Discusses “Grindin’ My Whole Life,” working with Nas, & making your mark.

Photographer: Ollie Ali // @mrollieali
Stylist: Rhys Marcus Jay // @rhysmarcusjay
Producer: Johnson Gold // @johnson_gold
Interviewer: Thomas Woods // @thomaswoods_
Talent: Hit-Boy // @hitboy
Location: Los Angeles, California

“I’m a complete dog, a beast, and I’m a different breed right now.”

Being in the hip-hop sphere for as long as Hit-Boy has been is not to be scoffed at, and the California native’s longevity as both a recording artist and a producer rightfully puts him in some hotly-contested conversations. That aside, the 36-year-old makes music for the ages, forming sounds that live beyond flashes in the pan, helped in no small part by his sharp ear for what sounds good across a plethora of genres. The 3x Grammy-winning star has been behind all of your favourite hits, from Travis Scott’s “SICKO MODE,” Ye’s “Clique,”, and Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle,” to Nipsey Hussle and Roddy Ricch’s “Racks in the Middle,” while collaborative albums alongside rap royal Nas and history-defining moments with HS87 underline his utmost importance to the music world.

Taking a look both forward and back, Hit-Boy linked up with PAUSE to detail his decorated journey so far, including the We the Plug (2014) era and working with his father, Big-Hit, whilst also getting into his latest creation alongside up-and-coming hip-hop duo BlueBucksClan, solo efforts, and new music with fellow hitmaker, The Alchemist.

Read the interview below.

Just kicking things off, I just wanted to say thank you for being a big part of my life musically, and I wanted to ask about your musical influences extending down your family lineage. What was your earliest memory of finding a groove or discovering your affection for sound? And where did Troop fit into that?

Yeah definitely, Troop were my first musical inspiration… just listening to their music, watching their videos. I didn’t know exactly what it was but it gave me a feeling, you know, and as I progressed and kept making music, I just realised more and more how much that had an effect on me.

I feel like you can tell that it’s embedded in you, I mean you’ve mentioned before that Ice Cube was cutting about when you were younger, so it felt like destiny for you. 

In terms of that era, I wanted to talk about “Grindin’ My Whole Life”, because that was obviously a huge moment for you. From having your dad, Big Hit, incarcerated for most of your life to having him on one of your songs at the height you were at must’ve been massive. Speak a bit more to that moment with your father and the We The Plug (2014) era as a whole. 

Man, the We The Plug era was just me learning myself as a person and as a musician, and just finding my way into what I wanted to be and what I was supposed to be. It was just a lot of bumping my head and going as I was going. I was coming from just being a kid in a room making beats to having access to a lot of money and opportunities, and I was able to give opportunities to people around me. Ultimately, it really was just a learning experience, the whole HS87 situation, it just gave me a chance to learn about this game and how it really goes down, what you have to be focused on, and what you don’t need to be focused on. So, that was a great learning experience; it was like me going to a college, but in music. 


You know, me being down there with Polow (da Don) in Atlanta was like me doing my first four years in college, and me making “Ni**as in Paris” at 23 or 24 and then having access to millions of dollars? That was like wanting to be a doctor and studying for four or five more years. It was just trying to figure it out.

A different route to success maybe, but definitely a real one. I mean, that song still stands up to this day.

Appreciate it.

In relation to “Grindin’ My Whole Life,” growing up in Fontana, California, and the meaning behind Surf Club, these things clearly influenced your ability to find a groove while shaping your own sound as both a recording artist and as a producer. What were some of your favourite West Coast beats growing up? Were you all about an ear worm? Or did you immediately look for texture in a beat?

For real, it’s crazy because I remember being four or five years old and my uncle just playing the second N.W.A. album when it first dropped, everybody around was just playing that sh*t all the time. I didn’t known what this was at the time, but Dre (Dr. Dre) was using a lot of break beats and crazy, funky samples, and that sh*t just hit me, like, how he was able to create a simplicity with those complex baselines whilst still making it sound simple and digestible. I don’t know, that sh*t was just seeping into me! Hearing those raps, the vulgarity, and them talking crazy. I had a young mum – my pops was in prison – so I’m hearing all this vulgar sh*t as a four or five year old, the dirty versions you know. All that sh*t was just getting imbedded into me. 

For sure. I was actually going to ask about what you look for in a simple beat, because I’ve heard you talk about it in the past with Hov and Ye for “Ni**as in Paris”. What’s the science behind it?

The best ideas are the ideas where you hear it, and you’re like, “this sh*t is so simple, I could’ve thought of this.” That’s the reaction you want to get from people, where it’s like, “damn, I know I could do this but, how did they do it?”. 

Yeah, like a “how could this not exist before now?” type of simplicity. I know that you’re a big sampler and I’m not sure what the conversation is like in the U.S. but in the UK, it’s a bit of a hot topic right now. What would you say to the sample naysayers?

