“I didn’t have a fall back plan or anything. Music was the only option,” says the artist formerly known as Yung Berg. “This is where my passion is.”

"Yung Berg came, lived, and died so Hitmaka could take it to the next level." 

In case you're wondering, Yung Berg didn't actually die. In fact, he's very much alive — just retired. In the late 2000s, the former MC, born Christian Ward, was a 5'6'' fireball who cannoned his way into success with his syrupy club singles "The Business," "Sexy Lady" and "Sexy Can I." With a trio of top 40 Hot 100 singles in tow, Ward knew how to woo the ladies, even if he wasn't your quintessential loverboy.

"You know the running joke was — before I did a lot of crazy shit back in the day that hindered my career — I was Drake before Drake, because I was doing all the R&B songs and was light-skin and shit," the 33-year-old quips during our interview at Billboard's Times Square offices. "That's the joke when we're in the studio."

And like Drake, Ward had his fair share of battles, some which damn-near halted his music career. When WorldStar was becoming a vehicle in promoting controversy on-camera in 2008-2009, Ward found himself embroiled in some contentious feuds, including several physical altercations with rappers Trick Trick and Maino, with the former's crew robbing him of his jewelry. He even tangoed with Ne-Yo, after the singer threatened to give him a "three-finger slap." Despite his talents, Ward's name was sullied by his thoughtless quarrels, and because of that, the idea of committing to the moniker of Yung Berg no longer excited him.

"Everything just stopped and I watched the whole game turn against me," remembers Ward. "I still had finances, I was still doing what I wanted to do, but, at the same time, there was like a pause that happened in my career. I don't know, maybe it was because I came out early in the YouTube, WorldStar world or whatever where I took all the bullets for everybody." 

Then, in 2011, Ward's chance at redemption came when he co-produced Lil Wayne's Carter IV heater "John" featuring Rick Ross. The record not only earned him a Grammy nomination, but also a much-needed second opportunity at the music industry. 

"It was super successful," says Ward of the success of 'John.' "So I just felt like, "Man, if I can have that type of success with making those plays and putting that together and co-producing that record, then it was only right to continue to do more because as an artist, I was still doing mixtapes as Yung Berg and putting them out on DatPiff, but it wasn't moving the needle how I wanted it to. Once I did that record with AYO and Keyz, the lightbulb just went off where I was like, "Yo. I should just put all my energy into this."

From then on, Ward birthed his new identity Hitmaka and did his best to live out his name. With production credits ranging from Nicki Minaj ("Want Some More") to Big Sean ("Bounce Back") to Wiz Khalifa ("Something New"), Ward sliced his past critics one track at a time. In 2017, he punctuated his comeback trail by becoming Atlantic Records' vp of A&R. Since his arrival, Ward's been responsible for dishing out radio ear candy in the form of Meek Mill's "Dangerous," 2 Chainz's "Rule the World" and A. Boogie Wit da Hoodie's "Come Closer." With a fistful of plaques in hand, Ward looks to make his return back into artist-mode, but not as Yung Berg. 

Earlier this month, Ward marched back into the rap jungle as the producer Hitmaka, and unleashed his new single "Thot Box" — featuring Meek Mill, A. Boogie, 2 Chainz, Tyga, and YBN Nahmir. The piano-laden tune has a West Coast lean, with punchy verses from hip-hop's elite. Though Ward plays the sidelines on the hip-hop front for "Thot Box," he's more than content with the song's bouncy results. 

"It's a great time to be me. I'm going next level," he says. "I want to be one of the biggest executives in the game. Like I'm coming after all different people with all due respect. I wanna be bigger than Craig Kallman. I wanna be bigger than L.A. Reid. I wanna be bigger than all these different people, and I feel like I have the opportunity to do it because they laid down the blueprint for me to be able to learn from their careers and how they blossomed into the bosses and executives that they are right now."