Introducing: Unreleased, a new interview series where producers share the full story behind the biggest records we’ve never heard.
With the hundreds of thousands of unreleased tracks sitting on producers’ hard drives, chances are, you’ve never heard your favorite song. It’s likely floating in the ether, or sitting in a file folder under embargo, or sitting on a USB drive lost in transit. But while we may never get the chance to hear the music, what we can get is the story…
To kick off our brand new series, we reached out to GRAMMY-winning producer Hit-Boy, who is best known for his work with Kanye West ("Niggas in Paris," "Mercy"), Lil Wayne ("Drop the World"), Kendrick Lamar ("Backseat Freestyle") and Beyoncé ("XO"), among countless other A-list names. Long before Hit-Boy was scoring awards and plaques, though, he was chopping it up with Frank Ocean, who, in 2006, he identified in his address book as “Chris The Writer.”
Fast forward six years, Ocean, no longer just an unknown songwriter, hits up Hit-Boy for beats to bring to a studio session. One thing leads to another, and Ocean ends up laying down the hook to a track he would later call “No Such Thing As White Jesus.” A few days later, Ocean played the hook for Nas during a recording session for the veteran emcee's eleventh studio album, Life Is Good, but as we now know, when the album dropped, there was no Frank Ocean collaboration to speak of across the LP's 20 tracks (including deluxe, iTunes bonus and Japan bonus tracks).
With Channel Orange releasing July 10, 2012, and Nas’ Life Is Good dropping just seven days later, it’s easy to imagine how huge this record would have been for both Nas and Ocean at the time, and “for music, period,” Hit-Boy adds.
DJBooth’s full interview with Hit-Boy, who last month released his brand new solo album, Tony Fontana, has been lightly edited for content and clarity and follows below.
Hit me with the basics.
Basically, I used to chop it with Frank Ocean damn near every day. This was before he even put out Nostalgia [Ultra]. It might have been one of his first placements ever on one of the beats I did with Chase N. Cashe. We had this group called Surf Club and it was just us making beats together. We did a song in the studio, like one of our first professional sessions. In the same day I met Frank Ocean, I met Miguel and a bunch of people that ended up blowing up. This is like ‘06, so this is our first time doing some professional shit. Me and Frank built from there—I ain’t even call him Frank. His name, Chris, is still locked into my phone from ‘06 as “Chris The Writer.” He was just a songwriter at the time.
We would chop it all the time, and I would send him beats and he recorded on a few and he hit me up one time after “N****s In Paris” came out and said he had a studio session that he wanted me to bring some beats, so it was like one of the first beats I pulled up, he ended up doing the hook. He named it “No Such Thing As White Jesus,” and from there he told me the next day he had a studio session with Nas and told me he would play it for him. He’s playing it for him, and Nas hopped on it. It was originated by me and Frank. I did the beat and he did the hook.
Was the record for any specific project?
This was around 2012, so it had to be whatever Nas album he was working on at the time. And [laughs] it didn’t even end up making the cut! What happened was, I had lost the hard drive that had the Frank vocals on it. After the album came out, I ended up recovering that drive, and I had it for a while, and then I ended up losing it again. All I have is the original hook from the original session that we did, so I don’t think it’s gonna see the light of day, but the hook is amazing! It’s just classic Frank over some hip-hop shit I produced.
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Man, I be doing so much moving. I go from studio to studio. I have different people working for me and with me, so there’s a lot of movement and shit just gets lost sometimes. I’ve lost all types of shit over the years.
Nah, we just pretty much let it go. I know at one point, Nas, he was trying to reach out to get the files and that’s when I couldn’t find the drive.
If you connected with 2018 Nas and 2018 Frank Ocean to recreate the track, how different would it sound?
It had a feeling! I pride myself on having beats that have a feeling to them, and obviously, Frank Ocean is still out here, so I think it would still have that feeling.
How would you describe that feeling?
It was nostalgic, it had a nice groove to it. It felt… It felt good.
Could you give me a sense of the volume of unreleased material you have on your hard drive?
Honestly, it’s not hundreds, it’s thousands of songs. I’ve recorded hella demos with people and done multiple records with huge artists that I don’t know if they’re ever gonna see the light of day, but I have a lot of unreleased music. But it’s all about timing and shit like that.
Does this ever affect how you create, knowing that some of your best work might be sitting on your computer hard drive?
Man [laughs], that’s the challenge of being up there as a creative. You dedicate so much time to an artist and one moment they might be loving what you doing, and then meet another producer and then they not even answering your calls no more. That’s the reality we gotta be in as creatives, you know? This shit is kinda flip-floppy sometimes.
What do you do to minimize holding songs?
There’s really no way to kind of gauge it. Certain artists are so huge and it’s a no-brainer, and then the album comes out and you not on there… It’s a fucked up feeling. At the same time, you gotta bite that bullet. When the music is meant to get used, it’ll get used. I feel like that would have been a great moment to have. Obviously for me, but just for music, period.
It’s such a big moment to lose.
Exactly. Amongst other records that I’m not even gon’ speak up, but I got a lot of records where I can’t believe this shit never came out. At this point, where I’m literally at right now, creating every day, it’s like, what I did yesterday don’t matter anymore. What am I doing today? That’s my whole approach. We gotta keep this shit rolling.