I feel like that’s always been a trend. In the year 2000, if you were sampling some sh*t from 1985 or 1986, you know what I mean, I don’t think people would probably say it back then. Now, you got people sampling sh*t that the generation after grew up on. I feel like there’s always been people complaining that hip-hop isn’t real music because they’re just taking jazz records or soul records and looping it up, but you don’t understand the flavour of that, you know? It’s adding to the culture.

Hat – Lanvin x Future, Sunglasses – Tom Ford, Jacket – Jielin Wen, Shorts – Artists’ Own, Socks – Uniqlo, Trainers – Maison Mihara Yasuhiro, Jewellery – Artist’s Own

Yeah, it’s always been a mainstay. To me, a big part of me growing up was Astroworld (2018) with Travis (Scott) and I know you did the Beastie Boys sample on “CAROUSEL”… still knocks my ears to this day. I feel like if you’re not on board with that, you’re not on board with a big part of hip-hop. 

For sure, for sure. It’s hip-hop.

Speaking to collaboration and successful relationships, obviously you and Nas… crazy link-up. There aren’t many as prevalent as you and him, so what adds an edge to a successful partnership? Is it just about putting time down in the studio?

Yeah, putting down time in the studio, being open to the moment, you know what I mean? Not really thinking about what you’ve done or what the other artist has done, it’s more about what we can do right now, today, that is going to be inspiring to us. Keep that as the baseline. 

Yeah. With the Kings Disease series (2020, 2021, 2022) and Magic (2021) and Magic II (2023), there’s a real synergy that both of you two have. Going back to the first Kings Disease (2020), how different is it having creative control over an entire production process for an album as opposed to a single song?

At this point, it’s just a lot more fun, you know, because I get to really dive in. I made an album with The Game and my dad, Big-Hit, and that came out on December 31st, or technically January 1st. Then I dropped another album at the top of February with LaRussell, and now I’m about to drop an album with the BlueBucksClan, who are young dudes from LA who don’t give a f*ck, they talk crazy and are egotistical in their raps; I love it. There is space for that. I’m just having fun, it’s like, it’s all music to me man. Whether it’s Musiq Soulchild – I did an album with him – or whatever I’m able to completely dive into and it becomes me. This is my personality and DNA in this music that I’m making for these artists, and it’s blending naturally with what they do. It’s not taking them too much out of their element or me out of mine, it’s like, I have fun with it. I’m down to just make one song with somebody, it’s whatever and I do it all the time, but when I get in that album mode… man. I went to Magic Mountain with my four-year-old yesterday, it’s like that! That sh*t is fun. I’m just able to completely use my imagination to make this stuff happen. 

Hat – LifesABlur, Coat – Jielin Wen, Top – Uniqlo, Trousers – Jielin Wen, Jewellery – Artist’s Own

Like a rollercoaster! I can see that. You spoke about about Musiq Soulchild and all of the different people you’ve collaborated with, but you’re hitting different levels as well. You’re starting from the base, helping put people on, which is great considering how big of a name you are. 

It’s no secret that, historically, producers haven’t always got the recognition that they deserve. With what you achieved back to back with Lil Wayne and “Drop the World” and “Ni**as in Paris” with Jay-Z and Ye, did those plaudits give you a platform of confidence to build upon? Or did you know what your beats were no matter what happened?

Man, it definitely opened my eyes up to the possibilities of this all being really real. No matter if that sh*t was an underground cut, just having a song with Ye and Jay-Z is amazing, you know what I mean? But when that sh*t actually becomes a hit and some sh*t you can perform sixteen times in a row at a concert…? I didn’t see that coming. That definitely gave me a boost, but it also lead me to a place of being like, “it’s time to really learn.” I had to bump my head lot of times just to understand how this game goes. There were a lot of things that were unforeseen, like relationships getting severed just because of typical industry sh*t you hear about because of ego or jealousy. Whatever the situation was, I had to deal with it all. 

 Shirt – Enfants Richés Deprimes, Hat – Lanvin x Future, Trousers – Jielin Wen, Sunglasses – Versace, Boots – Bottega Veneta, Jewellery – Artist’s Own

Yeah, it sounds like a massive learning curve.

It’s like, okay, “Ni**as in Paris” is Ye’s second biggest song ever, second most certified platinum song ever, and we don’t really have a working relationship right now. I never would’ve seen that coming, you know what I mean? But there’s a lot of stuff, as human beings, that people don’t know that we still deal with, and that just is what it is. But, that lead me to the place that I’m in now which is doing six albums for Nas, knocking out albums in the night, you know what I mean? I’m a complete dog, a beast, and I’m a different breed right now. Just because I put that time in; I live in the studio! People are like, “damn, you’re always in the studio,” but this has always been me. I’ve been doing this. Since I was 18-years-old, I had a wall full of signatures of everybody that would come into my studio, it was a bunch of local artists, people from Cali. If they would come in or hear about me, they would come to my mum’s crib and I would be producing songs and albums for people way back then. I’ve been setting myself up for this, I just didn’t clearly see it, but all of these situations, working with Ye, being around Jay-Z and Beyoncé, just being around all of these people opened my eyes to how much it’s a reality and how much work you really have to put in.

