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Who remembers Yung Berg’s “Sexy Lady”? Or what about “The Business” or “Sexy Can I”? Off these hits alone, it’s no secret the Chicago-born recording artist has an ear for good music. But nowadays, it’s his work under the moniker Hitmaka that unexpectedly supersedes his previous accolades.
If you’re not familiar, the rapper/producer/songwriter/executive has been the genius behind some of rap’s greatest hits today like Big Sean’s “Bounce Back,” Meek Mill’s “Dangerous,” Nicki Minaj’s “Want Some More”... the list goes on. His lengthy catalog of hits doesn’t just include his work as a beat-maker. His strong pen game, as well.
Having started in the music industry at the young age of 14, a literal Yung Berg first signed to DMX’s Bloodline label. With 90s hip hop and R&B being one of music’s greatest eras, this is the exact time period Hitmaka draws his biggest influences from.
Fast forward to 2019, the 34-year-old is very blessed to hold the title as Vice President A&R at Atlantic Records, a role he’s had for the past two years. “That’s how I want to brand myself and break everything down, doing what I want to do,” Hitmaka told REVOLT TV. On top of being his own boss, it’s his unwavering love for music that never steers him wrong. In fact, he admits to having no life outside the studio.
Just a week prior to him sitting with REVOLT, he was locked in the lab with Timbaland. When it comes to creating a hit, Hitmaka says there’s no formula, “It’s whatever we feel is good.” Additionally, he recently released his debut single as a producer, the feature-heavy “Thot Box” with 2 Chainz, Meek Mill, Tyga, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, and YBN Nahmir. Even greater, he teased an all-female version of “Thot Box” on the way.
Check out our interview with Hitmaka below!
Did you think you’d one day become a music executive when you were coming up as Yung Berg?
Yeah, it was ultimately the thing. Because even when I got my first label deal, we were in our early 20s. It was me, my guy Rob Holladay, Billy J, we always had our own imprint called Yung Boss Music Group. Then, I got signed to Epic Records, my song ‘Sexy Lady’ was the No. 1 song on Power 106 prior to me getting my deal.
We wrote and produced all the songs: ‘Sexy Lady,’ ‘The Business,’ ‘Sexy Can I.’ We were always plotting. I was always putting myself in a position of having my own thing with a major company partnered with me, providing the backing from it. At that young age, we’d been doing it from jump.
What are your fondest memories from those early days?
The crazy thing is I’m from Chicago, but I moved to L.A. Then, I lived all over Atlanta and Miami. The earliest things for Chicago for me was being around a young Kanye West, being around a younger No I.D, being around my producer Boogz at the time. I was able to work with all those great guys and having my demo be produced by Boogz, No I.D, and Kanye West would lead to me having one of the biggest bidding wars as a kid. JAY-Z wanted to sign me, DMX, everybody in the game.
How did Boogz, No I.D. and Kanye West groom you?
They really put their arms around me and allowed me to grow. Boogz was very influential and put me in a different space because I’d be in the studio for days and days... I actually ran away from home and dropped out of high school. I wouldn’t recommend anybody do that, but that was just my focus and how driven I was at the time. It really groomed me to be a producer right now to this day.
Los Angeles is home to you now. What do you love about the West Coast?
L.A.’s my second home. I’ve been here forever. The fact that everything’s here, you can reach out and touch people. You can actually go somewhere and tangibly meet somebody. When you live in small spaces like Chicago, places that don’t have record companies or that type of outreach, you actually won’t see the executive or an artist unless they come for a Summer Jam or a tour. There’s a lot more resources out here in a way you can establish your brand and keep it moving.
Do you ever miss rapping?
No, not at all (chuckles). I mean, I still rap every night when I go to the studio. I help write rap songs, I write rap hooks with my partner Chrishan and all the co-writers I work with. It’s not like I miss rapping. Do I miss being in the forefront of being the actual guy singing the song? Absolutely not. I’ve done that, that’s a crazy job. That’s a dangerous job. I’m happy being in the studio.
I live better than the rap, I live like an executive. I do everything I want to do. That’s more of a thing you have to get out your system when you’re younger. I’m just transitioning to the next stage in my career, whether it’s being the next L.A. Reid, being the next Craig Kallman, Lucian Grainge, Irv Gotti, Dame Dash, being next of those types of executives.
Why is rapping a dangerous job?
Prime example: Rest in peace Nipsey Hussle. Rest in peace to everyone we lost. It’s a lot of pressure, it’s a lot of things that come with being in that position. I prefer to be behind-the-scenes. Honestly, the biggest thing I had to realize once I started making a few hit records, it’s more of a blessing and it feels better for me to actually help somebody feed their family, and give them a record that I’m creating. I know when I’m going to give it to them or they’re going to have it, we’re just in the studio working blindly. This record, to be able to take off and put so many people in a different position, that’s really the best pay off.
Also going to the studio with maybe a writer that’s never been discovered or might have a placement or two, or other people we’re developing with and being able to be involved with songs that are multi-platinum. To be around just greatness. Be in the studio with Timbaland like how I was last week, and bring all my co-producers down there... They’d never met Timbaland before and neither have I. That’s a blessing to be a part of someone’s life. It just be a moment looking back on their whole career that I was very influential in it.
What did you learn in the studio with Timbaland?
Shit, keep doing what I’m doing. We on the right track, just keep going hard. Timbaland dropped mad jewels. We talked for five hours, but them conversations are confidential. I don’t want to let none of those secrets out. You have to get to Timbaland and meet him yourself, so he can talk to you.
