Hit-Boy Curates a Playlist of the Songs That Inspire Him—and the Hits He Made With Beyoncé, Nas, Drake, and More

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Hit-Boy has been a bonafide superproducer since the dawn of the last decade, when Jay-Z and Kanye West’s 2011 banger “N-ggas in Paris” announced him as one of music’s most exciting new beat architects. His resume is a laundry list of some of your favorite artists' biggest smashes (“Flawless” for Beyoncé, “Sicko Mode” for Travis Scott) and their best album cuts (Drake’s “Trophies,” Rihanna’s “Watch n’ Learn.”)

But he’s in the midst of a crazy second wind lately. Locking in with Nas yielded the legendary rapper his first Best Rap Album Grammy and five more acclaimed albums after that. His own burgeoning rap career has yielded fun moments like “Slipping Into Darkness,” where he and Alchemist spit over each other’s beats. And his father Big Hit, an archetypal West Coast OG in the most endearing way possible, is out of jail and hard at work with his son—shortly after releasing an album completely produced by young Hit, father and son dropped a nine-track collab project with Game birthed from just one night of recording sessions.

Hit often ruminates on how his career could’ve been even bigger if he played the game differently—if he'd added a tag so casual listeners would always know his work, since no two beats of his sound the same, or yelled about his achievements and placements rather than just putting his head down and doing the work. But the choices he made still led him here: being nominated for Producer of the Year at the 2024 Grammys. He’s ready to puff his chest a little bit.

“I'm really making shit that's off-the-cuff, and just what I'm feeling at the moment,” Hit says. “So, for me to be in consideration, I think that's already a huge W, because everybody else… they got The Weeknd, Taylor Swift, the biggest artists in the world over their beats. Which is dope. But at the same time, I'm coming from the gutter with this shit. I'm coming off the muscle. I'm coming with, definitely the most solo credits out of any of the other nominees.”

While in the midst of a prolific, productive run that’s showing no signs of slowing down just yet, Hi-Boy compiled a playlist of songs that keep him inspired today, some that taught him valuable lessons about the industry, and some that show where he’s headed next.

Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day”

I was probably four or five years old, but I knew every word to that song. That was the first rap song I could recite. My [family] was definitely heavy on NWA, Cube, Snoop, all that. Actually, I was around [Cube] when I was younger, because my uncle was in a group, so they used to hang around with different celebrities and shit. But I haven't seen him again since I've been Hit-Boy.

That's an Isley Brothers sample, so it already had the magic in it. And then the way DJ Pooh flipped it, and brought it into the hip-hop world for Cube to paint that picture, tell a story. It was a real, real big hip-hop moment out here.

I didn't watch [Logic’s] cover, but I've seen people getting on him. But it's all expression, man. Everybody is going to have their rendition. I'm cool with Logic. I mean, I haven't seen him in years, but I used to definitely be in the studio with him kicking it. So, it's respect, for sure.

Snoop Dogg, “Murder Was the Case”

Death Row had a dark feeling, but it felt good at the same time, because of the chords and the musicality in it. Again, another West Coast storytelling joint. The song alone felt like a movie, but the fact that he actually made a movie? I used to have the VHS—it was damn near like Michael Jackson's Moonwalker, but for the gangsters.

It's not like it used to be, as far as making music today. It's not a lot of storytelling, unless you're really digging for the underground shit. But I guess [these songs] rubbed off on me, just as far as staying on subjects, staying on one topic.

Nas Ft. Hit-Boy, “Composure”

That was just an ill moment. For me to play the beat, and then have Nas be like, "Yo, you should put a verse on this"? You know what I mean? It wasn't like I was playing it for him like, "Oh, I want to be on King's Disease II.” It just was a genuine, organic moment. He's seen that every time he pulls up—before we start his session, I'm in there working on a song of my own. For him to embrace my artistry and respect it enough to let me rap on his album, that's a major thing. I got personal on it, and it's just something that really means something to me.

In all honesty, I had the same thought most people have when Nas approaches them about recording a song together: "Damn, I got to be more serious than I’ve ever been." Being a part of the executive production, there's some features that I've put together, and there's some that Nas reached out to certain people for, but one thing I do know is every time, they want to give their best showing when they rap with Nas. People take it really seriously. And that just shows the respect that is on his name and the respect he's earned.

I'm just having fun recording and actually just getting lost in the words and trying to expand on shit that I haven't necessarily talked about, and talk about things in a different context. Trying to just bring more flavor.

