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How Hit-Boy and His Father Big Hit Brought The Family Together on ‘Black & Whites’

In 2014, Pasadena rapper Big Hit was ready to capitalize on his newfound freedom and pursue music alongside his son Hit-Boy, the Grammy-winning producer who’s laced Kanye West, Jay-Z, and others with chart-topping hits. Big Hit had been incarcerated since Hit-Boy was three years old, including a 15-year federal sentence which included a five-year period where the two had no contact due to prison restrictions. They had some jail visits throughout his incarceration, but Big Hit’s freedom represented a chance for a more holistic relationship. 

But right when he was set to begin working on his debut album, he was re-incarcerated for crimes related to a hit-and-run accident and sentenced to twelve more years in prison. With the help of Hit-Boy and Chloe Cheyenne, the founder of the digital activism platform COMMUNITYx, Big Hit got his sentence reduced, allowing him to come home last May. Already, he’s making up for lost time, dropping four new projects including his most recent, Black & Whites, which Big Hit made with his son alongside The Alchemist. 

The album title could be reduced to a reference to the viral story that Big Hit didn’t know that The Alchemist was white until he met him. But during our 40+ minute Zoom session, Big Hit explains that in his 30 cumulative years spent in state and federal prison, the tone of one’s prison time heavily depended on what their court paperwork, or “black and whites,” revealed they were incarcerated for. As their accompanying Black & Whites documentary showcases, the album was delayed when Big Hit ran into legal trouble in February, but fortunately, it was a temporary setback. 

“It was like a flashback, like, ‘Damn, I’m really stuck in the system,’” Big Hit reflects. They really wanna try to tie my feet up. I don’t want to think that into existence. Once you get labeled, once you get stamped, they never stop fucking with you.”

After about a month in a federal detention center in North Carolina, Big Hit headed back west and locked into the studio to record Black & Whites, which he thinks is his best rapping yet over a suite of dark, sparse Alchemist beats and soulful Hit-Boy production. When he’s passionate, Big Hit is as intense during a conversation as he is on records like “Temperature Check” and “Gank Move,” a dose of unbridled gangster tales that features bars from HitGirlLena — AKA his daughter and Hit-Boy’s sister.

She’s the latest member of the family to pursue music, following after Hit-Boy’s four-year-old son P3. Both Big Hit and Hit-Boy say that Lena is a rapper and singer, who’ll be putting together an album soon. But that may be after the Hollis’ family album, which is also in the works. Hit-Boy is masterminding a multi-generational movement that’s unprecedented in hip-hop, and he says he’s seeing the effects of his efforts reverberate throughout the culture. 

“We in a groove at this point, we just got to keep elevating what we doing,” he says. “I literally see the comments like, ‘Man y’all gelling even more now, Big Hit sounding harder and harder.’ I’m out in Atlanta right now, I ran into a dude, he like ‘Man they rocking with Big Hit out in Atlanta. That nigga rapping way better too.’ I’m really seeing it in real time.”

Hit-Boy and Big Hit talked to Rolling Stone about Blacks and Whites, their creative processes, and Big Hit’s carceral experience. 

What’s the creative inspiration for you like? I’ve seen some of your previous interviews you talked about writing a lot when you were incarcerated. Now being free, is the creative inspiration any different?
Big Hit: I’ve still got a lot caged up and bundled up inside of me that I’m trying to get out. Of course, certain situations I gravitate to. When [they] pop up, I see something and get inspired by it and I go ahead and write to it right then and there.

But other than that being around Hit-Boy or his team [brings me inspiration]. I’m still trying to search inside of me and get… I feel like I haven’t brought out the best in me yet. We just made some beats yesterday. My engineer David’s like, “Damn, this is it. This that Nas type of shit.” And I really got it in me. I feel like I got to dig deeper and I’m still trying to search inside, my surroundings, who I’m around, who inspired me at that time just to bring it up out of me.

What was it like collaborating with Alchemist?
Hit-Boy: Man, it was fire. He put a lot of effort in and was pulling up on us with beats and ideas and was really producing the album. Putting the movie clips in there, finding them audio clips that just made sense with the concepts. And really put his mind into it versus being like, “Here you go, [here’s] a few beats y’all do y’all thing.”

Big Hit: Alchemist a beast, man. I just wanted to do more. I felt like it wasn’t good enough. He created something like he put the paint where it ain’t. He painted a picture out of what we had.

How did Alchemist rapping on “Black & Whites” come about?
Hit-Boy: He just pulled up and I had did that beat and I did my verse and then Big Hit hops on it. And when Alchemist heard it he was like, “This shit crazy.” I was like, “Man, I feel like this one of the ones that we got to get in together.” Then he was with us and he hopped on that shit right there.

So he wrote his verse right there?
Hit-Boy: Yeah. And it was perfect, in pocket. He really went in. He got the longest verse on there. He gassed that shit.

