Fya Man of the Hits Only Family (HOF) crew has been a legend of Chicago’s underground rap scene for over a decade. Thanks to his expertise, he’s regularly in studio sessions with Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and more — most recently assisting Kanye West with the making of DONDA. “We all did everything on one accord. We ate together. I was with [Kanye West] for 50 days straight. We slept in the same places. We ate the same food. We drank the same liquids,” Fya Man told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Studio Sessions,” the Grammy Award-nominated producer explains what Kanye wanted to achieve with DONDA, how he and Vic Mensa make music together, and how he’s Chance the Rapper’s favorite rapper from Chicago.
Who was the first major artist from the Chicago music community that embraced you?
The first one was Lil Durk in 2011. I did his first big mixtape that got him notoriety, in terms of in the industry. I did this record called “I Get Paid” with him and King Louie on his mixtape I’m Still A Hitta. That actually popularized the phrase “hitter.”
How was your chemistry with Durk on that mixtape?
Durk and I’s chemistry really had nothing to do with music most of the time. We’d just be talking about life. We’d have these long phone conversations and would just be building. The music came naturally from that. We mostly worked remotely. He’d hit me up like, “I’m about to pull up in here,” and we’d be on the phone while he in the studio. I was traveling a lot at that time. So, it would be emails and phone conversations.
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I’ve seen you in the studio with Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa.
Vic Mensa and Chance are probably No. 1 on my list of studio chemistry. The first time I linked up with Vic was awkward because it was at his house, not a studio. He knew my work but he didn’t know me. Malik Yusef, a person I’m close with, brought me over to his house in L.A. back in 2016. We’re all from Chicago, so there’s instantly that Chicago vibe. I went outside, smoked a cigarette, and was talking to Papi Beatz, Vic’s other producer. I had on a hoodie on that said “The Guys,” and Papi was like, “You’re a part of that group called The Guys?” I was like, “I was.” We had a huge Chicago hit called “Flee.” When I walked back in, he was like, “Did you know he was the one who made ‘Flee’?” That’s what made Vic and I connect even closer. I’ve probably worked in the studio with Vic Mensa more than any other artist.
What was your favorite session with Vic?
My favorite session was probably when we did “Say I Didn’t.” His debut album, The Autobiography, had some of the best sessions. It was such a new experience for me. I was more of a hood-type person with the music and never really went to studios. I did all my stuff in the trap house or something. When you hear my earlier music, you’ll hear people knocking on the door, and going in and out. The first studio I went to was CRC (Chicago Recording Company) in Chicago where Stevie Wonder and others recorded at.
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What’s a typical studio session like for you and Vic?
We’re talking about life, cracking jokes, and then we’ll probably play different songs that inspire us. We might play Bump J, Goon Squad, Crucial Conflict, or something. Then, I’ll get to playing beats. He might play something he’s been working on that he wants to sharpen up. We’ll just get to cooking from there and piece together the music.
What do you both need in the studio to make your best music?
The vibes are really good conversation, some feminine energy in the room, people like our mentor Malik Yusef teaching us, writing with us and telling cool stories.
How did you link up with Chance?
Chance is my favorite rapper from Chicago and I’m his favorite rapper from Chicago. People have always drawn comparisons between Chance and me. As much as I’m a producer and writer, I’m also an artist. The first conversation I had with him had to be in 2011. I remember this guy Monster Mike always telling me about his homie named Chance. People also came up to me about Chance before he was famous saying, ‘You guys sound similar to each other.’ I think I reached out to this guy named Andrew Barber saying I have some beats for him and he exchanged our numbers. Chance and I had a conversation around that time and I told him, “You’re my favorite person coming up from this shit. You’re going to be the first one bringing us a Grammy from our generation.” And he did. Nothing materialized from the beats I had because I wasn’t as good then as I am now. I was more known for doing street-type music. Later a guy named Reeseynem, who’s his best friend and my close friend, brought me to meet Chance at Peter CottonTale’s studio and we’ve been cool since then. I hung out with him a lot this summer.
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Some of your most impactful work has been with Kanye West. How did you connect with him?
I grew up and studied Kanye so much. I studied all the legends. I made myself an underground legend in Chicago. That doesn’t go unnoticed, and it got the attention of the Malik Yusef’s and people around Ye. He brought me to meet Kanye in 2015 and I played music for Kanye. He asked me to play the song that got me there for him. So, I played “Flee” and my video for “Modern Day Love,” and he loved all of it. I played him this song on my EP Free The Guys called “Chainz” because it was very Kanye-esque. I think he caught a whiff that I can write for him. I started writing a song for him that day and it was a song that never came out. The relationship kept being natural along the way. I did the Ye album and co-wrote the song “Wouldn’t Leave.” That’s the first song that did come out. Years later, I came and did Donda. I did a lot of Donda.
How did you get involved with Donda? What were those sessions like?
I felt this was my time to show what I can add to the table. Kanye West is my favorite artist and this was my time to show and prove. This was a high-pressure environment and you had the greatest people on Earth right here. If you want the things you want to add to it to stick, you have to be great. You in here with Pusha T, Jay Electronica, and some of the coldest people on planet Earth. You’re making beats with all the people you studied to make beats. It felt like a moment I can learn from.
What did Kanye say he wanted to accomplish with Donda?
He wanted this album to bring families back together. We weren’t making this album just to make an album. Everything he was doing was very purposeful. He had a vision of how he wanted this music to live and where he wanted it to live at. He wanted to make people grow from this music. He didn’t want it to be some corny, cliché gospel-type rap. He wanted me to be myself and bring what I bring to the table — artsy, street shit.
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You’re credited as a producer and/or composer on seven songs from Donda. How did you get that involved in the project?
I was putting in pain. I was the first one there and last to leave. I didn’t leave — I stayed in there. I was on the producer team and the writing team. I was doing all of these things. I was saying I didn’t like certain things but also presenting solutions. I was listening to what he was saying, besides music, and trying to encapsulate that in the music. I was trying to do my part in the team. We all did everything on one accord. We ate together. I was with this man for 50 days straight. We slept in the same places. We ate the same food. We drank the same liquids.
What makes you special to the creative process? What do you have coming up for the rest of 2022?
I’m a closer. I make hit songs. I know how to make hit songs. I’ve studied this shit forever. I take a psychology approach. I know exactly what I’m doing and it’s not by accident. That’s why my company is called Hits Only. Anything I’ve done that has had that light on it has been either a huge success or impactful on the culture. I have music coming out with YSL. I got music coming out with Chance. I’m working on Rihanna’s shit. Vic and I are constantly working. I have things in the pipeline with Malik Yusef. I know how to locate all the mutants like Professor X. Just like how Kanye felt early on is how I feel.