For the last 15 years, three-time Grammy-winning producer Hit-Boy has been cooking up heat for some of the most legendary figures in hip-hop. The scary part is, he's just reaching his prime.
Interview: C Vernon Coleman II
Images: Travis Shinn
Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2022 issue of XXL Magazine, on stands now.
The last time Hit-Boy didn't have any hits, MySpace was popping. Since breaking into the industry in 2007, he’s built a production empire on the backs of Grammy-winning hits like Jay–Z and Kanye West’s “Ni**gas in Paris” and Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle,” A-list anthems like Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” and G.O.O.D. Music’s “Clique,” and bangers like Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself” and Bey’s “***Flawless.” And Hit’s only getting better.
Born Chauncey Hollis Jr., the 34-year-old Fontana, Calif. native is a student of the game. He was a rapper before becoming a producer and founding member of the beatmaking collective Surf Club, comprised of Chase N. Cashe, B. Carr and Chili Chil, among others. Around the mid-2000s, Hit was discovered by Polow Da Don then signed with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music in 2011, before forming his own Hits Since ’87 imprint via Interscope Records one year later. Surf Club is officially the imprint he uses now.
Hit’s production credits are immense and include crafting Lil Wayne and Eminem’s “Drop the World,” whipping up some of the anthemic “Trophies” for Drake and adding to Travis Scott’s diamond smash “Sicko Mode.” Hit has also shown an ability to be a double threat with his own solo projects, plus releases as part of the rap duo Half-A-Mil with Dom Kennedy.
After going through a lull of admittedly not putting his full focus on producing, Hit’s recently become Nas’ right-hand record-maker, with the two working exclusively together on Nas’ last three albums: the Grammy-winning 2020 LP King’s Disease, its 2021 follow-up, King’s Disease II, and Magic from the same year. King’s Disease III is in the works. In the midst, Hit’s been producing entire projects for artists such as Benny The Butcher’s 2020 release, Burden of Proof, and Big Sean and Hit’s collabo EP, What You Expect, plus cranked out heat for other artists. The Game and Kanye’s “Eazy” is one of his latest credits.
Along with receiving a consensus of Producer of the Year praise from multiple media outlets and winning Producer of the Year for the XXL Awards 2022, Hit’s up for two more Grammy Awards this year as Producer of the Year and Best Rap Album for King’s Disease II.
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 Hit’s sleeve for 2022.
XXL: A lot of people called you the Producer of the Year for 2021. How does it feel to be getting recognized as the best producer doing it?
Hit-Boy: That’s something I been working toward for a long time. You can’t ever really calculate it, but I just been calculating it mentally, just trying to push myself to elevate. I know I did some great things, but if I keep pushing it forward, it ain’t no telling what can happen. I just got my first Producer of the Year [Grammy] nomination this year and I didn’t even have no super top 10 hits. I just was consistent and everything I was doing was quality.
Longevity is key. You had a big run a decade ago, and here you are doing it again. What is the key to your long-term success?
Honestly, keeping my head down and just going. As simple as that sounds. Focusing on the music and letting the music tell me what it really is versus trying to rely off my name or the fact that I’m Hit-Boy or the fact that I’ve worked with Jay-Z, Kanye, whatever. I treat it like I never even did none of that. I just lock in every day and try to push myself to make better music.
It appears you’ve been grinding harder than ever in the last two years. Is that accurate? Or are we just now seeing the fruits of your labor?
It’s a combination of things. I been grinding since day one, but I feel like at a point, I was just spreading myself too thin trying to work on all the artists I had signed as well as myself as an artist as well as staying hot as a producer. It just was a lot to deal with, without having the proper infrastructure. My focus has just completely been on production ’cause I feel like I have to catch up to myself. Really make my music catch up to where my name is.
What is it like working with Nas in the studio? Obviously, you have a good vibe, a good system.
He’s super humble. He takes my ideas and I take his ideas. I respect what he got to say and vice versa. We keep it about the music. It ain’t about the fact that he’s him or the fact that I’m me. We know what we got to do to push it to the next level. Another general consensus is that the albums have progressed and got better. We got to stay on that trajectory and just keep pushing.
You seem to thrive off being able to control the sound of a whole project. Is it just that or is it something else about that dynamic that you enjoy?
