By Adam O’Neal
After an 18-hour day producing music for Kanye West and other A-listers, hip-hop producer Hit-Boy still calls the IE home
Hit-Boy, born Chauncey Hollis, looks like he just woke up. The producer-rapper is clad in a white tee, Nike basketball shorts and sandals. Outside, it’s an unseasonably hot Tuesday afternoon in early October. This room, though, feels just right. Sitting in his personal studio—one of three in the House of Hit—he’s relaxed but engaged.
Throughout, he’ll oscillate between tweeting; thinking about and probably working on music; and giving lengthy, thoughtful answers to any question he’s asked.
On the wall next to Hit is an enlarged photo of him on stage next to, according to mit, the greatest rappers alive: Jay-Z and Kanye West. After several years of toiling as a producer with occasional success, the Hit-Boy produced super-hit “Niggas in Paris” took Hit to the top of the world, culminating with an on-stage shout out from Hova himself. To the left of the Jay-Ye photo is a framed collage of older, personal photos. If anything, the wall is testament to Hit’s social fluidity. He can take his mom out to a movie in the IE and then fly out the next day to finish up work on a Ye track in Hawaii.
“Music For 18 Hours a Day”
The House of Hit is a beautiful 5,000-square-foot Mediterranean-style home, hidden in plain sight within a San Fernando Valley suburb. Hit explains the home’s location.
“I knew I was going to make music all the time, like, all times of night. And I needed a place where the neighbors wouldn’t complain.”
Like most people, Hit loves God and his family. But next to those, three acts seem principally important: making great music, staying positive and repping the IE.
He rolled his eyes and laughed when asked about dating—no time.
After shuffling from studio to studio in the home, it’s clear why noise was a concern. Music is always bumping in the building populated with rappers, producers and audio engineers from Hit’s label, Hits Since ’87 (HS87). Most are similarly clad in pajamas or basketball shorts, sitting in front of their computers blasting beats at ear-poppingly high levels.
Defying the laid-back image, though, is a crew that takes work seriously. There’s a frat-house vibe—but it feels like finals week. The three studios spread throughout the house are continuously occupied. Music is the almost exclusive topic of discussion. It is work but everyone’s happy to be at it, all day, every day.
The rapper Price Tag, of the duo Audiopush, took me to his downstairs studio to play some tracks off Audiopush’s just-released mixtape, Inland Empire. He enthusiastically played the tracks while bobbing his head and occasionally jumping out of his seat.
“There’s 24 hours in a day. I probably sleep six. So it’s music for 18 hours a day,” he claims.
“Typical” Rap Video
Virtually everyone at the house said the same. In fact, since moving into the House of Hit, the crew has only held two parties—on Labor Day and the Fourth. Hit claims he doesn’t smoke weed and only drinks occasionally “to enhance” the good times, which is believable given his attention to the craft and a packed schedule.
After the interview, Hit shuffles into the living room. He’s comfortably slouching on a couch, watching MTV Jams with Kent Money, another HS87 rapper who grew up a few blocks from Hit. A “typical” rap video comes on: lots of bling, bitches and lackadaisical production.
Hit and Kent simultaneously begin laughing. This is terrible, they say, mocking the song’s formulaic hook and cheesy concept. As the video continues, and Western Civilization deteriorates in front of our eyes, they laugh harder and harder.
“What’s specifically wrong with the video?” I ask.
It’s like a caricature of rap, Hit explains. It’s what people imagine a rap video should be. And the song is worse.
In terms of technical ability, they’re not terrible. It’s just the overwhelming poor taste that he finds unacceptable.
When Kent Money stands up and sarcastically yells that he could make a better video in the backyard with a cell phone camera, Hit bursts out laughing.
When was the last time he heard something that he wished he’d made?
He pauses, unsure. “I can’t even remember. But ‘Goldie,’ [which he produced for Harlem darling A$AP Rocky] I hear that and I’m like, ‘That’s something that I could see myself wishing I made.’” He laughs; it’s unclear if he was joking.
Hit will admit that he’s no Kanye West in terms of perfectionism—“that’s pretty hard to top”—but there’s obvious quality control at HS87. It’s less an official standard than a reflection of Hit’s personality, which emanates throughout the house.
Making Good Music
For him, the trick to making good music is to love the craft and have great taste. His work ethic came naturally but it took years to develop the fine-tuned appreciation that makes his beats so appealing. He can’t articulate what specifically makes a beat great—but he knows it when he hears it.
“I made beats and my friends would be laughing and now it’s like, ‘Come kick it with me at my crib. This is why I was doing that at 16, 17 years old.’ But once I made my mind up that this is what I was going to do, it never stopped. I knew it was going to happen.”
In his junior year of high school, long before he had any success in music, Hit decided to transfer from Colton High to Birch Continuation in Fontana—just so he would have more time for music.
“Being from a smaller town, I had a lot of time to think. I had a lot of time to be rooted in my craft and only work on music. There wasn’t that much to do so I had time to be on the Internet and study Kanye and the other guys I looked up to.”
