In 2012, Lex Luger did not have a hit song. Nothing he did last year deserved even a slight mention in the grand narrative of rap music in 2012. The dark synth sound that he established in 2009 with Waka Flocka Flame had all but left the rap consciousness by last summer. I wrote about this fact last year when it seemed Luger was ready to move beyond his synth overload style back in 2011 as he moved towards more sample based beats.
The initial hype around Lex Luger quickly dissipated. Waka Flocka Flame’s “Hard in the Paint” was Luger’s first hit, but his collaborations with Rick Ross (“B.M.F.” & “MC Hammer”) are what really sparked his career. So when Ross’ Maybach Music Group released their first album the opening single “Tupac Back” was mistaken for Luger, but was actually produced by Mike Will Made It. In only a year, Luger had already been replaced. Though Luger had a successful single (“That Way”) from the album, but another year later Rick Ross’ follow-up album to Teflon Don unsurprisingly didn’t feature one beat from Luger.
God Forgives, I Don’t had successful singles but the only single that sounded anything like the track that helped revive Ross’ career was “Hold Me Back”, a floundered single that was a lesser facsimile of the previous Maybach Music single “Actin’ Up”. Ross left Luger and so had most of the rap world, except for a few Chicago kids.
Last year saw a large amount of attention gravitate toward Chicago’s rap scene and specifically Chief Keef and his GBE crew. The breakthrough song for not only Keef, but the entire city, was “I Don’t Like”. Produced by Young Chop it pushed the harsh aesthetic of Lex Luger to a nihilistic end that would only be pushed further with the other voice on the song Lil Reese with his mixtape—aptly titled—Don’t Like. But, when Keef started releasing new tracks for his major label debut something had changed. He was still working with Young Chop and he still was barely rapping, but the songs were no longer as dark and Keef’s hook writing ability had improved.
One of the other producers that worked with Keef on Finally Rich beyond Young Chop was Mike Will Made It. In an interview with Hip-Hop DX Mike Will explains working with Keef, “It went back to what I was saying at first, with the melody just feeling good…just glorifying his team, and talking the same shit how he’s living life.” Keef’s debut Finally Rich had far more variety than most people wanted to admit during the initial album review cycle; “No Tomorrow” produced by Mike Will with its sing-sung hook is one of the album’s best examples of Keef’s increased melodic skill. The dark sound of Luger that filtered down to Keef by the end of 2012 had been excised from Keef thanks to Mike Will.
That focus on melody is probably why Mike Will can smile looking at his track with Rihanna “Pour It Up” continued to rise up the Pop charts. The song isn’t too dissimilar to Juicy J’s “Bandz A Make Her Dance” in production or in lyrical content—the critics call them “Strip club anthem”, but this particular “anthem” is a surprise hit because of who it is singing it. Rap producers typically change up their style for R&B singers, but for Mike Will that doesn’t seem to be the case. Instead Rihanna chose the song that was intended to be a rapper’s song and is going to become one of Mike Will’s biggest hits. “Neva End” was originally supposed to be an R&B track according to Mike Will for someone like Rihanna or Usher, but instead fell into the hands of Future. The track was re-released with Kelly Rowland, so Mike Will must have gotten a small chuckle seeing a major R&B star finally on the track that was succeeding without such star power before.
Rappers are taking R&B tracks and R&B singers are taking rap tracks has happened for years, but in 2013 with Pop stars taking rap tracks and rappers not afraid to sing, these talent pools are merging together under the submerged synths of Mike Will. Rap is always ready to jump to the next trend, but Mike Will in 2012 seemed to have set up a strong foundation that he might be a return of the phrase “Super Producer”.
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.
James Ferraro profile has increased in 2011 with his latest album Far Side Virtual being named The Wire’s album of the year and receiving increased coverage in places beyond the music circles that Altered Zones previously covered. So, at the end of 2011, he released a “mixtape” under the name Bebetune$ with the unfortunately ironic title inhale C-4 $$$$$.
Ferraro’s mixtape would seem to have goals of commentating on rap mixtapes with the ridiculous name “Bebetune$” and its rap influenced production, but this conceit doesn’t quite work as the “Bebetune$” drops that happens through the tape never connect in an away that Araabmuzik’s “Your listening to Araabmuzik” and the little rapping is just him saying swag and mumbling unintelligible words.
Presenting this as a “mixtape” should be the first warning sign of this project, because there might be little difference between “mixtapes” and “free albums” right now. Presenting this as a “mixtape” in a rap context puts it in the tradition of Lil Wayne’s Da Drought 3, 50 Cent’s early 2000s mixtapes, or the over half dozen mixtapes Waka Flocka Flame has released last year.
