From Waka to Rozay to Watch the Throne
Bellowing lines like “When my brother died, I said ‘Fuck school’,” Waka seemed to provide a convincing portrait of the Atlanta streets, but what made the music so popular was its fantastical appeal -- so immediately eye-opening that it verged on escapism.
Just as “Hard in da Paint” was beginning to take off, Luger got a call from Rick Ross, who wanted to up his street presence with his Albert Anastasia EP before the release of July 2010’s Teflon Don. Ross chose two of the hardest, loudest beats of the 40 or so that Luger had sent him, and the two songs he came up with, “MC Hammer” and “Blowin’ Money Fast,” showed up consecutively on both the EP and the album.
Rozay compared himself to storied drug dealers on one track and to a rapper whose wasteful spending led to his demise on the other. Ross is nothing if not one of rap’s most brilliant actors, and with the help of Luger’s climactic trap symphonies, he took on a persona that was only fit for the big screen. The sheer recklessness of it all was refreshing, and listeners had little time to question Ross’ kingpin boasts as they were force-fed over a constant blast of palpitating 808s.
After giving Rick Ross one of the biggest hits of his career with “B.M.F.,” the rest of the industry came calling. While he was still 19, Luger was sought out by a man who had already achieved Throne-worthy status. “I didn’t know who the hell it was at first,” says Lex of his surprise call from Kanye West. “He didn’t introduce himself. He just called me, and he just started talking about music.” “When can I fly you out to New York,” asked Kanye soon after Luger had realized whom he was talking to.
Days later, Luger met Kanye, Jay Z, and Beyonce at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in Manhattan. Kanye first put Lex in his own studio and told him to add some drums on the track that would become “See Me Now,” a MBDTF bonus cut featuring Beyonce and Big Sean. He laid down a similar but more organic-sounding hi-hat rollout to that of “B.M.F.” as well as a tightened snare breakdown that proved complementary to the Charlie Wilson vocal melody that drives the song. "See Me Now" is both evidence of Luger’s more joyful side as well as the imminent discovery that trap drums can work on just about any type of production.
He then played Kanye and Hov some of his own work, including the beat that would eventually become the lead single to their joint album, Watch the Throne. “And he [Kanye] just heard that [‘H.A.M.’], and I guess it was so monstrous, and it sounded so epic, know what I mean. And he added the fuckin’ choir, it was just crazy.”
Aside from “Hard in da Paint,” “H.A.M” is Luger’s most recognizable beat, with a dizzying synth line taken out of a ‘90s techno rave combined with some of his slickest and fastest-ever drum work. It’s hard to imagine a beat that better matches the size of The Throne’s consummate ego, and “H.A.M.” was about as loud a statement as two veterans could make in a changing landscape where attitude was everything. After months of waiting, Luger finally heard “H.A.M.” when it premiered in January of 2011.
Last year it was Metro Boomin -- and DJ Mustard the year before that. In 2011, the most in-demand producer was undoubtedly Lex Luger. After “H.A.M.,” Luger scored singles for Ace Hood, Snoop Dogg, and Wale, and he enjoyed more placements from his reliable partners Waka Flocka and Rick Ross.
To the surprise of much of the rap world, after “Round of Applause,” the Drake-featuring single that would land on Waka’s 2012 album Triple F Life, Luger wouldn’t score another single for over three years. That track was an indication that Luger was beginning to explore emotions other than aggression and that he was enhancing his focus on melodies both softer and slower. Everyone still wanted his signature sound, but it was a demand he was less willing to supply.
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