Lexus Arnel Lewis, or known as to most rap fans Lex Luger, turned 21 this year. Before, the age of 21 Luger’s had firmly established his place in the Hip-Hop history books. He reinvented the sound of Trap Rap, made Rick Ross a rapper that rap fans and critics had to respect, and two years after Rick Ross’ “B.M.F.” came out nearly every rapper has rapped over it or a similar style beat from Luger or any number of producers that quickly started copying him.
Six or so months after people began noticing Luger’s name, his sound enveloped the rap community resulting collaborations with rap stars Kanye West, Snoop Dogg, and Wiz Khalifa. His sound started to filter down the rap food chain, as guys like Shawty Redd and Drumma Boy, who had been producer for Trap rappers for years were being shunned in favor of Luger. Trap Rap had found a new meaner sound. Shawty Redd and Zaytoven—original producers for guys like Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane—had been making synth and 808 heavy beats since the 2000s, but the darker sound of Luger was now the sound that their previous collaborators were craving. So, in a year’s time Luger produced the first single for the joint Kanye West and Jay-Z project (“H.A.M.”) and had a lock on any rapper that dreamed of getting posted on a site like DirtyGloveBastard.
The sound that Luger established within its first year was already being run into the ground by him and other producers mimicking the sound. Luger insisted that he didn’t just want to create “B.M.F.” clones and he had more varied production for rappers; while it was interesting to read the New York Times report his new beats are “like a computer sobbing”, the retreads of that Rick Ross single like Wiz Khalifa’s “Taylor Gang”, Fabulous’ “Lights Out”, and Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard” said otherwise.
Early last year, the Fader posted a couple instrumentals Luger had posted on Twitter, which were different from the work that made him the rap producer of the moment. Those instrumentals were probably the first examples Luger’s sample heavy work released to the public—and are sadly no longer online—and these tracks weren’t good, but they showed Luger getting the basics of sampling down.
Last May, Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group released their first album. Self Made Vol. 1 ironically only had a couple Luger beats, when the album was full of the larger-than-life dark synths that he and Ross popularized just a year before. But the album’s big single still came from Luger with “That Way” a smooth R&B crossover hit featuring a hook by Jeremih and a Curtis Mayfield sample (“Give Me Your Life”) with the only trademark of Luger being his rising synth sound. That was the first of Wale’s three hit R&B singles—“Lotus Flower Bomb” and “Sabotage” being the second and third—and by far the weakest, as Wale rapping, Jeremih’s singing, and Luger’s production underachieved together for mediocre single.
That same month, Waka Flocka Flame released one of his many mixtapes from 2011, DuFlocka Rant. The one track credited to Luger was not one of the sound system crushing bangers on the tape. “Nigga Knowledge” along with “Koolin’ It” released later in the year on another Waka mixtape (Twins Tower 2) brought back the sample heavy style of “That Way”. Both songs were better than “That Way”. Still they were not much more enjoyable than saying “hey, Lex Luger can change up his style”, as his typical overblown beats like “A Zip and a Double Cup” & “Who Da Neighbors” from Juicy J’s Rubba Band Business 2 remained his forte.
Schoolboy Q’s Habits & Contradictions came out at the beginning of this year with a lone Luger produced track, “Groove Line Pt. 1”. After about a year of working with soul samples, Luger finally got the formula down. There no trap drums, no synths, and listening to the original “Feel Like Makin’ Love” by Marlena Shaw shows that Luger swiped from the quiet opening before the song unfolds and gets funkier keeping the song as far away from his typical work as possible. The song is good, but the lack of Luger trademarks result in a track that has been done plenty of times throughout rap’s history, and has been refined to an almost dangerous level by one of the song’s featured guests Curren$y with his laid back stoner persona and producers like Ski Beats, The Alchemist, or Monsta Beatz.
Working on two of the biggest mixtapes in terms of real world popularity—gauging real world popularity with number of times it has been downloaded—“The Code” on Wiz Khalifa’s Taylor Allerdice and “Lucky Ass Bitch” from Mac Miller’s Macadelic show Luger finding a good balance of these two disparate styles. Each track have the typical lurch of a Luger beat, but with “Lucky Ass Bitch” the distant vocal sample invokes Araabmuzik’s Electronic Dream where trance singing paired with hard trap drums makes for an oddly logical combination of styles. “The Code” works the similar formula of Luger’s typical drums juxtaposed with a leftfield sample sounding like a random track from a Japanese movie soundtrack (I doubt it is, but maybe?!). These tracks don’t bring to mind “a computer sobbing” but staying flexible with his original sound and mixing it with other sounds works better than diving wholly into another sound.
