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Nitti and Pit: One-hit monsters 

No-frills beatmakers changing the rap game

Until he produced "Party Like a Rock Star," the smash single by Shop Boyz, Pit was just another musician toiling in Atlanta's music industry. The 34-year-old moved to Atlanta in 1991 and gigged with numerous bands, promoted shows and managed a few acts. (He was an early manager for Athens electronic jam band Sound Tribe Sector 9.) By the mid-'90s Pit apprenticed as an engineer for Ray Murray, one-third of Dungeon Family producers Organized Noize; and then LROC, Jermaine Dupri's right-hand man. In 2003, Pit attempted to launch his production career.

"I did some stuff for Bone Crusher that never made it to an album. I did some stuff with Too Short that never made it to an album," Pit says. "I realized that working with stars wasn't going to be the way for me. A star's never going to give a no-name producer a chance to do a single. So I started working with some underground cats."

Rap music is like a high-stakes poker game, and artists try to assemble a winning hand by working with as many producers as possible. In a volatile industry where a popular single is the difference between a platinum CD and a disappointing flop, a beatmaker with a hot, distinctive sound can charge tens of thousands (and, in a few cases, hundreds of thousands) for a track. In Atlanta, DJ Toomp, Jazze Pha, Jermaine Dupri, Bryan-Michael Cox, Mr. Collipark and a handful of others command the most respect. Beyond that select list, however, lie dozens of aspirants scrambling for inclusion on a major-label project.

Then, last December, Pit got a call to do maintenance work at an engineering studio in west Atlanta. When he finished his job, Pit began fooling around on some keyboards. The Shop Boyz, a group that was at the studio recording tracks, asked Pit if he made beats. "I'm, like, 'Yeah,'" he remembers. "They said, 'We got an idea for a hook.'" So Meany, one of the three rappers in Shop Boyz, sang Pit the hook to "Party Like a Rock Star." "Within 10 minutes I had done the track," Pit says. Billy Hume, a local musician and engineer, added a ripping guitar solo. "It was the right formula and the right recipe at the right time."

Days after completing "Party Like a Rock Star," the Shop Boyz began performing the song. Pit credits T-Rock, the influential DJ at the now-closed Poole Palace, with "breaking" the record. By spring it was one of the biggest ATL anthems of the year, and Shop Boyz signed a deal with Universal Republic. When the major label officially reissued the single in May, it quickly shot up to No. 2 on the national pop charts.

Shop Boyz recruited Pit to produce several tracks for their debut, RockStar Mentality. (The album drops Tuesday, June 19.) "The label realized pretty quickly that my sound was defining them, and so they knew they had to come back to me," Pit says. "Party Like a Rock Star" ended 15 years of anonymity for Pit, and he's now working with rap stars such as Ying Yang Twins and Sunny Valentine.

Most stars' recording budget limits them to a few expensive beats, which are quickly slated as prospective singles; they pad out the rest of the album with cuts by less-touted producers. For example, Young Jeezy's The Inspiration features 11 different producers, from brand names such as DJ Toomp (who made the album's first single "I Luv It") to lesser-known talents such as Drumma Boy ("The Realest") and Shawty Redd ("U Know What It Is"). With so much competition, it can be difficult to stand out.

Nitti has logged numerous credits for Young Dro, Gucci Mane, Bow Wow and T.I. But he's mostly known for Boyz N Da Hood's "Dem Boyz" and Yung Joc's "It's Going Down." The success of the latter attracted Warner Bros., who gave him a label (Playmaker Music) and a solo deal. He has discontinued working with Yung Joc since the two had a public falling-out last month. Nitti's now working on a solo album tentatively called Ghettoville USA.

"I'm introducing ghetto street commercial music," says Nitti at his office. The building lies conveniently in the same Defoor Hills area as BME Recordings and Disturbing Tha Peace – making for a crunk version of Nashville's Music Row. "When we put the 'Going Down' record out, it threw all the labels off, you know what I mean," says Nitti, who speaks in a deep Southern drawl. "'Cause it wasn't a planned-to-be-put-out record. It was a record that just came out. That shows you the effect of the kind of music I'm doing."

Where does Nitti get his inspiration? He turns toward rapper Sunny Valentine, who is seated at the studio console, and says, "I make the beats on the spot. Sunny'll tell you. He's sat here and watched me make the beats, like how he's sitting there quiet right now. I might look at what kind of shoes he's got on, or his new jewelry or something. I might be like, 'He need a beat that's gonna match his shoes,' or something.

"It's kinda, like, I can't explain it," Nitti says finally. "If I think about it I'll probably get stuck and won't be able to make no more beats. So I just do it."

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