Hit-Boy is having a real moment. So we caught up with the producer to break down how exactly his collabo album with Nas, King’s Disease, came together.
Drake was serious when he famously rapped, “I should probably sign to Hit-Boy cause I got all the hits, boy” on “0 To 100.”
Hit-Boy, a Southern California native, has been consistently putting in work, proving his talents as one of the most gifted, well-respected, sought-after producers in the game. His impressive resume includes credits on some of music’s greatest songs, from JAY-Z and Kanye West’s Grammy-winning “Niggas In Paris” to Beyoncé’s “***Flawless” to Kendrick Lamar’s “Backseat Freestyle” to Travis Scott and Drake’s “SICKO MODE.” Hit-Boy’s work last year on Nipsey Hussle’s “Racks In The Middle,” which features Roddy Ricch, landed him his second Grammy.
The beauty in all this is Hit-Boy’s actual production; over the years he has showcased his ability to go from pop to R&B to hip-hop and everything in between.
Insert Nas’ 13th solo album King’s Disease, which was released on August 15th, debuting at the number five spot on the Billboard 200 charts this week. After initial studio sessions with the two legends, where the two bonded and fed off each other’s energy, they compiled 13 tracks that make up what some have called Nas’ best project in years. Nas sounds reenergized, and this is based largely on the nuanced sound Hit-Boy — who produced every track and serves as executive producer — provides.
There’s a timeless nature to the album. Nas collaborates with legends, such The Firm on “Full Circle” and Brucie B on “The Definition;” tried-and-true vets like A$AP Ferg, Anderson .Paak, and Big Sean; and leaders of the new school, like Don Toliver and Fivio Foreign.
Hit-Boy is having a real moment. So we caught up with the producer via FaceTime to break down how exactly King’s Disease came together, the call he got from Timbaland, his work with Nipsey Hussle, and more.
How did Hit-Boy and Nas come together to create a whole album?
I saw him in the studio because he was doing some business with my homeboy Double. I told him, “Man, you need to get him over here to my studio.” This is where me and Nip did “Racks in the Middle,” right here at Chalice [in Los Angeles]. He came through the next day, cleared his schedule and pulled up. We had already linked in , we tapped in. I played him some beats, he played me some music. We were vibing but we didn’t work on anything back then. Once I saw the homie in the studio with him, I’m like “shit, might as well tap in now.” Because I’ve been having a crazy energy with the beats. After he came through, we made something crazy and kept going. It became a high, it was super organic.
What was the first Hit-Boy and Nas session like?
We were gelling. I had multiple ideas I set to the side: some beats, some hook ideas. He was open and in a creative zone. He was ready to hear this shit, ready to build on it. Everything I was playing, he’s having his input and we turned it into something.
Did you whip up stuff for him specifically before you got in together?
Yes for sure. Definitely the day before, I went through ideas and made beats. I put some hook ideas I had to the side.
I know you’ve worked with everyone, but was it any different preparing for an East Coast artist — being you’re from the West Coast?
Nah. If you look at my discography, I got artists from everywhere on my shit. It’s never been regional for me, I’m a music fan. I listen to everybody’s shit: Southern music, East Coast, whatever. That’s in my DNA, to be able to go to different places and make it sound like it belongs. It doesn’t sound out of place. It doesn’t sound like a West Coast artist reaching to work with Nas, it just made sense.
How did King’s Disease show your versatility?
If you listen to it, you’ll see. I heard a lot of people say, “I thought Hit-Boy made club records.” But when you listen and hear all these songs, it’s stuff I’ve been doing my whole career. You don’t really connect it because it’s been so all over the place. I had [a tag] when I first started, then I stopped using it. Once I seen everybody going crazy, it’s a great way to brand so I’ve been going in with it lately.
I feel like producer tags are fun in a way, is there a reason why Hit-Boy doesn’t have one?
I came up in the pre-producer tag era when it wasn’t that super heavy. My era was a little bit before then as far as really being in the game. I just wasn’t on it at the time.
At what point did you and Nas decide to make the whole project?
Shit, after the first two or three sessions. We’re like, “Nah this shit gotta be an album, everything we’re making sounds crazy.” He kept pulling up. We started working on this before the pandemic. People thought King’s Disease was playing off the whole Corona shit, but this was pre-Corona when we came up with it. That happened, so it gave us time to really dive into it more: make the production better, make the lyrics better. He took his time with certain verses, it turned into this moment.
[The album’s title] was a vision Nas had. We made the actual song “King’s Disease” and once he said it, it has a ring to it. That should be the title, it’s heavy. When you hear it, it sounds like a movie. When you listen to the album, it sounds like a movie.
How did the Firm collabo come about?
One of the verses was just him on the song, I said “we should get AZ on it.” I asked him twice. The first time, he wasn’t really hearing me. The second time, he’s like “OK, fasho.” That’s when his mans said, “you should get everybody else on it, turn this into a movie.” When they got Dre on, this a real real real moment fasho.
How did you mold “Full Circle” to this East Coast group?
Man, my musical sensibilities. I know what certain artists should be rapping on. When I give somebody my music, I’m not just giving them anything. This is some shit this person belongs on.
The idea that Nas picks bad beats — do you agree or disagree?
I disagree. He got countless classic beats he rapped on. People might feel how they feel about certain songs on certain albums, but he got some crazy beats he done rapped on. “Nas Is Like,” “Got Ur self A…,” ”Ether,” all type of joints.
What kind of beats compliment Nas?
You have to have a classic feel. I try to make it classic, but still sound new to where it’s not feeling like a super dusty ass drum loop. It still has that feeling, but it sounds fresh.
