Producer's Corner: Hit-Boy
From "Watch The Throne" album gems to Lil Wayne and Eminem collaborations, this 24 year-old Polow Da Don protege is living the dream, and he shares some jaw-dropping stories from working with Kanye West.
At 24 years old, Hit-Boy has already crafted standout soundbeds for Lil Wayne and Eminem (“Drop The World”), Kanye West and Jay-Z (“Niggas In Paris,” and engineering duties on “Lift Off”), Pusha-T (“My God”) and is signed to G.O.O.D. Music. Whether a deal is given on a silver platter (as it was from Polow Da Don) or took persistence (as it did for Kanye), the California producer has been ready when it counts. Now, he and his Surf Club crew are preparing to build their own dynasty. In an interview with HipHopDX, Hit-Boy shares the mystique from Watch The Throne, how a simple MySpace message jumpstarted his career, and why working with legends just isn’t enough.
Hit-Boy Reacts To Reception Of Jay-Z & Kanye West's Watch The Throne
HipHopDX: At listening parties, people were going crazy about the Watch The Throne album. But once it dropped, reviews were really mixed. Some loved it, some hated it, and some felt the album was right in the middle. What was it like for you to see all of those opinions?
Hit-Boy: I feel like this album was so necessary, not just for Hip Hop, but for music in general. It’s a sound that’s so fresh, and people are so used to hearing the same thing. Rap-wise, a lot of people are doing trap beats and the same type of shit, so that’s what we’re used to. But this has new drums, new synths, ways to use certain downs. I know that’s something Kanye [West] prides himself on, and him and [Jay-Z] are always pushing boundaries. There’s such a high expectation, but once you realize what it is, people are going to mess with it. This album is very necessary for music.
DX: Describe the recording process. There was a lot of secrecy surrounding where sessions were, storage of files, etc. How was that for you, and what did you see that you can share?
Hit-Boy: My first experience was pretty crazy. We flew into Dubai, and we worked at the Emirate’s Palace over in Abu Dhabi. Those were my first sessions with Kanye, period. We worked on a bunch of different things and started Watch The Throne ideas. I was supposed to be over there for three weeks, and as soon as I get over there we go to dinner, and Kanye is like, “I’m not really feeling the vibe over here.” And I had just took a 16-hour flight from California, all the way to Dubai for him to tell me that. That was kind of crazy. We worked on a lot of great ideas in one night, and the next day, we were out of there.
We ended up going to New York, and we stayed over there for a good three weeks. We worked at the Mercer [Hotel], as everybody knows. The vibe was just crazy. I had my setup in my hotel room, it felt like home. I just rolled out of bed and made beats. Only now, I can walk down the hall and play those beats for Kanye West and Jay-Z. It was really comfortable for me. Of course there’s pressure, but at the end of the day, it’s work. We just swagged out and worked.
DX: How much did you submit?
Hit-Boy: We did other joints that were solidified as far as I knew, and they really wanted to use them. They were talking about video concepts for other songs that I did. “Niggas In Paris” came out of nowhere from the sessions in Paris that I didn’t get to attend. That was just a beat I had sent, and they just so happened to hit me like, “We need the files for this joint.” That joint came out of nowhere and knocked some other joints off of there, but it couldn’t happen no more perfect. I just found out that even though it’s only been out a week, “Niggas In Paris” just charted in the Top 100, so that’s exciting for me.
DX: You were initially discovered by Polow Da Don on MySpace, in 2006. What had you done by yourself at that point?
Hit-Boy: I had not done anything. I knew people, but [Polow Da Don] was the first person to give me that opportunity and help me make some real bread industry-wise. I’m forever grateful for that. I met him on some random. Everybody used to send everybody requests on MySpace back in the day. I had heard [Fergie's] “London Bridge” on the radio the night before I had requested him, and I was trying to find out who did it. … I sent him a request, went to church, got back from church, and I had a message in my inbox like, “Let’s get this paper.” I had never been around no industry dude that talked money with me, let alone the first words he spoke to me were “Let’s get this paper.” … I played him like 60 beats, and he said, “I want to sign you, on the spot.” After that, we just kept in contact, and maybe five months later, I ended up signing and me and Chase moved out to Atlanta. It was just popping from there.
DX: How much music was on your MySpace page when he added you?
Hit-Boy: I had four joints. I had remixed an Omarion song and something else, and I had these two beats. He said, “I really like these two beats.” I think he wanted to buy them for his artist. They never ended up getting used, but he bought those two beats, and those were the joints that initially started interest.
DX: How did you first link with Kanye?
Hit-Boy: I first met Kanye in ’07 at a record playing session, Pharrell introduced me to him. I had played them both some music and they spazzed. I remember playing one beat, and Kanye was rapping from the time it came on till when it was done, and Pharrell was singing. It was a crazy moment, it just didn’t connect the way I thought it would. As time went along, I ended up meeting Kanye again through his cousin, Ricky Anderson, who is now co-managing me. I met Ricky through my boy Dolla, who is just one of my homies, he’s cousins with Ricky. He linked me up with him, because he was looking for beats for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy . I would send Ricky beats all the time, and he would say, “Kanye really likes your beats, and thinks they’re hits, but they don’t fit My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy.” I thought he was just talking and bullshitting me like anybody else, but I kept sending him music, and we kept in contact, kicked it, played 2K and that type of shit. At the release party for My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy in New York, Ricky called me and he was like, “I think Kanye is going to do a Christmas song to your beat.” That ended up being “Christmas In Harlem” . That’s how I really got started. That came out in December, and the next month, I’m getting flown out to Abu Dhabi.
