Hit-Boy should be mid-stride of a victory lap right now. The producer who rose to fame by lacing Jay-Z and Kanye West with “Niggas in Paris” and went on to supply heat to everyone from Beyonce and Drake to Travis Scott and Ariana Grande has been on a 10-year plus run in which somehow no two beats sound the same. Hit closed the summer of 2020 by executive producing two big albums, one from a rap Rushmore legend, the other currently reigning as the No. 1 album in the country.
This week, however, Hit Boy’s mind turned toward the injustices of his record label deal, thanks to a series of seemingly unprovoked, stream of consciousness tweets from Kanye West about the need for artists to own their masters, and the hidden horrors of his own recording contracts, which he published on Twitter in full. In an Instagram comment, Hit-Boy said Universal have held him under what his lawyers describe as the “worst publishing contract they’ve ever seen” since he was 19 (he’s now 33)—and also said he “hasn’t been a fan of Kanye on a personal/human level” since West told him “face to face he stopped picking my beats because I worked with Beyonce.” After “Niggas in Paris” in 2011, Hit-Boy beats were practically all you heard on records from Kanye’s GOOD Music label, then in 2013 the union was annulled almost as abruptly as it began with no explanation. Until now.
A fired up Hit-Boy talked to GQ—so passionate he had replies ready before questions were finished—about the financial downsides to what’s otherwise been a great year, where his issues with Kanye stem from, and how artists can do their best to evade bad deals.
GQ: So what inspired you to let that post go?
Hit-Boy: Just watching Kanye—obviously he always goes on these sporadic rants, but some of that stuff was resonating with me. A lot of people on Twitter were like, "Why even throw the Beyonce shit in there?" I'm going to tell you why. He on Twitter preaching, "I love all my brothers and we need to stick together and all this shit.” But I feel like [he] put me in a position where I was battling the "system" and I was battling with my brothers. Because it would be different if Kanye was like, "Your shit wack now, I'm not using you." But nigga, you telling me because you saw me working with somebody else that you're not going to pick my beats?
That was my whole point. It's just like, [Beyonce] wasn't the only person I worked with when I was on GOOD [Music]. Bro, I worked with so many artists and I never heard anything until I locked in with her. So that just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. And I had to bury those emotions for years. The way he was speaking just sparked me to tell my side. This is how I feel. Like I'm fighting, to me, two oppressors. Corporations and somebody that is supposed to be a true mentor to somebody like me.
You followed with another Instagram post that had a video clip from ”Jay-Z Interview” of Kanye calling you the “Golden Child” and saying “we need you” in 2012. Did that weigh on you all these years, going from that almost protege relationship to what’s happened since?
Honestly, bro there were points where I've been driven damn near crazy over this, man. Being in a position where I know how ill I am, but then people's general perception after I stopped working with GOOD was that I wasn't basically doing shit no more. It's like every single year I'm catching big joints, I'm still doing shit. But it's not connecting as much because of the brand. You know what I'm saying? And also, when I was doing “Niggas in Paris” and all these records, you never heard Kanye in no interview shouting me out.
I never had no [producer] tags, so people didn't fully connect it. Even with a tag, people still might not connect the shit. So it's just a crazy uphill battle, man. And I finally was able to shed some light on how I feel about it. I feel like most people would have been like, "Fuck Kanye, bitch ass n----." But I tried to just put it in a way that people could digest it and understand where I'm coming from on an intelligent level.
You had tapped in with Sean here and there between Cruel Summer and Detroit 2. But it feels like it had been a while. Did the Kanye thing affect your relationship with people from that crew like Sean, Pusha, and Cudi?
Not for real, not for real. Obviously you never know what's said behind closed doors and shit like that. But for the most part everybody still was A1 with me. But at the same time, it's like, that's fucking Kanye, so of course they’re going to take that n----'s side over me.
Did you ever get a sense of just why working with Beyonce was even a thing? You went there and made “Flawless.” Seems like a weird thing to front on someone over.
Honestly I have no clue what that stemmed from. I can't speak on that at all. I just know that for [him] to look me in the face and be like, "Yeah, I’m not taking no beats from you for this project because you worked with Bey." I'm just like... "Okay, for sure."
Damn. Have you guys come out on the other side of it? Have you patched things up a little bit?
Man, I ain't talked to him. Nah.
Let's switch gears to the larger issue that he was talking about, which is these bad deals that people get locked into in the music industry. Even a casual fan knows about the shadiness of the music business. Why do you think this is the moment for artists like yourself and Kanye to come out and speak on it?
We’re just in a much more exposed time. People know a lot more than they used to about the industry. They know what's real, they know what's fake, for the most part. People still obviously can be fooled, but it's just more open. Obviously Kanye posted his whole contract, and people are dissecting that. So I could speak from it personally. I was literally one year out of high school, no education about this shit. There's not much that you can learn, there's not a lot out there to tell you how real it is, like how fucked up it can be and how much you need to protect yourself early to then be straight later on in life. For me, I was just bumping my head until I got to this point where my back was against the wall and I knew I had to just say something.
