Grammy winner Hit-Boy talks Kanye, Lakers
February, 22, 2013
By Jared Zwerling | ESPN.com
Rick Diamond/Getty ImagesLakers die-hard Hit-Boy won a Grammy for his song on "Watch the Throne" with Jay-Z and Kanye West.When rapper/producer extraordinaire Hit-Boy was in high school, he did the unthinkable.
During basketball practice one day, the Southern California native went up to his coach and literally told him, "I don't want to play anymore. I want to go home and make beats."
While his coach kept convincing him to come back, Hit-Boy didn't envision a future in hoops because he knew he was never going to grow tall. But what he had was a dream to produce tracks for a living.
That dream not only led to the 25-year-old's first big hit, "N----- in Paris," but also his first Grammy award for Best Rap Song, which he, Jay-Z and Kanye West were honored for last week in Los Angeles. Now, Hit-Boy, who also produced G.O.O.D. Music's chart-topper "Clique," is arguably the most sought-after producer in hip-hop. And his rapping career is taking off as well.
After releasing his debut album "HITstory" last summer, he's working on his first compilation disc, "All I've Ever Dreamed Of," as part of his major deal with Interscope Records. It's set to release in mid-2013.
Everything appears to be falling into place for Hit-Boy, but there's still at least one thing he doesn't have figured out: his beloved Lakers, who have been the biggest disappointment in the NBA this season. Speaking with ESPN Playbook recently, he talked about his favorite team, Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal, his rapping and producing through the years, and much more.
So I've got to ask, as you're from L.A.: Are you Lakers or Clippers?
Those Lakers all day, every day, man.
Have you gotten a chance to see some games live this season?
Yeah, I've been to a couple games. Actually, I've been to more Clippers games than Lakers this season, but I went to the Spurs-Lakers earlier this season.
You're not telling your Lakers friends about that, though, right?
Nah, but they see me on Instagram and they get frustrated with me. But it is what it is, man. They're excited to watch the Clippers, too.
What, in your opinion, has been happening with the Lakers?
Man, I'm just like in total ... I don't know, man. The energy is just not there, but hopefully they can build some kind of streak and get it together.
Maybe they should listen to your music more in the locker room to get that energy.
Oh definitely, man. They need more energy in the building.
You've been a Lakers fan ever since growing up in L.A.?
Yeah, definitely. Just like being around my uncles and watching James Worthy and all those teams. I've always been watching since I was a kid.
Is Worthy your favorite Laker of all time?
I was a fan of Nick Van Exel for sure. He was quick and fast, and that's something I really looked up to. Nick Van Exel and Eddie Jones were like two of my favorites back in the day.
What's your top Lakers moment?
When they used to play the Kings in the Western Conference Finals. That was like an incredible time with Robert Horry shooting that three with 0.4 seconds left [in Game 4 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals].
When you think about how you collaborate with top artists, what do you think was so special about watching Kobe and Shaq come together?
It's amazing to watch two guys who both can dominate at any given time. You watch them share that energy and share whatever that moment is. It's the same with music. For a lot of my beats, I've written ideas to Kanye and he's like, "We should do this. We can make it that much better." I'm sure it's the same with basketball or whatever sport.
What did you think of Shaq as a rapper back in the day?
Shaq was platinum, man. He was just an overall star. He had that personality, like people were drawn into him.
Is it pretty cool after all these years, from Kurtis Blow in the 1980s to now, to see still how much hip-hop is ingrained in basketball?
Yeah. I think about it all the time. It's amazing, like they embrace our culture and we embrace theirs. We all come from the same places, so it is what it is.
Did you play sports growing up?
I played baseball for three years when I was little, I played football and I played basketball like every year from fourth grade on. I was actually in the middle of practice during the season and I just told the coach, "Man, I don't want to play anymore. I want to go home and make beats." He looked at me like I was crazy. I just quit basketball in high school and I just made beats every single day from that point on. He kept asking me to come back to the team. I knew what I wanted at an early age. I was like, "I'm probably not tall enough to make it to the league, so I'm just going to go ahead and make beats."
What position were you in basketball and what was your game like?
I was a point guard. I was more dishing and defense. I was alright. I wasn't, like, the star player.
You mentioned before how you became a Lakers fan growing up. But which athlete did you love to hate?