Luger has even thrown his hat in remixing other people’s work recently remixing Stalley’s “Everything New”, originally produced by Chad Hugo. The remix itself isn’t that great, Hugo’s dark key melody slightly tweaking the classic Neptunes’ formula fits the song better than Luger’s insertion of dry trap drums and creeping synths. But, the remix is one of Luger’s first, and considering the progress with samples he has made in a year, if he wanted to focus on remixes there is probably interesting work he could do. The young producer, as he has continued to work with more rappers has expanded his own sonic scope, while other producers and beat makers are barely catching up to a sound that Luger has already found ways of inverting (Gucci Mane’s “Spread the Word”) and twisting (Chevy Woods’ “Vice”) for his own ends.
Like a Tatoo - Droop-E
I missed Droop-E’s mixtape BLVCK DIAMOND LIFE last year, as the hype around the project wasn’t enough for me to take a listen to it. Months later I finally listened to “Loaded”, then immediately proceeded to download the mixtape, and felt stupid I had gone as long as I had without ever listening to it. All of the tracks are based off of Sade samples, so it would easy to see this project having great samples turned into fine beats with average rapping splashed on—but, nope. Droop-E does not let the project fall into those shallow waters and instead keeps his rapping up to par with the original samples.
“Like a Tattoo” might not be first song one would highlight when looking at the lyrics of this mixtape, because “Hungry” is probably a better overall song and “Loaded” with a E-40 feature is hard to overlook. But, “Like a Tattoo” floats in a dream state that furthered by Droop-E’s effortlessly cool rapping. His few rhymes show a thankfulness and appreciation for the life he already has. Droop-E sounds genuinely humbled, a trait usually forced in rap music, but here it could not sound more true.
Niggas violate we slice and dice em like woodchips, hoes be straight Vanilla Icing and we get on some Suge shit. Hang a nigga from 40 stories and watch em drop like Wile E. Coyote.
—Freddie Gibbs, on “Born 2 Roll”.
All the Way Turnt Up - Roscoe Dash (feat. Soulja Boy)
Will Roscoe Dash ever have an official release, because during the middle of the summer, there would have been a good debate between whether Roscoe Dash or Waka Flocka Flame were every going to have their albums released. In the summer both had minor hits on the radio and were about have their profile raised thanks to ”No Hands”. His first and most popular single “All the Way Turnt Up” was produced by K.E. on the Track, and works best with the hook just being him saying “All the Way Turnt Up” with his voice sounding like it is meshing with some outer space synths. On the verses Roscoe Dash raps in a similarly, where he is not all out rapping nor quite singing and while neither aspect is great the fusion works great for this song.
Roscoe Dash’s next single “Show Out” is produced once again K.E. on the Track, and is pretty similar to “All the Way Turnt Up”, where the chorus is pushed forward by those synth horns that appear in lots of K.E. on the Track’s songs. Roscoe sticks with the rapping singing style, and honestly the song is not all that different from his eventual hit in “No Hands”. I am not sure why exactly why “No Hands” crossovered further than his two previous singles, maybe it was Drumma Boy’s production as it does carry more force than Roscoe Dash’s first couple of singles, as the drums and synth horns do not have the cheaper feel that comes from songs by K.E. on the Track.
Roscoe Dash’s next songs in “My Own Step” for the Step Up 3-D Soundtrack, and another song from his upcoming album “Sexy Girl Anthem” share three common factors. Neither song was produced by K.E. on the Track or was very good, nor did both have much success on the music charts. I doubt Roscoe Dash is going anywhere at least for the next year, as “No Hands” is too big of a hit for the person who really made the song popular to disappear that quickly. Maybe Roscoe Dash will continue to sing/rap on guest verses and hooks of other people’s song, as he seems pretty equipped to do that, and hopefully his album will come out and give a home to his first couple of great singles from this year.
Also, there was a Travis Porter version of “All the Way Turnt Up”, and well I like more, but both are great.
1. Waka Flocka Flame (feat. Kebo Gotti): “Grove St. Party” - Part of me hopes that the career of Lex Luger is only starting and hopefully his influence can continue to reach more mainstream levels of hip-hop, as the type of agression Waka brings to songs is something that has existed before in rap and could use a come back.
