Hit-Boy occupies an unsettled but not uncommon space in modern rap culture. At 25 years old, he’s had an inordinately busy career producing pop singles for acts like the Pussycat Dolls, Brandy, Jennifer Lopez, and Rihanna. He’s also created a significant body of production work for rappers ranging from Snoop Dogg to Slaughterhouse. Hit’s biggest coup so far has been to create one of 2011’s biggest (and best) singles in “N//s in Paris”, and getting subsequently pulled into the vortex that is Kanye’s GOOD Music label.
At the same time, Hit-Boy’s top-billed achievements are relatively few, limited to some obscure YouTube offerings as part of the not-Odd Future California rap collective Surf Club and a warmly-received mixtape, HITstory. HITstory has been available since mid–2012 and boasts about 25,000 downloads – just a small fraction of the exposure his production work for Kendrick Lamar (“Backstreet Freestyle”), GOOD Music (“Clique”, “Cold”, and “Higher”), and Nicki Minaj (“Come on a Cone”, “I Am Your Leader”) received this year.
So now, as consumers, writers, and creators face down the perennially blank slate of another new year, it’s an interesting time to examine how Hit-Boy got to where he is now and where he’s heading, which is just what I tried to do when I interviewed him in December.
We met in an impressive midtown Manhattan office. Actually, scratch that. We met in Gee Roberson’s impressive midtown Manhattan office. Roberson, who’s the chairman of Geffen Records, head of his own record label, and the occupant of an office festooned with Grammy hardware bearing the names of Kanye West and Lil Wayne, was absent. As I waited for Hit to arrive, I paced around looking at alternately Grammy plaques on the walls and through vast windows down onto office drones ducking out for lunch. It created in me a funny transitory feeling for being in such a weighty place. This feeling never really subsided during the interview, during which Hit and I talked about his heroes (everyone from Bow Wow to Beyonce) to his personal philosophy (a post-Lil B positivity bent) to his goals (get famous, stay famous). Hit-Boy is in an undeniably powerful position, and he’s got a boatload of talent. But whether his personal self can blossom into a Kanye-like superstar bloom remains to be seen. –B. Michael Payne
B Michael: Just to start off, what was it like growing up in California?
Hit-Boy: I spent half of my life in Pasadena, California. When I was 13, I moved to the IE [Inland Empire]. It was the best thing that could ever happen to me. I ended up meeting Chase who knew how to make beats, and he had his own set up in his crib. He was making beats and recording songs in his bedroom. He was the first person I knew that was on that. I like 15 years old.
B: What were you using to make beats back then?
H: Fruity Loops, and I still use it. Probably will never change.
B: What got you into making music at that point? What was inspiring you?
H: When I was 13, right before I met this kid I just started rapping. I saw all these different kids blossoming into stars. From Bow Wow to Romeo. And it just inspired me to go after my dreams. I started writing rhymes. I didn’t know anything about it, how to do it. But I just picked up a pen and a piece of paper. And then I met this kid I started the group with and started making beats with, and it kept progressing.
B: You started making beats pretty young, and it took off for you through MySpace. How did you make the leap from making beats for MySpace to making your first pop beat?
H: I felt like I had so much time to prepare alone. All I did was make music. Every single day, all I was doing was making music in my room. So I had a lot of time to get good. By the time I was able to be in a studio with a real recording artist, I felt like I was really ready.
B: What sort of music were you listening to at the time? Beside seeing peers get famous, what were you listening to?
H: What era?
B: In the early 2000s.
H: Definitely Neptunes, heavily. Everything they did inspired me. Timbaland. Just Blaze. Kanye. That was the era of the super producer. I would make beats that sounded like Kanye’s, and I would make beats that sounded like the Neptunes to try to perfect my sound. I would see if I could duplicate what they were doing, and then add my own flavors to it. None of my shit even sounds the same now because of that fact. I was able to study for so long. There were these producers called The Underdogs. They did some Omarion stuff, they did some Beyonce stuff, they did Whitney Houston. I really studied those guys. Their music soundedBig, but it was simplistic at the same time. So I studied that, and added it with the Neptunes flavor, and now you get my sound.
B: Do you have a different process for if you’re going to make a “Clique” versus a Justin Bieber song versus a Kelly Rowland song?
H: My process is pretty much the same. I just sit down, and whatever comes out of me. I try not to over think it, and I try not to force it. All the music you’ve heard from me has naturally come from the soul.
B: How many beats do you make in a week, or how long does it take you to make a beat?
H: The most beats I’ve made in a week is probably in the 20s somewhere.
B: Everybody probably asks you about this, but you made a bunch of beats and you got them to Kanye. And it didn’t work out at first, but then they made “Christmas in Harlem”, and you got in there. You were talking in a lot of other interviews about how you didn’t officially get into GOOD Music until you went to Dubai. So I was just wondering, what were you doing out in Dubai?
H: It’s funny. I was supposed to be there for about three weeks. When I got there, Kanye had already been there for a few days, and he just wasn’t feeling the vibe. I had never been overseas in my life. I go fly sixteen hours, by myself. And as soon as I get there, he’s like, ‘We have to go back to the States.’ So I got right back on the plane the next day, and came back sixteen hour flight to New York. And that’s when we worked at the Mercer Hotel, and we did all the Watch The Throne sessions.
B: What was the most surprising thing to you — you’ve worked with some pretty big names before — but what was surprising about working with Kanye?
H: I had already figured that he would be pretty intensive about detail, but the attention to detail was amazing. From Hov and Ye. Every single line, every single piece of the music. Just the way they put it together, I would marvel at that.
