Nonstop Da Hitman Talks Producing for Damian Lillard and Making a Name for Himself in the Music Industry

2018 proved to be a momentous time in music history because for the first time ever, hip-hop was named the most consumed genre across the nation. Although fans have artists to thank for their voices and faces of some of their favorite songs, credit should also be given to the creatives behind the scenes. Producer Nonstop Da Hitman was the guy behind the boards of some of the year’s biggest hits including Drake’s “Elevate,” Migos’ “Made Men,” and Cardi B’s “Drip.” Let’s just say the Portland-raised, Atlanta-based producer is known for working with some heavy hitters.

As Nonstop’s resume continues to grow, more recently with work alongside artists like Hitmaka and Wiz Khalifa, he realizes the road wasn’t always easy as he proceeds to elevate throughout his career. From producing beats on the mixtape scene, to joining the production team 808 Mafia, and earning his first Grammy this year, Nonstop is the epitome of how there is no such thing as an overnight success. The producer spoke with The Sports Fan Journal about his rise in the industry and working with one of the NBA’s brightest stars.

TSFJ: When did you know you wanted to pursue music as a full-time career?

Nonstop: Initially, I wasn’t thinking about anything to do with music. I was gang-banging and getting side tracked by the street life. I didn’t really want to get into music since my dad was a bassist for a band in the ‘80s, so I didn’t want to be looked at like I was following in his footsteps and wanted to create my own lane. However, I started off rapping though, but the people we had available to us that were producing really weren’t that good and I heard better stuff in my head. So I went ahead and produced my whole first project. It was all local, but the people in Portland loved it. Eventually I started bumping into artists that would come to Portland like Chingy and Nelly. I ended up working with Nelly’s production company, Basement Beats, and that’s how I got my first placement.

What was your first big placement?

I had a record called “Wrist Stay Rocky” on Twista’s project Adrenaline Rush in 2007. He ended up picking one of my beats and it was dope because that was the first time I ever heard anybody big rapping on any of my stuff. I had dealt with a couple of underground West Coast artists, but nobody really mainstream yet. While we were shooting the video during BET Awards weekend, so many people kept telling me, ‘if you move to Atlanta, you’ll become a millionaire.’ So I kept that in my back pocket, went home to tell the family and ended up moving to Atlanta three weeks later.

How did growing up in Portland help influence your musical sound?

At that time, I grew up on the West Coast sound that was super big in the late ’90s and early 2000s. People like E-40, Dr. Dre and BattleCat, were producers that I listened to and tried to emulate growing up. When I moved to Atlanta, Lil Jon’s sound was still huge and it was right before the Trap stuff started hitting heavy. So the transition in sound wasn’t that hard because the Bay Area was already moving towards being a sped-up version of what Lil Jon was doing anyway, so I was already on that path.

Most producers tend to have a distinct sound, what makes your productions stand out from the rest?

Everything is a mix between hard-hitting, real deep 808s, and soulful elements. Nowadays, everyone is collaborating whether it’s me and Murda Beatz or me and Tay Keith, so a lot of sounds are starting to merge. A lot of producers don’t have a distinct sound anymore, whereas ten years ago you knew who was producing certain songs or who was trying to emulate those beats. My sound now isn’t as distinctive as it used to be back when I was following BattleCat’s footsteps in an analog sense, but now it’s definitely current and timeless at the same time. I got records all over the place that I feel like people will still listen to twenty years from now.

Some fans are a bit skeptical when celebrities start venturing into other industries, especially the music business. What is your take on athletes taking on a music career?

Music or all art has no boundaries around it. If you have it in your blood and it’s a passion of yours, just do it. Being an athlete and crossing over to music is hard, you’ll have a lot of people roll their eyes at the thought. If you look back at athletes who’ve tried it in the past, the track record isn’t that great. Only two athletes have really stood out, Shaq and Dame. People rolled their eyes when Kobe did his thing with Tyra Banks, same with Allen Iverson, it just didn’t fit them and felt kind of forced.

One of my favorite producers right now is a basketball player and you wouldn’t even know. JaVale McGee, he comes over to my house and plays me some of his material, I was like ‘You did this? By yourself? You better start sending these beats out bro!’ So it doesn’t matter who the player is, I don’t think there should be any restrictions put on music. No matter what you do as your day job, if the art is in you, then it’s in you.

You recently produced a few records on Damian Lillard’s Big D.O.L.L.A. album, how did the collaboration between you and the Trail Blazers star come about?

Initially I sent him some beats for his previous project Confirmed and I think the beats for “Drip” and “Made Men” were in that pack. His cousin facilitated that connection, but for whatever reason, Dame never got around to them. When I talked to him in the studio, he said ‘Bro I never even got a chance to listen to any of them beats.’ I said ‘Damn, you passed up some stuff that made me go platinum a couple times!’

This time I had a more direct connect to him, than I did with Confirmed. One of the beats I sent to him was “Baggage Claim.” When he sent it back, it didn’t have Mozzy on it at first, it was just him. I ended up going to L.A. for some work with other artists and Dame’s engineer Nate Alford contacted me to pull up so they can play some material for me and get my input. I didn’t even think Dame was going to be there, but he was, so when I pulled up, one of the first records I played was “Money Ball.” Now at first, Derrick Milano wanted to give that song to Drake, so we only kept part of it, but then Ant Clemons came in and wrote the Jeremih part.

