Business

Hit-Boy and WondaGurl On Producers' New Power — And Why Their Pub Deals Still Need To Get Better

WondaGurl
Courtesy of Wonderchild

WondaGurl

The coronavirus pandemic may have forced much of the music industry to pause, but it hasn’t stopped WondaGurl and Hit-Boy — two of hip-hop’s most prolific and inventive producers — from working nonstop. “I’ve been having a hard time completely focusing,” admits WondaGurl, 23, who has crafted hits for Rihanna and Travis Scott. “But I’m doing what I have to do at the same time.” That has included producing tracks on two of the year’s biggest debuts, Don Toliver’s Heaven or Hell and Pop Smoke’s Shoot for the Stars, Aim for the Moon — as well as inking a new co-publishing deal with Sony/ATV in partnership with Scott’s Cactus Jack imprint.

For his part, Hit-Boy, 33, who took home his second Grammy earlier this year (for Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle”), expanded into executive-producing, on NasKing’s Disease, Big Sean’s Detroit 2 and Benny the Butcher’s Burden of Proof — all while working to resolve a contract dispute with Universal Music Publishing Group and juggling the demands of new fatherhood. “My son was born right at the beginning of the quarantine,” he says. “That allowed me to just really zone in and put the things that matter in the forefront.”

You’ve both created massive hits for the better part of a decade. How do you balance what sounds timely now with what will, say, two years from now?

Hit-Boy: It’s almost like a subconscious thing. You’re listening to what’s out and what’s going on, but you also might listen to classic stuff. A few of the Benny the Butcher beats were made over 10 years ago, and there’s people hitting me like, “This shit some of the illest stuff for the year!” And I’m like, “Man, this is my old bag.”

Ragan Henderson
Hit-Boy

Producers are increasingly treated as artists in their own right. Does that change how you collaborate?

WondaGurl: Before, I didn’t really want to have any of my own music out. It has been a long time of having people release my stuff the way they want to release it. I’m someone who doesn’t really like attention, but I also [wasn’t always able to] have songs drop the way I wanted them to drop. Now, I’m kind of wanting to put my own music out. So whether I do [beat/verse] swaps, that has kind of changed.

Hit-Boy: That’s good that you get into that. If I wouldn’t have had my name on “Racks in the Middle” [as a featured artist], I wouldn’t have even got a trophy. For my name to be on the Grammy, and I got to go up onstage to get it, I feel like I deserved that. A lot of people in the camp wasn’t even tripping on getting the song out — I was pushing, Nipsey was pushing. We should be getting a lot more credit. Detroit 2, the Nas album, Benny the Butcher — if you look at each tracklist, even though I’m the executive producer, my name is still featured on at least one song.

How have you found executive-producing so far?

Hit-Boy: It’s a lot more brain power. You’re up talking to these artists at 8, 9 in the morning, brainstorming. On Detroit 2, I didn’t do every beat, so I was talking to Big Sean about songs that other people produced and how we can make those better. That’s just a whole different level from something that you really crafted from the beginning, but it also helps you grow.

WondaGurl, what does your new publishing deal mean for you?

WondaGurl: It means a lot to me. I’ve always wanted to get to the position where I’m like an executive and I’m able to sign my own producers and writers. Doing that and helping them come up has been really, really good for me. And working with Cactus Jack and Sony/ATV has been really good as well. I’ve definitely been the only woman in a lot of rooms, unless I was working with another woman, but it didn’t really matter to me. I’m hoping that I can inspire more women to become executives.

Hit-Boy, you’ve said multiple lawyers called your own publishing contract one of the “worst” they’d ever seen. How are you working to improve it?

Hit-Boy: That’s part of my motivation to be doing as much work as I’m doing right now. Even though I’ve been showing and proving since day one, I really had to put my foot on the gas. It definitely was a point to prove: “Y’all got to understand, I’m not just piecing little quick beats together — this is next-level shit.” But it’s opening doors. Since that conversation, I’m being taken seriously on the business front. It’s moving in the right direction.

In a perfect world, what does an equitable deal for producers look like?

Hit-Boy: Just the proper percentages, proper credits. Talking about publishing, any terms that hold you back from exiting your deal or progressing through your deal — things that can hold you in your first or second [contract] period for however many years — some of that stuff is just way out of line.

WondaGurl: I totally agree. I’m just a fair person, so with everybody that I signed, it’s all very fair — something that I would sign myself to.

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 14, 2020, issue of Billboard.