Hit-Boy is not a man who operates alone. He has the ability to make friends, collaborate and move people into action. Maybe it’s his reputation as the man behind ‘Niggas In Paris’. Perhaps it’s his focused-yet-humble disposition. But either way, Hit-Boy, born Chauncey Hollis, is determined to go further than the money and Grammy win that his production work on Jay and ‘Ye’s mega-hit brought him. With the help of his entire clique, he’s on a greater mission to build his own enterprise, an endeavour he calls ‘Hits Since ’87’.
When we spoke, Hit-Boy was at home working on new music. The Hit-Boy residence is a Los Angeles-based, neo-Mediterranean mansion colloquially known as The House of Hit. With room after room of studio equipment, Hit-Boy is making music daily with his artists, friends and collaborators under the HS87 umbrella. “It’s a 24-hour open invitation to come over and be creative,” Hit-Boy tells me. “Just a few of us live here, but I’d like to say everybody lives here because people just come through and set up. I’ve even got photographers in here.” When Hit-Boy’s two-year beat-making contract with Kanye’s GOOD Music label expired, he opted to negotiate a new deal with Interscope Records, which allowed him the freedom to create his own production house and sign his own artists. Currently they include longtime friends Pricetag and Oktane of Audio Push and a new-wave R&B producer/singer named K. Roosevelt. All three parties are signed to Interscope via Hit-Boy’s HS87 label. “It was a question of am I going to stay under other people or am I going to boss up in the game and do this for myself?” Hit-Boy says confidently, “And I’m glad I took that chance on myself. I feel like this thing is really about to crack open with all the good things happening with Audio Push and the new music that’s about to come out. ”
Audio Push is the rap duo responsible for holding down most of the lyrical duties on HS87’s collective releases. They’re also residents at the House of Hit, which means they can roam its halls collaborating with beatsmiths and writing music at any time of the day, or they can just enjoy living in the lap of luxury. Either way, when I spoke with them [O1] Pricetag was smoking trees while Oktane sits close by. It seems like the duo are well adept at making the most of the opportunities that the house offers them. One look at an Audio Push track listing and you’ll notice that a host of other people produce their songs, it’s not a position that Hit-Boy holds exclusively. Oktane says Hit-Boy’s team of producers is a force to be reckoned with, “Every day there’s always music going [at the House of Hit]. Every single room is basically a studio, and HS87 as a team is crazy with the beats. That’s Hazebanga, of course Hit-Boy, S. Dot, Rey Reel… there’s a gang of them.”
HS87’s stronger collaborative releases usually include more than one producer. One of the standout tracks from the collective, in a charts-accessible sense, is a song titled ‘I Like It’ from Audio Push’s Come As You Are project. While Pricetag and Oktane share duty on the verses, K. Roosevelt gives us a catchy El DeBarge-sampled hook and S. Dot holds down the production with assistance from Hit-Boy. It has horns, it’s nostalgic, it’s club-ready, it’s magical, and it clearly demonstrates that HS87 know exactly what they are doing as a collective. “I’m not the type of guy who does a beat with somebody and [then] goes ‘that’s all me,'” Hit-Boy reflects, “I’ve never done that.” The value of harvesting the combined talents of friends and peers is the most valuable demonstrated skill Hit-Boy says that he learned from his time working with Kanye. “All the best creatives of all time have other great thinkers around them,” he says. “Most of the best music was made by a few collaborators together. I know that by rubbing some heads together you can get a product that is considered classic music, and that’s what I’m on.”
At just 26 years old, Hit-Boy has already experienced peaks and troughs in his short career. He first started to rack up production credits on songs for artists as diverse as J.Lo and Gucci Mane in 2007 after meeting producer, Polow Da Don, on Myspace and beginning a working relationship with him. But Hit-Boy’s genesis stretches back nearly a decade before those breakthrough credits, to when he was just 16 years old and in a rap group called Hit Boys with a good friend from Montana. The other half of Hit Boys was a keyboardist who developed his skills by spending years playing in church while Hit-Boy no. 1 honed his skills rapping and picking up production elements. But as time progressed it became clear that there was only room for one. “I had a link to one of the members of The Underdogs,” he recalls, referring to the Los Angeles-based production company responsible, at the time, for making hit songs for the likes of Chris Brown and American Idol winner Ruben Studdard. “So we would go up there and mess with them and make these crazy beats. Then one day, he came in and said he quit. And he was going back to the church because we weren’t making any money. Long story short, he was lying. We were 17, and somehow they convinced him to leave me. He signed with the people I introduced him to, and I was distraught. I didn’t know if I was going to keep making music.”
