Hit-Boy is undoubtedly the producer of 2022. After closing out 2021 with a third collaborative effort with Nas, Magic, he kept the momentum high throughout the year. He reunited with Beyoncé on “THIQUE” off of Renaissance – a strong display of his ability to craft hits. However, he also locked in with some formidable MCs. We saw him work alongside legends like Snoop Dogg and 2 Chainz. He also served as the executive producer behind The Game’s Drillmatic Heart Vs. Mind and, even more recently, Nas’s King’s Disease III.
“My responsibility is to just bring quality every time,” Hit-Boy told HNHH. “Like, really get into like the sonic sphere of where they flourish at. I feel like that’s why me and Nas win… I just like getting a specific pocket that allows their shit to breathe.”
Hit-Boy’s emphasis on bringing quality helped usher in a new era of Nas’s career. However, on the cusp of releasing King’s Disease III, 21 Savage sparked a debate surrounding Nas’ “relevance” in the culture. Fans and critics initially considered the comments disrespectful, but it didn’t take long for them to put their differences aside for “One Mic One Gun,” produced by Hit-Boy.
“I definitely was just like… I’m just a little like – man, this is crazy that we are the only genre that’s so quick to downplay the people around us, the OGs, whatever,’” Hit-Boy recalled of his initial reaction to 21’s comments. “And it’s like, I feel like what me and Nas are even pushing for is a bigger agenda just with hip hop and artists being able to mature and still make the flyest shit that they could possibly make that don’t sound dated.”
For the latest installment of HNHH’s 12 Days Of Christmas, we caught up with Hit-Boy to discuss bridging the intergenerational gap in hip-hop, King’s Disease III, and the history behind “Legit.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
HotNewHipHop: How you feelin’?
Hit-Boy: I’ve been solid. Just locked in, working, man.
Huge year for you but I wanted to start off by asking about how “One Mic, One Gun” came about with Nas and 21 Savage.
I mean, you know obviously the conversation that was going around, and we all kind of got a mutual friend that’s cool with all of us. So they just kind of tapped in and spoke and just like – it was respect. You know, 21 kind of said his piece, where he was coming from. Nas let it be known where he was coming from and then it was just like, ‘man, let’s do a joint.’ So Nas hit me and was like, ‘Man, cook up something for 21.’ And he pulled up like the same day and I had that beat. That was the only beat I played him for the collab. He went crazy over it. I actually put a clip up with him reacting to the beat the first time I played it.
Were you aware that they were discussing a collaboration prior to 21’s comments?
No, I wasn’t aware of that. I just knew about it after the situation that went down.
What were your initial reactions to 21’s comments? I’m sure you processed what he said prior to speaking on it publicly.
Right, right. Before we had all connected, I definitely was just like… I’m just a little like – man, this is crazy that we are the only genre that’s so quick to downplay the people around us, the OGs, whatever.’ And it’s like, I feel like what me and Nas are even pushing for is a bigger agenda just with hip hop and artists being able to mature and still make the flyest shit that they could possibly make that don’t sound dated. That don’t sound like they’re trying to recreate some shit, but just sounds natural to the progression of where they are now. You know, I felt however I felt, but I just understand that it’s the bigger mission here.
You have this very unique place in hip hop where you’re able to kind of bridge together generations. What do you think the key is to creating a bridge between the two generations of rappers as hip-hop evolves?
Man, just understanding, music. Understanding how things progress. Everybody got different styles and just being able to appreciate all the styles, you know? Like, when I was working with – Rest In Peace – Juice WRLD. I did five songs on Death Race For Love. Totally different spectrum from Nas but I understand that in his world, this is what he does. This is how he puts his wordplay together. These are the type of beats he likes so I’m just gonna go wherever the artist needs me to go. Put my own flair into it, but still keep it then.
Would you be able to elaborate a bit more about what your responsibilities are to bring the connection between the OGs and the new generation?
Man, honestly, my responsibility is to just bring quality every time, you know what I mean? And just like, think of it on a deeper level than just dropping beats off to a person. Like, really get into like the sonic sphere of where they flourish at. I feel like that’s why me and Nas win. Like, I don’t try to overproduce – I don’t really try to overproduce anybody but especially Nas. It’s like for him to get his wordplay off, his cadences. I just like getting a specific pocket that allows their shit to breathe.
What’s the process like for you to get into that specific pocket with an artist? How do you bond with an artist before you find their sweet spot?
I mean, shit, before we even link, man, if I know I got a session with artists coming up, I listen to their vibe. Listen to what they’ve been on lately. They might be on a whole different wave than the last song they even put out but I’m gonna just put something in that realm of pocket that I know they could fit and every time it just kind of worked out.
How do you feel about the impact that you and Nas created? He’s established a legacy over 30+ years but the work you guys put in have helped him get his first Grammy and certainly helped a lot of younger fans realize his significance.
Man, I mean, bro, it’s insane. And honestly, it motivated me to go harder every album. That’s why every time we drop, people have been like, ‘Yo, this better than the last one. Y’all more locked in.’ We really haven’t stopped working since 2020, since KD1 came out. We’ve been consistently like, you know, if not every week, we’ll link every couple of weeks. Or at least, a few times a month overall. It’s just like, we just stay in that pocket.