I guess just [Nas and my] situation, in particular, was perfect timing. I felt like I had a lot of catching up with the music to do and a lot of proving to myself that I am at that level. It was a time where we both kind of needed each other and we just locked in. It just made sense. That was my whole conversation with people who were around me at the time. Like, “Man, I need to take it past just doing one or two songs on people’s albums, ’cause that’s not allowing me to flourish on a level I know I can.” Now, I’m getting more recognized, more respect, more love now than ever. This is just off beats that I think is dope. You gotta really make music that’s gonna stand the test of time and be solid down the line and saying something. Working with Nas allows me to do that by default.
What’s the latest on King’s Disease III?
I feel like this is one of the first times we put a little bit of pressure on ourselves because he announced it already. It’s like, Man, we gotta really take it to that level. I’m excited to get into it, though.
You got to work with Nipsey Hussle and actually won a Grammy for your collaboration “Racks in the Middle.” What will you remember most about putting that song together?
Him really embracing what I was trying to do, and hearing where I was at. I played him “Racks in the Middle,” he knew off top. He was like, “This shit’s a hit. This joint is on that level. I gotta come through like this.” That was supposed to be my record. He ended up taking the joint and just turned 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 be making pop records, R&B records. I make all type of shit. I don’t feel like I’m just a hip-hop producer. It’s crazy to me that, at one point, I was so influenced by underdogs, Teddy Riley, people like that. I was making damn near all ballads, R&B joints. I really went through that phase. So, when I caught “Ni**as in Paris,” and damn near got put in a box of a trap producer, that’s insane to me, ’cause I never wanted to be that. I always was like trying to be on some Babyface, chord changes, crazy bridges. I end up catching a hit off my simplest beat.
You have become a go-to producer for rappers wanting to do whole projects with you. Who else are you tapping in with?
I’m tapping in with whoever want to tap in with me. I’m open. I been working with [The] Game. We got a bunch of songs. I don’t know how many he gon’ end up using.
You also have some solo projects in the works.
I been seeing a lot of people saying I should do a compilation of my own with my beats and just different artists. That’s something I wanna turn up on. Look out for that Hit-Boy compilation. My rap album, too. I got all types of joints coming.
What’s your current label situation?
I’m working through some things. I’m working on some stuff with Def Jam. My boy [new Def Jam CEO] Tunji [Balogun], I’ve known him since way back in the day. He’s running the company. We talking about doing some fly shit together. We just gon’ see.
You said on the New Rory & Mal podcast that Jay-Z emailed you about your situation with Kanye and Game helped you and Ye link back up.
It was really Game because we had started working on his album. We ran up so many songs so quick, I told him, “You need to get Ye up here.” He was like, “I’ma get him up here.” A few days later, Ye pulled up. We was just going through joints. Game already had the “Eazy” joint. He liked the bass of it, the reverse sample drums with the music. Kanye hear that with the Eazy-E sample in it and was like, “Yo, this is crazy. I got to get on this.” And it was his idea for me to contribute and I added the bassline and the kicks. It just made it move and feel a little bit heavier. That was more so just Game getting him to pull up. We been solid. We been texting here and there. I told him, “Whatever energy we had in the past, I’m trying to move forward from here and keep it all solid.”
Was it just a situation of you guys needing to talk it out? You’ve always said he was an inspiration of yours.
Yeah, for sure. You know how it is. He just was going crazy on [Kid] Cudi and then put up an apology or something. He just a different guy. He got a lot to think about. I don’t know how it feel to be a billionaire, yet. So, I don’t know what they be thinking about.
How does it feel to be the OG to young producers who are coming up now?
I was just talking about this when I was in the studio working on “Eazy” with Kanye. Somebody who was in there with us mentioned a young producer and I said something about the “young boy.” Kanye laughed because it’s like, last time we was really around each other, I was the young boy. So, that was just funny for him to hear the full-circle moment. Like, Damn, I’m really at that status now.
What do you want your legacy to be when it’s all said and done?
I just want people to remember me and think about greatness. The way we look at Dr. Dre. The way we look at Timbaland, Pharrell. The way we look at all the people that put that work in and made it to that level and still kept the pure vibes. Just being known for being great at music.
Read the cover story 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 K.R.I.T., 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 XXL's online shop.