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Hitmaka on How He Became the Most Sought-After Producer in Hip-Hop
Producer Hitmaka spoke to Okayplayer about his early career, his final studio session with PnB Rock, and more.
You don’t reinvent yourself as a producer, sell over 75 million records, and keep going like Grammy-nominated Hitmaka without having unshakable confidence in yourself in any studio session you’re in. In the span of a decade, he went from being seen as an online joke as Yung Berg to being one of the most sought-after producers in the game.
Hitmaka has produced a countless number of hit songs, for basically every artist working from Nicki Minaj, TY Dolla $ign, Summer Walker, Gucci Mane, Lil Wayne, and more.
“I used to be on [Jeremih’s tour] bus saying, “I'm going to be the Puff Daddy of this generation," Hitmaka told Okayplayer "Niggas were looking at me like I was crazy. They were like, ‘Yung Berg, if you shut the fuck up.'"
In a career-spanning chat, Hitmaka details how he got a demo tape of early Kanye West beats, his final studio session with PnB Rock, and how he went from having “dog fight” rap battles on DMX’s label to pumping out platinum plaques.
You’ve been making music for over 20 years, dating back to your days being signed to DMX’s Bloodline label. So, who was the first major artist or producer you were in the studio with?
Hitmaka: My first producer was Boogz, who works very closely with Kanye West. People like Boogz, Kanye, and NO I.D. were some of the first producers I was ever around. I connected with them for the first time, around 2000. They did my whole demo. Those sessions were just me honing my craft and working on different stuff. Boogz would outsource beats from Kanye and NO I.D. Before Kanye got a deal with Roc-A-Fella as an artist, I got my deal with DMX for Bloodline, and Kanye came to the studio and we rocked out. We did a couple of different things. I’ll never forget how we were in New York; he played me a bunch of joints and left me with about eight joints. I think on YouTube, you can hear me rap on beats like “Jesus Walks” That was on my demo before that song came out.
I remember going to the Powerhouse [Recording] Studio in Yonkers. Ruff Ryders had their own studio in Yonkers, and I remember being there with Swizz Beatz, Cassidy, Drag-On, and everyone, and I was rapping with all of them in ciphers. They put everybody in a pit and made everybody rap. They used to call us rapping like being in a dog fight. I was green, but I come from the cloth of rapping. I was the young kid that they used sick on everybody.
You have a close collaborative relationship with Jeremih. I know you said you used to sleep on his tour bus and recorded in there. What were those days like?
It was a janky bus (laughs). We didn't have all the bells and whistles. This was when I was doing Love & Hip Hop. There’s a record with Meek Mill and Chris Brown that never really came out. That was our first collaboration. We’re both from Chicago. After that, we had a bunch of successes. He was filling my vibe. We were doing a bunch of shit. This is when he had “Don't Tell Em” and “Planes” and all of these crazy records. He told me, “I'm going on tour YG, if you want to go on tour with me. It won’t be glamorous, but we got a studio bus, and we can do it.” I was like, “Hell yeah!” Nobody was really fucking with me. Nobody was really giving me any love. J would come out with me. I used to be on the bus saying, “I'm going to be the Puff Daddy of this generation.” Niggas were looking at me like I was crazy. They were like, “Yung Berg, if you shut the fuck up.” I remember his homies being around and saying, “Yo, Berg might be tripping.” Him believing in me put another battery in my back.
I saw on your IG you posted a photo in the studio with PnB Rock less than a week before he passed. What was that last session like?
There hasn’t been a record PnB, and I have done or put out that ain't got a plaque to it. Our first big one was “I Like Girls” or something like that. After that, we did Meek Mill’s “Dangerous.” What’s crazy is that he had just gotten a big bag from Atlantic. They gave him a million-dollar advance. They ended up parting ways, and this was his redemption. He was independent. We already had all these records we had created in my studio. He was like, “This is my next single.” It’s a song called “How Does It Feel?” I hope it still comes out. Shout to his family. Then we had another one called “It’s Giving.” He was like, “These are the two records I’m coming out with.” I was like, “Yo, let's just keep cooking up.” We did some dope shit that night. He and Tink actually made a record that night that’s crazy. We just had good vibes, man. We were kicking it. It was like just us seeing each other. I hadn’t seen him for a while. He did three records. I’ll never forget that I dapped him up, and he had one more record to cut. I was like, “I'll be back. I'm going to go to Cheetah. We were in Atlanta. I'm about to get some shrimp pasta. I'll be back.” That was the last time I saw my dawg.
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You worked on so many records, what is a song you’ve worked on that hasn’t come out that you wish does one day?
I have a record right now with Meek Mill, Chris Brown, and my artist Rahky. Meek’s had it for like two or three years. Meek’s such a street guy — he represents for the streets — when we could collaborate, we do girl records, and he feels that’s not his main platform. He wants to have the streets in a frenzy first. I would always argue with Meek like, “Bro, put this out. Fuck these niggas, we’re going to these women, bruh.” I have other records that haven’t come out. I got records with Puff [Daddy] for Last Train To Paris that didn’t come out. I've worked myself in a position to where I’m like, “You don't want the record? I'm going to give it away. I’ll give it to another artist.” With certain people like Puff and Meek, I have a certain level of respect for them.
You’ve worked with pretty much everybody. Who’s an artist you still wish to work with?
Drake and I haven't locked in 100%. I’ve worked on multiple songs Drake’s been featured on, whether it's been “No Stylist” by French Montana or the work we did on “Jaded” with Ty Dolla $ign on Drake's [Scorpion] album. I’ve never locked in with Drake, but I think Drake and I working together could be crazy. It’s really just [JAY-Z] at this point.