“Ni**as in Paris,” last year's most popular song, exploded in roughly the same amount of time that its producer spent creating it.
“It took me probably 15 minutes to make that beat, and it changed my life,” Hit Boy says of the ubiquitous, deliciously bass-heavy beat. In December, he watched Kanye West and Jay-Z perform the song 10 times in a row at the duo's Watch the Throne concert stop in L.A., sending the sold-out crowd into a frenzy. For a 24-year-old producer — to use the song's catchphrase — that shit was cray.
“I never expected Jay-Z and Kanye to rap on 'Ni**as.' That was just some quick messin' around,” Hit Boy says. He's leaning back in a chair in his Burbank studio, having just returned from the tiny Middle Eastern country of Qatar. He explains that West, head of the label he's signed to, routinely spirits him off to other countries. In fact, the first time Hit worked one-on-one with West, he flew 17 hours to Dubai. Hit had never been overseas before, but as soon as they arrived, West told him, “I'm not really feeling the vibe over here. Let's just go back to the U.S.”
“Whatever, it's Kanye, what can you say? Nothing. You just roll with the punches,” Hit says.
Luckily, the young producer is laid-back. Tonight he's dressed simply, his Air Jordan IV Retro Cement sneakers, gold chain and pinkie ring modest details. Born Chauncey Hollis in Pasadena, he went to high school in the small Inland Empire city of Colton. Still, famous people, and their sometimes infamous temperaments, aren't foreign to him — his uncle was a member of '90s R&B group Troop.
When he was 13, Hit saw Lil Bow Wow on television and started to write raps. By 15, he was playing around on Fruity Loops, the digital audio program he still uses to make beats today.
Four years later, in 2006, he heard Fergie's song “London Bridge” and sent its producer, Polow Da Don, a friend request on MySpace. He got home from church the next day to find a message from the Atlanta producer. When Polow came to L.A. and heard Hit's beats, he signed him on the spot.
Hit moved to Atlanta, and one day happened to be working in the same studio as Kanye. Pharrell Williams made an introduction, and West rhymed off the top of his head over one of Hit's beats. But it wasn't until late 2010 that the two began a professional relationship.
Hit had been sending West beats but was told they just weren't right for the album in question, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. He figured he was just being jerked around. Then he got the call that West was going to use one of his beats for a Christmas song. Within months, he was signed to West's label.
“It's crazy 'cause I still feel like a kid, just as eager. In my eyes, I'm still trying to get on,” he says.
From the guy who made a monster smash for hip-hop's two most respected rappers and has worked with everyone from old pro Lil Wayne to new darling A$AP Rocky, humble statements are hard to swallow. But as he spins around to start working again, they seem honest. After all, he has to keep living up to his name.