HS87, “Grindin' My Whole Life”

That song had my pops on it and we had a verse where we were going back and forth. He had just got out of prison [for the first time]. At that point, I had some success, I had made some money, I had opportunities, and I was bringing him along. I had brought my dad around Jay-Z, around Puff. They all embraced him and respected him and were like, "Yo, this dude is the real deal. He’s authentic." And that was just a ill moment for us. We had always talked about music. We went to Pasadena, we shot the video, we went to the [rollin] 60s. Everybody who was on the song, we went to their hood and shot parts of the video.

My dad’s a different type of person. He's full-fledged. He's not acting when I say he's gangster. That's really in his mannerisms and everything that he does. He’s been dealing with the system since he was a kid, with getting locked up, going to prison, doing stupid amounts of time. So, he just got an ill perspective on the things he's seen and what he's done. Snoop, Nipsey, and my pops, those are three people who I look at like, "Damn, they kind of remind me of each other." When you sit down one-on-one and talk with them, [they’re all] cut from that type of cloth.

50 Cent and G-Unit remixing the song was crazy. Some of the other people on the original song were like, "Man, they are literally jacking our song." It really kind of did turn out to be that way lowkey but it's like, "Shit, man, somebody who is on that 50 level is rapping on some shit that I came up with.” But I did, after a little bit, definitely get a little frustrated. I was just thinking like, "Man, instead of [50] pulling up on me and being like, “Give me one of those” or “Let me build with you.” It was like, 'Oh, I'm going to just run with your whole hook, swag, and beats and everything.'" But it's the music industry. I remember when it was going crazy when the G-Unit shit first got snagged. I went to Jay-Z's office with my pop. And Jay-Z was like, "N-gga, it might be time to do a remix. They’re trying to take this momentum." Nothing ever came to fruition with the remix, but…[at least] people noticed the energy.

Troop, “My Heart"

This is a song from my uncle's group, Troop. It’s just so melodic. It has some R&B and pop elements, and the production sound is so big. It was produced by this dude Chuckii Booker, who was young as hell, maybe 19-20, playing the bass, playing piano, playing drums, doing all the instruments. To hear my uncle talk about making that song, he was so impressed that this kid that was his age and was doing everything in the studio. And that was always inspiring to me when I was younger.

HitBoy x The Alchemist, “Slipping Into Darkness”

Man, that started off with me seeing a clip of Alchemist rapping with Larry June. And I'm like, "Damn, the homie hard. I should send him a joint and then have him send me a joint." I just sent him that one beat, like, "If you hear something, do something to it. And then you should send me a joint, and I'm going to hop on it." And he was with the idea, and we put them together.

And just as far as the Kendrick moment, I don't know, I had heard “Control” again when I was digging into old YouTube comments, seeing what people thought about that moment, even though I already lived through it and seen it. I got a refresher of that moment and was like, "Man, I should do something like this, but for producers." And then it wasn't even no disrespect—I mean obviously, the Yung Berg thing was definitely meant to be disrespectful. But as far as the other dudes, I know they not playing around in this game. But it just was a moment of like, "Yo, this is what I'm on." Go look up Rihanna's last album. Go look up Beyoncé's last three albums. Go look at Magic. You can't pinpoint my shit.

What has also been, at times, sort of a little curse, but now in the long run [is] a gift, is that nobody burnt out on my sound. But at the same time, I feel like my brand should have and could have been bigger if I had [producer] tags, or if I was just moving a certain way to promote myself. I was just all about the music and lending my talents to whoever it was, whether it was Kanye, Jay-Z. “Slipping Into Darkness” was just a moment to separate myself and show my versatility.

I don't even know Metro Boomin like that, to be honest. We spoke back when King's Disease came out, he posted it and he was showing love. So, it's respect, for sure. But at the end of the day, I just wanted to make something known of what I hadn't heard from them guys. It wasn't to say they can't do it. They might have some of the craziest beats ever in the tuck that just hasn't come to fruition yet. But my thing was just like, "Look me up, man."

Game and Kanye West, “Eazy”

I have a studio and Game was working in the building across the parking lot. But Ye had rented the room that was directly across from mine. So, we was vibing, but the thing was, it just was a little too hectic. Game kind of likes his sessions to be parties. And Kanye just wasn't feeling that shit. He ended up dipping. But he was there for a cool little week and a half, maybe two weeks, getting it in. He came in my room, because he wanted me to put some 808s on “Eazy.” And it was just me in there and he's seeing how I'm moving parts around. I'm adding the 808, I'm doing all this shit.

[Kanye] was like, "Damn, bro. It's no cap with you. You in here really doing this shit for real." And I'm just like, "Duh, nigga. This is what I've been on."

GQ: I feel like people saw that and thought it might be the beginning of a Hit and Kanye reunion.

Shit, so did I. But I feel like just the other things that was going on drove his energy away.

