Interview: Hit-Boy

Life after GOOD Music.

Hit Boy went from his mom’s house to working with Lil Wayne, Eminem, Kanye West and Jay-Z in the space of two years. He released the quadruple platinum “Drop the World” and “Niggas In Paris” almost back to back and was on the stage with Watch The Throne when they performed the track 11 times. But, for him, it’s not enough. The 27 year old, real name Chauncey Hollis, spends every day thinking about the producer he’s working to become.

In 2013, Hit Boy left Kanye’s GOOD Music label and broke out on his own. Details on the split are murky and naysayers claim he shouldn’t have left Yeezy’s side, but Hollis doesn’t care. More focused than ever, he’s launched the Hits Since ‘87 imprint and modelled his career after Timbaland’s history of working with hand-picked talent. Hit Boy has since formed a collective including long term friends Audio Push, started a solo rap career and released music with his formerly incarcerated father Big Hit.

While preparing to release new tracks “Automatically” and “Show Me Something,” he talked about producing for Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre, and life after GOOD Music.

Lil Wayne feat. Eminem - Drop the World

Was last year your quietest production-wise in some time?

As far as producing for a bunch of people, yes, because I took time to focus on my label. I put out We the Plug and I produced a bunch of songs on there, that if you go listen to those beats, there aren’t really a lot of urban beats that match that. But it’s just that we’re a growing label and we’re a growing situation so not as many people are paying attention to us right now, but we’re on the radar and we’ve been dropping just as much music as everybody else. It’s just that people aren’t paying as much attention because it’s a new situation, you know.

Other than the obvious choices like your squad or Jay/Kanye, is there someone particularly hands-on you’ve worked with?

Honestly, I mean there’s Bey[once] you know. She’s part of the whole Jay-Z/Kanye level, but she definitely knows what she wants when you’re working with her. I might do a drum pattern and she’ll tell me it needs to sound more “futuristic” or it needs to have different textures, so I like working with her a lot too. She knows exactly what she wants.

Beats sometimes get overlooked by one artist, then picked up by another. Does that happen to you?

Almost every hit you’ve heard from me was a beat I pitched to somebody else and they turned it down. Almost all of my hits, things you might know me for, I’ve given to someone else first.

Kendrick Lamar - Backseat Freestyle

You produced Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” track, which was originally made for Ciara.

Yeah, it was a song called “Hit Boy.” I don’t know if she’s still signed to Epic, but she did it and the whole label was saying “this is her single” and they were super excited about it and then, next thing you know, I never heard anything back. So when Kendrick came through, I played the beat and he went crazy over it.

I think the beat was meant for Kendrick.

It definitely turned out to be what it was supposed to be. That’s why I don’t ever trip. I used to get super frustrated. I would get to a point where I would be like, “Damn, is my music not the level I need it to be at?” But then it’s like you know, it has to line up for the right artist and I got the biggest lesson out of that with “Niggas In Paris.” Like seven or eight different artists had the chance to get on that beat and it just wasn’t meant to be, because it was meant for the biggest artists in rap to get on it.

Are you a crate digger? Do you hunt for samples or is that not your style?

I have a bunch of stuff. I work with my homeboy Don Cannon. That’s my friend for years and he usually loads me up with a bunch of samples that I kind of just go through when I need inspiration. I do samples. I play keys. I do drums. It’s kind of just however I’m feeling it. Sometimes if I want to be inspired by a melody, I’ll go and listen to different samples and songs, and try to just find something that catches me.

There’s a sample on “Backseat Freestyle” from a Latin group called The Chakachas. The part of the beat with the vocal “Ah ring-ting-ting, ah ring-ting-ting.” Was that something you found and flipped?

That was actually a kit I got from another producer, if I’m not mistaken. Somebody I know gave me a kit and that had it in it. I was like, “Damn, I don’t know why they didn’t use that for one of their beats.” I used it for “Backseat Freestyle” and it worked out. We had somebody re-sing it for the actual version.

HS87 - Nothin’

When you started your own label HS87 were you nervous or mostly determined?

I mean I’m always determined. I’m always trying to prove people wrong in a sense and just prove to myself what I’m able to accomplish. Building my label, it’s been a rocky fucking road. It has not been any type of straight line, it’s definitely been about pushing to get people to believe in what I’ve got going and to support it and understand it. So it’s just like you’ve kind of got to do the best that you can do and outdo what you’ve last done and just keep it pushing. You can’t get too caught up on concepts of things happening in a certain way or things popping off over night. It don’t happen like that. I’m just at a point where I’m happy I can be in a position where I can make the music I want to make and just live.

