went to a back room to build our own clientele and repertoire and confidence. Two years later, around 2011‑12, Jim said, ‘OK, you guys are ready now,’ and he invited us in his room while he worked with Ludacris and A$AP Rocky and others.

“During that time none of the songs we worked on were big hits, so the royalties were not crazy. It wasn’t until we moved to LA, in 2016, that we were getting some financial rewards for all the hard labour. Our time in Miami was about cutting our teeth and learning the ropes. We had sessions with amazing artists and this and that, but were still learning. But we knew that at some point we would have to move out to LA to build our career, as opposed to being in the shadow of a big producer.”

“A big shout‑out to Jim. He made it all happen for us early on,” continues De Boni. “But people were going to Miami to work with him, they weren’t flying there to work with us. Moving to LA was the beginning of us starting to forge our own identity, and for that reason we shortened our name to FNZ. We worked a lot with Denzel Curry, and also executive produced his albums. Our name started to build from that.”

“Coming to LA was like shedding an old skin for us,” recalls Mulé, “it was a new beginning. But to be honest, it was really hard. Many producers had told us, ‘When you move to LA, we’ll get together.’ But after we arrived, cricket silence. It’s the name of the game. We simply had to continue to prove ourselves, until people would reach out to us.

“Working with Kanye was another big stepping stone. We worked on his unreleased Yandhi album, and then, finally, a track we had done with him, ‘Everything We Need’, was released on his Jesus Is King album [2019]. We also were involved in the making of three songs of his Nebuchadnezzar opera, including the song ‘Wash Us In The Blood’ [2020, with Travis Scott]. After 10 years cutting our teeth, things really started to happen, and snowballed from there.”

Joint Effort

The snowballing culminated in an exceptionally successful 2023, with FNZ credits that include Kodak Black, Young Thug, Trippie Redd, Marshmello, Lil Wayne, Offset, Nicki Minaj and many more. FNZ’s most notable credits in 2023 include five songs on the Kid Laroi’s debut album The First Time, as well as Drake’s ‘First Person Shooter’ (featuring J Cole), and Travis Scott’s ‘Thank God’. Another major hit single FNZ worked on was Future’s ‘Wait For U’ (2022, featuring Drake and Tems), which won a Grammy for Best Melodic Rap Performance in 2023.

FNZ with the Kid Laroi (front) and Ty Dollar $ign (right).

FNZ’s credits are almost always as co‑writers and co‑producers, but these can reflect two very distinct approaches: conventional co‑writing and co‑producing with an artist in the studio, in which they see the production process through until the end; or supplying starting points for other producers and artists to work with, without any...

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Published May 2024