Over the past 15 years, three-time Grammy-winning producer Hit-Boy has turned up the heat for some of hip-hop’s most legendary figures. The scary part is that he’s just peaking.
Interview: C Vernon Coleman II
Images: Travis Shinn
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, now on newsstands.
The last time Hit-Boy had no hits, MySpace was booming. Since entering the industry in 2007, he’s built a production empire on the back of Grammy-winning hits like Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Ni**gas in Paris” and “Racks in the Middle.” by Nipsey Hussle, leading hymns. like Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” and GOOD Music’s “Clique,” and bangers like Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself” and Bey’s “***Flawless.” And Hit only gets better.
Born Chauncey Hollis Jr., the 34-year-old Fontana, California native is a student of the game. He was a rapper before becoming a producer and a founding member of the beatmaking collective Surf Club, consisting of Chase N. Cashe, B Carr and Chili Chil, among others. In the mid-2000s, Hit was discovered by Polow Da Don and then signed to Kanye West’s GOOD Music in 2011, before forming his own Hits Since ’87 imprint through Interscope Records a year later. Surf Club is officially the imprint he uses now.
Hit’s production credits are immense and include creating Lil Wayne and Eminem’s “Drop the World”, preparing some of the anthemic “Trophies” for Drake and adding to Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode” diamond smash. . Hit has also shown his ability to be a double threat with his own solo projects, as well as releases as part of the rap duo Half-A-Mil with Dom Kennedy.
After going through a lull without fully focusing on production, Hit recently became Nas’ right-hand man, with the two working exclusively together on Nas’ last three albums: The Grammy-winning 2020 LP. The King’s Diseaseits follow-up 2021, King II diseaseand Magic of the same year. Illness of King III is under construction. In the middle, Hit produced entire projects for artists such as Benny’s 2020 release The Butcher, Burden of proofand Big Sean and Hit’s collaborative EP, what you expect, as well as warmth for other artists. The Game and Kanye’s “Eazy” is one of his last credits.
In addition to receiving a consensus of Producer of the Year accolades from several media outlets and winning the Producer of the Year award for XXL Awards 2022, Hit’s up for two more Grammy Awards this year as Producer of the Year and Best Rap Album for King II disease.
XXL spoke with Hit-Boy in February via Zoom about his award-winning run, working exclusively with Nas, reconciling with Kanye, and what’s up in Hit’s sleeve for 2022.
XXL: A lot of people called you Producer of the Year for 2021. How does it feel to be recognized as the best producer to do it?
hitboy: It’s something I’ve been working on for a long time. You can never really calculate it, but I just calculated it mentally, just trying to push myself to rise. I know I’ve done great things, but if I keep moving forward, there’s no telling what can happen. I just got my first producer of the year [Grammy] nomination this year and I didn’t even have a super top 10 hit. I was just consistent and everything I did was quality.
Longevity is the key. You had a big run ten years ago, and you’re doing it again. What is the key to your long-term success?
Honestly, keep your head down and go for it. As simple as it sounds. Focusing on the music and letting the music tell me what it really is instead of trying to trust my name or the fact that I’m a Hit-Boy or the fact that I worked with Jay-Z, Kanye, whatever. I treat him like I’ve never done any of this. I lock myself in everyday and try to push myself to make better music.
It looks like you’ve worked harder than ever for the past two years. Is it correct? Or are we seeing the fruits of your labor?
It’s a combination of things. I was grinding from day one but I feel like at some point I was spreading myself too thin trying to work on all the artists I signed as well as myself as an artist while remaining hot as a producer. It was just a lot to manage, without having the proper infrastructure. I focused entirely on production because I feel like I have to catch up. Really making my music catch up to my name.
What is it like working with Nas in the studio? Obviously, you have a good atmosphere, a good system.
He is super humble. He takes my ideas and I take his ideas. I respect what he has to say and vice versa. We stick to the music. It’s not about him being him or me being me. We know what we need to do to take it to the next level. Another general consensus is that the albums have progressed and improved. We have to stay on this trajectory and keep pushing.
You seem to thrive on being able to control the sound of an entire project. Is it just that or is it something else in this dynamic that you enjoy?
i just guess [Nas and my] situation, in particular, was perfect timing. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do with the music and proving to myself that I was on that level. It was a time when we both needed each other and we just locked ourselves in. It made sense. It was all my conversation with the people around me at the time. Like, “Man, I have to skip just doing a song or two on people’s albums, because that’s not allowing me to grow to a level that I know I can.” Now I am more recognized, more respected, more loved than ever. It’s just offbeat that I think it’s dope. You really have to make music that will stand the test of time and be solid all the way and say something. Working with Nas allows me to do this by default.