B: What would a typical exchange be like, then, trying to perfect the sound?
H: Kanye is like, I don’t know. When he feels it, he feels it. And that’s how I make my music as well. I know when it’s perfect. If you think you’ve got it there, and he hears it, more than likely he’s going to tell you to do some other shit.
B: I listened to your mixtape a lot. It was kind of ironic that you produced half of it, and then “Jay-Z Interview”, you didn’t produce that. You just spread your wings with rapping. I was wondering what your lane is as far as rapping goes. What are you ideas, what do you want to say?
H: I definitely just wanted to spread the word of who I am and who I feel like. The younger generation can be it. That’s what my whole motto is, even on social media. I’m always saying inspirational things to just let people know that you can be normal and you can make it. Everything is possible, and you’ve got certain songs on my project where I’m sharing certain stories. That whole project was basically the last year and a half of my life. Just transitioning. That’s why I make a few references to working on Watch The Throne and working with Jay-Z and Kanye. Just this normal kid from Inland Empire is making hits for Jay-Z and Kanye West. That’s something to really be proud of. I really put my heart and soul into those raps. I got out all my thoughts and ideas.
B: What sort of stuff do you have coming up next?
H: Definitely, as far as the artist stuff. I’m working on a whole bunch of new songs. I’m definitely going to be putting out a project soon. Look for it in the first few months of the year.
B: Are you interested in doing a solo rap album?
H: Definitely, for sure. That’s the goal. I want to put out an album this year. It’s time to get to work.
B: You’ve got a lot of different flows. What rappers do you find inspirational?
H: Hov and Ye. Big Sean. Drake.
B: Who do you like working with the most in your career?
H: Man. I just feel like the fact that I get to learn so much being around Kanye. You’ve got to cherish those moments, man. When I get around him, I feel more inspired than ever.
B: Is he just like ‘on’ the whole time?
H: Yeah, definitely. When it comes to being creative and making music, man. He thinks on another level. He pushes and challenges you to be better than you ever thought you could be.
B: He does have the attention to detail.
H: For sure.
B: You were talking in another interview about “Christmas in Harlem,” and you mentioned you were surprised Kanye picked it as a ‘Christmas’ song. Have you ever had any other beats get picked, and you were surprised how it turned out as a song?
H: To be honest, “Niggas in Paris”. I just never would have imagined them rapping on that beat, because I just made it for fun, fucking around. And when I sent it, they made such a huge song on top of it that Iw as like, ‘Wow’.
B: That’s got to be one of the best songs in a long time.
H: That’s whats up, man.
B: What’s going on with Surf Club at this point? Are you working with that group anymore?
H: Yeah, Surf Club is always near and dear to my heart. Everybody’s just in different places and growing just as people. Chase N Cash is living in New York and doing his thing. Stacy Barthe is making amazing music, writing for herself and others. At the end of the day, we’re always going to be Surf Club and we’re always going to be family.
B: Are there any other producers working, and you just hear something and think whoa how did that happen?
H: T-Minus, Boi–1da My boy DJ Mustard from California. I’m just so proud of everything he’s done and what he’s building. It’s amazing, not only for the west, but just for hip=-hop. To have that simplistic sound that’s just so fun and feels good.
B: That’s another interesting thing. You’ve got that song “East vs West”. It’s kind of cool, the west coast has been killing it lately with you guys, Kendrick, Odd Future. Do you see yourself as being West Coast or agnostic?
H: I can’t really say that I’m just West. I grew up on people like Battlecat and Dr. Dre. All these legends. But I feel like my music is for the world.
B: How long did it take you to make HITstory?
H: I was working on HITstory for about five months quietly. At first it wasn’t even HITstory. It was me making songs and playing them for my peers. And people were like, ‘Yo, your good.’ And I didn’t really take it seriously at first, but more people were telling me I should make a project, and I started to go with the flow. It came together, and I feel like I gained a lot of fans from that project. I’m really proud of what it did for me, just making people aware that I rap. If for none other, if you didn’t even like it at least you know I rap now. So you’ll be attentive when I put out new music.
B: Are you thinking of trying to get guest spots on other people’s tracks?
H: Oh yeah for sure. I’m definitely working on some stuff.
B: Do you ever get tired of getting compared to Kanye West, as far as the narrative is similar?
H: Nah, because of the fact that I got started as a music producer. And now people are listening to me as an artist. So, I mean, there’s going to be a comparison. And that’s not a bad person to be compared to.
B: Has anything changed as far as the business end goes, since getting signed to GOOD Music?
H: Yes, for sure. I’m in a much better place than I was as that 23 year old kid in Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Things have definitely taken off in a good direction.
B: Are you working on stuff for other people that’s exciting. I know you’re working on stuff for 50 and for anyone else?
H: I mean, I’m working on so much stuff. I don’t want to speak too early or get too deep into it. But just know, anything GOOD Music: I am working on it.
B: Are there any dream artists that you’d want to work with that you haven’t worked with yet?
H: Beyonce is number one. Until the day I’m on an official album that comes out with her, I won’t be satisfied. And now, my goals are to work with people like Britney Spears. Because now, I’ve pretty much worked with all my rap heroes, so now it’s time to do some stuff that people might not even expect.
B: Anything you want to add?
H: Just be on the lookout for my movement. HS87. Hits Since 87. I’ve got some young artists, audio, footage. K Roosevelt. We’re just working hard to be those next dudes.
ZIP: Hit Boy – HITstory (Left-Click)