Q&A: Hit-Boy on 'Ni--as in Paris' Success & His Own Rap Career
Hit-Boy is living up to his name. The Southern California native (born Chauncey Hollis in Pasadena) co-produced "Ni**as in Paris," the double-platinum hit from Jay-Z and Kanye West's "Watch the Throne." With another West track ("Way Too Cold") under his belt, Hit-Boy is juggling various projects including West's upcoming solo album, a G.O.O.D. Music set, as well as sessions with A$AP Rocky, Nas, Justin Bieber and Big Sean.
Hit-Boy grew up with music. His uncle, Rodney Benford, was a member of Troop, a group that scored two No. 1 R&B hits in 1990 with "Spread My Wings" and "All I Do Is Think of You." Watching Bow Wow on TV prompted then-13-year-old Chauncey to pen his own raps. However, the fledgling rapper grew more enamored with crafting beats. His first placement, at 20 years old, was the track "Forever" on Jennifer Lopez's "Brave" album, and he claimed his second big break collaborating on West's "Christmas in Harlem" after meeting Kanye's cousin, Ricky Anderson.
Signed to G.O.O.D. and Universal Music Publishing Group, Hit-Boy boasts a rapidly expanding discography, including tracks by Lil Wayne featuring Eminem ("Drop the World"), Kelly Rowland featuring Big Sean ("Lay It on Me"), Jennifer Hudson ("I Remember Me"), Pusha T ("My God"), Rihanna ("Watch N Learn") and Joe Jonas ("Lighthouse").
1. Where did you get your nickname, "Hit-Boy"?
It used to be "the Hit Boys," because there were two of us. I'd always heard from older people that music was about having hits -- that's how you get money, how you get to the top. So we called ourselves the Hit Boys. But things went sour with us. Since I made up the name, I decided to keep it.
2. Why has "Paris" resonated so strongly?
That was one of the random beats I'd been sending to Ricky for Kanye. It came back up when Kanye and Jay-Z were in sessions for the album in Paris. I remember Kanye telling me, "Wait until you hear the song . . . it's going to be one of those joints that gets the party going." And it definitely turned out to be that. It's just one of the most distinctive beats that's come out in a while.
3. Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, Tyga and you are part of a new West Coast movement. What word describes this resurgence?
Fresh. Nobody is boxed in anymore. It's just refreshing. That's what we're trying to do with our own collective of forward-thinking producers, songwriters and artists called Surf Club [with Chase N Cashe, B Carr and Chilli Chill].
4. What key influences have shaped your work?
One producer I've looked up to is Scott Storch. At his peak, he was doing Beyoncé's incredible ballad, "Me, Myself and I," and then he went to Fat Joe's "Lean Back," one of the biggest club songs ever. Nobody could identify his sound, and that's what I want. I can go from Kelly's "Lay It on Me" to Pusha T's "My God" and then do a "Paris." People might still try to put me in a box, thinking I'm only a track producer, but not knowing I can make an R&B ballad right now and play the keys myself.
5. You also established your own production company and label called HS87, which stands for Hits Since '87.
I'm in the process of building it. I've signed young rap group Audio Push, who are from the Inland Empire [section of California] where I came up.
6. There's word that you're also stepping back in front of the board?
I randomly started rapping again, having fun, putting some things together. I'm releasing a song next month called "Jay-Z Interview." I've been hashtagging the name [#jayzinterview] on Twitter and a lot of people are interested. So I'm going to put it out, let it float around and just see what it is.