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Hit-Boy On Producing Big Sean's 'Detroit 2' And Nas' 'King's Disease,' Carving His Own Path As An Artist

Hit-Boy attends the 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

 

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Hit-Boy On Producing Big Sean's 'Detroit 2' And Nas' 'King's Disease,' Carving His Own Path As An Artist

The two-time GRAMMY-winning superproducer tells GRAMMY.com about his creative process behind some of the biggest hip-hop albums of 2020 and how he's paving a path as a rapper in his own right

GRAMMYs/Sep 6, 2020 - 04:19 am

Hit-Boy might be music's busiest person in 2020. Across a four-month timespan, the two-time GRAMMY-winning superproducer quarterbacked four of the biggest projects in rap this year. In May, he dropped the fourth and final installment of his The Chauncey Hollis Project solo series, followed by Also Known As Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil, his collaborative album with Dom Kennedy, in July. He followed up with King's Disease, the 13th album from rap icon Nas, in August, and Big Sean's fresh-out-the-oven Detroit 2, released Friday (Sept. 4)—both of which he executive-produced. 

But for Hit-Boy, it's just another day in the office.

"It's too many artists trying to tap in for me to just work on one thing at a time, but I still am able to give my focus," he tells GRAMMY.com on the eve of the release of Detroit 2. "It's like quantity and quality. I don't know how to explain it right now."

With his mind on his music and his music on his mind, Hit-Boy is used to juggling a packed calendar in the studio. He's kept a 24/7-schedule since first breaking into the industry in the late 2000s. He's since become one of the go-to producers in the game, creating hits for everyone from Kanye West to Beyoncé to Mariah Carey. The versatile creative sees genre-hopping as a learning experience.

"I just get to learn more about different ways people make music," he says of his broad production style. "People in the pop world are totally different from people who make beats for Big Sean and JAY-Z … I honestly just like to learn, no matter what type of music it is."

Hit-Boy, who started off rapping before transitioning to making beats, is also busy carving his own lane as an artist. His new solo album, The Chauncey Hollis Project, and his team-up with Dom Kennedy, Also Known As, see him switching from behind the board as a producer to in front of the mic as a rapper. It's the latest progression in Hit-Boy's ever-evolving creative journey.

"I'm gonna just keep developing, just keep working, man," he says of his next steps. "It's a never-ending process for me."

GRAMMY.com caught up with Hit-Boy to talk about his creative process behind Big Sean's Detroit 2 and Nas' King's Disease, how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted his artistic approach and how he's paving a path as a rapper in his own right.

You've worked with just about everyone in music, from Kanye West to Jennifer Lopez to Beyoncé. Do you ever get nervous or anxious when you work with a huge superstar?

Earlier in my career, yeah. I definitely used to get a little nervous, but I always just believed I had something, even if all of it wasn't great. I know I have something in the batch that was going to catch people's attention. That's the same method I take on now, but I've just advanced so much at just being a musician and locking in on making beats ... Now that I got that science figured out, I'm just on damn near autopilot right now. I'm just getting placement after placement.

It sounds like you're in high demand. How do you juggle it all? Are you working on multiple projects at once? Or do you stay exclusively focused on one album or one project from beginning to end?

It's too many artists trying to tap in for me to just work on one thing at a time, but I still am able to give my focus. Like with Nas' album, King's Disease, we made time for our sessions, made sure there wasn't too many people around and locked in. My relationship with [Big] Sean—I've got a bunch of stuff on Detroit 2. I was able to still be in the zone, working on his sht, then also do a Nas album in the middle of that, and then work on Polo G's album and work on all this other sht I got going.

I feel like my method is like: Get to the studio before people show up, make as many tight beats as I can, all type of styles. Then whoever comes through that day, I'm going to have at least one or two that's going to catch your ear ...

It comes from me having my label deal and more so trying to focus on, I feel like, what was too many things at one time, which was trying to be an artist myself, signing a bunch of artists, trying to be a hot producer, trying to produce for everybody at once. That was too much, but now ... I work with whoever comes in my realm and respects what I do ... It's like quantity and quality. I don't know how to explain it right now.

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You recently executive-produced Nas' latest album, King's Disease. Can you talk about the creative and production process behind that album?

I mean, obviously he's Nas. You know what I'm saying? Certain people know me—I'm Hit-Boy. But it's like, let's remove that and let's just try to make songs, let's just try to make records ... You could still pop your sh*t and talk about what you want to, but at the same time, let's just make this as enjoyable as possible. When we was going in, we just was letting the room lead the way and the energy was taking us to every next piece of the puzzle.

I just knew that it was a high standard with this project. People was going to really click play on this, and if it was whack, they was gonna let me know. So for so many people I respect, like younger producers like Metro [Boomin], like Pi'erre [Bourne], Tay Keith, and then I got people like Timbaland, Swizz [Beatz] and all these OGs also reaching out [and] just showing respect—that just shows me [that] this hit the core of music lovers. People who really listening, they understanding this is really quality sh*t.

You also executive-produced the new Big Sean album, Detroit 2. What sort of vibe or sound did you try to create on that album?