I take it you’d never want to retire and live off a few big records.

Hell no. Fuck no. Not at all. Not even close. I’m definitely still at my early stages, man. I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished even a piece of what I was sent here to do. The person I saw myself being when I was 14-15 year’s old, I’m not that person. So I’ve got to fucking keep going and keep working and just keep it moving, until it gets there.

There’s always been doubt, there’s always been fear, there’s always that frustration, that anxiety. All of that, but that’s a part of being a creative. I’m a fucking madman, I’m always trying to help out a bunch of people at once, on top of helping myself, on top of just trying to stay relevant as a producer and it’s a lot of pressure. It’s a lot of shit going on. It’s about outdoing your last musically or vocally or delivery-wise. Just doing it better than your last thing and from there, it’s a plus if people like it, if people buy it and people mess with it. And also, this is not something I’ve talked about on record, like I feel like I got caught up in trying to chase the “Niggas In Paris” success and I started to feel like shit was a failure. I started to feel like things were a failure if it didn’t achieve people going as crazy as when an artist performs a song 13 times in a row. I just kind of got too locked on the concept like everything needs to be like this or it’s not successful, but that’s not reality.

Part of your career has been boosted by once in a lifetime opportunities such as stumbling upon Pharrell and Kanye using the studio across from yours in 2007. Is there a part of you that is guided by the anxiety of making the most of the situation you’re in?

Honestly, every morning and every day that I wake up I’m questioning myself and I’m definitely anxious to be better than I was, because I got caught at a point where all people wanted to talk about, all people thought I was good for was “Niggas In Paris” type of stuff. It’s like I started off doing pop and R&B and I came up just on different sounds. So for people to categorize me as a trap producer or a simple beat-maker, that had me frustrated for the longest time, but I just had to understand that it’s the song that people connected with the most. So you’ve just got to run with it and keep doing your thing and it’ll work out. So I’m definitely anxious to beat out everything I’ve ever done and just not be that “Niggas In Paris” kid.

Jay-Z & Kanye West - Niggas In Paris Live At Hackney 2012

Tell us about the influence of The Underdogs on you as a young producer.

They were one of my hugest inspirations that I had. When I was like 16, 17, 18, that was the premier production group for me because one of my people, Steve – who was in the group Troop with my uncle back in the day – he was writing a bunch of records with The Underdogs and he was signed to them. So I started going up there to their studio in Hollywood, off of Cahuenga, and we just started making a bunch of music and once they wanted to sign me, I kind of just got away from the situation and started moving back on my own, but musically and just with bridges, and changes and just crazy chords and stuff, they’re a major influence on me. Always have been.

As a kid you used to perform at family gatherings?

Yeah, like at my birthday parties and different parties, my mom would always make me rap and shit, but I wanted to. Like I was always into Ice Cube and I would sing R. Kelly songs and shit just at the lil’ family parties and stuff.

Your uncle Rodney from R&B group Troop was the first person that believed in you.

He was definitely the first person that just told me to believe in myself on a certain level and that I can take some time and focus on other things or I can really focus on my music and by the time I’ll get to where I want to go, I’ll be much happier. I’ll be doing exactly what I want to do and not having to conform to answering to a boss or answering to a motherfucker that I don’t want to be around. So it’s like I’m glad that he instilled certain things in me early, to just believe in myself, because he had already seen it, he had already been through it and he already felt like he lost out on a situation that was great. So I just kind of got to learn from him, just seeing the difference from when he was “up” and how many people were around him and then once things kind of slowed down, how people were no longer around. So I kind of got all types of lessons from him without directly getting the lessons. I just got them from experience and seeing.

When you left GOOD Music did you kind of experience a similar thing? Did it show you who your real friends were?

Just the fact that you, right now, told me that I had a slow year, that’s because people aren’t as in tune anymore, because it’s not the big fucking whoo-ha co-sign or big whoever it is, because it’s just like I’m co-signing myself and I’m doing my thing and that takes time to build and that takes time for people to believe in and understand the level. So it’s just about continuing on and doing your thing man, and if you’re nice, you’ll be able to progress and just make your lane and do what you want to do.

You’re focusing on promoting your friends with talent rather than just chasing celebrity.

