The revered status of Hitmaka has been two decades in the making. Turn on the radio today at any given moment and surely there will be a song playing that the multi-platinum selling producer has touched in some form. In 2008, radio was dominated by his massive hits “Sexy Can I” and “The Business,” both off his debut album Look What You Made Me under his former moniker Yung Berg.
Lately, Berg’s talent lies in sampling sounds from the same era that he used to make music in and beyond. As a result, the Chicago native is curating this current generation’s era of sounds by working with essentially everyone from the late King Von to industry legends like Nicki Minaj.
Gifted with an ear for melody and feel-good vibes, combined with a knack for picking out a talented music-making team, it’s no wonder he has been able to continue to create songs that consistently land on the Billboard charts or become certified platinum by the RIAA. Atlantic Records tapped him to be the Vice President of A&R with great results and now he’s serving as Empire’s VP of A&R, where he’s expected to dominate the music industry even more. And that’s the goal.
Speaking with Berg about the bevy of upcoming projects he’s working on, including his latest release “Quickie” featuring Queen Naija and Ty Dolla Sign, I dug into the mind of Hitmaka to find out his hit-making process and key to his success.
What have you learned from the beginning of your career to now?
Consistency and work ethic is the key for me. A lot of people don’t really put that foot forward and wait for somebody else to do something for them. Whether it’s the team they’re provided, or just putting responsibilities on other people instead of using themselves as the vessel. Myself, I’m so driven and such a workaholic.
Have you always been this self-motivated?
I got my first record deal when I was in ninth grade. I never really had any other experience besides music. Everybody says, “Don’t put your eggs in one basket,” but I did the opposite way and put every egg in one basket. It left me with my back against the wall. Not to where it’s like, “If this doesn’t work out, maybe I could pivot and do this.” It was more so like, “This has to work out,” and that’s what it’s been my whole life.
I feel like you’ve lasted a really long time and it hasn’t been without criticism. How have you dealt with that?
You’ve just got to be built of Teflon. I feel like I’m a very resilient person. At first, I didn’t understand it when I was going through a lot of things early in my career. I looked at it as a negative. At this point where I’m at now, on the other side of my career, and not having peaked and still on my way up, I was able to go through those things and it made me tougher. It was a gift to me because it prepared me for what you could endure on any level. I went through it at a young age. I feel like it doesn’t even reach my radar. It doesn’t really penetrate anything that I have going on in my own world. It comes with the territory.
Most know you as Yung Berg but now you’re Hitmaka. Why the name change?
A few different things happened. One, when I was still deep into my Yung Berg bag and putting out mixtapes, Rico Love was the hottest producer and writer at the time. I was on Twitter one day and I reached out to Rico and he allowed me to link up with him. I went to the London Hotel and he was having breakfast on some real baller shit, sitting by the pool and just talking to me. I was telling him my journey. He was like, “Yo, I think you should change your name.”
Then, I went to Miami, because I was working on Last Train To Paris, Diddy’s album, and Rico was too. Rico would be introducing me to people as my government name. Like, “Hey, this is Christian.” And it’d be like Fat Joe and Fat Joe would be like, “No, that’s Yung Berg. What are you talking about?” He’s like, “Nah, it’s Christian.” I didn’t really like it because when I first met Joe, I was like, damn, he didn’t embrace it and it felt a little weird. But one day when I was in the studio I just said, “Hitmaka,” at the beginning of a song and I decided that I’m going to continue with it. It was a pretty bold statement. I’ve just been working hard to live up to it and it’s been working out.
That’s interesting you say it’s a bold statement. You didn’t think it was fitting?
I didn’t know what the fuck was going on. I was just creating records. I was in a different space. I knew people were feeling me as an artist. On my first album, I wrote all the features and I had a lot of features. I thought, “I’m pretty good at this. Let me continue doing it.”
Do you ever get bored of producing?
No, not at all. I love producing and writing. That’s what my background is. I don’t ever get bored. This is the evolution of my career. At the end of this, I’m going to be one of the big guys at the head of a company, like a CEO. I’m really a music man. Shout out to L.A. Reid and other people I’m in business with. I look at myself like that.
You’re really good at flipping throwback hits. What is your process for choosing which songs to sample?
