Weezy Week: Chauncey 'Hit-Boy' Hollis talks Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Kanye West, going solo and more
The problem with discussing N----s in Paris with the guy who produced N----s in Paris is the fear that at some point during the conversation, you might actually have to say the words “N---s in Paris.”
Thankfully, the guy who produced Jay-Z and Kanye West’s smash single is willing to give you an out.
“I call it Paris,” chuckles Chauncey “Hit-Boy” Hollis, who won a Grammy for his work on the song. (On behalf of Caucasian music writers everywhere, let me just say: Done and done!)
The centerpiece of Jay and Kanye’s album Watch the Throne, N----s in Paris helped introduce the world to Hit-Boy, who has produced singles by an array of hip-hop stars, from Rick Ross to A$AP Rocky to Kendrick Lamar. (Somewhere in America, from Jay's new Magna Carta Holy Grail, is a Hit-Boy joint.) Increasingly, he’s dipping his fingers into pop production, working on tracks by Rihanna, will.i.am., Beyonce and (reportedly) Britney Spears.
In the past year he’s made a move from behind the boards to center stage with his own rap album, HITstory. On Saturday Hit-Boy will open for Lil Wayne — whose Eminem collaboration Drop the World he produced — at the MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre in Tampa.
Calling from a studio in Toronto, Hit-Boy talked Weezy, going solo and one wild night in Paris.
Who are you working with now?
I’m doing some stuff with Drake up here, and a few different people.
Is this for Drake’s new album?
Definitely, he’s working on his new album. We’re just kind of vibing and making up ideas, you know?
These tours that Wayne puts together tend to be star-studded affairs. How did you get on board as a performer?
Management. They made it work. Blueprint Group, Cortez (Bryant), G. Robinson, they manage me as an artist, and help me run my label, so they hooked it up. It’s a great opportunity, so I’m just happy to be on it.
I wouldn’t think of you as a Cash Money-affiliated act. I saw where you’ve split with Kanye’s G.O.O.D Music, and now you’re working with Drake. Are you in with the Cash Money guys?
No, not at all. I have my own label through Interscope — HS87, Hits Since 87 — and I’m going to be taking one of my acts out on the road, Audio Push, and another act I have, K. Roosevelt, he’ll be coming out on the major dates. So really, this is about branding my own thing, the youthful essence of it and our energy.
You did Drop the World with Lil Wayne, and he was on your remix of will.i.am.’s Scream & Shout. How would you describe his process?
Actually, I’ve been around him a couple of times, but we weren’t in the studio when he did the song. I just wrote the beats. So I don’t really know his creative process.
How’d he end up on the Scream & Shout remix?
We just randomly did the song. I was just so happy to be in the same studio with Will. He asked me to remix the song for fun, and put a verse on it, and it just got bigger and bigger, and the next thing I know, it had Diddy on it, it had Waka Flocka, and then they got Wayne as the final piece. They wanted to do the video. It just was a lot of fun making that whole moment — the song, the video and everything. It was just a cool thing.
Aside from Drop the World, had you approached Wayne’s people about beats or production before?
Oh, 100 percent. He’s Lil Wayne. Who wouldn’t want to be in the studio with him? But it finally connected when it connected, and they performed the song on the Grammys, and it was a big thing.
Has launching this solo career changed how you think about beats and production techniques?
In a sense, yeah, because definitely, now, I think more from a writer’s perspective versus when I first started. I worked on the beats so much to where a writer wouldn’t hear how their voice could fit in. But now, I kind of build a skeleton and then I’ll go to an artist and try to paint the picture and show the vision and then do post-production afterwards. I feel so great about the fact that I took so much time to become a good producer, because now when I make songs, I can make them sound like events and moments because I just know the inflections. I just know certain things about production that the average artist wouldn’t really know unless they’re working with a great producer.
In the past, have you been a control freak? Is it tough to relinquish control to another producer? Because you have a few different people who worked on HITstory.
Oh, no, not at all. I’m just about the music. If it’s good music, then I’m all about it. I don’t care who made it. Really, at the end of the day, it’s just about the music, so it’s not about having an ego or anything like that. But I definitely put my input in and help take songs to different levels once I get my hands on them.
Who’s your personal sounding board that you run stuff by to say, “What do you think about this?”
All my friends. I’ve had the same friends for the longest time, and now two of them are in a group assigned to my label, so we’re gonna tell each other the truth no matter what, and that’s one thing I feel is priceless.
You don’t have an interest in giving up producing for good, do you?
Oh, not at all, man. To me it’s hand in hand. I’m just a music maker; it’s not about me being a producer. Even though I stepped out and got success as a producer first, I started rapping before I even knew I could make beats. So it’s just about balancing it. I’m going on tour next week, and I’m not rehearsing — I probably should be right now — but I’m doing my production duties and working and making sure that my production brand stays just as strong while I’m out on the road.
You got a huge taste of the spotlight when Watch the Throne came out. Did that change the way that you felt about making music, because maybe you weren’t as behind-the-scenes anymore?
It really showed me that it was real, you know what I’m saying? That I really have made it to a certain point to where I have a real chance to prove myself because people’s eyes are open. That’s all it proved to me. It wasn’t like that was the be-all, end-all. That song just really opened up people’s eyes for me to continue to prove myself.
Were you in Paris the night they did your song a dozen times in a row?
I actually got called up onstage. It was an amazing moment. I was the only other person besides Rihanna to ever get onstage with them during the whole tour.
What was that experience like for you?
Surreal. Just in one word. Definitely having that opportunity — and it wasn’t even planned. I just was so happy to be drinking and having a good time, and Jay-Z saw me in the crowd and pulled me onstage.
Were you surprised that they decided to start doing marathon performances of that song?
I definitely was surprised. I had no clue. The first time they did it, they did it twice, then three times, and it kept going up and up from there and became its own phenomenon.
I imagine you’ve probably seen your share of white people rapping awkwardly to that song.
(laughs) It’s all good.
Kanye West's Yeezus goes to some pretty dark places. HITstory does too, but maybe not to the extreme of Black Skinhead. Were you surprised by what you were hearing from Yeezus?
Not at all. I feel like Kanye puts his life into his music, and that just might be where he’s at right now. He’s just rebelling, and he has his own energy right now. I respect it, though.
You have a fairly minimalist sound — when you produce songs, you don’t like to overproduce. Is that fair to say?
I wouldn’t say that at all, actually. If you listen to my project, listen to Brake Lights. That’s not a minimal sound at all. It’s musical as hell — all the chord changes and progressions and the sounds at the end. Then you listen to East vs. West, bringing real trumpet players in and really getting musical. That’s one thing — people got to know me for beats like (Kanye West’s) Clicque, Paris, (A$AP Rocky’s) Goldie. But you can go look at my Wikipedia and see I did songs like My God for Pusha T. I did songs like Watch and Learn for Rihanna. I did stuff for Kelly Rowland. I really am a super-musical guy. That’s one thing that I want to make known to the world, and that’s another reason I decided to go full-fledged with the artist thing. I want to have musical records and really show people what I’m really capable of.
This tour coming up has a lot of people on it. Besides Wayne, you’ve got T.I., Tyga, G-Eazy, and he always brings out a few other people. Is there anything you’re looking to get out of this tour?
Exposure is one word that comes to mind. I’m gonna learn so much about myself as a person, as a young record label owner, as an artist, as a producer, just being around so many talented artists and creative people. And being able to have a studio bus, I’ll be making beats and recording on the road. You never know who you might see on the road, or who’s gonna come on the bus and share their energy.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*