When you’re audacious and cocksure enough to assume the tag Hit-Boy, in a game and industry where you’re only as good as your next big single or album release, chances are you have a glaring lack of self-awareness or you’re operating at a level of excellence that’s unique. That said, Chauncey Alexander Hollis has proven himself to be closer to the latter, as he’s spent the past decade crafting some of the biggest anthems for the biggest artists in the game, including Beyoncé, Drake, JAY-Z, Kanye West, and Kendrick Lamar, just to name a few.
With credits on many of the biggest rap releases during that time, Hit-Boy is considered an elite boardman by most measures. However, somewhere along the line, he felt the need to stamp himself as more than a hit-maker for hire, but a producer with the ability to oversee, compose and help craft a body of work that touches the hearts of the people and can stand the test of time. And if 2020 were any indication, the Los Angeles-based producer is well on his way to putting his name alongside other greats who’ve built a reputation as sonic architects.
With his work on acclaimed releases by Nas (King’s Disease), Big Sean (Detroit 2), and Benny the Butcher (Burden of Proof), all released within a two-month span, Hit-Boy has put the rap world on notice [even with his own duo Half-A-Mil with Dom Kennedy] that he’s got the Midas touch and is the current frontrunner for the title of hottest producer in the game.
VIBE linked with Hit-Boy to talk about connecting with Benny the Butcher for Burden of Proof, working with Big Sean and Nas, getting music advice from JAY-Z, his relationships with Nipsey Hussle and Juice WRLD, and much more.
VIBE: Rap star Benny the Butcher’s Burden of Proof, which you executive produced, was one of the more anticipated albums of the year. In addition to overseeing the album, you’ve also been promoting it heavily on social media and interacting with the fans. What has the feedback been like?
Hit-Boy: Man, the crazy thing is we put this thing out independent. We were supposed to go through a major, but whatever behind the scenes stuff transpired that didn’t allow for it to happen so we still put it out indie. It feels like a major release, so that’s the good thing about it. I’ve just been getting a lot of love, like a lot of people tapping in, telling me how much they respect this shit, it just sounds authentic, you know?
Being that Benny comes out of the Griselda camp, which works closely with their own production team, how did you and Benny first cross paths and what was the catalyst for you to go beyond producing individual records and working on the album in its entirety?
We stuck to them guys, for sure. Obviously, I’m my own type of producer and got my own flavor with this shit, but the first song we made, the very first song we made was “Legend.” It’s the outro on the album. That should tell you a lot right there. We set the bar up real high with that first song and from there, it just was like the energy was just crazy and we just kept it going. It was song by song, beat by beat, by the time we got to, like, four or five songs, he was like ‘Man, you might as well do the whole joint.’ His team started pulling up and it just became a real thing.
You earned the name Hit-Boy as a result of your ability to make records that dominate the charts and become anthems. Being that Benny’s production on previous projects was more boom-bap inspired, did you feel any desire or pressure to bridge that gap?
Only a select few people really study me and understand what’s going on. Like if you listen to “One Train” on A$AP Rocky’s first album, that had all type of heavy-hitting ass rapping niggas on it, so I do this, man.
I did shit on G-Unit projects, I did shit on Game projects. Real gutter, gangster-ass, dark sounding shit, so I’m just a music motherfucker. That’s why for me to even be able to have this bag, half of this shit, niggas think that you only got “Niggas In Paris” shit, that’s the battle I’ve been fighting. It’s an even bigger thing because I’m like, ‘Y’all niggas thinking that this is all I do.
The Burden of Proof intro, I started that in 2007. I added a couple of flavors up to date, but the gist of that beat was done in ’07. Fucking “Timeless” was done in 2011, like, I do this, for real, bro. I been doing this shit, but for me to catch the joints I have and they be so simple, it was such a mindfuck for me, man, ’cause it’s like I got all of these bags, but niggas don’t get it.
The album’s first single, “Timeless,” features Big Sean and Lil Wayne. What’s the origin of that collaboration and what hand did you play in its creation?
So “Timeless,” we just started our part, me and Benny and next thing I know, he texted me early in the morning with the Wayne verse. I ain’t know what it was, he just texted me the file, I listened, he had a Wayne verse. I’m like, ‘Damn.’ That shit had me so hype, I’m like, ‘This shit sounds like Carter II Wayne all over again, it sounds like he went in a time chamber or some shit.’ From there, I obviously got my relationship with [Big] Sean, I put him on the Nas album and I also put him on this album just by being the homie and pulling up. I really just work with motherfuckers who pull up on me and really wanna work, it really ain’t too much more magic than that.