Counter-intuitively, coming from a region without a prevalent rap style gave Hit the time and space to develop his own immaculate taste. Rather than being out in the street dealing drugs—something that resulted in his father spending Hit’s childhood and adolescence in prison—Hit worked on music non-stop.
“I just made music all the time. My mom would let me play it as loud as I wanted. She’d tell guests, ‘As long as he’s here, it’s all good.’”
Once high school ended, he wasn’t unemployed for long.
In the summer of 2005, just months after graduation, Hit was discovered on MySpace by producer Polow Da Don. He moved to Atlanta and his career began.
Hit’s progression to the top wasn’t along a smooth curve. Rather, he took a jagged route. After making music with some success—producing tracks for Jennifer Lopez, The Pussycat Dolls and others—he hit a creative and professional roadblock.
2009 was a terrible year, he says. By the end of it, only one of his beats made it onto an album. His relationship with an early mentor had soured (“We weren’t vibin‘”) and he was generally pessimistic about the future. He began to wonder if he could keep making music.
“I had got to a point where it was really dark for me. There was no place to go but to change my life. I was just saying, ‘Man, I’m never going to catch a hit single. This music thing is never going to happen.’”
And then his friend, Roc Nation’s Ester Dean, gave him a copy of the self-help tape The Secret, which argues that positive thinking is instrumental to success. After a while, the video’s concepts began to sink in.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What are four things that I’m going to want every day for the rest of my life?’” he says.
One day while running at the gym, he found the right words. And so every day for the last three years, he’s tweeted the same message every morning: Health. Wealth. Positivity. Prosperity.
He claims that altering his attitude and refocusing on those four goals has changed his life. It must be working, as he’s now grown popular enough to have around 130,000 Twitter followers see the message every day.
It’s Cool to Represent
After a few years in Atlanta, Hit returned to the IE and moved back in with his mom in late 2008. After his weak 2009, things began to take off.
“I had this shit popping when I was in the IE,” he says, referring to his work on the Weezy single “Drop the World.”
“I was doing songs for Lil Wayne and Eminem right when I standing in my mom’s bedroom.”
When asked if he’d like to produce a film soundtrack, his face lit up.
“For sure. That’s money, for one thing. But to just challenge myself and do different things. I feel like I could handle that.”
Hit has no plans to retire from producing but he’s fulfilled most of his major goals in the field. One of his last goals was to produce a track for Beyoncé, a goal on the cusp of fruition.
And so a natural progression has begun.
As he shifts away from full-time producing, he’s refocusing on rapping and his label. He wants to break an artist—and break out himself. Hit’s been writing rhymes as long as he’s worked on beats and he’s eager to move in that direction, à la Kanye West.
What’s more, he’s also focused on maintaining a strong relationship with the IE, particularly through HS87.
The love for IE most famously surfaced in “Jay-Z Interview,” when Hit raps “IE nigga, I’m a IE nigga/Went from Colton High School to the widescreen, nigga.”
The House of Hit is filled with kids from throughout the IE: Rialto, Fontana, Colton, Riverside and San Bernardino are just a handful of the cities being repped. The Grammy-nominated producer is near the summit of the music industry but he’s surrounded by people who best know him as Chauncey.
“Hit-Boy. Hit. Chauncey. But don’t call him HB,” says HS87 producer and IE-native Rey Reel, “That’s just corny.”
“And why I rep the IE so much? That’s like asking a fat girl why she eat so much,” Hit announces on “Selfish Freestyle.”
When asked about what specifically he loves about the IE (Editors Note: Hit visited Colton High earlier this year to speak during Seniors Week. Photos for this story were taken on campus), the wordsmith finds himself at a loss for words.
“I just love it. I do. It’s the vibe. I just f@*k with it,” he says, before pausing and then continuing, “I like to just go walk around Victoria Gardens. I want all those kids to know it’s cool to represent where you’re from.”
A lot of people from the IE, Hit explains, feel like they need to go through LA if they want to succeed in music.
“If you lived out in Rialto or San Bernardino, you would just say you were from LA and that’s who you’d rep,” he says.
But his label hopes to change that—and they’re cultivating raw talent from throughout the region. The way they see it, the IE is a massive, untapped reserve of musical talent and fandom. Hit hopes to develop IE in the same way that Nelly put St. Louis on the map in the early 2000s, says his manager, Bita Khorrami.
Price Tag echoes the sentiment, “The IE is huge. It goes all the way out of Palm Springs. There’s no reason why we can’t sell 100,000 or 200,000 albums in the IE alone.”
As a producer, Hit was a silent presence on some of the most popular tracks of his time. And now, moving towards a career in rapping, he’s responsible for finding his own voice.
My primary goal, he says, is to inspire. As someone who sat in his room listening to The College Dropout and The Blueprint, unable to even comprehend the idea of working for his heroes, he wants other kids in the IE to know it’s all possible.
“I just always wanted to get better. Even to this day, I just want to challenge myself to make music that can impress me. You gotta work and not even think about anything but the craft.”
Hit-Boy at The Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (909) 865-3802; www.theglasshouse.us, houseofhit.com. Dec. 21, 7pm. $12-$15