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.
It must be weird to apologize to your fans for one of last year’s most successful rap album, but that is the position Wiz Khalifa found himself one day when writing up a letter to his tumblr: “The album did great numbers, but creatively wasn’t my best work. No regrets though. We live and we learn.” The honesty shown admitting he lost his way with his major label debut is probably why Wiz Khalifa new mixtape Taylor Allderdice plays so to his strengths and minimizes the styles that weren’t working for him.
The funny thing about the backlash that Wiz Khalifa has experienced from Rolling Papers was that complaints of “selling put” or going “pop” could not be more wrong. On his breakthrough mixtape Kush and OJ, he was rapping over Camp Rock’s “Our Time is Now”, which is about as “Pop” as one can get without being produced by Dr. Luke. He might have “sold out” in term of working with producers like Stargate, whose leaning are more pop than his usual producers of Cardo and I.D. Labs, but they are also the guys who produced Khalifa’s biggest hit “Black and Yellow”, which was one of the purest rap songs to top the Hot 100 charts in this young decade.
In attempting to make up for Rolling Papers, Taylor Allderdice rewrites Wiz’s narrative pretending that he is not one of the few rappers that can still sell records. Instead it casts him as just another dude trolling weed and rap tumblrs that say Spaceghostpurp is the next big thing and that Juicy J is still a relevant rapper to young people. This rewriting is a bit disingenuous, but it does allow the light to be cast on long time collaborators Cardo, Sledgren, and Big Jerm who all update their styles for this expansive mixtape. Cardo, who produced the biggest song from Kush and OJ “Memorized”, on “California” and “Mary 3x” tweaks his rolling 808s sound with pillowly synths to better fit the luxury flights that Khalifa is now details. And with Sledgren on “O.N.I.F.C.”, Cardo brushes right up next to the production of Araabmuzik’s Electronic Dream or the loftiest heights of the Main Attrakionz as the song floats at a relaxed pace Khalifa might even say is a bit slow.
The production shows obvious growth from its predecessor Kush and OJ, but the growth that appears in the sonics is also found in Khalifa’s lyrics. That isn’t to say that he is starting to expand beyond his topics of weed and money, in fact he has reduced his scope because where there were once songs about girls, Amber Rose has replaced those nameless women Wiz used to rap about. Wiz Khalifa hasn’t collaborated with Lil B (even though he can be seen doing Lil B’s cooking dance in the video of “Black and Yellow”), but the constantly positive worldview of Lil B runs throughout the tape, as Wiz cares more about building up those around him rather than tearing down others. This is might seems like a minor change to highlight, but when Wiz mentions his willingness to smoke with his haters shows a maturity to not let petty beef effect his life and instead just move on and enjoy life.
That Wiz Khalifa had one of the biggest rap singles of 2011 with a song called “Roll Up”, which was one of the cutest love rap songs instead of an ode to weed reads like a parody rap headline. Produced by Stargate, those quality Swedes who produced Wiz Khalifa’s biggest hit “Black and Yellow” & Rihanna’s great “Only Girl (In the World)”, might account for the fact that the song and its sun-soaked music video would haven’t sounded out of place on the Disney channel, which instead of being a reason for derision by rappers and rap fans alike, it should have received more praise for being one of the best and bravest rap singles of the year.
Last year, there had to be some irony lost on people who dismissed Wiz Khalifa major label debut, Rolling Papers, declaring he sold out instead of sticking with the type of music he had been previously making (I had my problems with the album, but looking back I protested too much against it). Wiz Khalifa for the last few years has primarily only made love songs exclusively about girls and weed; this could be a description for plenty of lesser and better rappers that working exclusively in this lane. But reducing the number of ideas he could be working with eliminated conflict the primary motivation force for so many rappers (and for that matter most artists) is lost on Wiz. Pain and the struggles of life are topics that do not enter the music of Wiz, because why would he want to worry about such bummer things when he has pounds of weed to keep him giddy.
