Though many producers enjoyed incredible runs this past year, Hit-Boy seemed to elevate to another level entirely. Having been one of the game's most consistent beatmakers for years, 2020 found Hit in dominant form, uniting with Nas, Big Sean, Benny The Butcher, and Dom Kennedy to lace full-length albums. King's Disease. Detroit 2. Burden Of Proof. Also Known As. Not only was Hit-Boy playing a pivotal role in some of the year's best projects, but also showcasing a versatility unseen by even the game's best producers.
Currently locked in the studio working on an unknown project, Hit-Boy took a moment to hold it down for our HNHH Presents: 12 Days Of Christmas interview series, rounding things out with the twelfth and final conversation. Despite everything he's accomplished throughout the latest chapter of his triumphant run, it's clear that Hit-Boy is only beginning to make his statement.
"I felt like I had done so much, but it still wasn't like leveling me up how I wanted," he explained. "So I had to just go harder. And instead of doing one song, I started doing people's albums. I got started tapping into where if you come in with an open mind and you feel like making music, there's no possible way you're not going to connect with something that I'm doing."
At the center of all the hits stems a key philosophy -- one that all creatives can stand to benefit from. The music is of utmost importance, and Hit-Boy knows exactly how to capture a genuine moment in the studio. It's the reason why he remains one of 2020s most valuable players, and one to watch as he regroups for another three hundred and sixty-five. Check out our full conversation with Hit-Boy below, slightly edited for length and clarity.
Nas. Big Sean. Hit-Boy / Photo via Ragan Henderson
Day Twelve: A Conversation with Hit-Boy
HotNewHipHop: Hit-Boy, how you doing?
Hit-Boy: I’m doing good what’s going on with you?
Not too much, thank you so much for taking the time. I know it’s the holiday season and you must be pretty busy.
I appreciate yall for reaching out.
I hear you were in the studio?
Yeah I’m locked in, I’m in here, it’s pretty top-secret next level shit. [Laughs]
Alright, so I won’t try to get any intel on that. I respect the process. I know how it goes. I wanted to congratulate you on your year. You've had an amazing run and securing the Best Rap Album Grammy nomination with Nas, that's quite the accomplishment. What was your reaction to seeing King's Disease get recognition from the Grammys?
I ain't gonna lie. I was watching it live when they announced it. I was going crazy. I knew it was that level, I knew it was that quality. However we go from here, I knew we deserved at least a nomination, just because of the amount of work we put in and, you know, just the vibe we caught within the album.
I'm a big Nas fan and it was a great body of work from start to finish. I really appreciated that you could listen to it from beginning to end and get an entire journey. You know what I mean? A lot of different sounds. You really brought out something good in Nas.
Yeah, I'm glad people really connected with the theme of the album. They really like King's Disease, almost like a movie. You can see it play out.
For sure. You mentioned the themes. Did you guys talk about that prior to when you first got together to make the album? Was that something that you were discussing?
No, it wasn't. It just came together. Like, even with the title, a lot of people think, like we came up with it after the pandemic hit and all that. But we was already on that wave right before, when the world was still back normal. It just kind of lined up perfectly, more than you could ever really plan. How he elaborated on King's Disease on different songs, it really brought the concept back. I think that's what make people really rock with it.
Can you walk me through how you guys first connected and decided to piece together a whole album? Did you have any specific goals that you guys wanted to achieve when you were outlining it?
I had linked with him like years ago when we was in the studio. I did some shit with him before. He was featured on the Mariah Carey song that I produced. And you know, we had ideas, but nothing ever really on some solo Nas shit. I mean, I did do the joint where Frank Ocean used to be on, the “No Such Thing” joint. I think he changed the title to “Royalty.” That all used to be a different song. Frank Ocean was actually singing the hook, then Nas had somebody else sing it. That was on The Lost Tapes 2. That was a song from a joint we made way back. I had just given that to Frank Ocean, he connected with Nas and got him on it, but that song never came to fruition as it was. Then it came out as a whole Lost Tapes thing.
"I did do the joint where Frank Ocean used to be on, the “No Such Thing” joint. I think he changed the title to “Royalty.” That all used to be a different song. Frank Ocean was actually singing the hook, then Nas had somebody else sing it. That was on The Lost Tapes 2. That was a song from a joint we made way back. I had just given that to Frank Ocean, he connected with Nas and got him on it, but that song never came to fruition as it was. Then it came out as a whole Lost Tapes thing."
When we reconnected, I saw him on my homeboy's IG. My homeboy was working with him doing some business, and I saw them in the studio working with some producers. And I was like, yo, you don't get him over here in the space I'm in,you're bugging. It’s going to be automatic. I knew it before we even reconnected. So my boy set it up for him to come through the next day, so then he came through, I had the "Replace Me" joint with Don Toliver already in the can. I had the hook-- because Nas was thinking he wanted to do this as a quick project, with kind of a Valentine's Day theme. So that's why you kind of got records like “All Bad,” you got “Replace Me,” you got certain joints that was really catered for women because the energy started as a quick project for women really. And it turned into King's Disease.