What’s the latest on Illness of King III?
I have the impression that this is one of the first times that we put a little pressure on ourselves because he has already announced it. It’s like, man, we really have to take it to that level. I can’t wait to get to it, though.
You worked with Nipsey Hussle and actually won a Grammy for your “Racks in the Middle” collaboration. What will you remember the most from the assembly of this song?
Him really embracing what I was trying to do and hearing where I was at. I played him “Racks in the Middle”, he knew it above all else. He was like, “This shit is a hit. This joint is at this level. I have to get out of this. It was supposed to be my record. He ended up taking the joint and just turning it into what it is.
What would it mean to win Producer of the Year at the Grammys and be one of the few hip-hop producers to do so?
I make pop records, R&B records. I do all kinds of shit. I don’t feel like I’m just a hip-hop producer. It’s crazy to me that at some point I was so influenced by outsiders, Teddy Riley, people like that. I was doing almost all the ballads, the R&B joints. I really went through this phase. So when I caught “Ni**as in Paris”, and almost got put in a trap producer’s box, it’s crazy for me, because I never wanted to be that. I was always like trying to be on some babyface, chord changes, crazy bridges. I end up catching a hit on my simplest rhythm.
You have become an essential producer for rappers wanting to do entire projects with you. Who else are you in contact with?
I type with whoever wants to type with me. I’m open. I worked with [The] Game. We have a bunch of songs. I don’t know how much it will end up using.
You also have solo projects in the works.
I saw a lot of people saying that I should make my own compilation with my beats and just different artists. It’s something I want to reveal. Look for this Hit-Boy compilation. My rap album too. I have all types of joints coming.
What is your current situation as a label?
I work on some things. I’m working on stuff with Def Jam. My boy [new Def Jam CEO] Tunji [Balogun], I know him since a long time. He runs the business. We’re talking about bullshitting together. We’ll just see.
You said on the New Rory & Mal Podcast that Jay-Z emailed you about your situation with Kanye and Game helped you reconnect with Ye.
It was really Game because we had started working on his album. We ran so many songs so fast, I said to him, “You gotta bring Ye here.” He was like, “I’m going to bring him here.” A few days later, Ye stopped. We were just going through joints. The game already had the “Eazy” joint. He liked the bass, the drum samples reversed with the music. Kanye heard that with the Eazy-E sample in it and was like, “Yo, that’s crazy. I have to get on it. And it was his idea that I contribute and added the bassline and the kicks. It just made it move and feel a little heavier. It was more fair that Game forced him to stop. We have been solid. We texted here and there. I said to him, “Whatever energy we had in the past, I’m trying to move forward from here and keep it strong.”
Was it just a situation where you needed to talk about it? You always said he was an inspiration to you.
Yes of course. You know how it is. He was just going crazy [Kid] Cudi and then apologize or something like that. He’s just a different guy. He has a lot to think about. I don’t know what it’s like to be a billionaire yet. So I don’t know what they are thinking.
How does it feel to be the OG of young producers who are rising now?
I was just talking about that when I was in the studio working on “Eazy” with Kanye. Someone who was there with us mentioned a young producer and I said something about the “young boy”. Kanye laughed because it’s like, the last time we were really together, I was the young boy. So it was just funny for him to hear the full circle moment. Like, Damn, I’m really at this status now.
What do you want your legacy to be when all is said and done?
I just want people to remember me and think of greatness. The way we look at Dr. Dre. The way we look at Timbaland, Pharrell. The way we look at all the people who have done this work and reached this level while keeping the vibrations pure. Just being known for being great at music.
Read the cover with Playboi Carti and Check out the other interviews in the magazine with Fivio Foreign, Latto, DaBaby, Wiz Khalifa and Juicy J, Joey Bada$$, Denzel Curry, RZA, Big KRIT, Saba, Morray, Nardo Wick, Kali, Sleepy Hallow, SSGKobe, ATL Jacob , Pink Sweat$, Saucy Santana, Jason Lee, Angie Randisi and Colby Turner in the new issue of XXL magazine, which is on newsstands now and in The XXL online store.