It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since the Aug. 8, 2011 release of Watch The Throne, the first collaborative effort from Kanye West and Jay Z. The undeniable virality of WTT’s monster tracks still resonate with listeners to this day. We get chills when the haunting bass-heavy “No Church in the Wild” opens up the 12-song collection. When we listen to “Otis,” we’re reminded of an old-school flavor not heard too often in the rap game today. Not to mention, “Murder To Excellence” is relevant now more than ever. However, no other track on the Grammy-winning opus gets the people going quite like “N***as In Paris.”
The Hit-Boy/Mike Dean/Yeezy-produced track is still heavily rotated in the handful of years after its initial release. In the hit, the dynamic duo are on their braggadocio flow, spitting fiery rhymes and puns over a thumping bass, which is coupled with a hilarious Blades Of Glory interpolation, putting the cherry on top of the timelessly “provocative” track. The song was made into a children’s book from The Interns entitled “Friends In Paris,” and the current French president, François Hollande, used the track in a campaign video while running for office in 2012, proving that it has grown from a rap song into a cultural and global phenomenon.
VIBE spoke to the song’s producer Hit-Boy regarding the success of the track, the impact its had on his production career and how being thrust into the music spotlight relatively early helped him grow as a person. At the time, he was a new signee to G.O.O.D Music, and this was one of the first songs to catapult his production prowess into public consciousness. Since then, he’s gone on to produce for will.i.am (“Scream And Shout (Remix)”), Kendrick Lamar (“Backseat Freestyle”) and Beyonce (“Bow Down/Flawless”). He also owns his own label, Hits Since ’87, and is in the process of releasing his own music as a burgeoning rapper.
VIBE: Tell me about your initial meeting with Jay Z and Kanye. How did they get in touch with you?
Hit-Boy: I originally met Kanye back in 2007, just from working out here in Hollywood Studios. I was working at this studio called Record Plant, and I had a room that was across from where Pharrell was working. He was working on an N.E.R.D. project, this is way back in 2007. So, he introduced me to Kanye originally, and I played a beat for Kanye, but we never collaborated until two years later.
Kanye introduced me to Hov. From the time we met, we just was cool, I was just choppin’ it with him on some regular stuff, and I kept building with them. I did three weeks worth of sessions in the Mercer Hotel [and] worked on all this music. I had made a few beats that I thought they’d cut for Watch The Throne… none of those records made it! Not one time did I hear the “N***as In Paris” beat. The whole time we were working, the “N***as In Paris” beat was never brought up, never talked about, never anything.
Months go by, I was thinking I’ve got some other records on the album, then out of nowhere, I got a call. I did the “N***as in Paris” beat and gave it to one of my homies, my homeboy Chilly Chill, and basically he was about to drop it on a mixtape, put it on YouTube, upload it. But I had got an e-mail from Don C asking for this particular beat, and it was the beat we were about to drop. It ended up being “N***as in Paris,” and I didn’t have a clue, I thought that beat was… I cooked that up so fast that it was nothing to me! [laughs] So, to have Jay Z and Kanye tell me to my face “that’s our biggest record” overall, and being such a big fan of them over the years, that was a major accomplishment for me. That was one of my more simpler pieces of music ever in my life, and that cut through the most. That was a life-changing experience for me.
It seems like it all came really fast at you, so was it overwhelming at all? How did you soak it all in [the success of the song]?
Man, it was honestly just happening, and I thought I was way more prepared for the game than I really was [laughs], but it really made me grow up. That really became a hit, so trying to even follow up on that and try to make people react that same way, that really put another level of, I don’t wanna say pressure, but put another level of fire under me just to go harder.
What do you think sets that particular beat apart from the other beats that you made at the time that made them go, “oh, yeah, that’s definitely the one that we’re gonna use”?