I’ve always felt like the underdog and I’ve got a huge chip on my shoulder because I just feel like I’ve never been believed in on the level that I wanted to be believed in, at no point. So I’m still just working as if I’m that kid in my room in Fontana, that don’t have much going on, other than the music. So that’s what it is for me right now.

You get put in a position where people only want to see you on one tier. They only want to see you doing a certain type of music or they only want to see you just producing or whatever the case is, but you’ve just got to keep it pushing because before they didn’t hear about me at all, but now they’re talking about me. I just need to keep showing and proving and keep making my music.

You spent a lot of your teenage years in your bedroom because you skipped a socializing to focus on your music?

Yeah, that was in part because of my uncle too. He told me, “You should skip out on a lot of parties and you should skip out on the bullshit. That’s not going to help you to progress and you should do just exactly what you want to do, so that by the time you look up, you’ll have accomplished all this crazy stuff,” and that’s what I did. I accomplished all that I accomplished off of just being an excited kid, not really knowing where I’m going or understanding my sound or understanding who I am fully. It was just like, “I know I can make music. I know my shit makes people feel a way” and it ended up making the biggest artist in the world feel some type of way. Now I’ve kind of got more of a grip on where I want to go, who I am, what my sound is, what I want to do and how I want to expand. So it’s like, what can I accomplish now that I understand that, versus just winging it.

One thing a lot of people enjoyed seeing was you put the spotlight on your father as a rapper with “Big Hit.” He was incarcerated for most of your life, but you communicated via letters and you’ve always said you’d make music together. I’ve never seen anything like that before and a lot of people actually said he had one of the best verses on “Grinding My Whole Life.”

Most definitely, because he’s authentic. Everywhere I go people ask me when his project is coming out, what’s going on with him, because you know they feel the authenticity and that’s a lot of what’s lacking now – a lot of organic realness. It’s just people saying words and in damn near every rap song, people say the same lyrics and it’s the same type of beat over and fucking over. So to hear the real story of somebody that has really been through some pain and some struggle and some real bullshit is refreshing to people who came off of real artistry and real people.

On your Instagram 14 months ago, you posted saying your father had unfortunately gone back to prison. Is he still there?

I mean he’s not in prison right now, but he’s going through some little situations he’s trying to clear up, so I’ve just been doing my thing and he’s doing his thing.

Hit-Boy - Alert

Tell me about Dr. Dre going to your house.

My homie Fuzzy had come through and I played him some stuff and he said that he had been like working out with Dr. Dre or something like that and they were over by my house in Tarzana. They just stopped through, we had an idea. The song I put out with Nipsey Hussle called “Alert” was originally an idea I had there for Dr. Dre. I played it for him, he went crazy over it at the house, but then when he left, he was like, “You know, this ain’t really the sound I’m looking for right now.” So I just thought it was dope and I ended up sending it to someone at Power 106, Yesi, and she played it because she liked it, so it kind of let itself out. It wasn’t really a song I made just to get on myself, it was like an idea for Dre. Then Nipsey hopped on it, then I did a verse and it was like, “Oh, this is dope so let’s just drop it.” It made a little noise for a second, but if anything that got inspired by Dr. Dre coming by the spot.

You’ve been working with YG recently?

Yeah, we started on a couple of ideas. I flew down to Atlanta and I actually worked with YG and I worked with Travis Scott. We did a couple of records on each, so hopefully they end up finishing them and using them for their album, but you know at this point I’m kind of just collaborating with the people who want to collaborate with me. Travis was at my mixing session for “Jay Z Interview,” when he was just a kid, he was just eager to be in the studio. So I’ve known him for a while. I’ve known YG since about 2006-7, we’ve been cool. Ty Dolla Sign, I’m working on some stuff with him so I’m just keeping it moving.

What else are you working on? Anything that might surprise us?

I just like quality music, it doesn’t matter what genre it is. People like Toro Y Moi, I’m supposed to work with him soon. We’re supposed to go in the studio and mess around on some ideas. The XX. Just expanding.

I’m dropping two new records within the next week I believe. A record called “Automatically,” it’s all me rapping and I co-produced the record with this kid named Smokey Beatz from New Zealand. He actually produced some stuff for Jay Rock from TDE, the “Parental Advisory” joint. Then a joint called “Show Me Something” featuring B. Carr. He’s the second person on “Grinding My Whole Life.” That’s my bro. That’s coming out and that’s also produced by Cardo Got Wingz.

By Jimmy Ness on March 30, 2015

On a different note