Two staples of teenage life in the 2000s – a PlayStation 2 and a MySpace profile – gave Lex Luger the platform to become rap’s most in-demand producer. The video game console’s beatmaking capabilities were rudimentary but ripe for experimentation, and the social network allowed the Virginia Beach-born Luger to connect with Waka Flocka Flame. Together they’d go on to make Flockaveli, one of the decade’s most abrasive rap albums. The dark trap sound they established encouraged the nihilism and bleakness of producers like Shawty Redd and Drumma Boy, whose work with Young Jeezy and Gucci Mane had dominated the genre only a few years prior, and after Waka Flocka Flame’s first hit “Hard in da Paint” Luger was picked up by Rick Ross, Juicy J, Kanye West and others seeking to capitalize on the burgeoning style.
Once his form of heaving trap hit a saturation point, though, Luger pivoted. His songs no longer dominated rap radio – though his influence lingered – and he instead found work with young New York duo the Underachievers and in the Low Pros project with A-Trak, bleeding trap into mainstream EDM and exposing Luger to the world of live performance. Here, David Turner speaks to Luger about the value of reinvention and the various turns his relatively short career has taken.
What got you interested in making beats?
I started out playing the drums at first, at a church. From there, I got a DJ set [together] and started to learn about BPMs, bars and measurements. I was taking instrumentals and mixing them with acapellas and [thought], “I can make my own instrumentals and put them with acapellas.” Then I bought a video game for it that was like a beat machine video game and started going in, making my own stuff.
What were you listening to at that time?
“Drop It Like It’s Hot” had just come out, so every beat I was making sounded like that. Just straight drums, nothing else, like the [Clipse] “Grindin” beat. But after that, I started to learn about melodies and chords.
You have a Chief Keef one day, then you have a Bobby Shmurda. It’s sick the way these dudes pop up and disappear sometimes.
Once you started making beats, how did you begin to reach out to rappers?
I had hit Waka Flocka Flame up on MySpace about five or six years ago. He didn’t really rap at the time, but when I sent him about 50 of my beats he said, “You’re about to make me take this shit seriously. You’re about to be the start of my second mixtape.” He flew me out there and I met Debra Antney, Southside – you know, everybody. I talked to Debra, moved out there, hired her as my manager and we basically put Flockaveli together.
Who else did you work with when you were working on Flockaveli?
The first major artist that hit me up was Rick Ross through his cameraman Spiff TV. Spiff helped me out a lot in the industry and got me endless placements like “Hustle Hard,” shit like that. He emailed me and said that Rick Ross wanted the “Hard in da Paint” instrumental so that he can do a remix. I was like, “Cool cool, I’ll do that,” but never did. I sent him all of my other shit, so by that point he didn’t even care about “Hard in the Paint,” because when they heard “B.M.F.” and “MC Hammer,” that was the sound [they wanted].
How did your relationship with 808 Mafia come about?
808 Mafia started with me, Southside and Waka Flocka Flame but, to be honest, Southside and I butt heads a lot. And Waka and I do, too. I just didn’t think at the time that [808 Mafia] would be a household name. When people look at the word “mafia,” you know what you think about. I didn’t want my kids to grow up realizing what that represents and realizing that I was a part of that. I was really conscious about that. I kind of backed off [that project] ’cause of that, but I loved the “808” part. We had [names] like “808 Gods.” Southside and I, we’re from the streets. That’s our lingo.
808 Mafia seemed to be a point where there were a lot of different producers coming in and working together. Was that something you came into naturally, or something you wanted to grow into?
I’ve always reached out to big artists, but this industry is crazy because they know who you are and know what you’ve done. For a regular Joe Blow that wants to collaborate, though, they won’t get treated the same. That’s why I tell rap n---as who come up, “You already better have an image.” Like Fat Trel – he had that swag before he came out. Music changes so fucking fast. You have a Chief Keef one day, then you have a Bobby Shmurda. It’s sick the way these dudes pop up and disappear sometimes.
Is that one of the reasons you worked with Low Pros and A-Trak?
I wanted to fix the broken bridge. People are confused about EDM and trap music, so we put out that EP to show people that it’s kind of the same thing.
The producer Metro Boomin is huge right now, but did you think that the sound you and Southside were creating would resonate this much five or six years later?
I think we did. I just didn’t think it’d happen this fast. When I was in the 11th grade, in class, I was hearing beats in my head. Then I told myself to skip class with my homies. The 12th graders got to leave class early, and I had a studio in my crib, so everyone would come to my crib to smoke. Nobody would rap, but that made me feel even better: because there wasn’t no rapping in my ear [in the studio], that’s how I built that sound.
Why do you feel that producers haven’t done more touring?
I’m not going to lie. I didn’t know that Lil Jon was a DJ until I went to the BMI Awards. I was like, “If he can do that shit, then I can do it, too.”
Had you done much in the way of live performance before working with Low Pros and A-Trak?
No, and that’s why I fucking love A-Trak. He took me to my first show and showed me the ropes of how to do a show. We did a Fool’s Gold tour in Atlanta and it was just sick. Travis Scott and T.I. came out, and it was amazing to see A-Trak [on stage]. It was all eyes on him and he is good as fuck at what he do. I did my first show in Atlanta, the next at SXSW – which were dope – then we did another show in L.A. I started doing my own show after that, but I try to tell him thank you as much as I can.
How and why did you connect with the Underachievers? Their style is quite different from your own, and from most of the artists that you work with.
I like to step out of my comfort zone. I was born in the ’90s and grew up heavily on Dipset, so I was making Heatmakerz beats like “I’m Ready” with the hard drums, the samples. To go back and do that [with the Underachievers] was chill for me because the sound quality wasn’t the same.
Have you been hit up to remix other artists tracks before?
My God, yes. I just got asked about that the other day, but I said no. I’m not that type of person. It’s just not in my blood.
What are you plans for 2016?
I’ve been working like a motherfucker: getting these beats out, trying to get me a couple more singles. I’ve been talking to Future, Rick Ross, FatManKey, Peewee Longway – all of the street cats. I’ll be talking to big artists, but I need that street anthem to get that big record again.