Talk about using the If Beale Street Could Talk music in “Til The War Is Won” with Lil Durk.
It was a clip Nas sent to me around when everything was happening with George Floyd — rest in peace. He sent me a clip of a guy talking, some Black Lives Matter type vibe with that music behind it. He said, “man we gotta sample this.” I couldn’t find it at first. Once I looked into it, I found the sample, chopped it up, and made the beat. When we did the song, I said “man, we should get Durk on it.”
I texted the Durk and said, “Nas wants you to rock with this.” He did it the next day. He texted me back like “I’m about to go crazy on this.”
What kind of production were you looking to give Nas?
Some classic shit, but with a fresh approach. When you listen to “Blue Benz” and “27 Summers,” the beats switch up, come on man. We’re already in 2021 with the sound for real, it’s different levels to this shit. It’s seamless. It’s not a beat switch where it fucks your head up, damn this shit belongs in the song. There really hasn’t been expert-level production like this since, fucking, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy or Watch The Throne. King’s Disease is a derivative of what I learned listening to them projects.
Did you push Nas to go outside his comfort zone and vice versa?
Yeah. You listen to “27 Summers,” you listen to “Spicy,” he took it there but this shit sounds right still. It doesn’t sound outdated or like bullshit, he really dialed in on keeping shit modern — but still sounds like him.
What is a Hit-Boy and Nas studio session that stands out?
All of them! Anytime we got to record or made something, him being like “this some of my best work.” Those type of comments. For him to be so deep in the game — for him being here like “this some of my illest shit I ever made.” That gave me a whole other energy. That made me want to go harder.
There weren’t too many cooks in the kitchen. For the most part, just me and him in there. I was engineering him. I didn’t record all the vocals, but most of them on the album. Me and him in the room.
How were collaborations picked?
Organic. Homies I fuck with. Big Sean, I’m already working his album so he pulled up one day. Nas was about to leave and he’s coming for his session, shit might as well lock in a verse. I already had the Don Toliver hook because me and Don have a bunch of joints. I’m like, “This hook would be crazy for Nas.” When I played it, he went crazy and did his verse. With the “Full Circle” with Dre, that’s Nas and his team putting it together. Anderson .Paak, I got hella music with him coming out so we put that play together. Everything was organic.
You low key play the A&R card.
Nah for sure. That what people don’t know. I got Polo G’s biggest streaming song right now, “Flex” featuring Juice WRLD. I put that play together. I sat in the studio with Juice, my last time seeing him when we did “Flex.” I stayed there till 6 in the morning because he wanted to keep recording. Every beat I played, he wanted to keep going in. We ended up doing “Flex” at 5 in the morning. That was a real moment for me, for that to be the last time I see Juice then the song’s going crazy now. Even “Racks in the Middle,” that was my song too. I was about to drop it, that’s when Nip came through and we put the whole play together.
How was it enlisting A$AP Ferg and Fivio Foreign for “Spicy?”
That was the modern vibes for the album. Fivio had rented a room across from where I’m working at. We did three joints that day, I had him hop on “Spicy.” Ferg, that’s my nigga so he pulled up. I said, “you should hop in this shit with Nas and Fivio.” He did that shit real quick. It’s all the homies, they pull up. When you come to my stu, it’s like going to the homie’s crib. Bedroom set up, we’re really making some shit. It makes you want to work when you pull up.
What does a song like “Ultra Black” mean to the current times?
That shit’s amazing to me. Most of the Black songs are heavy and make you sad. “Ultrablack” is a celebration — but it’s still some real. People blow up the Doja Cat line but he said, “Black like Kaep’ blackballed from the Super Bowl.” Nobody’s mentioning that though. That’s trash people would pick out the bullshit line, but totally skip over that line which is fucking legit. That song’s amazing, I don’t five a fuck what nobody’s saying.
Were there any songs left off?
We had a bunch of ideas, we really tried to narrow down the tracklist. It was originally an extra song on there we ended up taking off last minute because it was more cohesive without it. You never know what the future’s going to hold.
You first previewed Big Sean’s “Deep Reverence” on VERZUZ. How are you feeling now that it’s out?
Great because everybody’s fucking with it. They’re really listening, everybody likes the beat and what they’re saying. You feel like Nip’s alive when you hear that verse, it doesn’t sound like he went anywhere. That’s special for real.
[Before we made the song me and Sean] had an hour-long conversation. A lot of stuff he said in the song, he had told me in conversation. I said “you gotta put this shit in a song, everything you just told me. Man I got this Nip verse that’s been sitting…” Pulled it up, and he went crazy. He blacked out on that shit.
Heard you’re producing Benny The Butcher’s album too, what’s your relationship with him?
Shit’s fire. First song we made turned out crazy, we kept going. Same shit, people be coming in here to hear a beat and leave with an album. I’m trying keep that whole wave going.
Does Hit-Boy feel like he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves?
Hell yeah. When I woke up the next morning after we put King’s Disease out, I got a FaceTime from Timbaland. Him showing his love and respect. Obviously I got dumb respect for him, so that was a moment for me. That’s like [Michael] Jordan calling Kobe [Bryant] after he wins the Championship.
Man, him saying, “This shit’s fire, you’re that guy right now. You really did a whole Nas album, that’s big.” Bigging shit up, man that shit was unreal.
Shirley Ju is a Los Angeles-based writer who grew up in the Bay Area. She lives, breathes, and sleeps hip-hop, and is literally on top of new music the moment it is released. If there’s a show in L.A., you can find her there. Follow the latest on her fomoblog.com and on Twitter @shirju.