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.