I am sure Wiz Khalifa’s life entails more than smoking weed and having sex, but whenever he mentions girls in his songs all they ever want to do is smoke weed and have sex with him. The opening song, “Memorized”, from his 2010 breakthrough mixtape Kush and Orange Juiceduring the chorus goes “These bitches stay memorized, as they recognize I keep it so G.” I am sure this could be describing some girls, but these “bitches” sound an awful like Wiz, as they want to admire his taste and lifestyle, which is essentially the only thing he is selling as a rapper. But, the choice of the word “bitch” seems strange for a dude, who is not describing people he dislikes or hates, because they are essentially him.
An influence of Snoop Dogg, Max B, or just youth probably accounts for the constant references of women as bitches, but it is more annoying than most cases to hear from Wiz Khalifa, who makes some of the poppiest radio friendly rap music right now. On “Racks (Remix)” he even says to look at this socks, the gold streak across his hair, and even raps “naps on naps on naps”. When he says “probably some girls that want to fuck a young nigga”, it doesn’t remove the Nickelodeon quality of saying to stare at the gold streak in his black hair. He is bragging that he is doing something different (and easily mocked for it at that), and proud of enough of it to call it out in this song, which is different than the usually rap put downs—which Khalifa himself does engage in. But, it is pretty easy to relate to a guy who brags about the number of naps he takes than the number of girls he is having sex with then ducking out afterwards.
Most rappers use their pain and struggle through their life to motivate their music, whether if it the usual hood-to-mansion story or even Childish Gambino talking about racial stereotyping affecting his life, but Wiz Khalifa doesn’t really operate in this tradition. There is no pain, strife, or conflict in his music, which makes it far more interesting than an average weed rapper should be. But, this kind of makes sense for this Rap Romantic, who has no need for the street conflict that most rappers never leave and while some might rush to mock Wiz for being “soft” or “weak”, the truth is that adding a pistol and group of a couple dozen hanger-ons doesn’t improve a rapper’s music and it certainly wouldn’t help Wiz Khalifa, who enjoys flying planes and drawing his name in the sand with his favorite girl.
DJ Drama is an easy rap figure to hate; he is loud, obnoxious, and a grown man yelling “Mr. Thanksgiving” on your favorite rapper’s songs can be slightly annoying, but he is still one of the most important figures in rap. The actual influence on rapper’s careers—where would Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, or for that matter the idea of Trap Rap be without him—is interesting, but what I love about DJ Drama is the thing people hate about him the most: the yelling.
The basic DJ Drama shouts are just a lot of boasting and posturing, usually going on rants about how “the streets” need this mixtape or how he has returned back to “the streets” (no matter how many times DJ Drama leaves the streets, they keep pulling him back in). Those adlibs really add anything to a song, but then lines like “I got 3-D glasses for $3.99, but the movie is free” from Gucci Mane’s “Frowney Face” are just too funny not to enjoy. Humor is not all he brings, as Alley Boy’s mixtape Purgatory from earlier this year is improved by DJ Drama’s ranting which increase the amount paranoia to the mixtape.
Sadly, until DJ Drama releases a spoken word album—or my fantasy of Tri Angle Records getting him to releasing a DJ Drama album with him yelling over Sludge Metal happens, this particular admirable quality of DJ Drama will probably stay lost to the larger rap world.
However, DJ Drama is a culprit of rewinding track, which I used to hate with a passion, but now I really appreciate what it can adds to a song. Waka Flocka Flame’s “Robot Rapper” has a running time of over 5 minutes, which would not be too odd, except that the base song is barely 3 and half minutes. Just after all of the DJ rewinding the song begins about 2 minutes into its 5:12 running time, meaning 40% of the song is a very extended intro.