Fortunately, Hit-Boy kept the early moniker as well as the drive to make music. He continued to work with artists locally in LA studio sessions, until one fateful day in 2007 changed it all. As Hit-Boy recalls it, he was in studio when he discovered that Pharrell Williams was working across the hall. Hit-Boy was familiar with Williams already, due to his production contributions to Teyana Taylor’s From A Planet Called Harlem album, released via Williams’ Star Trak Entertainment label in 2007. He was invited to preview new tracks from N.E.R.D’s upcoming album, when who should join them but Kanye West. “What was crazy is that I had this beat in my pocket on a CD that I always wanted to play for Kanye, and he liked it,” Hit-Boy reflects. “So I was 100 percent cool with him from the gate.” That fateful encounter would eventually lead to Hit-Boy’s signing with GOOD Music, but in the interim he continued to cut his teeth by working with the likes of The Pussycat Dolls, Flo Rida, and G-Unit.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. In 2009 the only production credit Hit-Boy had to his name was for a song called ‘Stronger’ performed by Mary J. Blige for a LeBron James documentary. At this slow and unsettling point in Hit-Boy’s career he looked to one of the co-writers of that song, Ester Dean, for advice. Dean had started blowing up in the music industry after writing Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’, a breakthrough that led to work on ‘S&M,’ Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ and Nicki Minaj’s ‘Superbass.’ She gave him a copy of The Secret, which Hit-Boy credits as drastically changing his worldview. “I literally saw her go from sleeping on the couch at the studio, driving this old-school Cadillac, taking showers at the studio, trying to get by… Not even two years later she’s out in L.A. living it up in her own place killing it on top of the charts” Hit-Boy explains. “So I watched how real it is when you speak [things into existence] and you’re positive. You’ll get those types of results. I want people to know that’s really the truth. You have to put the work in. You really have to put the hours in. But once you put in your 10,000 hours, everything will start to take shape for you. But you gotta believe it from the jump and know that this is possible.”
By the end of 2010, Hit-Boy had worked with GOOD Music on ‘Christmas in Harlem,’ a Kanye-driven Christmas anthem with feature verses from Dipset’s Cam’ron and Jim Jones among others, originally released as part of West’s GOOD Friday music giveaway initiative. By the following year, Hit-Boy had firmly cemented his place in the pantheon of popular culture via his work on the massively successful ‘Niggas in Paris’ track, not to mention credits on A$AP Rocky’s ‘Goldie’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘Backseat Freestyle’, as well as ‘Clique’ and ‘Cold’ on GOOD Music’s debut release Cruel Summer. These days, Hit-Boy’s production skills are a coveted commodity. Over the past two years, his services have been requested from the likes of M.I.A., Kid Cudi, will.i.am and Beyonce. But now that he’s the leader of his own label, Hit-Boy would rather create in-house classics for his own cause, and he’s happy to do it with the people he calls friends.
“The people around me have been my homies for a long time,” Hit-Boy tells us. “All my homies signed to me have been my homies before we were popping. Audio Push used to hit me up for advice at my mom’s crib.” It’s a relationship that spans more than a decade. “I’ve known Hit-Boy since I was 14,” Oktane recalls. “The first month he started making beats I had just started to rap, and ever since then we’ve been working with him. We’ve been here from the beginning, before HS87 and all that. We’ve been rocking with him since he was signed to Polow [Da Don] in Atlanta. That’s our homie. That’s really our brother.” They’re so plugged-in that they even heard ‘Niggas and Paris’ before Jay-Z. “I heard other songs on that beat before that song even came out,” Oktane remembers. “So, when it dropped, I remember we celebrated at his mom’s crib, like in his room drinking Hennessy. That was our celebration. We were turned up listening to Watch The Throne, going crazy, doing exactly what we’re doing now at House of Hit.”
When you’re leading a team toward success, it’s vital to have people around who you can trust. Hit-Boy credits his peers as being full of professionals who “sculpt” and “curate” songs together. “Hazebanga and myself, sonically, we’re in the trenches making sure these mixes have the right delay, every reverb is correct, everything about the music is there,” Hit-Boy tells me. “I feel like Audio Push, Kent Money and B Mac are some of the craziest lyricists. They just have words on words. I don’t know how they think of some of it. K. Roosevelt is hitting certain chords some of my favorite producers like Babyface would hit. I feel like HS87 is well-rounded. I’m trying to evoke emotion with my music. It isn’t about having the illest bars. It’s trying to make people feel good when they hear this.”
While the aspiring rapper/producer who formed one half of Hit Boys nearly a decade ago probably couldn’t envision working with the kind of industry veterans that Hit-Boy now calls his peers, it’s clear that this is just the start of his journey – after a moments pause he concludes, “I feel like I haven’t done shit yet.”
This story was taken from the pages of our Team Player issue – available for purchase here.