Producer Chauncey Hollis has touched some of the biggest hip hop records of the last decade—"N*ggas in Paris," "Clique," and "Backseat Freestyle," to name just a few. For a more recent example, there's "Racks in the Middle," by the late Nipsey Hussle and featuring Roddy Ricch.
Hollis, also known as Hit-Boy, is listed as a featured artist on "Racks in the Middle," and his producer tag rings out at the top of the song. While that might appear to be a cosmetic tweak, the detail matters.
"I won a Grammy because I was featured on it." Hollis told VICE. "I put a lot of work into that shit. If my name wasn't on the song, I don't even think I would've got a trophy, I would've got a certificate. I feel like I deserve it for putting that play together."
Hit-Boy, by his own description, used to be very—perhaps overly—selective with the artists he worked with. If it wasn't Beyoncé, Jay-Z, or Kanye West, the producer told Entertainment Weekly, "I was telling my management don’t even book the s---t.” Today, his network of collaborations is much wider. As of this moment, his top five songs on Spotify feature Nipsey Hussle, Roddy Ricch, Big Sean, A$AP Ferg, Nas, Dom Kennedy, and Jay Park. He's also got forthcoming records in the stash with 03 Greedo and Justin Timberlake, and is probably the only producer who can tout both collaborations.
Along with Kanye West and Big Sean, Hit-Boy executive produced Detroit 2, Big Sean's latest album (out today) and the sequel to his 2012 mixtape Detroit. VICE caught up with Hit-Boy while he was taking a break in his studio, one day before Detroit 2 dropped.
VICE: You've had a busy 2020 so far.
Hit-Boy: For sure, man. This shit is all coming to the surface now. I've been holding it down, obviously did the Nas shit, then Sean drops tomorrow. I got a bunch of records on there, it's a good feeling right now.
Can you explain what your role is as an executive producer on Detroit 2?
It's just a lot more hands-on working with Sean, having to make calls, the difficult ones, brainstorming, really just try to dig deep as we possibly can to make sure we cover all grounds with every song: lyrically, beat-wise, transition-wise, make the shit exciting and make the shit sound fresh. It's about to be the most modern shit out. It's just vibes on here. Super-modern production all through it.
I just saw the tracklist a couple hours ago; it looks all over the place in terms of the features and sounds.
Yup. I mean, it's not really all over the place. That's what they thought initially about the Nas album [King's Disease] when they saw the tracklist. It kind of looked like there's about to be too much going on. But I'm tapped in on a different level with the artists I'm working with. Sean is approaching this shit like a fresh new artist. As crazy as it might sound, Nas came in, like, "Man, let's really just make records. Don't treat it like 'Oh, I'm working with Nas.' Let's really just make the shit that sounds hard. It's not about whose name is attached to it." Sean did the same thing. Capturing moments, making it sound as modern as possible.
When you'd already produced for Jay-Z and Kanye West and Beyoncé, you said if it future opportunities weren't with artists of that level, you weren't really interested. Now you've really opened up your collaborations. Anything in 2020 that you've dropped that you're particularly proud of?
Definitely the Polo G and Juice WRLD joint. That was one of the last times—I think, the last time—I saw Juice, when I went to his spot. He had the studio set up. I went probably around 10 o'clock. He had me in there until like 5 or 6 in the morning. I took the song to Juice like, "You gotta do a verse on here." And he was like, "Cool. But play me beats first." Every fuckin' beat I played he kept wanting to record. Every 20 or 30 minutes he was knocking out a whole joint. Every beat I played, he kept going until it was fuckin' five in the morning. I'm tired as shit, and he finally did the verse, and I was like, This shit's outta here. It's so unfortunate what happened, so just to see the song doing well, I knew it from the jump. Label people and all that they were not even sure about the song. I was like, Man, this shit is outta here. Y'all bugging. Now it's one of Polo G's biggest streaming songs.
All the shit I did on Tee Grizzley's The Smartest that shit's crazy, there's bangers on there. I'm just flexing my versatility, making beats that sound like the perfect connection between LA and Detroit, and doing that to the highest level.
Despite your connections to some of the biggest hip-hop records that've come out in the last few years, people might not know which ones are a Hit-Boy production. Now you've started using a producer tag. When did you make that decision?
I had a tag the very first placement I got. It's a J.Lo song called "Forever" off Brave. That's my very first professional, major label placement. I whispered "Hit-Boy" in the intro and I just never did that shit again. And then around the G.O.O.D Music years, Kanye'd be like, "Man, producer tags are corny, that shit's wack," and I was just off it.
Then, a year after he tells me this, I see [DJ] Mustard and Metro [Boomin] and Mike Will, they came up after me, blowing the fuck up. Their tags are all over the radio, their brands are outta here. It was a lot of branding opportunity I didn't get. Imagine if I had a fuckin' tag on "N*ggas in Paris." Who knows. But it was for a reason. So for me to stay down and just keep getting better at this shit, not looking at it from a pop star perspective. I'm really looking at this from a music perspective. Listen to Nas' album. It's all types of styles, everything's got its own soul to it, it's all custom, there's no generic drums on the album. I'm on some fly shit.
You've described times where you've given an artist a record and you just have to sit on your hands for a long time until it comes out. "Sicko Mode" was an example you used, where you were chillin' for a couple of years until you heard the final version. Is there anything that you've been waiting on that's coming out soon?
The whole Sean album. We started working on this shit in 2018. For this to be coming out tomorrow is surreal, for real. We put a lot of work in.
In terms of producers getting more credit, as a listener I've been perplexed it's not easier on streaming platforms to filter by producer credits.
That's a good idea.
Is that something that annoys you?
For sure. Honestly, I don't really know what it's going to take, but I feel like we gotta keep pushing forward, just bossing up on this shit more and more. With me being featured on "Racks in the Middle," producers featuring on songs, that's a good step. Producers [are] putting out albums featuring a bunch of artists. It's definitely pushing forward, but it's still some ways to go.
Is there a specific song or collaboration that you're looking forward to dropping?
The Benny the Butcher album. That came together the same way Nas and Sean did. Just real organic. We were going song by song, and before you look up, we've got a whole album worth of content. Lately, what I've been doing, bro, I've been staying locked in on my shit, making the hardest beats I could possibly make in the moment, and people are gravitating towards them. I'm trying to keep that energy going.
He mentioned you executive produced an album for him.
That was one of the first homies locking in with me. Right before he went in, he was pulling up to my spot damn near every day, doing song after song. We probably got like, 30 songs. I'm waiting for bro. Once he touch down, that's going to be a wave for the West Coast.
You've taken pride in touching different genres.; you can have a chord-driven song with Beyoncé, and then a banger with Pusha T In the pop realm, is there anything you're looking to put out this year?
Hell yeah. I already got multiple songs locked in with Justin Timberlake, they're fire. I'm just hoping they come out. I'm looking forward to making some more with him.
I try to learn from everything. I mix the waves in. Taking the knowledge I got from creating everything from scratch, every drum pattern, every melody, to seeing producers blow up using loops, just like, that gave me a lot of perspective. This shit is just music at the end of the day. Whatever sounds good, that's going to win. The average person doesn't give a fuck how you made it, who made it, who was in the room. Those specifics that a creative gives a fuck about, the average person doesn't care at all. They're just like, 'Who's name is on the shit, and do it slap?" That's all they care about.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
'Detroit 2' is streaming on all major platforms now.