Another track I wanted to ask you about was “Godfather PT 2” with Boldly James. 
Hit-Boy: Man, that was early. We did that a minute ago. Boldy was in Cali and Alchemist just hit me like, “Boldy want to come [record] with you and Big Hit.” So he pulled up and that was the first beat I played, and they both stood up and was like, “That’s it.” And Big Hit, he’s a permanent song starter. He just said that first line. I seen the way Boldy and his son looked at each other with like, “What the fuck!?” I was like, “Oh yeah, it’s bout to be on.” And they just kept going in and out, bar for bar. Big Hit will lay a few bars and Boldy come in. That was a fun process.

From your perspective, Big Hit, what is it like going from writing alone to being in a collaborative space with other artists? How do you bounce off of that energy?
Big Hit: It just would be like, I want to do more. I feel like I’m not doing enough, but Hit-Boy be having to hold me back. Hit-Boy got the choke chain on me. So however he releases me [he’s] like, “Get it,” like a dog. I just be going hard in the paint and he’ll be like, “Hold up, that’s enough.” Then somebody come in. I’m on I’m on go-mode.

Hit-Boy: I had a session with EST Gee the other day and Big Hit was in the back room. And EST was like, “Man, where your pops at?” He came in and within five minutes the EST Gee’s like, “You want get one in?” They did a song right there on the spot over one of my beats. So it’s like, that’s how it be happening. But the fact that he was rocking with the movement and he was telling Big Hit, “Man, you out of here, you already on your shit. It’s going crazy.” He was like, “You just got to keep going, nigga. Your shit already there.” Just people like that on the street level that got success and [are] tapped in [lets me] know we hitting a different level right now. 

Big Hit, how does it feel to get that kind of appreciation from other artists? Is that something you even anticipated or expected?
Big Hit: I mean, a nigga literally had dreams of being with Lil Wayne and 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and them type of niggas. But as far as them dudes, it’s cool. It is all A-1. I don’t really know who is who, I didn’t know who EST Gee was. He is a magnificent rapper, but I don’t know nothing about him so I just be in my zone already just ready to gas out regardless of who it is. He could be an unknown motherfucker, he could be a top-notch dude, I’mma still be me, you know what I’m saying? Just ready to go and gas out regardless of who I’m on the track with. And it is an appreciation, you know what I’m saying? Once I do find out who these dudes is, it be like, “Oh, damn, for real?” But at the same time, I just be on go-mode.

Big Hit, you’ve said you feel like you still have room to improve as an artist. I was wondering how much you think that competitive aspect of being around other artists accelerates the process of improving for you?
Big Hit: I don’t really like being in no competition unless it’s literally a battle rap. I’ll be in a different zone when you get to battling, but I try not to do that. It becomes a form of disrespect, now that leads to something else. But I just try to dig deep and whatever comes to my mind, I try to go there and be the best, man. I don’t give a fuck what I come with, I always feel like I can do better. I ask Hit-Boy, “Is that cool?” He’d be like, “Oh that’s cool,” and I be feeling like it ain’t cool, I need to do better. He’d be like, “Nah, that’s great.” That’s how it always end up, and they just run with it.

How did “Gank Move” with HitGirlLena come about?
Hit Boy: As far as the beat, I was playing that original “Murderer” by Gank Move for probably two weeks straight. And after a while, I was like man, “I got to sample this.” So when I sampled it, Big Hit was there and he came up with that verse and that shit was crazy. I just was like, “Shit, Lena got to hop on it too.” It’s actually a quick bit in the documentary where I said that I thought it would’ve been the perfect joint and it was. Lena really got producers and shit, labels and artists, and all type of people tapping in just talking about her talent off that one verse, her first song ever.

Big Hit: I already had that verse written. And he was like, “Nah, just reloop it, recook it, and just introduce her at the end of the verse.” And that’s how it came up and that’s how we introduced her to the game. We knew she was ready but that was her introduction.

What are her career aspirations?
Big Hit: She an artist. On every level. She got R&B talent, she got a voice out of this world. I got her voice lessons as an adolescent. She did her first song when she was like four or five years old and I was there writing for her. I sent bread [to her mom] on Western Union from the Penitentiary to get her voice lessons. I really didn’t want her to be an R&B artist, but she got it honest. I had to really tell her, “Stop flipping burgers and busting them suds and get it out here” and really get in her musical bag. And that’s what she did. It just came so natural and she got a lot to offer man. She the shit, for real.

Hit-Boy, how excited are you about collaborating with Lena and making it even more of a family thing?
Hit-Boy: Man, I think it’s going to be some shit people never seen. On some Jackson 5 [but] it’s the Hollis 4 between me, Big Hit, Jalena, and my son [PS], he dropped his first song already at four years old. I’m like man, yeah we really finna take it there and just really keep spreading that family aspect. People come up to me in real life like, “Man, I reached out to my dad man. It didn’t go as good as you and your dad thing is going, but I’m just happy you put that inspiration out there for me to even reach out to him,” Or [they’ll] be like, “My pops passed and I wish we would’ve been able to do this. It’s a dream to see y’all doing this.” It’s a real different situation all the way around.