2. Deerhunter: “Desire Lines”- When descrbing this song to a friend, I said a couple minutes in there is a jangly guitar riff that happens, and at that point I fall in love with the song.
3. Kanye West (feat. Swizz Beatz, RZA, Jay-Z, Pusha-T, and Cyhi the Pynce: “So Appalled” - Talking about the trails of fame, while throwing together RZA and Swizz Beatz on the same track is not unexpected of Kanye West, but is something no one else can or would think of doing in 2010.
4. Jamie xx: “Far Nearer” - Song I have most wanted to buy, but have not been able to? Yes.
5. Nicki Minaj: “Monster”, “Bottoms Up“ & “Raining Men” - Just in case people forgot, this year Nicki Minaj rapped better than your favorite rapper on more tracks than your favorite rapper has gold records.
6. Harlem: “Poolside” - This was the first song that cane to my mind when the sun went down every day this past summer.
7. Kim Ann Foxmen: “Creature” - Kim Ann Foxmen’s voice could carry this song if the rest was musically lacking, but her voice does not need to carry that weight, so a great pair is made.
8. Girl Unit: “Showstoppa” - A few years ago “What’s You Know” was a near number one single in the USA, and this song carries the weight and swagger of that song better than any rap single since then.
9. Gucci Mane: “Long Money” - The cold description of how a money counter works that begins and ends the song, fits the colder and more mechanical style of Gucci Mane’s rapping used on “Long Money” and most Mr. Zone 6.
11. Cults: “Go Outside” - Cute catchy pop, is all I needed to know, to be sure that I loved this song.
12. Mellowhype (feat. Earl Sweatshirt & Wolf Haley): “Chordaroy” - Not the most popular song to come from Odd Future this year, but personally the first one I of think and that in no small part thanks to Wolf Haley (Tyler). (“When I say Wolf Gang, you say ‘Fuck that’”)
13. Main Attrakionz: ”Legion of Doom” - If the term “Space Rap” is ever thrown around, this song has to be starting point, because as good as Lil B can be at these tracks. Main Attrakionz took that idea and floated away with it.
14. Rihanna (feat. Drake): “What’s My Name” - The first time I heard this song I thought, “Delorean is on a pop station, and it is pretty awesome.”
15. Delorean: “Stay Close” - Well, not quite, but “Stay Close” is still a great sunny beach filled song.
16. G-Side: “Money in the Sky” - ST 2 Lettaz second verse is the best verse of rap on this list, and probably overall this year.
17. Jam City: “Ecstasy (Remix)” - The original track is fine, but Jam City’s remix takes some nice Funk, and turns it into everything I look for when I spend hours reading about Rave Culture.
18. Soulja Boy (feat. Gucci Mane): “Pretty Boy Swag (Remix)” - Even ignoring Gucci Mane’s great opening verse, I always enjoyed “Pretty Boy Swag” if only for the barely there beat by G5 Kids and for pushing “Swag” further into public concious.
19. Chris Brown (feat. Tyga & Keven McCall): “Duces” - I guess this is the year, where I come to terms with the fact Chris Brown makes some of my favorite radio singles.
20. Young Jeezy (feat. Plies): “Lose My Mind” - That Young Jeezy cannot release an album behind a single as big as this, is terrible, but I guess that is what being a rapper in 2010 requires dealing with.
21. The S.L.O. (feat. OThird): “Can’t Outwork ‘Em” - Huntsville rap in 2010 remained strong, and this song, is one of the leading reasons why.
22. Harlem: “Someday Soon” - I can play this on guitar, and that is enough reason for me to like this catchy song.
23. Freddie Gibbs (feat. Pill): “Do Wrong” - Freddie Gibbs and Pill is a slightly odd pair to me, but in reality they are a great pair, which is why they are able to sound so great on tracks with each other.
24. Yelawolf (feat. Gucci Mane): “I Just Wanna Party” - Living in a dream world, I just want to believe this song will become huge next year, as it is “Wasted” except a whole lot better.
25. Wooh Da Kid: “No Romance” - “Who the fuck is next, I say Wooh Da Kid and Lex”
26. Big Boi (feat. Yelawolf): “You Ain’t No DJ” - Will a track produced by Andre 3000 ever have both Big Boi and Yelawolf on it again. I doubt it, but I can hope as this first time is great.