Mike Bibby, [Doug] Christie and all those guys on the Kings.
Which athlete are you coolest with today?
I talk to Kevin Durant here and there. He's an amazing athlete.
You know he has a mixtape?
I actually haven't heard it, but I know he raps.
Have you performed at any sporting events?
No, not yet, but I'm looking to do that this year for sure.
When you look back to 2011, when "N----- in Paris" came out, to now, how would you sum up your last year?
Definite progress, man. It hasn't slowed down any time soon. Also, the fact that I'm doing my own thing now and being my own guy. It's not like I did just one song for Kanye. Now, people are interested with what I'm doing with my own brand.
How did everything get rolling for you, working with Kanye and going from there?
Oh, man, it was amazing -- just to have the opportunity with someone of that caliber. I mean, Kanye had a couple No. 1 records and some classics, so I definitely took advantage of the situation and developed a great relationship with Kanye. We talk and he gives me advice into the rap stuff that I'm doing. We've built that bond.
I read that the beat for "Paris" was passed over by several rappers. What was the magic behind finally getting it accepted by Kanye?
At least six rappers all passed on the beat, but I didn't get discouraged because I knew it would end up in the right hands. I knew there was something bigger and better planned for that beat for a specific song. Kanye understood the way it was. I didn't even understand how incredible that beat was or how it would affect people, and what Kanye did was magic.
Considering you were young and hadn't been a name beat-maker back then, do you think those factors had something to do with the delay?
I don't know. It just wasn't meant in at the time. I'm so grateful for everybody that liked the beat.
With the song spreading all around the world, is there one story about its popularity that still hits you?
Just me being on stage last year in Paris while they were performing the song. That was surreal. Even right now when I'm telling you this story, it's like, "That really happened?"
Have you gotten a chance to travel a lot with Jay-Z and Kanye?
Yeah, I've definitely been to quite a few places. Last year, I went to maybe three or four different countries just working with Kanye. That was my first time in those places. I definitely enjoyed shopping in Paris, bar none. It's amazing.
How would you describe your fashion style?
High-end, but understated at the same time. I might have on like a $4,000 outfit, but you don't even know. It looks clean and crisp.
Without giving away too many of your secrets, what's sort of your creative process in the studio? What goes through your mind while producing a track?
Really, man, my thing is I don't think about it too much. It just happens. I just go to my keyboard and that's when all my thoughts play out. It's crazy, man. I don't really have a theory or a thing to create my music. It just comes out how it comes out. Luckily, it comes out good.
Are there specific artists you're looking forward to working with this year, even outside hip-hop?
Definitely Britney Spears, man, Beyonce. I definitely want to dive really heavily into that world and do multiple songs with people like that.
Most recently, you've been crossing over more to rapping. How did that transition happen?
Absolutely. It's like something that I always did and always wanted to come back to, but the beat thing just took off. I was really interested in the creation of music and sounds, and now the rapping kind of came back up. Since 2011, I've been doing some songs with people, and they've really taken a liking to it, like people have been coming to my sessions and stuff. I wanted to make people aware that I rap, and I feel like I did a really good job of that. I wanted to show people that I'm real and I'm here to stay.
What's the vibe of your upcoming compilation album? What can fans expect?
It's definitely musical, man. It's hip-hop and very musical. I just tried different things. You'll hear some R&B, a bunch of different genres mixed in. It will be fresh.
Who were some of your musical influences growing up in the R&B world?
There was a production team by the name of Underdogs. I used to listen to those guys to the core. That's just one artist. I was really into Brandy, Joe, Musiq Soulchild, a lot of those people. My uncle was actually in a group that came after New Edition. I was influenced by them very early.
What did you do first, rapping or producing?
I was just doing rapping first. When I was 13, I started to rap, and when I turned 16, I was making beats. I didn't take rapping seriously until like 2011. That's when I was like I've got to really get back into it.
How did you find the right beat-making tools coming up?
I'm still using the same program that I've been using since day one. It's just something I'm used to. I had met this girl who made beats, and she had like some custom sounds. She gave me those sounds and I still have them to this day, and I still use them here and there.
Looking ahead, do you see any new trends in production?
There are just like so many different things you can utilize now. It's all about where your mind takes you.