LOS ANGELES – Hit-Boy won top Grammy rap honors with some of hip-hop’s biggest heavyweights — Jay-Z, Kanye West, known as Ye, and Nas — and now he is ascending into a new musical weight class as a producer.
The Southern California native is only up for two nominations, but both are major, including album of the year, thanks to his work on H.E.R.’s “Back of My Mind.” The other is his first nomination ever in the producer of the year, non-classical category for Nas’ “King Disease II” and the “Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album” soundtrack, which featured him on one song as a rapper.
The Grammy Awards show will air live on April 3 from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas on CBS and Paramount+.
Hit-Boy has garnered three Grammys from his stellar production offerings on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “… In Paris,” Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks in the Middle” and Nas’ album “King Disease,” which gave the veteran rapper his first-ever Grammy last year. He’s also worked with a slew of other top-notch artists including Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, Mariah Carey, Ariana Grande, Mary J. Blige and Drake.
The 34-year-old producer recently spoke with The Associated Press about the relevance of winning a Grammy, his rapper aspirations, how Pharrell Williams’ advice helped him and whether he thinks his producer-of-the-year nomination was long overdue. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: Does winning a Grammy still matter?
Hit-Boy: It’s a little extra stamp of all the hard work you put in. You don’t just get one of these by just playing around. You have to be at the top of the top. It’s like the NBA Finals or the Super Bowl. It’s that extra piece of motivation to know you’re doing the right thing musically. The nominations alone. But winning with Nipsey, winning with Nas, I have real meaningful Grammys. Kanye West and Jay-Z. I didn’t win by just playing around. I made some records that will stand the test of time.
AP: With so many producers out these days, how have you maintained your elite status?
Hit-Boy: I dedicate my life to this. I sacrifice family time. I sacrifice personal time to add value to what other (music artists) are doing.
AP: Has anything gotten easier for you after winning three Grammys?
Hit-Boy: I’m still going through obstacles daily. You think you’ve gotten to a point where you’ve done so much work and had whatever high Billboard (chart placement) or Grammys. None of that matter. It’s all about the next move. It’s really a ‘What have you done for me lately.’ You have to always keep pushing forward. Just the business alone, dealing with bad publishing deals and just bad deals in general. You really need to have a solid mind and love the music to keep going. At times, as a human being, it’s just too overwhelming. It’s too much. I’m thinking, I can’t figure this part out. It’s just a lot. But when you love the music, it always comes back together.
AP: Where did you get that philosophy?
Hit-Boy: That came from Pharrell. He told me this in 2007. I was working with Teyana Taylor, who was signed to him at the time. I had pretty much did like a whole EP or album worth of music for her. He was hype about it. He was a fan of my production. It was mutual respect. I was able to get on the phone with him. We spoke about the struggles and bumping your head and just going through the game. You’re going to have to deal with it regardless. But if you love the music, you will always get back to the center. That’s something I’ll never let go.
AP: Some thought you should’ve been nominated for producer of the year last year. Is your current nomination in the category long overdue?
Hit-Boy: I feel like this recognition is happening when it’s supposed to. I’ve had years when I’ve had billboards and top 10 joints, like big joints. I’m getting less press now and getting less love by doing a Nas album or doing an EP with Big Sean or helping Dom Kennedy with his album. I’m doing real and soulful music. … I’m just going straight for the heart. I’m making music that’s going to stick. This is not a gimmick to anything I’m doing right now.
AP: Any high hopes of winning producer of the year?
Hit-Boy: Knowing how the Grammys are, you have to be content with knowing like “Cool, I got the nomination.” Until that moment, I just don't know. I can’t really get my hypes up. Even though so many other outlets have given me their producer of the year awards, the Grammys is just different. The criteria is different. You don’t know everybody who is voting. I’m just thankful for the nomination.
AP: On the song “Broad Day” from the “Judas and the Black Messiah: The Inspired Album,” you performed as a rapper on a track sampled from R&B group Troop, which featured your uncle, Rodney Benford. How was that for you?
Hit-Boy: That was a special moment. For it to be in a meaningful film – what wasn’t a pushover – that song really meant something to me.
AP: Do you care about being recognized as a rapper too?
Hit-Boy: People ask me "What do you enjoy more? Rapping or producing?" I like to make fire songs regardless of if I lay a verse that’s hard on a hook. As long as it’s dope, it’s inspiring me at the moment, I’m rocking with it. I’ve been rapping before I even produced. I’ve been tapped in on bars. The people that really know, know. It’s a timing thing. It’s cultivating that energy and really telling that story. I’ve got new music I feel strongly about, and it’s going to coincide with what I’m doing as a producer.
AP: What do you want to accomplish next?
Hit-Boy: Winning a Grammy as an artist would be a step up for me. That would be a level up. I am an artist. That’s something I’ve been doing, before I was producing. But I’m doing a production album. It’ll be my production with different artists. That’s another way I can win as an artist as well. I’m just giving myself the best chances to win. That’s investing in myself at the end of the day.