27. Robyn: “Dancing on my Own” - In a text to a friend, I proposed I getting a boombox and blasting this song for entire day, as they are going through a normal day. I am not sure if this speak highly of the song and my friend or just makes me sound crazy. #YesIAmCrazy
28. Rihanna: “Only Girl (In the World)” - Maybe my school last year found too much enjoyment from Jersey Shore, but if fist pumping does not happen for you at 1:16 of this song, I do not know what to say.
29. Janelle Monae (feat. Big Boi): “Tightrope” - All of the different words used to describe Sir Lucious Left Foot in reviews can easily apply to this song, and what do you know Big Boi is also on this track.
30. Das Racist: “All Tan Everything” - Das Racist have become really good at rapping, and weeding out the shit does not work for them (Auto-Tune, NO). This song is also an oddly funny version of ”Jockin’ Jay-Z” for the few of your who remember that “hit”.
31. Kanye West (feat. Swizz Beatz & Jay-Z): “Power (Remix) ” - Swizz Beatz sample of “The Power” is obnoxious and obvious, but unlike far too many radio singles the past year, this sample gives this song a push into an even larger than life feeling than the epic original.
33. Young Jeezy: “Camero” - If the final version of this song is only 2 minutes, then “Camaro” sets the perfect length for car songs.
34. Gold Zebra: “Trans Desert” - If your myspace say Italo Disco, or you have nice cold singing over very minor electronics I will make an effect to get you money, and even buying a cassette.
35. Caribou: “Odessa” - The bassline of this song is better than most songs I like from this year, and when put with the rest of the song, a great track is formed.
36. B.O.B. (feat. T.I. & Playboy Tre): “Bet I Bust” - B.O.B. before Airplanes was a rapper, I did not care about, and B.O.B. after “Airplanes” is still a rapper, I do not care about. But, for this hard pop rap track, he got me to care.
37. Big Boi (feat. Cutty) ”Shutterbug” - This song has no reason to be popular, and it wasn’t, but for a song that references the “Wu-Tang Clan” and has real Vocoder, it certainly found its home on plenty of end of the year lists.
38. Starlito: “Alright” - Starlito on Renaissance Gangster slowed down his rapping quite a bit and over production by DJ Burn One this sytlistic change works great.
39. Azari & III: “Reckless (With Your Love) (Tensnake Remix)” - I have no real idea, what electronic music from the early 90s sounds like, but when I am told this is what it sounded like, and I am going to take their word for it and enjoy.
40. Cam’ron & Vado: “Stop it Slime” - Araabmuzik honestly makes some of the scariest music that may arrive on your local radio, and the instrumental for this song highlights the horror movie screams that are not so hidden in the background.
41. Y.G.: “Toot It and Boot It” - A Regional hit, slowly gaining popularity, with a great chorus. Of course I am going to love it.
42. Roach Gigz: “Respect It” - Roach Gigz’s last verse was when I stopped Roachy Balboa and was like this is going to be a great mixtape.
43. Zola Jesus: “Night” - “IINN TTTHHHEE EENNDD OOOFFF NNNIIIGGGHHHHTTT”
44. The Diplomats: “Salatue” - I listen to enough Hot 97 this year to get the impression this was an actually popular song this year, and I am okay living with that delusion.
45. Supa Villain: “On 49” - Supa Villain is a good rapper, who makes the cliched cruising around in a car song pretty good.
46. Passions: “Endless” - The synths on this song are what make it, as they sound so far and removed, and when paired with the miles away vocals the track cannot help but feel abnormally distant and cold.
47. Drake (feat. T.I. & Swizz Beatz): “Fancy” - “Nails done, hair done, everything did” This is song contain the second best Swizz Beatz hook this year, and well that is good enough to balance out the Drake on the track.
48. Lil B: “Based Robot (Based Freestyle)” - This is the Lil B, I like, where he is not trying to make ambient rap or too tied in established rap, he is doing what I guess The Based God would call being Based.
49. A Sunny Day in Glasgow: “drink drank drunk” - Autumn, Again is a great 30 minute album, and this was the abtrary song I chose to represent its greatness.
50. Ke$ha: “Your Love is My Drug” - I do not like B.E.P. or David Guetta, and well Ke$ha’s music sits right next to them on Pop radio, except her music lacks her peer’s digusting shine and has a good amount of dirty and rough on them thanks to Ke$ha.