I didn't know that. Did you gain any new insight into Nas’ artistic process throughout the creation of King's Disease?
Hell yeah. We got a natural connection when it comes to making music. So I don't know. We just kind of both was getting to know each other through this whole process. I feel like our song-making just kept getting better and better. And yeah, man, just definitely that he's real. He paid attention to detail, detailing the beat, detailing the lyrics, detailing the pocket, the flows. Real veteran level focus.
As a Nas fan, what were some of those qualities that you wanted to tap into when you were making his beats?
I really just was doing me. Like I’m just on a wave I’ve never been on and I'm just making more, higher quality music than I ever made. And it's like, it just connects. When he was coming in, I was having joints ready and we was loading them straight up. Like it wasn't like, Oh, I'm gonna take this and write to it, he was like, shit let's load it up now. It's kind of bringing in the super modern world and mixing it with the classic way to make music. He's a real lyricist and he's a real thinker, but we took the approach of like, let's capture what's going on right now in the room and the energy that's going on.
Photo via Ragan Henderson
Do you have a favorite track from that album that you're really proud of?
Yeah. All of them, shit. But “Full Circle,” muthafuckin “Spicy,” cause that wasn't even going to make the album at first, we really pushed for it last minute. That was one of the ones I actually charted on the Billboard Hot 100.
I was a big fan of “Blue Benz” myself. I really liked that track a lot. Actually. I found it was a great beat. Nas took it in a cool direction too, he really brought it back with that storytelling style.
Yeah, that's fire. That's like on “The Cure” too. That's one of my favorites. That's like probably the most Nas beat on the album. When the beat switches up on “The Cure,” I hit the nail on the head for Nas fans that want to hear more of a nostalgic vibe.
Absolutely. You mentioned hitting this wave, do you think there was a moment that sparked this momentum that you're riding right now?
Many, many, many moments, man. Many moments. But I would just say, knowing the place that I should be in, and I felt like I had done so much, but it still wasn't like leveling me up how I wanted. So I had to just go harder. And instead of doing one song, I started doing people's albums. I got started tapping into where if you come in with an open mind and you feel like making music, there's no possible way you're not going to connect with something that I'm doing. Like, I don’t give a fuck if it’s an 808 beat or some super hip hop shit, something soulful, I don’t give a fuck who it is, like pull up.
"I felt like I had done so much, but it still wasn't like leveling me up how I wanted. So I had to just go harder. And instead of doing one song, I started doing people's albums. I got started tapping into where if you come in with an open mind and you feel like making music, there's no possible way you're not going to connect with something that I'm doing."
It seems like people are not only wanting to work with you on an instrumental level, but they want to do the full album. I think that artists are really appreciating that experience that you’re bringing. Is that something you think you're going to continue next year -- more full albums?
Man, I'm just doing music. You know, honestly, if people want to come and get one song, that's cool too. But I like locking in and really creating a picture with these artists and just capturing a moment in time.
I think that's really refreshing -- the collaborative spirit that seems to be a present on a lot of these albums. Working in the studio here, living with the music all the time, seeing the artists work on it.
That’s the best feeling, fo sho. Having the sessions, being able to play the songs on the way home, on the way back to the studio and just see what I need to do to make them better.
Definitely. Can you walk me through how you ended up linking up with Benny the Butcher for Burden Of Proof?
I just saw the movement. I knew about Griselda since probably like 2015, 2016. And when I saw that Benny was in LA, I just saw his Instagram that he was in LA and I just DM’d him like “Shit, you got time. Pull up.” And shit, the rest is history.
What did you want to capture working with Benny? I know you mentioned you want to make great music, but he brings so much to the table as a lyricist. He's got his own kind of sound that he forged with the Griselda movement. And you brought something different to the table. So did you guys have any conversations about where you wanted to go with this album?
Nah, not for real. It was just, you know, capturing a moment once again. Like I was having the right beats. Every time I pulled up a beat, he was like 'that's it. I can talk my shit on this.' It was a real simple process.
We're talking a lot about production, but let's not forget that you've got bars yourself.
Can you tell me a bit about your writing process and your aspirations as an emcee?
Well, as far as my writing process -- I know almost as soon as I make a beat if it's for me. That's kinda how I do it. Like if I make a beat and soon as I bounce it, I load it up, that's how I know it got that energy for me. You know, sometimes I might do an idea, even a whole song, and I still give the beat away cause I know I could catch a better one for myself. As far as my aspirations. I mean, I'm trying to take it all the way there. I want it to have a #1 song as Hit-Boy. #1 album. I’m just locked in.
Do you have any, are there any lyricists in particular that inspire you? Especially this year where lyricists were getting a lot of love you know?
I mean for sure. Griselda. Big Sean, he did a lot of damage like flow wise, the certain shit he was saying, definitely thought-provoking. So you know, them for sho. But I'm inspired by all types of shit. I like Rio the Young OG from Flint, Michigan. That’s probably my favorite rapper right now cause he just talks crazy.
Photo via: 70mm
Cool. I'm just in awe of how you've managed to produce so many beats this year. You've got an album with Dom Kennedy, Big Sean's Detroit 2, the albums with NAS and Benny...How do you manage to cook up so many beats?
