In a lot of ways, producers are the unsung heroes of hip-hop. Barring those rappers who double as beatmakers and are entirely self-sustainable, any other superstar is ultimately beholden to those behind-the-boards for one simple reason– you can have the most spellbinding bars in the world, but if you don’t have equally enthralling instrumentals to accompany them, you’re not making it any further than the freestyle cypher.
So, in every decade, there have been producers that have been pivotal in shaping the sound of the era. And in terms of the 2010’s onwards, few can stack up to Hit-Boy, appropriately crowned our Producer of the Year in our brand new digital cover story.
Image via HNHH
After starting out at the tender age of 16, Hit, real name Chauncey Hollis, would go from being discovered on MySpace by fellow beatmaking titan Polow Da Don to becoming Kanye West’s go-to guy.
Clambering to the position of one of the game’s perennial producers by the mid-2010’s, Hit-Boy’s philosophy of crafting beats that are “hater-proof” was paying off and then some.
Devised in such a way that “you’re forced to like ’em even if you don’t want to,” Hit-Boy always strived for timelessness.
Immortalized forever on Drake’s “0 to 100/The Catch-Up” as he proclaimed that, “I should probably sign to Hit-Boy ’cause I got all the hits, boy,” the LA-based producer has worked with the greatest that both hip-hop & R&B has to offer. Although he eventually fell out of favor with Ye after his decision to work with Beyonce caused an unexpected rift, Hit-Boy never stopped working and in the latter half of the decade, he experienced a career renaissance that put him right back on the top of the heap.
Fresh from working his magic once again on Nas’ Magic album, the time is right for a retrospective on Hollis’ stellar run which encompasses not just its legendary beginnings, but everything he’s done in the past couple of years and more.
Created on the metrics of sheer sonic perfection and historic relevance, here are our picks for Hit Boy’s top 10 finest hip-hop productions of all time.
Lil Wayne – Drop The World
When Hit-Boy links up with anyone from the golden age of Young Money, chances are that magic is about to occur. On top of his litany of iconic beats for Nicki Minaj (“Come On A Cone,” “I Am Your Leader”) that brought doses of fizzling electronica to her catalog in the Pink Friday: Roman Reloadedera, Hit-Boy also played a crucial role in Weezy’s divisive Rebirth.
Containing both a simmering slow build and a riveting crescendo of a chorus, Hit-Boy executed the brief of fusing hip-hop with rock better than anyone else on the project. Accented by Travis Barker’s crashing drums and a phenomenal guest verse from Em, Hollis knocked it out of the park here. However, a slightly muddled and compressed mix prohibits this track from being able to earn a place in the top when it’s flanked by such faultlessness.
Hit-Boy ft Kid Cudi – Old School Caddy
Generally speaking, most of the fanfare that surrounds Hit-Boy comes from his contributions to other peoples’ catalogs. However, to discount his work across his entire solo career as a producer/rapper and his work alongside in-house Hits Since 87 artists such as Audio Push and K Roosevelt would be negligent.
In a nod to this often underpublicized arm of his discography, we’ve got the Cudder-assisted “Old School Caddy” as a track that merits more fanfare than it currently receives. Unloaded in the very same timeframe that he was crafting club-rocking hits, this laid-back, Cali-indebted cut shows Hit’s undeniable versatility. A production that shares more cellular makeup with Souls Of Mischief and Dilated Peoples than it does any of his commercial smashes, it is a look at what could’ve been if he’d opted to continue to funnel all of his energy into his own artistry, and a fascinating one at that.
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10. Pusha T – My God (2011)
Given that he is near-universally acclaimed, it’s hard to come by a Hit-Boy beat that is “underrated.” But if any fits the bill, it’s this mesmerizing composition from Pusha T’s 2011 project Wrath Of Caine.