What was your relationship with Nip?
Damn, me and Nip go back. Myself and Nip were the first rap acts signed to Epic Records when Charlie Walk took the helm in 2007. I met Nip back in 2007 when we were managed by the same people at Cinematic at the time. Jonny Shipes, Jen McDaniels, all them. It was a crazy time. I think it was me, Sean Kingston, and Nipsey. That’s when we did ‘Bullets Ain’t Got No Names.’ We always stayed in very close contact, we always continued to do great things together. We’ve collaborated several times, he was always an old soul and somebody I looked up to. We’re similar in age range. But, he always had a more mature, real grown energy that he always conveyed every time you see him.
Congrats on ‘Thot Box’!
That came together really organically. I work with everybody on the song. Shout out to Meek, Tyga, A Boogie, YBN Nahmi, 2 Chainz. Those are all my guys, we were able to do something great on the record. The record’s doing really well. Then, we came back and flipped it, made an all-female ‘Thot Box.’ We shooting a video in the next week or two. It’s Young M.A, Dreezy, Dream Doll, Chinese Kitty, and Mulatto. I put all girls on it, super dope. I love the female one better than the male one.
Can you talk about your sound and your secret to making a hit record?
It’s 50/50. It’s all a feeling, whatever we feel like doing. I personally have a love for the 90s and early 2000s. Every time you hear me flip a record, something influential I always heard, I always loved the song. So, I go back and remake the record. There’s straight club records and other times, I’ll make pop records. I did Skrillex’s new single with Ty Dolla $ign. It’s not really one box you can put us in. It’s whatever we feel is good.
Did you think Big Sean’s ‘Bounce Back’ would blow up to what it was?
Nuh uh. I was just talking about that with Timbaland, and I was talking to Sean a week ago. I went over to his house to check him out, play some new ideas. We working on his new album. I had no idea and he had no idea either. It started off with a joint he was going to leak, and he just threw it out there organically. What Sean told me and what we both came to understand, it was very relatable. Everyone’s been through adversity. Everyones taken an L before and there’s no better feeling to overcome adversity. That song is an anthem for that.
Talk about working with Rubi Rose on her new single ‘Hit Yo Dance.’
Shout out to L.A. Reid and the whole Hitco music. L.A. Reid’s always been one of my favorite executives. I never had a chance to work with him up until now, he’s really an amazing guy. I loved Rubi Rose ‘Big Mouth’ from the jump.
How often do you make records without knowing if they’re going to blow up?
I’m here right now, I’m doing it every day. I come to the studio and make as many songs as I possibly can until I’m drained.
Three things you need in the studio?
Weed, tequila, and a good mic.
Who are your top artists in rotation?
Crishan who’s my business partner, co-writer on everything. Ty Dolla $ign, Jeremih, Chris Brown, Drake. All the people I work with. I want to be a part of new artists who are about to break. So, when you speak upon Rubi Rose and all the people that’s coming up, I’m really excited for them.
Talk about becoming Vice President of A&R at Atlantic two years ago.
I went and I came. I had my first No. 1 record, Big Sean ‘Bounce Back,’ then the second No. 1 Chris Brown’s ‘Party’ featuring Gucci and Usher. I met Craig and Julie Greenwald, I explained what my energy was and how I was about to take over the industry. To be honest, I don’t know if they understood it, but they took a chance. Two and a half year later for Atlantic Records, I’ve wrote and produced at least 25 million records.
How do you navigate the industry?
I don’t really pay attention to the industry. I have my own relationships, I’m really just about making music and I come with good energy. You really don’t have to navigate if you have your sight sets and you’re focused. I’m not really the hang out guy. I don’t club, I don’t party. I don’t do nothing. I just go to the studio, so people know me when they see me, they say, ‘Oh he’s coming with a hit.’
What’s happening with your own label?
My artist Rahky’s been co-writing a lot of songs with me: ‘Rule The World’ with 2 Chainz and Ariana Grande, Layton Greene’s ‘Leave Em Alone,’ Chris Brown’s ‘Come Together’ featuring H.E.R on his last album, Indigo. She’s signed to me, [she’s] from New Jersey. She’s amazing. She has a lot of great placements coming out, a lot of great features that I produced. Her EP should be dropping next year. She’s on my next single off of my producer album. She’s about to roll out. I’m really excited.
What are some goals for yourself as an artist at this point of your career?
Just to break my artists off my producer album and get some plaques. As an executive, to be bigger than everybody. Maintain the focus and the hunger. Never lose sight on what got me to the place I am now and that’s staying tunnel vision. As long as I do that, I’ll be good.
What advice do you have for young producers?
Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Get you a good team around you, continue to build your sound and think about how you want to approach it. Even on my Twitter, people be like, ‘You flipping a lot of these songs...’ But, it was consciously done. I’ve said I want to be the next Puff Daddy of this generation. I’ve wanted to borrow and use things that inspired me, just a different era of songs. If you stay true to what your real core belief is and you have the right people around you, it might take you two months, two years, it might take you 10 years. But, you’ll be there on your own terms. You’ll be happy with your success.
What is it about Puff’s trajectory that’s appealing?
I love Puff, I was just with him in Atlanta. It was an amazing time. He’s a mentor, somebody that I look up to and aspire to be like. Someone that I work with… it’s hard for me to talk about Puff because now I’m around him and I see things from the inside out. But man, he’s really inspired a whole generation and I’m just living proof of that.
I heard ya’ll been locked in the studio.
We got some shit. We got a lot of shit.