Exactly, people don’t see the 99%. Correct me if I’m wrong, but before “Ni**as in Paris” came out you talked with Ye about the idea of a producer tag, and he didn’t love the idea of it. Obviously fast-forward to now, they’re very prominent.

Right, like you just brought up the producer thing and us trying to get more recognition and stuff like that. That’s pretty much what that boils down to and it’s like, a year after I popped off, DJ Mustard popped off, Metro Boomin popped off, Mike WiLL (Made-It), they all came after me and were able to have their hits on the radio with their names on it, so they did have opportunities to different bags. I love the way sh*t played out, you know, everything came back around. Metro (Boomin) is doing some great things for the producer community, running around with people like Future, The Weeknd, you know, the top level artists that are going to go crazy, he’s making it look good. He’s pushing it forward, I’m pushing it forward, I see Mike WiLL (Made-It) doing his sh*t, they’re people that are really locked in. There are so many great producers that people have never heard of that have made some of their favourite songs. I just posted a clip right now of Drake and Justin Bieber recording over one of my beats in like 2012, and people were like, “damn, I had no clue you did this!”. I didn’t have a tag, and if I did have a tag on there then that would mean millions more people knowing about Hit-Boy. 

Did the song get released?

It did! It was on Bieber’s album, it’s called “Right Here”…

Oh yeah! That’s their one collaboration, Drake and Bieber. I’ve listened to that song a few times and I didn’t know that it was you!

That’s a producer’s career, it’s “damn I didn’t know you did that!’. I hear that sh*t everyday. Even from family members, my own pops said he had no clue I was involved in “SICKO MODE”, you know what I mean.

Yeah definitely! I guess that’s the benefit of the tag, it’s given producers that personification of the beat. 


In terms of making a mark as a producer, what advice would you give?

Truly look at yourself as an artist, don’t look at it as you being some small part of the song, like, you are half of the song when you make the beat. Truly take the art seriously and know how you want to move, the type of music you want to make, the type of artists you want to work with, even how you want to look. Everything matters, all of the details. 

Yeah! I talked to Lil Tecca before and he shared the same sentiment, that artists would be nothing without their producer and without their engineers, people like that. It’s nice to see that appreciation in the community.

I wanted to talk Nipsey Hussle, because I know you had a special relationship with him and obviously you won the Grammy with him. Thinking about his cultural position as a pillar of the music community and the wider LA landscape, who are some of the personal pillars in your life that helped shape you?

Definitely my mum, both of my grandmothers, all of my family that invested in equipment or invested in me going to music conferences and anything that could get me in the door, you know. I was able to get around people like Polow da Don when I was 18-years-old and I saw him producing for everybody, all the top pop artists, and he was getting into it when they were making real real money and having real budgets. I got to see that early. Then I got to be around Ye, and that’s another person that whether it was good or bad, I learned a lot from just being around him. Those are some of the top people that lead me and let me be around their energy. They really just gave me opportunities. 

Right. I know you were around Polow da Don and Record Pant in 2006, so to see where you’ve come from there to now and the evolution you’ve gone through is crazy. I was thinking about some of your hits as a recording artist and as a producer, and I feel like one of your strongest assets is your flexibility. You’ve been on “SICKO MODE,” “Deep Reverence,”, “Bus Stop,” “The Bees Knees,” and I was listening to “CORSA” the other day off of your tape. Is that all about keeping your ear to the ground and staying open to new and emerging sounds?

For sure, it’s about just really having fun. I feel like I’m the least technical person in music ever, like, my biggest contributions and my most known pieces of music are pieces that I was literally just having fun with, you know, just making music by myself and being experimental. It was trying stuff out, new sounds, new bounces, and new waves of thinking. Now, that’s just what I do, like, pretty much every single beat I make sounds different. 

Yeah, definitely. You have so much range. In terms of your personal process in the studio, how does that change for you? I know Ye gave you some different advice.

Not necessarily, I just approach everything with an open mind and I’m humble about it… it’s like, “okay, what can we make right now that’s going to genuinely get us up and out of our seat and make us move?”. 

I know you touched on it earlier, but what’s next for Hit-Boy? 

Yeah, more music with my pops, Big-Hit, more albums with him. There will be more albums… Surf or Drown 3 is definitely coming this year. More music with (The) Alchemist, we’ve doing some more rapping and producing together, having fun with this sh*t. This BlueBucksClan album is dropping this month, and that’s called Biggest Out the West (2024). A lot people have been talking down on the West (Coast) – or whatever the case maybe – so we’re standing on it; we’re the biggest out the West, period. 

Sounds like you’ve got a busy schedule! I’ll keep my eye out. 

Hit-Boy’s collaborative album alongside BlueBucksClan, titled Biggest Out the West (2024), is out now.

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