When Hit-Boy invited theGrio into his studio one night in the enclaves of North Hollywood, the already eminent producer opened up the doors not only to his soundstage, but his secret work as a rapper waiting to unveil his game. Though he’s established his talent in production, dropping idyllic beats for Kanye West, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, and Mary J. Blige, the 25-year-old revealed he has larger intentions for his career, including an emerging solo project.
“I’m taking rapping a lot more seriously now,” Hit-Boy tells theGrio. “Because I feel like, with my sound, I haven’t done multiple songs on people’s albums, so I haven’t been able to shine like I’m really about to with what I’m doing on my own…I want to let people see what I can do, top to bottom.”
The creator of the now omnipresent hook on “N***as in Paris,” who’s signed as a producer to West’s G.O.O.D. Music label, released his first rap single on June 8. Titled “Jay-Z Interview.” The track is an ode to his predecessors, paired with video footage from his time on tour with Watch the Throne, and various studio sessions. The record’s got the tinge of ‘90s composition, and the finesse of a 21st century trailblazer. Fittingly, Hit-Boy says he strives to take the influence of hip hop’s classic era, and modernize it with sophisticated production.
“I started rapping before I was even producing, but I stopped for awhile to get my feet in the door as a producer and just make a name for myself,” explained the multi-talented musician. “This whole thing just came back about, and how people are embracing me and liking what I’m doing, it’s like, I’ll just hear my raps sometimes and be like, ‘Wow, that’s really me, and my thoughts and my ideas, just being in pocket.’”
Born and raised in Fontana, California, Hit-Boy came from a musical family, though the impressive lineage didn’t necessarily get him into Hollywood off the bat. It merely gave him ideas.
“My uncle was in a group called Troop back in the day,” he recalls. “Around the time when they were at their peak, me and my mom were living with my uncle so I saw the lifestyle, and him going into the studio, me going there sometimes and sitting around and just being intrigued by it. He was the first person to believe in me when I told him I wanted to pursue music.”
His mother, on the other hand, a daycare worker, was more amused.
Says the producer, “She laughed at me because I was always so shy. So, she didn’t even take it serious. I just really dove into it, though. I kept progressing and she became my biggest supporter.”
Hit-Boy describes the first track he ever created as a 13-year-old as “wack,” and remembers watching Bow Wow on television, feeling like he should be doing the same gig. It wasn’t until the musician’s fateful encounter with West, at an L.A. recording studio in 2007, however, that life began to get lifted.
“I was in a room directly across from Pharrell,” Hit-Boy comments. “He invited me to hear some of the new N.E.R.D. album, and Kanye West walks in out of nowhere. It was so random. And I had this beat that I was like, ‘If I ever run into Kanye, I’m going to play it.’ And I just so happened to have that beat in my pocket. So, I played that beat, and from the time it came on till the time it went off, he was just rapping the whole time.”
Years later, the two reconnected through West’s cousin, Ricky Anderson, now Hit-Boy’s manager. The hopeful protégé sent Anderson some beats for West’s 2010 release, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and while none made the cut, the superstar ended up using a leftover part for his single “Christmas in Harlem.”
It was a similar story when West teamed with Jay-Z for 2011’s Watch the Throne, and tapped into Hit-Boy’s greatest success to date from a discarded production piece.
“We did other songs they were hyped about, and none of those even made the album,” he says. ““Paris” was a beat I just did at my mom’s house, just f***ing around. I didn’t even take that beat seriously. Never thought anything about it. That was one of the beats I had sitting in the batch for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and they ended up pulling it out.”
Now golden as a beat-maker, Hit-Boy intends to make music that remains distinct without conforming to one particular style, and like West, his idol, he wants the good life. He spent his first paycheck paying off bills, but has graduated since to designer living, his most prized possession being a Versace chain he created, linking two female bands together. But he’s as unfaltering in his work as his shopping, aiming to go beyond expectations, even if the world already has his name blazed in gold.
“It’s been ten years since Ye came out, we just need that person that the kids can look up to,” he offers. “When I was 16-years-old, I wanted to be him; I wanted to dress like him; I wanted to make music like him; I wanted to wear jewelry like him…I feel like I’m really one of the closest guys, as far as my age bracket you know…that is taking it there. I see my influence as far as the Twitter world and the social networks. How people look up to me is really dope. I’m trying to really just continue to build on that as far as the sound, and just be a staple.”
Right now, Hit-Boy’s working on West’s new album, a project that, in typical Yeezy fashion, will be released in its own good time. He’s also finished a track for Justin Bieber’s new album, a song called “Right Here” with Drake; and he’s got his own material waiting in the wings. He remains tight-lipped on the forthcoming music, but expect dynamic production, organic assonance, and a lot surprise.
“I’m trying to build my own company, and my own artists and myself, really working harder than ever,” says the rising talent. “Sonically, where I can go, I’m taking 808 tracks and bringing in violinists and putting cellos over certain stuff that conventionally people would have never done… I never limit myself as to what is possible.”
Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @courtgarcia