It was dope working with Dame, once he found out I was from Portland and he was feeling the beats I was playing, he wanted to run it up from there. So that pretty much employed me to do half the album after that.

You’ve worked with a number of artists in the past, do you see any difference between working with Damian Lillard, in comparison to artists who are full-time musicians?

I feel like Dame takes it a little more serious than a lot of artists I’ve worked with because he has a chip on his shoulder. He’s feeling like ‘I’m actually dope and you should listen to my music.’ He works the same as any other artist I’ve worked with as far as he isn’t sitting around and writing for eight hours, he’s going in the studio and letting it go. He works just as hard, if not harder. It’s amazing how he really can only focus on rap for like three months out of the year, but he evolves quickly.

If you listen to his first project all the way up to his current one, there’s no drop off in his sound, it’s a steady incline in his projects. The only difference is he isn’t doing music full-time like those other artists. Other than that, the recording process, the people he works with, and people in his circle, are similar to anybody else in the industry. Anyone who’s ever worked with him, knows he actually has bars.

If a rapper has bars, sometimes it needs to be proven in a battle. How did you feel about the diss tracks between Lillard and Sacramento Kings star Marvin Bagley III?

From a rap standpoint, Marvin is dope too. He has more of an East Coast flow that older hip-hop heads would mess with. Now Dame has that too, but he also has the ability to jump into what the youngsters like.

Especially with how the Bay Area secretly controlled music for a minute, looking at people like Mustard and other artists, their sound is heavily influenced by the Bay. The direction L.A. is gearing towards now musically, sounds like the Bay Area and the hyphy influence from 15 years ago. With that being big and Dame being from the Bay, it’s kind of easy for him to get into a groove for a younger crowd.

Nonstop Da Hitman (Photo Credit: Ashly Carter)

How did your life change after the Grammy win for Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy album?

Well, at first I didn’t think her project would do what it did. “Bodak Yellow” was doing good numbers, but we see a bunch of artists who only have successful singles. Then she dropped “Bartier Cardi,” but it didn’t have as big of a commercial element to it. After that, she dropped “Be Careful” about a week before the album release, and then “Drip” came out two days before. When the album finally dropped, it was already getting gold and platinum certifications based off the success of the singles. To see the individual records go double and triple platinum was crazy, I didn’t expect it at all and now she’s lowkey icon status.

The work I did with her helped me get more recognized. One of my best friends in the industry, OG Parker, went down to Miami to work with Hitmaka (a.k.a. Yung Berg) at one time. Me and OG were already working on some things, so I decided to pull up. When I got there, Berg was already familiar with my work, saying ‘yea I know you did ‘Drip’ on Invasion of Privacy, congrats! Play the pack, I know you got something for me.’ That kind of sparked everything else and really set a fire in me with my career going forward.

With all of the artists you’ve worked with so far, has there been a favorite project?

That’s hard to say, I feel like all of them are favorites in different ways. If you listen to the Migos record, “Elevate” from Drake and Cardi’s “Drip,” none of them sound the same. But Migos really kickstarted everything that happened in 2018.

Migos dropped first, then Cardi, followed by Drake. In between each project, I was working with other artists like Jim Jones, Kevin Gates, and Takeoff. So that’s one of my favorites because it fueled me to get the Grammy and all of these plaques. Around that time, I had just learned I went gold for the first time with a record that came out a long time ago. It was Yo Gotti’s “Errrbody,” which was dope, but I didn’t have anything else. After the “Errrbody” placement, I was still working with big artists but it ended up being on mixtapes, and you weren’t getting the same accreditation. Artists going gold or platinum was different back then since it was more sales-based, unlike now where it’s mostly focused on streams. I was still locked in to a publishing deal and my work wasn’t getting counted like that. It didn’t really kill my spirit, but I did feel like I was running in place. Once my work with the Migos came out, it sparked everything, so that’s one of my favorites for sure.

Fans who are familiar with your work know how heavy it is in the hip-hop world, however have you worked with artists in other genres?

I did some stuff with Noah Cyrus that was pretty dope, hopefully that comes out soon. She was in love with it when we did it and it sounds completely different than anything else. It’s more guitar driven with live drums and I still got some 808s in there. I tried to incorporate what I do with her sound and it was a dope marriage.

Are there artists that you haven’t worked with yet, that you would like to?

I’ll send beat packs to people, but I never really say ‘I’m making this beat for this particular artist,’ I tend to leave it as open as possible. Plus you’ll send stuff that you think one artist would use, they might not fool with it and end up getting a beat that’s the last one you thought they would’ve picked.

As far as collaborating with different artists I haven’t yet, I may want to do something with old school artists that I looked up to, like Parliament and Funkadelic, that would get me excited! Or maybe even Dr. Dre, that would be dope.

What advice would you give to aspiring producers?

Always be open to collaboration, don’t ever feel like you need to get 100 percent of the record, that’s just not how it goes. Remain patient, because it literally can happen at any moment, depending on who you’re with and surrounding yourself with the right people. Once you get into certain groups, it grows exponentially after that.

It took a lot of time but it made me appreciate it more, and I was able to build genuine relationships throughout the journey. There used to be days when I would be sleeping on blowup beds, and now I’m in sessions with folks like PartyNextDoor and Kanye West, so seeing that turnaround is crazy. So keep sticking to it, don’t block your blessings and don’t let your ego get in front of you. Remain humble and keep working, it’s going to come. As long as you got the talent there, eventually you’ll hit the right ears and that’s all it takes.

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