The hit-making secrets of Hit-Boy
"I know now that everything I need is already inside of me," says the 33-year-old producer, who's made songs for Beyoncé, Travis Scott, Mariah Carey, and more.
On a hot afternoon last summer, Chauncey Alexander Hollis, better known as the producer Hit-Boy, was at Chalice Recording Studios in Hollywood, finishing up a session with the singer Brandy and friend and fellow producer Chase N. Cashe (né Jesse Woodard IV). The trio soon found themselves deep in conversation, discussing the music they had made that day and in years past, including "1st & Love," an offbeat R&B track from 2008. At the time, Hollis was just starting his career as a producer, looking to make the necessary inroads to break big.
“Me and Chase was in Atlanta working with every f–ing writer and artist," he says of those early days. "2 Chainz was pulling up when that n–a was still Tity Boi.”
Twelve years later, Hollis has become one of music's most in-demand hitmakers, having worked with a long list of A-list pop stars and rappers including Mariah Carey, Travis Scott, Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, and Lil Wayne. “Backseat Freestyle” by Kendrick Lamar? That was Hollis. “Feeling Myself” by Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé? That was produced by Hollis as well. “Woo” and “Pose” by Rihanna? Hollis co-produced those. With a line of hits and years of experience under his belt, the 33-year-old production wiz has a clear understanding of what is needed from him as a producer — and how to avoid the usual pitfalls of the industry.
"The only real s–t that ever works out is when you get that real [artist] relationship," he told me back in 2019. "You have to show up with the right music. You gotta show up with the right energy to be able get them songs off. I know now that everything I need is already inside of me.”
Hollis’ first foray into music was as a teenager, initially trying his hand at rapping before shifting to production. He taught himself how to make his own beats on FL Studios, and by 2007, he had snagged his first deal, signing to super producer Polow Da Don’s Interscope imprint. He then began collecting production credits for a variety of big-name artists, including Lil Wayne and Eminem (“Drop the World”), Kelly Rowland (“Lay It On Me” ), Mary J Blige (“Stronger” ), and the Pussycat Dolls (“Love The Way You Love Me”). His big break would arrive four years later, when he produced Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch the Throne mega-single “N—as in Paris." The track landed Hollis his first Grammy, for Best Rap Song, and he soon began working with Beyoncé, going on to produce four songs off her game-changing self-titled album (“XO,” “Jealous,” “Haunted,” and “Flawless”).
“I went to the On The Run Tour and I literally saw six of my records performed in a night,” he says. “That’s almost unreal. I don’t know of any other producers that had six songs in the show.”
Yet despite hearing his work in stadiums around the world, Hollis felt like he still wasn’t getting the widespread credit he deserved — that when fans mentioned top producers of this generation, the name Hit-Boy wasn’t always in the running. Part of that, he admits, may have to do with how selective Hollis once was. “If it wasn’t Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye... I was telling my management don’t even book the s---t,” he explains. “It’s a gift to be able to say that, but I should have been doing more. There were so many people trying to work and I was just turning hella s—t down.”
A lack of acknowledgement may also be tied to the fact that, unlike some of his contemporaries, Hit-Boy doesn’t have a producer tag (for those unaware, a producer tag is a drop that plays during a song that makes it clear who made the beat). So, when people hear one of Hollis' songs, like Travis Scott’s “Sicko Mode,” they don’t immediately know who worked on the production. “We all want to be noticed for the things we do and sometimes I have felt like, damn, how much work do I have to put in?” he says. “[But some] people don’t even know what a producer is. They don’t know what we do. A lot of people don’t understand what the beat is doing; that’s damn near more than half of the work.”
Later, he adds, “What I’ve contributed to the game deserves to be seen.”
It certainly got a boost following a Verzuz beat battle in March, between him and fellow mega-producer Boi-1da. One of the highlights was when Hollis played an unreleased Big Sean and Nipsey Hussle track from Sean’s upcoming album, Detroit 2. “That's why I say I won, you can't top that,” Hit-Boy says when we catch up a few weeks after the battle. “That's a top Nipsey verse. I felt proud to be able to showcase it.”
Hollis was already friends with Nipsey when the two began working with more frequency at the start of 2019. “He started pulling up every day and coming to the studio,” recalls Hollis. “He was FaceTiming me at like eight in the morning. He would always come in here like, ‘Bro I don’t know what it is but I love this room. I love the energy.’ I feel like he left the energy in here.” (Hollis won his second Grammy as a producer when “Racks In The Middle,” a track he worked on with Nipsey and Roddy Ricch, was awarded Best Rap Performance earlier this year.)
Hollis is continuing to channel that energy from Nipsey into his own work. Despite the current pandemic, he isn’t slowing down. “I’ve been dedicating a lot of my energy to the Sean album,” says Hollis. “We created probably 20 some records in the past year and a half.” He also released the fourth and final installment of his The Chauncey Hollis Project at the beginning of May, and has plans to continue putting out his own solo material. In the midst of all this, he has somehow found time to text and send beats to one of his longtime dream collaborators, Justin Timberlake. “He is someone that was always at the top of my list,” he says. “The demos sound insane, we already got a couple in the cannon.”
With even more work lined up later year, Hit-Boy is on fire — and he knows it too. “I feel like a lot of eyes are being opened, it’s kinda just on me at this point. I’ve put all that energy into becoming the person I am now. I feel better and better about opening people to my capabilities.”