Except, Ferraro’s scope isn’t that wide, as it sounds like he listened to a few Araabmuzik and Lex Luger instrumentals and caught up on the hype that has gotten Lex Luger a New York Times feature and Araabmuzik’s Electronic Dream appearing on plenty of indie site’s album of the year lists. This weird mix of Luger’s drum kit and Ferraro’s abstract synths and oddball samples make the first few tracks kind of interesting, but as that novelty wears off all left is a passionless parody of music that misunderstood what was good about the original work.
Weed, Pills, Promethazyne - J-Green (feat. Lex Luger)
Usually I’d say a rap song cannot have too many moving parts, but “Weed, Pills, & Promethazyne” tries its best to shake me of this thinking. There are some people that cannot stand a DJ rewinding and talking all over a mixtape track, but this song and Juicy J’s recent work seem to have embraced the DJ’s altered versions of songs, as some choruses are just 3 to 5 second audio swipes from other rappers, which can go unnoticed until you hear the original sample source months later. That the track says “(feat. Lex Luger)” is a slight misnomer, as the chorus comes from a poorly record line he said for one of the Rubba Band Business mixtapes, which placed next to J-Green’s unholy synths and Luger’s own signature drum rolls, makes the sample feel pretty creepy instead of cheap.
But, Lex Luger is not the only sample in the song, as the end of the song has a scratched in “YES YES YES” and a retro Memphis song also in there and as all of this is happening the instrumental sounds like what I originally imagined the Rubba Band Business series to sound like (an odd mix of Halloween synths and obnoxious drum rolls). Like vintage Memphis tapes J-Green doesn’t need to rap all over this song to make it work, as there are enough samples to keep someone’s attention, but he does anyway, and his high nasally voice is good for piercing through all the cacophony of sounds that he produced. However, if he decided to step away from the mic, he is more than capable of creating a song that samples from decades of Memphis rap/Memphis influenced rap without sounding like a third-rate revivalist.
What the Fuck Is Yall On - Juicy J
The original Rubba Band Businessgot me to invoke a phrase I don’t get to use a lot, “I like this more in theory than in practice”. The combo of Juicy J and Lex Luger seemed to be a perfect cross-generational rap pairing of Halloween Theme keys and threats to beat up whoever might cross their path. Rubba Band Business was full of those types of tracks, but something was off; maybe Juicy J was not fully into it or maybe Lex Luger did not send the correct menacing beat #45, whatever the case the project could have a been better.
The shift in tone and uptick in quality is heard in the opening track “A Zip and a Double Cup”, where Juicy J assumes the role of your favorite druggy friend extolling the virtues of a healthy diet of greens and Styrofoam cups. Juicy J’s rapping throughout the mixtape has a lot more to do with the what is going into his system rather than who he wants to fuck or he wants to fuck up, which is summed by the line “You say no to drugs…Juicy J can’t”.
At 28 songs long (even getting rid of the intro and outro there 26 songs on the mixtape, length be damned), Rubba Band Banks 2 never gets stuck on the same note (okay, if hearing Juicy J rap about sex does not interest you then this mixtape is not for you). A few songs produced by I.D. Labs and Big Germ offer an early detour from the dark world of Lex Luger (or Sonny Digital, who contributes some of the darker tracks) creating a bizarre contrast of R&B-lite hooks by himself and Billy Wes, while offering such lines “I’m watching white girls play volleyball, I wanna play can I join ya’ll, my girl ain’t trippin’ she like girls too”. For most rappers this would be the territory of for-the-ladies jams, Juicy J barely a third through this mixtape these would be tracks for-the-ladies tracks are all about him on cruise control enjoying life.
The mixtape cover might only feature Lex Luger and Juicy J, but the scattered out guest features help add some color to the monochrome verses of Juicy J. Project Pat’s voice and exuberance raise “Pills, Weed, and Pussy” from the middling quality it was sure to be, and the track (“Introduce”) before has a great antisocial verse from rising star Don Trip. But, the best verse on the mixtape might come from Machine Gun Kelly, a young Cleveland rapper, who raps about giving Santa Claus cookies with a quick precise style that even makes his multiple references to “munchies” loveable/excusable.
Even with all of this going on in this mixtape, there is still plenty of straight fight, blunt, lean cup, sex, or whatever else Juicy J does during the day tracks. “Who Da Neighbors” is all about the luxury life of expensive real estate (to the answer the title’s question “Kobe Bryant from the Lakers”), “Money Money to Make Money” is about money money money money money, and “Pussy Between Yo Legs” is oddly and disturbingly about a woman who is not willing to sell herself for money.
In a way this mixtape is all about money, it being the ultimate desire so that Juicy J can buy those houses, drugs, women, and whatever else suits him. But he isn’t looking to make money on this free nearly 30 track mixtape, affording him an ability to have weird (but still good) hyper-sexualized R&B tracks (“Celebration”) right alone side one verse and done fight songs (What The Fuck Is Yall On”). He already has money, women, drugs, and this mixtape is a well executed tribute his lifestyle.