Led by a militaristic trudge of percussion, squalling guitar lines, and ecstatic splashes of gospel organ, it’s a prime example of what can happen when both producer and artist have something to prove. A perfect canvas for Pusha to flesh out his war stories in that uniquely gripping style of his, “My God” is an anthem that never found the audience it deserved.
09. Benny The Butcher – Legend (2020)
Hit-Boy’s handling of the production work on 2020’s Burden Of Proof is nothing short of awe-inspiring. From soulful chops to more menacing fare, it’s a project that showed range in every sense.
But if there’s any one cut that defines what the project means to Benny’s career, it’s “Legend.”
Celebratory in tone and execution, “Legend” feels like the culmination of Benny’s journey from underground spitter to the crown prince of coke-rap penmanship. Built on triumphant keys and a subtle, recurring vocal sample that sounds like a real cry of joy, it’s a track that is now synonymous with Benny’s new stature in the game, and with any luck, we’ll see more from the pair in the years to come.
08. Kanye West, Jay-Z & Big Sean – Clique (2012)
When it comes to crafting music that sounds gargantuan in scale, few do it with the efficacy or simplicity of Hit-Boy. One of several contributions that he made to GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer, Hollis delivered a beat that is befitting of the level of talent that can be found on “Clique.” From warped bass lines to bursts of choral theatrics, this instrumental has an aura that’d make it perfect for soundtracking the arrival of a team of supervillains in the latest MCU blockbuster. Instead, it is used as the basis of one of the most iconic posse cuts of the past decade and works every bit as well in that setting.
07. Big Sean – Deep Reverence (2020)
Before his passing, the late Nipsey Hussle and Hit-Boy had found their stride as a unit. So much so that when you listen to tracks such as “Fear Of God” by Conway The Machine, the sound of Nipsey enquiring “Ayy, Hit, when we gon’ do some shit like this, my n***a?” is used as a production tag. Beyond that, the two earned a Grammy for Best Rap Performance with “Racks In The Middle” ft Roddy Rich but sadly, Nipsey would never get to see their victory.
Thus, it is suitable that when it comes to posthumously-released Nipsey cuts, Hit-Boy oversees the very best of them.
Taken from Big Sean’s Detroit 2, “Deep Reverence” is another incredible example of how Hit-Boy can take a section of a track from a sample library and elevate it to divine heights.
Featuring spacey synths that are often associated with modern psychedelic acts such as Tame Impala, “Deep Reverence” sees Hit-Boy construct the perfect foundation for Sean and Nipsey to trade insightful bars about the trials and tribulations of their life. In doing so, he creates another wondrous avenue through which his fallen friend and collaborator can live forever.
06. Travis Scott – Sicko Mode (2018)
Upon linking up during the sessions for Travis’ sophomore project, LaFlame quickly realized that he’d found a valuable ally. So, when it came time to begin work on his third studio album, Astroworld, he wasted little time in tasking Hit-Boy– who produced “Way Back” on Birds In The Trap Sing McKnight– with crafting some new sounds. As it turns out, he would sculpt the first part of one of Travis’ most iconic tracks the very evening that his second project dropped.
Speaking about the creation of “Sicko Mode,” or more specifically, the first part of the track, Hit-Boy revealed that he was pleased with his handiwork, to say the least.
“I like that a lot, man. I definitely think the way that shit comes off, it just sounds massive. And the cold part is, we did that song the night Birds in the Trap came out. Travis FaceTime’d me like, “Yo I got a session, I need you to send me some crazy shit.” Having to hold on to that shit for that long was like: Damn, motherfuckers think I’m not hot right now, but I’m sitting on crazy shit.”
As was recently revealed, this beat was so sought after that Hit-Boy even had to turn down Jay-Z’s attempts to get ahold of it. But when you hear the end result, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Travis and Drizzy over one of Hit-Boy’s most immersive, futuristic beats of all time.