This is nothing really new, as DJ having been mixing—and extending and shortening—songs for years, but a great song might be saddle with a minute of useless yelling that needs to be skipped just so the song can actually begin. While, a lot of people hate this effect, and only listen to NO DJ mixtapes, I’ve actually grown to like these alternate edits of songs. “Robot Rapper” might be fine in its three minute long version, but I have only grown to love its extended five minute form. But, what made me really notice this effect was trying to explain the structure of the song to friend, as I couldn’t explain it as the basic verse-chorus-verse structure was abandoned about a minute into the song.
I would expect structure of “Robot Rapper” to be:
Waka Flocka Flame’s verse
Kebo Gotti’s verse
Bo Deal’s verse
But, in reality it is:
The beginning of Waka Flocka Flame’s verse
Waka Flocka Flame yelling to rewind the track
Waka Flocka Flame’s verse
Waka Flocka Flame’s monologue
Kebo Gotti’s verse
Kebo Gotti’s monologue
Bo Deal’s verse
Bo Deal’s monologue
The song is also full of vocal being raised, multiplied, lowered; too many DJ tags piled onto of multiple rapper adlibs, so what could be a simple rap song is rendered near incomprehensible once someone focuses in on what they’re listening to. After one hard listen to “Robot Rapper” it is impossible to not notice the original song could not be nearly as crazy as the version that exists now. Usually, it is easy to prefer hearing a NO DJ version of a song, but this is a case after multiple listens to “Robot Rapper” there is something far more interesting about Waka Flocka Flame’s verse becoming a near chorus of the song until halfway through when order is restored and the real chorus shows up just enough times to qualify for its position.
When posting J-Green’s “Weed, Pillz, and Promethazyne” I said this DJ permanent warping of songs has resulted in some weird rap songs by the likes of him and Juicy J, as they pick and choose from different songs (or even mixtape skits) to create their own Frankenstein songs. Andrew Noz broke down the different parts of Juicy “s “Gotta New One”, which steals its hook from a random line from Wiz Khalifa on “Erryday” from Rubba Band Business 2, which itself was a tour-de-force of simple and cheaply sampled hooks (not to say that “Who Da Neighbors” is not awesome: it very much is). However, the cheapness of the songs is highlighted as the hook is of a noticeably lower quality of than Juicy J’s verse and that’s even ignoring the varying sound quality of the other samples.
This is not a new thing at all, as there is a great game to discover how many Cash Money songs hooks you can find in a single song, and most of the members of Three 6 Mafia have been remaking their classic songs for decades, so recycling material is not really new. There could even be a sub-genre of rap music that samples Pimp C, as the idea of paying tribute to Pimp C stopped being interesting a few years back, and is now one of the more strange/bizarre songs every southern rapper feels compelled to do. Rap music began because people sampled older records, but the there is a kind of snake eating it own tail eating the same snake’s tail feel to how a song like “Gotta New One” is created.
The line between mixtapes and album for years has been blurry, but now the songs are even starting to be made through this obscured view where the basic verse-chorus-verse structure is outdated, and if a song is going to stick to verse-chorus-verse it is ripe for strip mining to keep a steady clip of new songs always coming out. Complex did a feature of DJ Drama’s top 25 mixtapes, and as the last fourth of the feature has DJ Drama talking about the diminished importance the DJ has in today’s mixtape world. This is of course too bad for those DJ out there, who enjoy being known for yelling and rewinding track beyond recognition as mixtape DJ’s influence of releasing free music has kind of peaked (have you heard of this little act called the Weeknd). The same cannot be the for the actual music, which is even without a DJ altering the track stills sounds like at least a hundred different things happening in the song.
“The worst sweater in the history of sweaters.” - Tom Breihan
I would say a “Racks” remix has no reason to exist, even more so in a 12 minute long version that will never get played anywhere. But, the song is here, and you know what these rappers put time to make coherent ______ on _______ lines. So I will give the song some of my time. The verses are rated on 1-10 racks scale (1 being a rack; 10 being the most, thus best racks).