Well, it was one of my more simpler beats. I never thought that beat would have became a real hit. I just create, and that was one of my more simpler beats. I always computed that I’d be working on sh** for hours, and you know, it would end up being better than other things. But sometimes, you can whip up something in five minutes and it ends up being a cultural phenomenon, you know [laughs], to where they want to perform it 12, 13 times in a concert. That’s ridiculous!
That’s actually something I was going to ask you. To hear that they’re performing it multiple times, like 10, 11 times in a row, it must feel awesome to have a hand in creating something that’s transcended so many other songs in the way it did.
That really grew me up and changed a lot about the way I think. That sh** changed my music. It was an eye-opening experience. You never know what’s gonna touch people, so you just have to continue to create. Things that are supposed to line up will line up, ’cause I would have never called it.
I read that the song was originally sent to Pusha T, but he turned it down. How do you think the song would have taken form if he had taken it instead?
I can’t even call that honestly, but I’m so blessed and happy that it came together! I actually sent that beat to multiple people, a lot of people. Nobody used it, so it just worked out for the better.
It definitely was tailor-made for the two of them. Life has a funny way of working out.
Exactly. That’s my perspective on the way I make music from there, never to really expect, just create genuinely, and things will be just what they’re supposed to be. That album really helped me a lot, production-wise, and the way I thought about the industry and sh**, just music in general.
What are the other songs do you like from the album? Obviously there’s some other great ones.
I really like “Lift Off.” I actually did additional production on that, not too many people know that. That was the first beat that me and Kanye ever sat down and worked on together, and they kept some of the parts I put. I like “No Church in the Wild,” I like damn near all of it.
The whole album is really great. Fire beats all around and the songs still get used in trailers, commercials. From a cultural standpoint, it’s still so relevant.
I was just playing the album! We’re coming up on the five-year anniversary? That’s crazy, insane in itself.
Moving onto your own career, what is it like to focus on your own music and develop your own personal sound and style?
It’s been a development process. I’m learning a lot as a producer, so that helps me with my artistry and just, you know, the more I lock in and learn about different pockets and flows and melodies, I grow as a producer as well, so it kind of goes hand-in-hand. I’m letting things come organically and just keeping it genuine. Just creating. I’m gonna be releasing music soon.
What do you think is more of a challenge for you, rapping or producing, and for what reason?
I mean, it’s two different kind of ball games, you know? I really was locked in on the production for so long, and I’ve always made songs on my own, but I really got into discovering sound and just expanding on that, and I’m happy about it because that keeps me relevant. If I had purely focused on rap, who knows where I’d be. But to balance them both out, it helps each other out. I wouldn’t say one is harder, but they help each other to stay creative and to let things move you genuinely.
Aside from that, you own your own label, Hits Since ’87. What’s it like to be a jack-of-all-trades in that respect, you know, owning your own business and making music for yourself and others?
It’s been a process of development on all fronts. Mentally, musically, all that. This sh** really helped me grow up and helped me balance out the things I wanna get across, and if there’s an artist, they can come to me for production or advice. Whatever the case may be, just trying to balance that whole world, it’s been an interesting time. But it’s been good, I got to grow up real fast in the game and got to do a lot fast. I started when I was 19 and now I’m 29, been doing this 10 years. I’m just now scratching the surface on where I wanna be musically. I feel like people haven’t seen anything from me yet!
You ain’t seen nothing yet!
Do you still keep in touch with Kanye, and if you have, does he give you any advice for your own career?
We’ve talked on and off, that guy’s got a lot going on. When we can connect, we connect, but I talk to Hov a lot. We do business, we’ve got a couple of things going. But, yeah, I talk to both of them.
I wanted to save this question for the end because it’s my burning question: whose choice was it to put in the ‘Blades of Glory’ sample in “N***as In Paris”?
Oh, that was Kanye’s idea!
You know, that doesn’t surprise me, because I know he’s a huge fan of movies.
He chose a great part to go in there. It’s perfect for where the energy is about to go with the song.
Absolutely. A perfect sample.
You know, when you’re working with a genius, you get those types of luxuries. My name is attached to something that great. It’s been a blessing.