On social media, you revealed that only two artists have cried in the studio while making a record with you, Nipsey Hussle when he recorded the second verse on “Racks in the Middle” and Benny the Butcher on “Thank God I Made It.” Touch on what it was like to witness that emotion come out of Benny and what those moments mean to you as a producer.
I mean, it’s just crazy that I done worked with so many, so many artists and just, like, the two most thorough, solid two A-1, gangsta type niggas was in this shit, like, really connecting with the music. That was really the point I was trying to get across, it’s not like I’m just clout-chasing, trying to tell that them niggas was crying. That’s some stupid shit. I’m trying to tell y’all this is not just a nigga fucking making a beat and doing a song, this shit is like peoples lives on the line everyday. I’m putting my life, my energy [on the line]. Benny was doing the same thing…Nipsey was doing the same thing. It’s just deeper than rap, this is deeper than the surface.
Another revelation you made involved JAY-Z’s post-production assistance on “One Way Flight” featuring Freddie Gibbs, which you say he helped arrange. How would you describe your creative connection to JAY-Z and what made you send that particular song to him?
Obviously, I’ve got joints with him, but also, me and Benny are managed by JAY-Z, so it’s like I just took a chance. I was like, ‘Check this shit out if you get a minute, what do you think of this arrangement?’ He hit me back and he was like, ‘This shit is amazing you should do this, you should try [that],’ you know what I’m saying? ‘Cause I had sent him the song, so he just helped me overall arrange the song, so it was parts of the beat and parts of the song, he was like, ‘Move that, do this.’ And then I sent it back to him and he was like, ‘Okay, this shit’s crazy, but if you do this one more thing, it’ll just take it over the top,’ which was giving Gibbs that spacing and letting the verse kinda be a surprise and come in. I felt like that made all of the difference. Obviously that’s JAY-Z, man, he done made some of the greatest songs he ever heard, so for him to give me his opinion and help me dive into that bag, that shit was unreal.
Aside from the songs that were already mentioned, what are your favorite songs on Burden of Proof and why?
I’ma say “Sly Green,” that beat is just prime-time, what I grew up on. First album I ever bought with my own money, my own bread I made was The Blueprint, so I feel like it’s just a fusion of that shit with elements of that with, like, some older Hov shit. A little bit of “Hola Hovito,” shout-out to Timbaland, like I just put all my influences into this shit and tried to bring the sound up to date without going and doing some corny shit. Like, ‘Oh, I’ma sample “Ain’t No Love in The Heart of the City,”‘ that’s some basic shit. I made some shit to where it sounds like, but they know it’s original, it’s fresh, like I ain’t do no basic, surface-ass shit.
Two other albums you worked on that made a big splash this year was Nas’ King’s Disease album and Big Sean’s Detroit 2, both of which got an overwhelming amount of praise. What would you say you learned from working on each album and how would you say their creative styles differ?
I mean, they’re all their own artists, they all needed different things, so I pride myself on my versatility and just always trying to make sounds to where it’s like, ‘Damn, we don’t know who did this for real.’ I mean, I just learned personally, that I’m able to do this shit, that I’m able to see multiple projects through damn near at the same time. And just, I guess, learning to have patience with everything. Everybody in their own pocket, everybody does different things everyday when they wake up, so you gotta be patient with people. You gotta understand it’s two worlds, it’s your world, but it’s also their world. So you gotta have that perfect meeting place in the middle and have that match-up and be perfect.
For King’s Disease, how important was it to pair Nas with younger artists like Lil Durk, Fivio Foreign, and ASAP Ferg and bridge that gap between both generations?
Honestly, I wasn’t even thinking like, ‘I gotta get him with some young dudes.’ It was more so these are certain artists I rock with that I’m already working with, I might as well do it. I texted to Durk, he hit back immediately, like I don’t really gas this shit. It was simple, the whole process was real organic, so I like how it all shaped up knowing that people kinda put it in it’s frame to where it’s like, ‘This is a really fresh Nas.’ That’s a beautiful thing.
2020 has been a landmark year for you and has seen you become more of a maestro and conductor that delivers bodies of work than a quote-unquote hit-maker. Has that evolution been a calculated one or was it organic?