I would say a “Racks” remix has no reason to exist, even more so in a 12 minute long version that will never get played anywhere. But, the song is here, and you know what these rappers put time to make coherent ______ on _______ lines. So I will give the song some of my time.
The verses are rated on 1-10 racks scale (1 being a rack; 10 being the most, thus best racks).YC: YC has to get some credit for actually writing a new verse for the remix, but what little rapping talent he showed in the original version is lost in his new still auto-tuned verse. *1 Rack*
Young Jeezy: It has been hard to find nice words to write about Young Jeezy in the last few months, but his verse here is good. His original sound trap sound might not too popular now, but at least here he did not forget how to rap. *7 Racks*
Wiz Khalifa: Wiz Khalifa like most college students seems to enjoy taking “naps on naps”; no wonder young people love Wiz Khalifa. Wiz Khalifa is not the best guest verse rapper, but this might be one of my favorite Wiz verses from this year. *9 Racks*
Waka Flocka Flame: Has Waka Flocka Flame used auto-tuned before? I am honestly unsure, because his auto-tuned up verse, while not sounding out of place on the song, is still jarring to hear after listening to Flockaveli recently. The vocal effect does him no favors, but the shout outs to “Grove Street Party” and “No Hands” remind me of his verse on “Bingo”, which is always a good thing. *4 Racks*
CyHi Da Prince: This verse raises so many questions, but it is hard to look for the answers when they are coming from a “wack on wack” rapper. (Rockabye Review pointed out the lost of the hard K sound with this song, which could not be more true. I still do not know exactly what CyHi Da Prince said in the beginning.) *3 Racks*
Bun B: Last year people talked about how Bun B at this point in his career appears on tracks in his living legend status and contributes nothing to the song. Here is example #43 of that trend. *3 Racks*
B.o.B.: I am not sure what to make of the 9/11 references in his verse. I don’t like the Outkast reference, but I like the lightning lines. Eh. A couple line changes and this could have been the best. *5 Racks*
Yo Gotti: Remember when Yo Gotti was close to actually releasing an album. “Bales” “Scales” “White” “Ice” probably constitutes 83% of the words that would have been on that album, so his verse saves you the time if his album were to ever come out. *4 Racks*
Wale: “My name is Wale”, it is a good thing to announce who you are when you are in the middle of a 16 guest song. But, the rest of Wale’s verse is MMG Wale, which is some of my least favorite rapping I have to hear in 2011. *1 Rack*
Cory Gunz: The only representative of Young Money on this song is Cory Gunz. Cory Gunz. No Wayne. No Drake. No Nicki. This could be worst, but my no means is it good. *2 Racks*
Dose: Never heard of Dose before this song. His verse certainly took time out of my life; I’ll give him that. *2 Racks*
Corey Mo: Too bad Trae the Truth appears on this song, because in a song that is full of southern accents Corey Mo stands above the rest in delivers a solid, but generic Texas rapper verse. *5 Racks*
Nelly: I have no idea why he is on this song. I thought Nelly gave up rapping years ago. Besides reminding me that “Country Grammar” is over a decade old and changing up his flow multiple times in this song, Nelly does not really add much to the song. *3 Racks*
Twista: Nearly 10 minutes into this song. I just don’t want to have to make the effort to figure out what Twista is saying. Then in saying that the more I focus on his lyrics the less I care. *4 Racks*
Big Sean: Big Sean is like Drake without a personality and lacking an appeal to pitchfork readers (Big Sean jumping on Animal Collective samples?). “I’m at the altar saying my vows to this Benjamin Franklin pile”, I like this line but not much else. *3 Racks*
Trae the Truth: 11 minutes in the best verse on the entire song shows up. The funny thing about this song is that all of these rappers has have had worst verses, but 7 minutes in a “Racks” remix it is hard to continue to care. Trae’s verse made me care, so great job Trae the Truth. *9 Racks*
Ace Hood: Even if Ace Hood talks about Hockey, his final verse’s energy is hard to deny, which is great you have to end an overstuffed remix. *7 Racks*
You wanna ride with me, cause you say that he’ boring, wake up with me, you rolling weed and cooking eggs in the morning.