It's really simple. I just pull up as much as I can. A lot of times I will cook with the artists, but I just be having joints on deck. That's kinda like my whole shit. Make sure I'm undeniable when the right artist pulls up.
When you were coming up did you have a history with music in your family?
Yeah. My uncle was in an R&B group called Truth and that was pretty big. They had a few number ones back in the day. I saw the whole process, studio sessions, video shoots, all of that. And I was intrigued. I always felt like I was going to do it. Then when I turned like 13, I just went full-fledged and started writing. Then a couple of years into that, I started getting into the beats and I’m glad I locked in sonically. You have a longer life when you understand more than just rapping and more than just writing more than just singing.
Yeah, for sure. What were some of those early beats that you feel that you still look back on as being big milestones for your career?
Man, shit. “Backseat Freestyle,” “Bow Down” Beyonce, “Racks in the Middle.” It’s joints.
On the topic of “Racks in the Middle” and Nipsey Hussle specifically, what did it mean to bring together a track with Sean and Nipsey Hussle on Detroit 2?
That was fly. That was everything for me. That was one of the last joints I had with Nip so for it to be Grammy-nominated, you know, that's even better. Like he already won one this year, got Grammy-nominated again. So it's like just showing that the quality was there all the time.
Absolutely. It's tragic what happened. And even before he passed away there, he was getting love from the Grammys too. It really seemed like he was destined for even even more greatness. It's really unfortunate.
I was wondering, when an artist reaches out to you to secure some beats, how does your process begin? Do you ever craft that beat specifically for the artists based on what you want to see, or do they bring their own suggestions to the table? Do they just give you free reign usually?
There is no one right or wrong way to do it. And no one way I do this. Like I said, I have a lot of beats. A lot of times they go over well and ended up being joints. And then sometimes people come through here and say that like, Oh, let's make something on the spot. You know what I'm saying? There’s no one way to do it, every which way you could picture, it could possibly happen.
So aside from yourself, do you think there are any other producers this year who deserve credit for having a great impact on the rap game?
So many producers man. I know that I’m not the only one working, there's plenty, plenty of producers working. I got respect to everybody doing their thing for real.
Definitely. Looking at the music industry and specifically the way people consume their music, how do you feel about the streaming era right now?
Man. I'm really trying to dig more into it. I'm trying to find out every time one of our songs spin, I know we get like 0.4 of a penny. Like super small percentages. I'm trying to figure out why they get to play our music and shit, you know? It's just a weird time for me. I just feel like it's a lot of vested interest. Like I feel like people can doctor that shit up and they can have close relationships with the heads and make their shit just that much bigger. I'm still trying to really get a grasp on it.
Hell yeah, for sure. I still have to try to figure out what album-equivalent units are. It's so different from going into a store and buying a CD, how it used to be.
Yeah, I think about that often.
Do you look back on that era fondly?
I mean, yeah, for sure! Because it was more of the experience, it just seemed realer, you know what I'm saying? Like I said, now you can doctor your shit up and you can have the plug-in brands to boost your streams up and all that. And it's like that don’t mean your shit is the best to me. You know, I look at variety. You know how I said earlier in the conversation, like I almost think it’s unrealistic for somebody to make a whole Benny album and then also make a fucking “Flex” with Polo G, one of the biggest streaming songs of 2020. The people that produce on Polo G’s album, 9 times out of 10, they can’t make a beat for Nas. They can't make a beat for Benny and vice versa. Them n*ggas like Daringer and Alchemist, I can’t see them doing nothing for Polo G. That's why I feel like I cut it down the middle because I got Polo G his biggest streaming song of 2020 and then gave NAS a Grammy-nominated album. I feel like somehow that still not being honored on a level that it should, but it is what it is. That just to keep you working.
"I almost think it’s unrealistic for somebody to make a whole Benny album and then also make a fucking “Flex” with Polo G, one of the biggest streaming songs of 2020. The people that produce on Polo G’s album, 9 times out of 10, they can’t make a beat for Nas. They can't make a beat for Benny and vice versa. Them n*ggas like Daringer and Alchemist, I can’t see them doing nothing for Polo G. That's why I feel like I cut it down the middle because I got Polo G his biggest streaming song of 2020 and then gave NAS a Grammy-nominated album. I feel like somehow that still not being honored on a level that it should, but it is what it is."
That versatility deserves to be recognized. I think a lot of people are already starting to recognize that at least, you know what I mean?
Yeah for sure. I definitely see a lot more love and a lot more understanding for what I'm bringing to the game.
What are you thinking of trying to get done in 2021? Any big plans?
Shit, all big plans. I'm trying to go way bigger this year, you know what I'm saying? Take this shit over!
How has everything been on the pandemic level for you?
Well, I keep it simple man I'm at the studio or the crib nine times out of 10, so it’s simple. I got my son, I had a son this year.
I appreciate it. But that definitely kept me out the way, man. Working on music. It's been pretty easy for me.
I look forward to hearing everything you've got for next year.
Man. I appreciate you reaching out, man. I appreciate everything.