I just wanted everything to sound modern, even like some of the soulful [songs]. The song we dropped with [Nipsey Hussle], rest in peace, "Deep Reverence"—it's like a real throwback, Roc-A-Fella-ish sample vibe, but then the drums sound modern; they sound new. So I kinda kept that through the whole project. It's just remnants of music we enjoyed, but it's placed in a modern way, so definitely just trying to make sure it was just a fresh sound.

You mentioned a bunch of artists coming into your studio. Are you currently producing with artists in-person? Or are you working mostly virtually and remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

We started the Nas album before the pandemic hit. That's what's crazy: We named it King's Disease before we even knew about the corona. Giving us that time during the pandemic when it was super shut down, we got to really sit and just really produce the record like how we wanted to. That was a good thing.

I'm kinda doing it both ways. People been hitting me [up] crazy. I've been emailing stuff out, but we always get the better connection when it's in-person. Me and [Big] Sean, we worked on all our stuff just face-to-face. I'm cooking beats from scratch. We really just building it from the ground up, so it's always good to do it that way. But if you do have to email, there's nothing wrong with that either.

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What do you lose and what do you gain from producing virtually and working remotely compared to working with someone in-person?

You just get more of a connection when you work in-person. You're able to get that instant feedback ... It just makes it easier to navigate. When you [send it], you're just kind of shooting blind and just hoping that the person connects with the beat you sent. It's just two different things. They both worked out for me, personally, I have to say. I feel like my best beats come when I'm just dolo, just vibing out, zoning out and just letting whatever come to me. But I also been tapping into just making a lot more beats with people, too. It's just all music at the end of the day.

Speaking of the pandemic, we've been in quarantine for a long time now. You're in and out of it in your studio. How has this pandemic and quarantine era impacted your creativity?

I honestly feel like I'm more creative than ever ... My son was born right when we went into quarantine, within a day or two. It's just been good for me to have his energy and be able to spend more time with him and not have to fly out [to] no places and doing even more than I'm already doing. I feel like it's just been a blessing for me, for real. It's just looking good, so I'm trying to keep the energy up.

In addition to your production work, you're also an artist. You're able to switch from behind the board as a producer to in front of the mic as a rapper. What kind of challenges come with that creative duality?

Man, it's kind of all just music to me ... Like sometimes, I might not even rap on my own beat; I get beats from other people. I'm able to just separate it that way. I'm not looking at it like, "Oh, I'm Hit-Boy. I'm about to make a song." I'm just like, "I'm about to say what needs to be said on [this beat]." Then when I make the beat, it kinda make me even more tapped in because I can get into the Hit-Boy bag and then just still give it that honest perspective.

What are you developing to carve a lane for yourself as Hit-Boy, the artist?

I'm just recording ... I put out The Chauncey Hollis Project. I did that in installments. I put out three songs at a time until it equaled 12 songs. That was just a moment for me, just being honest, just talking about my life, where I've been, where I'm going, what I'm on now. Just more of that, you know what I'm saying? More projects, more and more people featuring on my music now because I'm working with so many artists. They be hearing my sh*t. They like, "OK, I want to hop on this." I'm gonna just keep developing, just keep working, man. It's a never-ending process for me.

As a producer, you're switching from producing harder rappers like Travis Scott and Clipse to pop stars like Ariana Grande and Selena Gomez. Creatively, what do you gain from jumping around genres like that?

I just get to learn more about different ways people make music. People in the pop world are totally different from people who make beats for Big Sean and JAY-Z and stuff like that, for the most part. There are some people that can hop in multiple lanes, but not everybody can do that. I honestly just like to learn, no matter what type of music it is.

What are some other genres that you are curious to explore that you haven't explored yet?

Like some hardcore rock 'n' roll sh*t. Who knows, man? Country, I haven't done no serious country records. I'm down to just try whatever, as long as it makes sense and I could still really feel the music.

We're almost at the end of the year, which is crazy to think about. What do you have left in the pipeline for 2020?

We've got, obviously tonight, that Big Sean, Detroit 2. Then I got an album with Benny The Butcher that's dropping; we got some dope features on that, some dope, soulful production. I feel like that was the thing with the Nas album. People saw I was producing that, they was like, "He known for club records and 'Ns in Paris.' But what can he give Nas?" 

And then once people heard it, it was like, "OK, we get it now." I feel like with the Benny project, it's going to be [an] even deeper thing. He's a new artist, so it's just a blank canvas to be able to paint something that could be something crazy.

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How do you compare working with newer artists like Benny The Butcher and superstars like Beyoncé and Kanye West?

They both hungry for this sht. Beyoncé, she work like a new artist, too. But Benny, he got some crazy, hungry—just really coming from the streets and coming from his background. For him, coming to the studio, he be like, "Man, this sht fly that we in the studio together." I feel the same way. He really taking advantage of the moment. When we in there, when I'm playing some sh*t, he understands what's going on. He just attacking everything with the highest intensity.

So we should keep an eye on Benny The Butcher is what you're saying.

One-thousand percent.