I put a flag in the sand and I yelled, “I’m going to flip all my songs and I’m going to be the Puff Daddy of this generation. I’m going to make it very clear what’s going on.” From there, I would just link with a guy named Paul who I met via Ayo & Keyz while making Wiz Khalifa’s “Something New,” and I’m just reliving my life. All the records that I love from the 106 and Park era, I just go back in. I know what I like. Honestly, I’m just making records to music that I personally like and throwing it out there. It’s just a blessing that the world is sharing the same taste level as me.
What are some songs that you are proud of?
I’m super proud of being able to work with King Von and doing that record for him and Lil Durk, “Still Trappin.” That record went platinum and was some of Von’s last work that we did. We did those records together in a studio and I was able to work as a co-writer on it. A lot of people don’t know, but we actually wrote the hook to that record. Even though Von came in and made his own little changes to it, he had never worked like that before to where the hook was already built into the song. He never worked like that before. It was his first time and we caught a platinum plaque. Rest in peace, Von, and shout out to Lil Durk.
I feel like you’re always on the verge of also tapping in with up-and-coming talent. What is your process for that? Do you have people telling you or are you out there, listening to the streets?
I’m scouting and I’m always looking. I have people telling me different artists to work with. Maybe someone on my team will set me up with somebody to work with, like Tink. I never worked with Tink before and we’re both from Chicago. When we met, we hit it off immediately. We were able to make her new album that’s out now, Heat Of The Moment. I think she’s on the cusp of being something very, very incredible.
I know you have your team and go-to’s but whenever you invite other people into that, how do you pick? You could really put anybody on with your name so what is that one thing you look for?
It’s just the talent. Once I hear it, and your demo is something that somebody plays me is amazing, I already know that I can take this shit to the next level. There’s a lot of people that I work with, Goldie, Rocky, Crishan, Ivory Scott is a new guy that I’m working with that’s from Chicago that’s done amazing things. We just did Yung Bleu’s record, “The Baddest” with Chris Brown and 2 Chainz together. He’s on Fat Joe’s new album that’s about to come out as a featured artist. We just did Trippie Redd’s new single that’s about to drop with Polo G and Lil Durk. If you dope, you somehow make your way to me, and you come highly recommended, then I’m going to work with you. It’s the same way I met Goldie. I didn’t know Goldie for a long time, but I have known her for, now, almost 10 years. I met her at a session and they paired us up to work together. Our relationship has continued from there.
Whenever you go number one or you get a platinum plaque, does it ever get old to you?
To be honest, I don’t even buy plaques. I have two plaques in my house. I have a plaque from Teyana Taylor and King Combs, “How You Want It,” that a co-producer, my mentor, bought for me. I don’t really go around and cop that because the work’s not done yet. I feel accomplished and I know where I’ve come from and I know what it took me to get here, but I’m still so far from what the end goal is. I’m already a pretty confident guy. I don’t need that.
You seem still hungry like you came in here three months ago. You’re still trying to go after it. So what is the end goal for you?
I’m not going to stop. I’m going to make music forever. The end goal is just to be a huge business. I’m going to be a combination of Lucian Grainge, L. A. Reid, and Mike Caren, and hopefully bigger than them. I’ve been around and have had the pleasure to be around a lot of great CEOs. The end goal is to be a titan in this game and a force to be reckoned with and legendary.
Speaking of Mike Caren at APG, you were on that label. Is Mike one of those mentors to you?
Funny thing you say that, when I hang up this phone, I’m going to meet with Mike right now. Me and Mike, we’re still in business. He shares information with me, and I’m appreciative because that’s the most we can really ask for. People want money and free this, and access, but information is key for me so I can know how to do this shit myself and put my own spin on it.
What kind of advice do you have for up-and-coming producers?
Just be ready when your number is finally called. A lot of people don’t understand that and they’re just caught up in the, “When is it going to be my time? And I’m sick of doing this. And I should’ve been on.” When your number’s called, being ready is actually the most key thing you can actually be involved in. I know a lot of people that might have got a super No. 1 hit, but wasn’t ready for the workflow that followed. I think that’s one of the biggest keys in my success and my company’s success. We work every day. Just stay ready. Don’t chase the bread. Chase the work. Once you chase the work, the money is going to catch up to you.