Beyoncé, “Thique”

Early [in my career], when I would make what I personally thought was ill and I'd send it to somebody and didn't get a response or they would take it and not do nothing with it, I would be like, "Yo, what the fuck is this?" But now that I'm older, I understand that that hard beat or that dope idea is never going away. Somebody, at some point, is going to need that shit. So, just let it marinate, let it be what it's going to be, and one day you're going to be in the studio and play that beat and it's going to connect. I mean that's how “N-ggas in Paris” happened. So many people had heard that beat. And that shit just got pulled up. Maybe them niggas was faded in Paris and played the beat and it just connected at that moment. So it's like now, I don't even trip. If I got something I know is fire, I'm like, "Oh yeah, I just need the right opportunity to play it."

Beyoncé actually invited me to come listen to [the rest] of the album and hear “Thique.” And I played her [newer] beats. But those [didn’t]connect to the sound for her album the same way.

Drake, “Trophies”

That shit [not making the cut for Nothing Was the Same], back in the day, it definitely had me hot. But man, you got to understand how this shit works. My only thing was, [Drake] and his team just kept telling me, "Yo, this is about to be the biggest song on the album." Just hyping it like it was on the album. And then it wasn’t. That's the only reason I lowkey felt slighted.

But it is what it is. Because I mean, that happened to me on Everything Is Love. Like, I got an email from Hov. He was like, "Yo, you already got two joints on Everything Is Love. Send me some more beats. See what happens." And then I ended up with no beats on the album. I was just a little confused, but, that's Jay-Z and Beyoncé, bro. They got every R&B, every hip-hop, every rock and roll, every country, any genre you could think of—the top producers, the top people in that shit, are submitting ideas to them. That's some lottery type shit.

Nas, "1-800-Nas-&-Hit"

It's a celebration, or a commemoration, for the music we made in the short amount of time we did it . Three years, we made 80-something songs. And then Nas shouted out my son. I'm engineering, recording Nas, and he's thinking of names to say out, and I'm telling him, "Yo. Shout the homies out." You could literally hear me in there. He shouted my dad out. My dad was fresh out at that point, so that was fly.

Think about it. We never had any crazy rollout. I see certain artists, and they do every platform. They’re on Hot 97, they’re on Apple Music. Nas wasn't really trying to take that route, and parlaying to make people come listen. It was like, This is for the people who already rock with me. It was anti-industry for real. So, that gave me freedom to be like, I don't have to try to go get this person to make the biggest hook ever just so we could be on the radio all day. It's like, "I want to make some shit that's hard, to me." And he was on the same thing, and that was real freedom.

Nas had just turned 50 the day we dropped the [last] album. I feel like [we decided to stop] because he wanted to just breathe for a second. He’s been rapping since he was what, 16, 17, and doing it at a high professional level. Sometimes I'll be in the studio and I'll come across a YouTube link of an old two-hour Nas mix tape, and just be like, how the fuck is he still thinking of these raps?. He’s not just a ABC-ass rapper where he’s trying to come up with a cute little hook or some bullshit. This n-gga raps. He says something every verse he's ever done. So, just for him to still be doing that, man, shit, it’s unbelievable, for real.

Everything he does, even if he does a joint that's for the girls, he's going to have some type of storyline that you could connect with. Everything was fun, in this whole process. N-ggas never made me feel like I had to deliver anything specific other than something that felt good to us. So, [Nas’ could make anything sound interesting, in my opinion.

The Magic [albums] were like mixtapes. Those got announced within 12 hours or 24 hours each time. We never put the album cover out a week or two early. [Each time] he just wanted to get some raps off. I don't got to do too much crazy post-production, it’s moreso about raw beats and good raps.

Big Hit Ft. Benny The Butcher, “Speaking”

Benny, that's my guy. We got a dope project that's about to drop on January 26, Everybody Can't Go. I produced half the album, and Alchemist did the other half. It's solely our beats on the album. My dad and Benny connecting was dope, Benny did a lock-down before, so he knows that pain, he knows that hunger. So, for him to resonate with [my dad’s music], and want to come give us a crazy verse. That shit was appreciated. The number one thing I learned creatively from working with my Dad is, genetics is a [motherfucker], because people always tell me, “You’re a fucking workhorse. You’re always at the studio, locked in." Then, my dad came home, and he made 300 songs in seven months. I'm like, Okay. This is where I get it from.

What you see [with Big Hit] is what you get. He’s not putting on an act. Every story he ‘s telling, he went through. He lived it

Big Hit & Game, “P Fiction”

This is the highest level of modern rap music in my opinion. The beat is futuristic—the bounce on the beat, how the 808 isn’t on the one, it hits where the snare is supposed to hit. It’s not an easy beat to replicate.

Originally Appeared on GQ