05. Nas – Ultra Black
At the same time that Hit-Boy was ushering Benny The Butcher up the next rung of the ladder, Chauncey Hollis was preparing to breathe a new lease of life into the catalog of one of the greatest of all time. Dogged by claims that his beat selection had held him back, Nas eventually enlisted the services of Hit-Boy across both 2020’s King’s Disease and its 2021 follow-up, as well as his one-off Christmas eve surprise, Magic, with even more in the works.
While it would’ve been easy to pick any beat from across these pristine collections (“27 Summers,” “Full Circle,” “Death Row East” and “Nobody” spring to mind), the lead single from this era seems the logical choice.
Delicate and yet unapologetic at the same time, “Ultra Black” reinvigorated Nasty Nas in ways that many couldn’t have envisioned just a year or so prior. Stellar as its gleeful production is, it isn’t just the beat itself, but what it represents that secures “Ultra Black” a spot on this list. While Hit-Boy has accomplished plenty of things in his career, crafting the albums which finally ushered Nas to a Grammy is something that not many people can ever hope to equal.
04. Drake – Trophies (2013)
Sometimes, the right beat just comes along at the right time and completely encapsulates where an artist is at that stage in their career. Although it may have since taken on a second life as the theme song for ESPN’s The Stephen A Smith Show, there is no understating how colossal “Trophies” was when it landed. Released just prior to Nothing Was The Same, “Trophies” was an exercise in Drake asserting his place at the top of the mountain and rapping with unabashed confidence that we’ve seldom heard since. Embellished by spine-tingling horns, if the intention was to make a track that heralded the arrival of a king, it worked.
03. A$AP Rocky – Goldie (2012)
After formally announcing his entrance to the game on a platform of woozy, promethazine-drenched production that sounded like it came directly from the dirty south, ASAP Rocky had to prove that he had something else to offer by the time he was ready to deliver his major-label debut, Long Live A$AP.
Yet by releasing “Goldie” as the first single from the project, Flacko pulled off a masterstroke that put all of that chatter to bed. Retaining elements of the chopped and screwed vocals of its predecessor, the glossy, exhilarating sound that Hit-Boy delivered proved that Rocky was no one-trick pony. Tailor-made for an artist of his charisma and gravitas, Rocky glides over this beat as Hit-Boy’s meticulous keyboard melodies add just the right amount of contrast to its distorted percussion.
In terms of a lead single in Flacko’s catalog, it’s arguably yet to be equaled.
02. Kendrick Lamar – Backseat Freestyle
Among the centerpieces of Kendrick Lamar’s flawless Good Kid M.A.A.D City, the synergy between K. Dot and the unyielding instrumental on this track is almost otherworldly. So, when Hit-Boy revealed that it was initially made for Ciara, it was hard to fathom that this wasn’t devised with Kendrick alone in mind.
Rendered with such hard-hitting drums and bass that it teeters towards sensory overload, Kendrick attacks this beat with an inhuman tenacity that captured his youthful exuberance.
Building to a frantic conclusion that sees K. Dot spitting as if his life depends on it, this track marked the true beginnings of Lamar being seen as more than just another hope for the West Coast. Instead, this propulsive instrumental brought out a motivated and hungry Kendrick that was capable of taking on the world. And for that, this era-defining track will go down in history as the birth of a phenom.
01. The Throne – N****s in Paris (2011)
Inevitable as its inclusion was, there’s simply no debating that when it hit, “N****s In Paris” was the biggest song in the world, bar none. Now certified over 9x platinum, it was the track that came to define Jay-Z and Kanye West’s era of globe-trotting, often being performed upwards of a dozen times in a row during their concerts. From its now-iconic “Blades Of Glory” samples to its bleeping synths and that near-subterranean beat-switch, it’s a beat that will outlive us all and then some. Despite Hit-Boy recently revealing that its success almost warped his idea of what a track should accomplish, the track was crucial in making his name and its place in his history cannot be overlooked.
What’s your favourite Hit-Boy beat? Let us know in the comments below