How does that weigh on you mentally when you look at your past decade, you've had hit after hit after hit, only getting bigger each year? But to be locked into a deal that-
It killed me, dog. I'm watching shit, like The Last Dance, I'm looking at [Scottie] Pippen like, "N---- my contract worse than Pippen." Shit, like I'm 14 years in and they ain't had to really invest no real money into me. It's just messed up. We've got to find some type of way to really educate the next generation man, because there's not a lot out there. If you look online, there's no real information on how to get out of a publishing deal. How to really avoid a terrible publishing deal. And it's not like I'm on a decline. I literally am on the number one album [in the country] right now. So it's like bugging, I feel it's connected with people.
What do you think it's going to take to change the system? Get rid of these bad, manipulative deals?
At this point I'm super clueless, but all I know is that we have to just get the information out there and spread it as much as possible and look out. It's a small percentage of people who really look out and give you the information, and it's sick. A lot of people gotta bump their head, a lot of people don't recover. I guess Brian Alexander Morgan was motivated to say something after I said something, this guy produced like super R&B classics, SWV’s “Weak,” a bunch of classics. He was in his deal with the same company for 28 years. So it's just not right, it's not fair. Like why are you in a deal for 28 years? You should be owning some shit.
You mentioned how people are breaking down Kanye's contract, and I saw a lot of people talking about things that JAY-Z could have done to help him years ago. But these days I’ve seen artists say that he and Roc Nation try to promote financial literacy and set artists up to own their own masters. Have you seen any of that personally?
I mean, I'm trying to get into it. Shit. I'm trying to see it.
Has Jay ever hit you with contract advice?
He gave me all types of advice for sure.
Where do you want to go from here? We've seen some other artists come out. What do you think the next step is to really get a movement going?
The next step is, I guess, keeping that pressure on man. Be real about what's going on, and hopefully people see it because it's a different time. Information spreads faster, it spreads differently. From my own personal post, I’m seeing people say, "Damn maybe I should be independent." It's just giving different perspectives. So everybody is going to take their own path, I don't feel like it's one direct way you could do it. But I just feel like some shit just don't add up. There's no way the person who produced “Racks in the Middle,” “Sicko Mode,” “Niggas in Paris” and “Flawless” should be in a fucked up deal, period.
How did things end up with Nas and Sean’s albums dropping within a couple of weeks of each other? Was that just coincidence, one of those instances of the work stacking up?
Yeah, that's just really timing because we've been working on Sean's album since 2018. We were planning to drop it in March, but then all the COVID stuff was going down. So he said, "Let's go back in on it and make some more records.” That's when, probably like February, we started working on Nas's stuff. He pulled up just to hear beats. We had no expectation to make an album.
I want to dive into those albums a little bit because I've been really enjoying them. What was it like producing a reunion for The Firm [“Full Circle” on Nas’s King’s Disease]? That is something right out of a rap forum. When the tracklist came out, people didn't think it was real at first because of that song.
I peeped that. To be working with Nas in general, it was just fly. But that was more deep into the process, that's where we were really putting the final touches on it. For it to come together on that level, then the Dr. Dre part was just the icing on the cake. It's a moment for hip-hop but everybody sounded in the pocket.
Now you've executive-produced those two albums, and you did the same for the SOB X RBE album Family Not a Group too. What is it about executive producing that feels more rewarding than just providing beats? How did Nas and Sean tap you creatively?
Just being able to help paint the full picture. I didn't feel like I was getting to the place I wanted to be in by just doing one or two records on people's albums. I felt like my calling was to really help people put projects that would stand the test of time together. Even after SOB X RBE, I did an album for my homeboy 24Hrs. I was just working with any and everybody who was trying to really get in and create a moment. So it just built up to get to that point where Sean and Nas trusted me because they know how much I'm in the studio. They know how many bangers I got when they pulled up, like it be undeniable shit going on.
You're always in some top secret stuff, but what can you tell me about what you've been working on to close this fourth quarter of the year out?
Yes, sir. There's the Benny the Butcher album. It's called Burden of Proof, it's super crazy.
With a guy like Benny, did you tap into a grittier side of yourself that you hadn't really gone to before?
Man, if you really ever get deep into my discography bro, I was doing shit for G-Unit and The Game in '06, '07. So I been doing grimy shit, people just don't know that depth. I've done grimy shit with Joey Bada$$. I done did all type of hard shit. So I got so many bags I could dive in. That’s the beautiful part about what's going on. Because I'm texting with Justin Timberlake right now too, I worked on music with him. Last time you and I spoke he was someone I wanted to lock in with, I manifested that. I got a lot of A1 artists on my line.
I'm just going to put it out there then that, since we got Nas, I need a JAY-Z and Hit Boy project too.
You know that's a real high goal of mine in life. We'll see if it ever comes together.
Is there anything else that you want to talk about in terms of deals and advice to other artists?
I want to tell them to educate themselves as much as they can. Never be in a rush to sign anything, never make anybody feel like you have to sign something. Really dig deep and then be patient with every situation because there might be something that looked good now and a year or two later, it might be a situation where you're like, "Man, that was nothing compared to this."
As far as the people that are already in messed up contracts, just fight it as much as you can. Get with the right counsel, get with the right people. That's what I'm doing every day. I'm working all angles, I'm talking to all types of people. A lot more A1 people in the industry tapped after my posts. They show a big love and respect, they hear where I'm coming from. So just know you got a voice when you were created man, just know that.
Originally Appeared on GQ