With a Grammy nomination and multi-platinum hits to his name, Hit-Boy is that nigga right now. Nearly every artist I know lists this man as their favorite dude doing it. He's created songs beloved by serious rap heads, teens, lil college freshmen, and even square-ass middle-aged folk that think Hip Hop began with Outkast and ended with Eminem. To put it simply, his songs are so throwed that pretty much anyone with ears can get with it upon first listen. He's been in the game since '07, and it's looking like we'll be hearing him for years to come.
Though he's truly a producer extraordinaire, it doesn't just stop there—he recently released his first solo mixtape HITstory, featuring him rapping his ass off about his life since he produced "Niggas in Paris." I sat down with the homie recently to chop it up about music and his roots in Inland Empire, California.
Tell me about growing up. Where are you from?
I spent half my life in Pasadena, California. When I was 13 I moved to Inland Empire San Bernardino was the first city I lived in out there. I lived in Colton after that, went to Colton High School for years. And then I moved to Fontana and finished school out there.
Where do you call home?
I definitely rep the I.E. [Inland Empire] as much as possible. Man, I just want to give those kids something to look forward to. Let them know that you can really be somebody if you're coming from out there.
Were you involved in music at an early age?
I started making music at 13, rapping and shit. Then when I turned 15 I met this kid in Rialto who had his own setup. He made beats and recorded straight out his room. He was the first person I knew at that age that was on that shit. I linked up with him and started making music. We started a little group, but then I just took more into the production after that. Slowed down on the rap shit.
What made you get more into production?
I just fell in love with studying the sonics, man. I would hear Neptunes beats and be like, "How the fuck do they get their stuff to sound like this?!" "What are they doing to make this music sound so big and crisp?!" You know what I'm saying? I was just super interested in it.
What were your first beats like and how did they develop towards what you do today? Were you imitating what local producers around you were making or what was on the radio?
I was imitating Neptunes, Timbaland, Just Blaze, Kanye, The Underdogs. Like, all those different sounds. Like, Just Blaze and Kanye both sampled but they had different styles of sampling. The Underdogs were super R&B. They were doing Omarion's shit.
I was studying all those people. That's why I feel like even though some of my newer beats seem simplistic, they sound bigger because I studied people like The Underdogs. When you got to their hooks, you knew it was a hook cause it sounded bigger than the rest of the song. Just studying those different people, mocking what they were doing and adding my own flavor to it is how I developed into what I do today.
How do you come up with records? Are you the kind of dude to stay up all night making beats or do you hit it early in the morning like it's a day job?
I don't really have a schedule, man. I make what I make when I'm feeling it unless I have a set session or something. I make the best music when I'm just free flowing and able to do what the fuck I want to do. That's when you get "Backseat Freestyle or "Clique" or "Niggas In Paris." All those records came from actually being at my mom's crib, just making beats in my room. Challenging myself to bring a certain sonic presence.
Do you go home a lot?
Well, now not anymore… I'm always busy. But I still make music at the crib, at my crib.
Did you grow up with just your mom?
My pops was locked up from when I was three years old until I was 20, you know? That's a long-ass time. I definitely feel like I was raised right, and appreciate my mom for everything she did. She was always my biggest supporter. Family members would come over and ask, "why are you letting him play that music all loud?!" She'd be like, "As long as I know he's safe in the room I'm not trippin'."
My immediate family is usually to first to say, "Cut that shit off!"
All my homies that wanted to do music mom's would be like, "No!" They would shut that shit down, man. My mom was always the one [being supportive], I don't care if it's 4 in the morning my shit could be loud as I wanted it to be. Just because she knew I was safe in my room.
Does being from California heavily influence your records?
Definitely. Having time to study Battlecat, Dr. Dre, and just taking certain things they were really good at. Like, Battlecat's basslines… I don't know anybody who is even close to fucking with the type of shit he does. Most of the time it's just keyboard stuff, but he can make it feel like it's a real ass bass player in there playing the shit! [I'm] just taking different elements, man. Now you got dudes like DJ Mustard, YG, Ty Dolla Sign, Pushaz Ink, TDE. [California rap] is not just one sound anymore. Now it's just good music, period. Whether it's Hip Hop or whatever it is.
I peeped your Wikipedia page and saw you're a Taurus, born May 21st. You into astrology at all?
Not really, man. I just live my life how I live it. You know what I'm saying?
Who are you trying to work with in 2013 that you haven't worked with yet?
Man, I would love to be on a Beyoncé album. That's like my number-one goal in life now. I've worked with all my rap heroes, so to just be on a Beyoncé album… like, now I'm just trying to venture off. I want to do production for guys like Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, that type of shit. I want to really show people that I can really do different types of music.
So, "Clique" and "Niggas In Paris." Were those hooks you came up with, did the artists come up with them, or did y'all conceptualize the songs together?
I actually just sent the track for "Niggas In Paris" over and Noah, Kanye's engineer, said the first thing that came out Kanye's mouth when he heard the beat was, "That shit cray!" We just kept building on it. "Clique" was actually an idea me and Big Sean started out in London last January. We went to London to work and Sean heard the beat, and just started saying, "Ain't nobody fuckin' with my clique!"
What's next for you? What are you working on?
Definitely a new project for myself, and obviously a bunch of production stuff. Anything G.O.O.D. Music, anything Kanye, I'll pretty much be involved with [it]. Man, just trying to build my own legacy, trying to build my own label and go get a major deal. I got Audio Push, K. Roosevelt, and just these young kids I'm developing. I'm really trying to take it to a new level.
Fat Tony is a rapper and journalist from Houston, Texas. Be on the look-out for his Smart Ass Black Boy album due out this spring on Young One records, and in the mean-time follow him on Twitter - @fattonyrap