—Wiz Khalifa, on “Roll Up”. The more I enjoy this song, this particular line outlines my own personal hell, where my life peaks being Wiz Khalifa’s personal weed roller and egg maker.
Oh My - DJ Drama (feat. Fabolous, Wiz Khalifa and Roscoe Dash)
On his Gangsta Grillz radio show, DJ Drama spoke to figuring out how he wanted to best represent the current trends that happening in the rap music. “Oh My” his first single off his upcoming Gangsta Grillz 3 album represents what makes a popular rap song in 2011 pretty well. The song is produced by Drumma Boy; the man behind the Billboard Top 10 hit “Put it Down”; the hook is sung by Roscoe Dash who last time paired with Drumma Boy arrived at “No Hands”. The song also features a verse from Wiz Khalifa whose album is currently posted at #2 on the Billboard chart last, and Fabulous was included for a good measure of bad puns “looking from the front like she got some ass probably, they say that’s a sign girl, asstrology”. But, putting together the hottest elements in rap does not guarantee a hit song, so why does it all work? Roscoe Dash’s hook sticks closer to “Racks”, than “No Hands” or even his own hit “All the Way Turnt Up”, as his voice echoes and extends over Drumma Boy’s swirling synths meshing into one soaring electronic effect. Wiz Khalifa talks about girls and weed with a stoned boredom, while Roscoe Dash rap-singing sneaks away with the song’s best verse just like “No Hands”. “Oh My” might be reaching into every recent rap trend in an effort to try and arrive at a hit, but this effort of throwing money resulted in a track worth every dollar invested in it.
On his Gangsta Grillz radio show, DJ Drama spoke to figuring out how he wanted to best represent the current trends that happening in the rap music. “Oh My” his first single off his upcoming Gangsta Grillz 3 album represents what makes a popular rap song in 2011 pretty well. The song is produced by Drumma Boy; the man behind the Billboard Top 10 hit “Put it Down”; the hook is sung by Roscoe Dash who last time paired with Drumma Boy arrived at “No Hands”. The song also features a verse from Wiz Khalifa whose album is currently posted at #2 on the Billboard chart last, and Fabulous was included for a good measure of bad puns “looking from the front like she got some ass probably, they say that’s a sign girl, asstrology”.
But, putting together the hottest elements in rap does not guarantee a hit song, so why does it all work? Roscoe Dash’s hook sticks closer to “Racks”, than “No Hands” or even his own hit “All the Way Turnt Up”, as his voice echoes and extends over Drumma Boy’s swirling synths meshing into one soaring electronic effect. Wiz Khalifa talks about girls and weed with a stoned boredom, while Roscoe Dash rap-singing sneaks away with the song’s best verse just like “No Hands”. “Oh My” might be reaching into every recent rap trend in an effort to try and arrive at a hit, but this effort of throwing money resulted in a track worth every dollar invested in it.
I did a review of Rolling Papers for my school paper. I did not like the album. But I agree with Brandon Soderberg that the album is not all that different from Khalifa’s past mixtape work, except now he is a little more pop and on a Major Label (the album is the same quality as Kush and OJ, except with a less blog friendly aesthetic).
I talked with Wiz Khalifa, too. I couldn’t even tell him how much of a fan of his I was because he gave me a fuckin’ lecture, like, “Y’all a movement, man. It takes balls to do what y’all are doin’. I respect y’all. You know, when I was 19…” and then I kinda dozed off.
—Tyler the Creator, from a Pitchfork interview. Also, music writers do not say Odd Future, if you are only really talking about Tyler, because Odd Future is the group, not just Tyler. (this particular interview is not guilty of this)