There was a clip at the end of “Gank Move” where somebody was shouting out Big Hit and saying that he didn’t realize the person he knew back in the day was also the rapper Big Hit. How often is that happening?
Big Hit: That was my homie Big Ace. We was in prison and I didn’t really rap in a lot of spots. I wasn’t really no rapper, I was just in the zone. Then people didn’t really know my craft, my passion for the music. I ain’t really keep it as a secret but I just kept it to myself. Only certain situations inspired me to come out. When niggas be battling in prison or something like that, I’ll go ahead and perform and they would see how good I was, I’d get a hell of a response. But the majority of the people didn’t know because I was so caught up into the game of what was going on. Whether it was drug game or the gangsterism, But he didn’t know that that was me, Big Hit. My other homies from Bounty Hunter told him and that’s why he called me. That was actually a voice message.

Hit-Boy: You got to tell him who dude is.

Big Hit: Big Ace [is] from Leuders Park Piru. And we actually got into some drama in prison man where we ended up stabbing each other up, ended up fucking the police up and everything, and niggas got extra time off that shit and went to ADX supermax, underground type lockdown. [On “Gank Move”] he was like, “Damn, last time I seen you, we tore up Terre Haute.” Terre Haute is death row in the feds. That’s the last thing he remembered [of us interacting].

Was there anybody that you had that creative relationship with when you were inside where y’all could rap together or just build off of each other? Or was it like you said, more of just a solitary experience?
Big Hit: There was a couple dudes. There were some niggas from Brooklyn, this nigga named Tone, he called himself The Promise. It was certain dudes that really seen it in me, who was like, “Yo, you really fire my nigga.” And really I locked it in with them. We was in isolation. I did nine years in lockdown in the special housing unit. We used to hold our own little talent shows in there but it was kind of disrespectful. At that time too, these niggas was battling dudes from Philly, from North Carolina, from New York. I was really the only one from Cali holding it down. But they let me know, “Yo, you hard my nigga, keep going.” And that acknowledgment really put the inspiration in me where I was like “Okay, this shit is really hard if dudes acknowledging me for real.”

Would you ever participate in the battle rap scene?
Big Hit: I like to try to stay away from that because I get real disrespectful when I battle, I’m in a different zone. Whatever you heard [from me], even though it’s hard and gangster. It’s kind of toned down. My mental state when it comes to battling is different. I make people really get in their feelings and want to do something to me. [Laughs

Who are some of the artists Hit-Boy put you on to that you enjoy listening to?
Big Hit: Benny, Boldy James, even Alchemist, it was like these dudes is unknown to me but when I really get up on him I be like, “Damn this nigga hard, for real.” EST Gee, Ty Dolla $ign, you know what I’m saying. Even Music Soulchild, I had no idea who these dudes is. But once I lock in with them, I just know they in their creative space, they different individuals and I try to adapt they style and be myself at the same time.

I saw that Big Hit’s debut album was released on a personal site direct-to-consumer style, but then I’ve seen some of the other projects have been on DSP’s. Have you thought about how projects will be released going forward?
Hit-Boy: I feel like keeping The Truth Is In My Eyes off platforms was [something special]…this is what we’ve been waiting to make this whole time. We finally was able to get an album done. So I just wanted to see who was rocking with Big Hit. We made a lot off merch, [and] sold out on CDs. From here we just dropping. We everywhere with it. We got so much music and we’re going to do the family album with the whole family. We’re going to do more solo Big Hit albums, the Jalena debut album. It’s like, we just on it.

Big Hit, How intentional are you about representing and showing people that it’s never too late to chase their dream? 
Big Hit: Oh man, this is my lifestyle my nigga. I know I’m representing them for sure. And the real niggas and everybody that’s in the struggle locked up. I was trying to tell them before I was even released, I was giving niggas inspiration. Saying to niggas on the yard just literally, just accepting life, you know what I’m saying? They done exhausted all their remedies, they ain’t got no appeals. Then they just walking the yard just like, “Fuck you.” Just trying to get young niggas from running to the weed and [drinking]. They doing heroin, meth and all kinds of shit, just trying to stay high and numb the pain. I used to be telling niggas like, “Man, get off that shit. My nigga, get something up in there. [It’s] like the lottery, you got to be in it to win it, you got to have something in the courts.”


Because it ain’t about what you did. A lot of dudes was in they bag like, “I did this,” they feeling bad and holding that resentment for life, holding on to that shit. And it’d be like, “All right, you paid your dues already. You lived your life, you did whatever the fuck you did and you paying for that already.” And they feeling a resentment and holding that against themselves. I’d be like, “Man, get in the law library. The whole time I was thinking it wasn’t registering [with them] but when I did touch down and do what I did [going home early], they was like, “Damn, you really did that my nigga.”

And they snapped back and now niggas are getting in the law library, niggas stop doing drugs, you know what I’m saying? Niggas really start working out and seeing value in their life and knowing it can be a second chance. Life ain’t over. It ain’t over til the fat lady sing, homie. For real. They be trying to get out here and get home. A lot of dudes are coming home right now. And I’m still tapped into prison. They still holler at me, sending dudes money or whatsoever. Just hollering at them. Just giving them inspiration, and it’s big. It’s bigger than me, for real.

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