It’s kinda both, but it definitely was calculated. Like I just kinda got to a point where I’m like, ‘Man, doing one or two songs on peoples’ project ain’t really getting me to where I wanna be.’ Like I’m looking at stuff online, I do big joints and people will still be hitting me, like, ‘Where’s Hit-Boy at, what’s he doing?’ I got “Sicko Mode” out, I got “Racks in the Middle” out, I got all these huge songs and niggas are still questioning the level that I’m on and what I’m doing. So I just said, ‘Man, let me really dial in, tap in and just take a whole different route with this shit.’ I’m not trying to do anything. I’m just doing this shit. I’m just rocking with the artists who rock with me and just trying to make the most quality music, everyday.
With Burden of Proof, King’s Disease, and Detroit 2 all under your belt, you’ve put together one of the strongest year’s for a producer we’ve seen in quite some time. Would you say that you’ve proved yourself to be the MVP of 2020 so far, in terms of producers?
Nah, man, you can’t call it, somebody may be looking at it, like, a whole different way. I do see a lot of people, I haven’t said that shit one time, I’ll let the people decide. That’s the type of person I am. A lot of people I respect doing fly shit and I’m just doing mine, so however it lands it’s gonna land, period.
2019 was a bittersweet year for you, in the sense that you won your second Grammy Award for your work on Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle,” but also had to mourn his death. [The same with] rap star Juice WRLD, whom you worked with closely on his album, Death Race For Love. What was your professional and personal relationship with those two like?
Man, crazy. Like I was working on Juice and Nip at the same time, at two different studios. I would have Nip at my studio working, he’d be writing a verse, he’d take his time. Juice, on the other hand, young kid, twenty years old or however old he was, we were working on an album, he’s doing songs in 20-25 minutes, tops. Crazy melodies, never run out of words. And they both needed two different things, but just going from each session. And losing both of them, that shit was mind-blowing ’cause I specifically just remember those moments where I would see Juice for an hour-and-a-half, do three or four songs and then come back and Nip still be here vibing or he done laid the verse or whatever the case is.
But me and Nip, we started working way back, we did a song called “Thuggin'” with him and Boosie, it was on, I think, Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 2 or something like that. And then we did stuff on Mailbox Money, different projects of his. But “Racks in the Middle,” that was just a moment where we connected. He was pulling up nonstop, just rocking with me. And then Juice, he was so energetic anytime we linked up, he would damn near wanna record to every single beat I played. They both respected me creatively and I respected them, so we got a lot of work done.
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Both students of the game my brother nipsey and I weren’t afraid to be our most humble selves when we were in each other’s presence. I remember him as a man who was Always eager to share information to help me think of things in different ways and ultimately grow to be a better musician and overall person. Before I even got confirmation of his passing I felt for nip . I felt for the person who was always positive and always had the energy to light up a room without being extra or even saying too much. I felt for the man who was doing things that were bigger than him in his community. Things that brought people together and ultimately advanced the “naybahood” (NIP voice) I told you that you were a legend while you were here and I will continue to push that on and say your name with pride and love anytime I speak of you brother. Tears running down my face as I type this i sincerely miss and love you bro. Even up there I know you got a smile on your face 💔
Did those losses make your professional wins this year even sweeter?
Oh, for sure, but it’s crazy ’cause they both did work at my studio and I feel like they both left a piece of [themselves.] They were really giving their all when they was in here, so when I come in, I feed off of that. I feed off of the energy and I can still feel their presence so that just makes me go harder everyday.
You’ve worked with a number of legendary artists over the years, which ones would you say that you’ve learned from the most?
Man, I learn everyday, bro. I learn from every artist so I can’t even say, but you know what, when I was having my run with Kanye. Just learning that this shit moves fast and it’s at a high level if you wanna really succeed, like, you gotta really focus and you gotta be on your shit times ten so that era, I learned a lot. And still being managed by JAY-Z, anytime I get to interact with him or talk to him in any capacity, I just try to soak up whatever game I can. So I would say those top two, but anybody I’m around I try to learn, whether it’s a producer, writer, artist, whatever it is, I’m trying to just soak up gems.
What’s next for Hit-Boy for the rest of 2020 and in the new year?
Freddie Gibbs’ first single dropping, [4 Thangs] produced by me featuring Big Sean. That shit’s coming real real soon, sooner than y’all probably think [laughs]. Man, I got a bunch of shit, I can’t get too deep into it, but I got some high level stuff coming.
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