Prison Separated a Father and Son for 24 Years. Music Reunited Them.
This story is part of our ongoing “First Steps” series, where we share extraordinary stories of men who transformed their bodies, minds, and lives with a focus on the first steps it took them to get there (because, after all, nothing can change without a first step!). Read all of the stories here.
For the first three years of his son’s life, Chauncey “Big Hit” Hollis Sr. couldn’t imagine being separated from his firstborn. But for most of the next 30 years, the closest he got to his son were memories that began fading, phone calls that weren’t always answered, and letters he wasn’t sure were being received.
Big Hit’s son is now the Grammy-winning producer Hit-Boy. But, while he was growing up, Big Hit was serving a 15-year sentence in federal prison after being caught with 10 kilos of cocaine, ten guns, and $300,000 in cash. Six years after his release, he found himself back in prison, serving a 12-year sentence for a crime connected to a hit-and-run accident. At 53, between small stints in jail, he still can’t remember spending a full calendar year of freedom with his son.
At one point, Big Hit says he didn’t see his son’s face or hear his voice for five years straight because of prison restrictions. “That’s the way the system is built—to break up family ties,” he tells Men’s Health. When his son was an infant, Big Hit would drive around with him, playing hip-hop legends like Snoop Dogg while he had his own dreams of rap stardom. That son grew up to be a multi-platinum producer for some of Kanye West and Jay-Z’s biggest songs, like “N*ggas In Paris”—and for a while, Big Hit had no idea of how his career had grown beyond that.
He went years in prison loving Travis Scott’s song “SICKO MODE” without realizing his son produced half of it. The truth was a bitter pill he swallowed with a harsh cocktail of paternal pride and regret to chase it all. “I felt guilty about not being out of prison and missing his success,” he says. “I always wrote letters to him, assuring him, ‘I’m trying to get back to you. I love you, and I miss you.’”
He doesn’t have all the tools to rebuild his relationship with his son, but he’s always had music to help him translate the ineffable. When he could only make friends with the four walls of his cell, he wrote. When he was in prison while his son became a father, he wrote. He’s never had a legal job in his life—just music. And that’s what he’s using to repair his relationship with his son.
After his lawyer helped him get released after only serving nine years of his latest prison sentence, he finally made an album with his son called The Truth Is In My Eyes. In an interview with Men’s Health, Big Hit describes how the gut punches of truth, surprising revelations, and fatherly guidance from his son while making his debut album, The Truth Is In My Eyes, helped them also make a bond that can’t be broken. In an interview with Men’s Health, Big Hit describes how he and his son put together the pieces of a relationship shattered by separation and strengthened their bond with the making of an album they dreamed of making for decades.
I GOT OUT of state prison on the morning of May 5th, 2023. I got right in the Uber to my son. It cost $700, and I was at my son’s studio in North Hollywood at 11 at night. The first thing I did was hug him and tell him how much I missed him. My memory of the first moment when I touched down at the studio was the expression on my son’s face being genuine love. It was heartwarming.
I had to sit him down and let him know I didn’t just up and leave him. I was out there trying to provide for us, regardless if I was selling drugs, robbing, or whatever I was doing. I was bringing it back to the table. I feel like he kind of gets it now. I told him I was being rebellious against my pops. I was just headstrong at a young age.
courtesy of big hit
“It’s like we have telepathy with each other. it’s like therapy.” —Big Hit
I did tell him I was salty a couple of times in prison when I would call collect, and he wouldn’t answer. I asked him if he was getting the money I was sending him. He was a man about the situation and told me, “We were fucked up, man. We couldn’t pay the phone bill.” It wasn’t because he was salty at me or bitter.
Thirty minutes after we reconnected, we did what we loved the most: make music. I felt empowered when I first got in the booth. I’ve been rapping all of my life. Music is something that consoles me. But, my son would stop me in the middle of recording to say, “Hold up, do this over.” I’d get irritated, telling him, “Nah, it’s cool.” He made me do it over and over again. But I know he has that ear to hear things I can’t, and he’d be right. I trusted him.
“A lot of things we can’t convey FACE-TO-FACE, we convey through the MUSIC. Questions were ANSWERED through the music.”
While recording together, my son and I began bridging the gap between us over time. A few days after our first session following my release, we recorded the song “Grinding My Whole Life PT 2,” where he rapped, “You weren’t there to lace up my cleats.” He didn’t tell me he was going to say that. I heard it for the first time when he recorded it in front of me. I didn’t catch it until I was playing it in my car. That felt like a body blow. I wish I could go back and change it, but I can’t. It was a hard pill to swallow.
On that same song, I rapped about how I would have him visit me with balloons full of weed in his bag of chips, which I would swallow to sell in prison. He remembered but just didn’t know what was in the balloons. He told me, “I remember seeing something in those chips.” He was probably four around then. A lot of things we can’t convey face-to-face, we convey through the music. Questions were answered through the music.
Jesse Grant//Getty Images
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – MAY 11: Hit-Boy attends the premiere of “White Men Can’t Jump” at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California on May 11, 2023.
A month later, I told my son I was beginning to get frustrated. In the streets, everything is immediate gratification. You get your dollars right there. In the industry, it’s like planting seeds. You have to wait and see if it’ll blossom. I told him, “This ain’t working, man.” He got mad at me. He told me, “Everything is right here. If you wanna go do that bullshit, you know what it’s going to get you, it’s up to you.” He also embraced me in every way, from buying me clothes to buying me food every time he ate. I felt like he was my daddy, the way he looked out for me. It felt like fatherly love.
Making this album with my son created a bond you can’t break. We’re locked in. Everybody was already telling him, “He’s going to go right back to prison. Don’t even waste your time on him; he’s going right back. He’s a wasted cause.” But he stuck it out. He felt in his heart the same thing I’m feeling. Now, it’s like we have telepathy with each other. It’s like therapy. And we’re not finished. We don’t have it all figured out, but we’re still growing.
Keith Nelson is a writer by fate and journalist by passion, who has connected dots to form the bigger picture for Men’s Health, Vibe Magazine, LEVEL MAG, REVOLT TV, Complex, Grammys.com, Red Bull, Okayplayer, and Mic, to name a few.