Lex Luger is the star of the latest Behind the Beat. The Virginia producer speaks on the legacy of "Flockaveli," producing for Kanye West at 19, and exploring EDM with A-Trak. Now 25, he feels that his best work is yet to come.
Though he built much of his reputation in Atlanta, Lex Luger hails from Suffolk, Virginia and now resides in the neighboring town of Chesapeake. His career took off shortly after he got serious about music. He dropped out of high school after 10th grade to devote all his time to churning out menacing trap beats. “Nothing but time to practice all day,” he says of learning his craft in a town without a mall or a movie theater. Little did he know that he’d be one of the most recognizable producers in hip-hop by the time he was 19.
Luger began to dramatically increase his output after his friend and collaborator Ur Boy Black let him try out a pirated copy of Fruity Loops. With the software, he found that he could knock out at least 10 beats a day. This was when rap artists were just beginning to master the Internet as a platform for self-marketing. When he was 18, Luger used MySpace to connect with a barely buzzing Atlanta rapper named Waka Flocka Flame who had just found a mentor in Gucci Mane.
He sent Waka 40 beats, landing three on 2009’s Salute Me or Shoot Me 2, including an early version of “Hard in da Paint” (then titled “Hard”), which would eventually become the game-changing single that helped Waka become the new face of trap with his debut album, Flockaveli, released in late 2010.
When he first heard “Hard in da Paint” on the radio, Luger had barely cut a check with his beats. “I was at a dark point,” he says -- dead broke, out of school, and with a second child on the way. He felt the streets looming right outside of his basement studio, and he was able to channel both the fear and appeal of that world into his music.
The all-encompassing menace of “Hard in da Paint” is what made it stand out from the crunk/trap hybrid that had been brewing in Atlanta for a few years. “Music became more dark,” says Luger. “We took it back to the streets, the trap -- the taboo of black culture, I wanna say. It’s just bringing the gutter-ness back. Kind of how Mobb Deep did for New York.”
And where Havoc used rugged snares, and bleak piano loops -- all smeared in a vinyl static that evokes urban decay, Luger took an opposite approach. Inspired by early Three 6 Mafia as well as film scores like Hans Zimmer’s for “The Dark Knight,” he created grandiose arrangements that didn’t use shadowy suspense to hint at danger but, instead, embraced that evil with the sounds of cataclysmic warfare.
As for Waka, he certainly lacked a sense of careful detail, though he had what trap music had been calling for: unadulterated rage. Indeed, he proved to be one of the few voices who could stand up to Luger’s larger-than-life productions.