Host Andrew Barber and Hitmaka chat about the hip-hop producer-rapper-executive’s unlikely journey from the Chicago hip-hop scene to the tops of the charts to the offices of Atlantic Records and beyond.
Hitmaka’s career seems more like a fictional novel or movie than real life. Starting his journey as a rap-obsessed teen in Chicago, the artist born Christian Ward found himself rubbing elbows with the likes of future Grammy winners Kanye West, No I.D. and Lupe Fiasco before he could legally drive. He even snagged beats from Kanye and No I.D. for his demo tape, which triggered a bidding war between DMX and Jay-Z.
Hitmaka’s first record deal came via Chicago-based Infared Music Group, an independent that also had future blog mainstays L.E.P. Bogus Boys on its roster. After numerous trips to Los Angeles and New York City for meetings, Hitmaka — then known as Iceberg — left Infrared and signed with DMX’s Bloodline Records, a subsidiary of Def Jam Recordings. DMX soon moved Hitmaka to New Jersey and gave the teenager his own house. That turned out to be a bad idea. Though the deal netted Hitmaka a feature on the “Exit Wounds” soundtrack and cameos in DMX videos, the situation spiraled out of control. Hitmaka’s parents sent him to military school in Montana.
After finishing his education, he spent the next few years working on music and serving as a hype man for Shawnna. A master of reinvention, Hitmaka rebranded himself Yung Berg in 2007 and came out of the gate with two smash hits (“Sexy Lady” and a feature on Ray J’s smash, “Sexy Can I”). As soon as the success started, however, trouble followed in the form of robberies, lawsuits, tabloid drama, label problems and feuds with other rappers.
Making another calculated decision, the emcee changed his name from Yung Berg to Hitmaka and started making behind-the-scenes moves. He cut his teeth as a producer for King Louie’s “My Hoes They Do Drugs” (featuring Juicy J and Pusha T) and DJ Infamous’ “Double Cup.” Hitmaka was officially a beatsmith.
He also appeared on VH1’s “Love & Hip-Hop: Hollywood,” but saw his future in music production. Due to his background as a rapper, Hitmaka initially had difficulty convincing artists he was a serious producer. But in 2014, Nicki Minaj raised his credibility after giving him two spots on her double-platinum album, “The Pinkprint.” Looking for more of that magic, musicians began seeking his services. The trend continues today.
As of May 2021, Hitmaka’s production has helped sell more than 74 million records worldwide. He’s worked with everyone from Big Sean and Ty Dolla $ign to Lil Durk and G-Eazy. His ear for hits and marketing savvy earned him a position as Vice President of A&R at Atlantic Records and a new role at Empire, where he plans to launch his own label.
Hitmaka is a story of serious perseverance and love for the craft. In our conversation, we talk about his persistence, confidence, reinventions and more.
Andrew Barber is the owner/creator of Fake Shore Drive, a Chicago-based media, management and events company founded in 2007. Andrew is also a playlist curator, published music journalist, artist manager, brand and record label consultant and media personality. Andrew currently sits as Governor of The Recording Academy’s Grammy board. His radio show, The Drive on Shade 45, airs weekly on SiriusXM, and has been on air for over six years. He has also hosted programming on MTV and one of Chicago’s top radio stations, 107.5 WGCI-FM. As a journalist, Andrew has been published in publications such as VICE, Complex, Fader, XXL, Mass Appeal and more. Andrew’s company, Fake Shore Drive, has been instrumental in the rise of Chicago’s hip-hop scene, having helped cultivate the careers of Chance the Rapper, Chief Keef, Lil Durk, Vic Mensa and the many other gold- and platinum-selling artists.