A day in the life of Lex Luger, hip hop producer of the moment

Alex Pappademas opens a window to Lex Luger's young life and amazing work in the New York Times.

07.11.11

Words by: Anthony Walker

Lex Luger’s beats fueled Waka Flocka Flame’s rise to stardom and his signature tinned orchestral sound has taken the hip-hop scene by storm. Lex Luger Can Write A Hit Rap Song in the Time It Takes to Read This is a brilliantly candid, and in many ways affectionate, view of the Suffolk, Virginia producer’s background – from dead end jobs and Fruity Loops to upgrading to Pro Tools and working with Jay, Kanye and Beyonce. Luger combines of a winning formula and an incessant work rate and Pappademus looks at the interesting relationship between a high quality product and a rather banal process:

I got to see just how easy it is on the second day I spent at the studio with Luger. He began by playing a four-note melody in a series of different electronic voices — an Enya-like perfume-cloud swoosh and a harsher techno-y synthesizer bark. He has what seems like a million sounds loaded into this laptop: sampled snippets from “The Flintstones” (“This is a long-distance call from Bedrock!”) and pneumatic-door-hiss/explosion noises instantly identifiable as “Star Wars” sound effects. Every drum sound has a weird code name: SsoHatClosed3, H Emotive, Rattle Chop, Slapper Knock, Bongo4, Torture Rack Kick, TrapWhistle1. When he scrolls through the menu, it’s like listening to the world’s weirdest band tuning up, like a closetful of cartoon props tumbling onto the floor. […]

He exhaled a baseball-size puff of smoke and clicked the mouse a few times, and a bamboo-flute sound filled the room, like a kung-fu-movie soundtrack. Four notes. “I was just playing,” he said, “and that just came out. And that’s a loop. It didn’t even take a minute. And that’s all I really need, right there, to start a beat.”

He laid down more tracks on top of it: big, menacing low-end strings, an echoed-out needle-across-vinyl scratch. Toggled through more effects: GunCock2, Luger Slap Clap, Slapper Knock. Silenced the flute loop and punched up an ominous horror-movie keyboard part, like the score John Carpenter wrote for “Halloween.” And he started doing a little chair-dance, shrugging his shoulders and clicking from window to window — if you couldn’t hear the playback hammering through the speakers or see the screen of Lex’s laptop, the way he moved would be the only thing that indicated he was making music rather than, say, checking his e-mail.

The whole thing was done in less than half an hour. Lex saved the file and took a bite of pizza, and six minutes later he had another beat in progress, with the “Star Wars” light-saber-clash sound buried somewhere in it. I clocked this one on my iPhone. It was done in 22 minutes. I relayed this to Lex.

“Twenty-two minutes?” he said, incredulous. “Pssssh. I’m gettin’ old.”

The next one took 18:58.

From humble beginnings, Luger’s found himself at the top of his game. But his distinctive style has been copied so many times that we can half-jokingly refer to the genre of Beats That Sound Like Lex Luger But Aren’t By Lex Luger, and he knows that he has to evolve, like his fellow Virginians Timbaland and the Neptunes, to stay there. The piece ends with a teasing suggestion at the next big thing the 20-year old producer has got locked up on his laptop:

“I play this for artists all the time, and they don’t want it,” he said, skipping to another track — this one cold and melodramatic, like the Vangelis cue that underscores Rutger Hauer’s death scene in “Blade Runner.” It sounds like a computer sobbing. It seems to demand a Waka Flocka with more ice in his voice than flame. It sounds, frankly, amazing. Luger cut off the playback after a minute and said: “Oh, man. That’s secrets, right there.”

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