DX: That song had a lot of people.
Hit-Boy: That was surreal, a blessing. That was the first joint of mine that [Pusha-T] rapped on. That was super exciting for me, man.
DX: What are some similarities between working with Kanye and Polow, and what have you learned from either of them?
Hit-Boy: They’re both very creative dudes, but we all know that Kanye is on another planet with this shit. I feel like my music belongs at G.O.O.D. Music, because my sound is not a definitive sound. I have so many different styles I can do, from a [Pusha-T's] “My God,” to a Kelly Rowland “Lay It On Me,” to a “Niggas In Paris.” All different dynamics. That’s something that Kanye is known for. Even though you know he has the samples, he always transcends. Whether he’s adding different synthesizers to the samples, or whatever he does, or how he chopped up “Otis” . That’s how my music is, so I felt that this is the fit. Kanye is the person that’s going to help bring out the best in me.
DX: What is it like to be signed as a producer, to a producer? How much does he help, and how much do you just do what you’ve already done?
Hit-Boy: Kanye is hands-on with everything, but he allows me to just be me. I make music from a natural place, I bring it to him, and he’s either fucking with it or he’s not. I’ll bring him a track, and he’ll say, “You should slow this down or take this part out,” and it makes it sound a million times better instantly. Stuff like that, I can pick up on later, so when I go make tracks again, I can do this or slow down or speed this up. Just learning little stuff like that. But I don’t feel like it’s a conflict at all, because I’m my own person, always have been. Even with Polow and being signed to Zone 4, me and Chase were able to build a brand, Surf Club, that people know us for. They didn’t know us as being Polow’s producers. Initially they did, but we grew to being Hit-Boy, Chase and Cashe from Surf Club. That’s one thing we really take pride in—branding ourselves and getting our Internet presence up, and the ItsTheSurfClub.com site and all that. I don’t feel like I’m getting overshadowed.
DX: Yeah I was about to ask, how difficult is it to develop your own brand when you’re in a situation with someone a lot more prominent? Other producers signed to a different producer end up sounding like him.
Hit-Boy: Honestly, I don’t know. I’m allowed to be myself still, and I pride myself on not having a specific sound and not sounding like anyone but the high quality of what the song is. If I’m making a “Lay It On Me,” it’s going to be the highest quality R&B radio record. If I make “My God,” I want it to sound like a guy who only makes “My God” type of beats.
DX: Can you think of any beats you had made that you already thought were perfect, but once you took Ye’s advice, it turned out eve better?
Hit-Boy: I was in a session working with John Legend. Ryan Leslie was there, a bunch of different people, it was a writing session for Legend’s album. Kanye wasn’t there yet. I took a beat in, I think this beat is amazing, because everybody’s going crazy over it. I’m feeling good, and it’s perfect! They started writing to it. Kanye got in, and he was like, “You should slow this down.” This one part that I thought was the shit, he was like, “Take that out.” That made the joint sound a million times better, instantly. At first I was like, “Damn, this is going to mess the vibe up.” But it took it to another level. He just has that knack, that gift and that understanding for music and he knows what he wants shit to sound like. You can go back to all of his albums, and he knows what he’s talking about.
DX: I’ve also read that you’re a big fan of Scott Storch. Are there any beats he’s made that you wish you would’ve made?
Hit-Boy: [Terror Squad's] “Lean Back.” That takes the cake. That’s one of the freshest beats. I was just listening to that the other day, and I was like, “Damn, this was ’04 or ’03.” Sonically, where he was—the kick was different, we had never heard that. The percussions, the snares, the Arabian sounds, the strings and all that. That was so fresh, and I really respected him for that, and the same thing I pride myself on, which is not having a specific sound. He was able to do that record for Fat Joe, then he did three singles on Beyonce’s first album. He did “Me, Myself & I,” which is a fucking R&B ballad. He just had the swag, man. I really mess with Scott Storch for being original every time, and for making the highest form of whatever genre he’s creating, which is what I aim to do.
Hit-Boy Explains Working With Eminem And Lil Wayne At 24 Years Old
DX: You and Chase also made "Drop The World," for Eminem and Lil Wayne. How did you come up with that beat?
Hit-Boy: That beat in particular, we did that out in Atlanta. I had started the idea, and I just had it sitting there. It was the first part of the beat, without the rock drums or the hook. I had started that and had it for maybe a couple of weeks, and I was messing with it, trying to record a bassline over it. Chase was like, “No, you should do it like this.” He started adding to it, he added some more sounds. That made me think to add some rock sounds to give it a different element. That joint was made a long time before it ended up in Lil Wayne’s hands, at least a year and a half. … KY, Wayne’s engineer, hit up Chase on Twitter and said Wayne was looking for beats. Chase sent five beats. Two ended up on the Young Money [We Are Young Money] album, and one was “Drop The World” . They ended up doing those in the studio on their own.
DX: You have a song with Lil Wayne and Eminem, and you have a song on an album with Kanye West and Jay-Z. Where do you go from here? Many people don’t reach those goals till near the end of their careers.
Hit-Boy: I’m excited to have reached this plateau this early at 24 years old. The next step for us is to build our brand Surf Club into a force. We’ve got our own artists. Kent M$NEY, Chili Chill, Chase is doing his thing, we’ve got Stacey Barthe. We’re really just trying to get serious with our own brand and make it into a force like we really look up to, like N*E*R*D and Star Trak and that whole movement. I honestly feel like I’ve worked with all my rap heroes, so now it’s time to get my own shit popping.