In Da Box - Sean Garrett (feat. Rick Ross)
Guess who produced this. No, really please do. Lex Luger is apparently the person behind the boards of this song: rising synths and questionable drum-rolls are certainly him, but the rest sounds more K.E. on the Tracks than Lex Luger. After getting past the party synths (Lex found the happy setting on those fruity loop synths), the plodding bass should shake the car interiors, but listening to it on the radio unless you are willing to hurt the volume knob well past 15 loses that effect. Even if the bass does not thump as it should, false horns (a favorite of mine) continue to find a home outside of Swag Rap tune and make for a great addition to Lex Luger’s sample set.
Rick Ross on paper is a great and terrible rapper all at once, but at the same time he is one of the most uninteresting rappers to hold that dichotomy. He exists to make grand boasts and ridiculous statements, but he does it so well at this point that unless he changes up his style each boast rings out with the same repetitive soullessness. Getting rid of Ross’ verse still would not improve the song as Sean Garrett in this song: hashtag raps, references “Racks on Racks”, and even mentions of Jackie O; but the song is called “In Da Box” and that concept is one maybe too grand for Sean Garrett to flesh out an entire verse better-yet a song.
Go N Get It - Ace Hood
“Hustle Hard” is Ace Hood’s biggest hit and producer Lex Luger’s biggest songs from this year, while the chorus of “Hustle Hard” has a surprising emotional appeal: the rest of the song lets it down. Not quite nailing the concept the first time around (or on the great remix), as it gets lost in its own bragging and swagger; so Ace Hood and Lex Luger essentially remake that single, and to capitalize on the desperation and hunger of the original song for “Go N Get It”.
The chorus of “Hustle Hard”, “Same old shit, just a different day, out here tryin to get it, each and every way”, is replaced by lines about his cousin overdosing and the facing the struggle of getting kicked out of his own house. Ace Hood goes on to describe his sick mother, having two kids on the way, and when he says he needs money he has already explained well why he is “chasing cream”. Ace Hood also sounds like he learned something from his remix with Rick Ross and Lil Wayne; the second verse he borrows the flow Rick Ross and his rhymes are not too far from Lil Wayne’s (“Swagger just dumb, call it Kelly Bundy”). This jacking of styles could be derivative, but taking from the most successful rappers in currently business, shows him trying to do his best to usurp his first single and its remix.
Lex Luger—who unfairly tagged as recreating the same beat over and over again—might have crafted a song similar to “Hustle Hard”, but this sequel shows intelligence in Lex Luger’s craft most would not admit. The basic beat is pretty similar, but when Ace Hood gets to his most personal rhymes and the synths start rising for to a thunderous volume before crashing back down to the chorus, Ace Hood sounds capable of accomplishing anything set before him. “Hustle Hard” tapped into the feeling of needing to overcome the hopelessness and uncertainty in America right now, but six months later with the economy still looking shaky, “Go N Get It” minds hard into those feelings deeper and finds a more emotionally resonant song.
Turnt Up - Lil Lody
I would never recommend someone pay 30k for a beat or verse by Lil Lody; worst yet no one should pay him 15k to just walk into your club. Lil Lody can make boasts, but unlike the rappers who usually hop on his tracks; he cannot sell them for even a second, as his squeaky whine is not built for this 21st century Memphis fight music. No one would be sending him a twitter messages for a handful of beats, if not for another producers with the same initials of LL: Lex Luger. On “Over Here” on his just released mixtape, “The Theory”, he complains about rappers/producers copying his style, which is one of the most preposterous claims in a rap song this year, right next to Rick Ross claim of selling dope straight off the iPhone.
Lil Lody’s terribly uninspired rapping would be a lot whole lot more forgivable if his production showed any character or unique style, but nope: it don’t. He just copies and regurgitates the style of Lex Luger nearly removing any of the previous Trap styling that Lex Luger’s production had (the variety of production by a Drumma Boy or Shawty Redd combined with their own trademark touches are lost on Lil Lody). “Grove Street Party” has more energy than anything done by Lil Lody; Lex Luger at least works with different synths instead of just finding the ”dark evil” synth and letting the light drum rolls do the rest of the work (Drumma Boy’s drums might sound repetitive, but they have a weight Lil Lody and Lex Luger both lack in their third-rate drum kits). ”The Theory” has songs full of the minor keys, drum rolls, and over-stuffed bass that signify a generic Lex Luger track, but for Lil Lody this is a creative peak of his production skills. Lil Lody is a young producer; who could easily improve and find his own producer voice. Until then, he is just going to continue to get work and a slight critical appreciation reproducing the style of Lex Luger while propagating the false idea he should step behind a mic.
Rick Ross last year did something I doubt any one would have ever guessed he would have done in his entire career.; release the most important rap single of the year. “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast)”, originally a mixtape track produced by Lex Luger was one of the highlights…
Hey! I wrote this.