You released the fourth and final installment of your The Chauncey Hollis Project solo series in May, followed by Also Known As Courtesy Of Half-A-Mil, your collab album with Dom Kennedy, in July. What do those two albums offer as separate entities?

The music I make with Dom has just got its own specific feeling. And I went for just soulful, just giving people an honest me on my project. That's what I always try to do on every song. But with [Also Known As], we always just kind of create a vibe, something that females can mess with, and then you can just ride to it ... We always just creating music. We always just recording ...

Those two albums put you directly in the artist seat. Where can we expect those two artist projects to go next?

Honestly, I can't even call it, bro, because I was just moving off instinct. When I decided to drop the first installment [of The Chauncey Hollis Project], the first three songs, it was the night before. I just had recorded the songs, started mixing them, and I was like, "Man, I want to drop this sh*t." I made the decision [to drop it] Wednesday, [then] dropped it Thursday ... 

I still got people hitting me, people DMing me daily, listening to The Chauncey Hollis Project, listening to [Also Known As], people in they ride playing it. It's like, "OK, we headed in the right direction." So I can't even call it, man. You never know how this thing is going to go. But I'm just going to continue to make the music that I feel, and hopefully people connect with it.

Go with the flow.

Yup. We one song, one project at a time.

Are you always thinking about music, 24/7?

I am, man. That goes back to when I said I had my artist [deal] and I was working with Kanye and I was working with Beyoncé and JAY-Z. I had a point where I was like, "Man, I'm definitely not even taking no sessions if it's not Kanye, JAY-Z or Beyoncé." That's a crazy thing to be able to say within your lifetime. I'm not going to say it hurt me, but I feel like I should have been spreading my sound out a little bit more, especially with not having a tag and not having my brand all the way up where I needed it to be.

Now I feel like I've been playing catch-up. That's why I was able to do a bunch of songs on [Big] Sean's sht, do a bunch of sht on [Nas'] King's Disease, because I'm seeing the field different now. Once I catch that connection with an artist, it's over—we just tapping in. It's something about the type of grooves and the type of beats I'm making right now that makes people want to make songs, so [I'm] really trying to take this sh*t to a different level.

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Brittany Howard

Photo: C Brandon/Redferns/Getty Images

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Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz & More Join Small Business Live Benefit Livestream

Proceeds from the event will be go toward loans to small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses, via Accion Opportunity Fund

GRAMMYs/Jun 16, 2020 - 04:13 am

This Saturday, June 20, artists including Brittany Howard, Brandi Carlile, Leon Bridges, 2 Chainz and more will come together for Small Business Live, a livestream fundraiser event for small businesses facing challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Proceeds from the livestream will go to Accion Opportunity Fund to support small businesses founded by people of color, with additional support to women-owned and immigrant-owned businesses.

“Entrepreneurs of color are denied credit more often and charged higher rates for money they borrow to fund their businesses. We need to accelerate support to underserved businesses in order to reach our full potential,” Accion Opportunity Fund CEO Luz Urrutia said. “We have to decide what we want our Main Streets to look like when this is over, and we must act decisively to keep small businesses alive and ready to rebuild. This is a fun way to do something really important. Everyone’s support will make a huge difference to small business owners, their families and employees who have been devastated by this pandemic, the recession, and centuries of racism, xenophobia and oppression.”

Tune in for Small Business Live Saturday, June 20 from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. EDT on smallbiz.live. The site also provides a full schedule of programs and links to watch the livestream on all major digital platforms. To learn more about Accion Opportunity Fund, visit the organization's website.

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Taylor Swift

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/VMN19/Getty Images

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Taylor Swift Plots 2020 World Tour With U.S. Dates For Lover Fest East & West

Following dates in Europe and South America, Swift will land in the U.S. for Lover Fest East and West, where the pop star will open Los Angeles' brand new stadium

GRAMMYs/Sep 18, 2019 - 02:38 am

Taylor Swift  will be spreading the love in support of her hit album Lover.in 2020, but it may or may not be in a city near you. The GRAMMY winner announced plans for her summer 2020 tour in support of her seventh studio album, including two shows each in Foxborough, Mass. and Los Angeles for Lover Fest East and West respectively as the only four U.S. dates announced so far.

The tour kicks off in Belgium on June 20 and hits festivals in seven European countries before heading to Sao Paulo, Brazil on July 18 then heading to U.S. Swift will then present Lover Fest West with back-to-back Los Angeles July 25 and 26 at the newly named SoFi Stadium. The concerts will serve as the grand opening of the much-anticipated NFL venue. The tour will wrap a double header at Gillette Stadiuim in Foxborough July 31 and Aug 1

"The Lover album is open fields, sunsets, + SUMMER. I want to perform it in a way that feels authentic," she tweeted. "I want to go to some places I haven’t been and play festivals. Where we didn’t have festivals, we made some. Introducing, Lover Fest East + West!" 

Lover was released Aug. 23 and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. Her sold-out tour for her previous album, 2017's Reputation, was the highest grossing U.S. tour ever, breaking her own record.

Tickets for the new dates go on sale to the general public via Ticketmaster on Oct. 17.