And it’s just dope to see the people react the way we react in the studio. It’s like man, and we’ve already been done this. Like, we put out 54 songs in the last two years. Like, that’s ridiculous. I know if we just keep outdoing ourselves, we’re gonna be right where we need to be. We ain’t competing with nobody. It’s just like Nas is who he is already. So you know, I just got to keep doing what I do, and that’s just like making my legendary status go up, as well.
It’s crazy to think that Nas has been active for four decades – 1990s, 2000s, 2010s, and now, the 2020s. My question to you is how would you rank Nas through the decades? What are your favorite Nas eras?
I mean, I started getting into Nas, like, more around like, Stillmatic. That was like when I was 12-13 years old. Then, obviously, the Jay-Z/Nas beef and shit. Seeing how that played out and just how impactful that was on so many people. I don’t know, man. I can appreciate all eras. Obviously, making these albums with him, I went back and studied It Was Written [and] Illmatic.
Those albums that I wasn’t really – you know, I’m from the West Coast. That’s another thing why I think it’s just like so crazy that it works. I’m essentially from a different generation, I’m from the West Coast. I feel like on paper, you don’t think that’s supposed to work and then, it does and that’s what the magic is.
Outside of your collaborative projects, what’s your favorite Nas album?
I’m going to say Stillmatic.
Is that because of the nostalgic factor?
Some of that but also, that’s just like one of my favorite eras of music. Like, when Roc-A-Fella and Nas and just like, all these super hip hop people. And like, the hip hop sound was modernized, and like, the drums was getting harder and the basslines was bumping out more. It’s just something about that era just like is the shit to me.
People have called King’s Disease III the end of the trilogy but will there be more installments to this series in the future?
I mean, as of now, yeah, but you never know about the future. You never know. We might make 10 songs and it might be some KD references in there. It might just end up being another KD but we don’t know, man. I just like to make the music, let it flow, and it ends up being what it’s supposed to be.
You had a great run this year as an executive producer for Nas, obviously, The Game, Pacman Da Gunman, Dreezy. Who else would you want to executive produce an album for in the future?
Man, honestly, whoever really wants to lock in with me, man. I feel like I’m one of the least technical producers. I go off the feeling. I go off the natural energy of what’s going on when I get in the studio with a person versus like, somebody sending me some notes of like, ‘oh, this person needs a record with some boom bap drums’ or ‘some trap drums with extra energy.’ I don’t like making music like that. I gotta just link with the artists, play them what I got. This is the best of the best of what I’m doing right now, and if you connect with it, you connect with it. If you don’t, you probably will at another time.
How do you feel about the resurgence of sampling right now? Especially with drumless loops.
It’s all music, man. Anything that sounds quality, I’m with it.
One specific sample I want to talk to you about was on “Legit.” What was the decision behind using The Five Heartbeats sample on that song?
Man, so rare. Like, I’ve never heard nobody sample that joint before. So, that’s what really the number one thing I’m proud of, just how rare it is. Like everybody knows it, especially within the Black community. Like, I grew up on the movie. My family watched it at every family gathering on loop. Just like loving the movie, really buying into the characters. That scene always was just one of the illest musical scenes in the movie ever to me. And I’m like, damn, I’m surprised nobody ever used this.
It’s funny because I did that beat around the time when Kanye was pulling up to my studio and we did “Eazy” with Game and we were working on ideas. I actually did that and I sent it to [Ye] before I played it for Nas, like, because we weren’t as deep into KD3. We just put out Magic like a month and a half earlier. I sent it to Kanye, he didn’t respond to it and then, I built it out and played it for Nas and he went crazy. So, it just worked out.
What are your thoughts on the Grammys producer of the year category? Do you think hip-hop is fairly represented?
I mean, man, it’s like it’s so many worlds. There’s so many worlds, man. Like this year, I might have not got the producer the year nomination at the Grammys like I did last year, but then I’m walking on the streets – I’m at Art Basel in Miami, and people literally bowing down they head, like, ‘Bro, you are the guy. The shit you doing with Nas, just everything you doing.’ Just the respect level, I just see has went to – it’s a different level. I’ve been doing this for a long time. Did big records with Jay-Z, Kanye, and Beyonce, but this is a different level, right now.
Who would you consider the producer of 2022, if not yourself?
I know ATL Jacob did his thing. Boi-1da did this thing. D’Mile. It’s a lot of people that I respect, for sure.
How do you feel about like the new crop of producers coming up and how they’re carrying the torch?
I mean, the game progresses, man. I feel like it’s kinda – not to say it’s getting easier but as far as like loop makers, it’s just a different world when it comes to that now. Like, people just like all day hit me in my DM, like, ‘Yo, let me send you loops,’ and it’s like, man, that’s just the world we living in now. A lot of people do get off placements by just hitting people, sending them what they got and somehow, end up on the album.
You dropped “Tony Fontana 3” with Curren$y recently. What’s the word on a new album? Will we be getting one from you in 2023?
Yeah, I’m actually still dropping something on this side of the year. And I’m gonna be dropping all next year, my own rap shit featuring different artists. I’m stepping the visual aspect to a different stratosphere right now, so I’m excited about that. But definitely, man, I’m coming up with some joints for my own stuff.
Since this is a year-end interview, I wanted to know if you have any dream collaborations for 2023 among artists you haven’t had the chance to work with yet?
Honestly, bro, I can’t even call it. As I said, whoever wants to really work, really lock in with me, I’m down to do it. But I can’t really just pinpoint anybody.