INTERVIEW: Lex Luger speaks on struggling with drug abuse, collaborating with Azealia Banks and signing his own artists.
Lex Luger has become one of the few producers fans recognize beyond a moniker. He rose to fame as an innovator, soaring from the culture's appreciation of his production on Waka Flocka Flame’s debut, Flockaveli. He rapidly gained recognition from his peers, earning an outstanding quantity of placements that made his sound inescapable for several years.
When I got the opportunity to chop it up with the musical luminary, we hopped through different eras of his life, including his days of teenage mischief, the exact moment he fell in love with his girl, and the current state of his relationship with Southside. He also reveals some gems like the recipe for massive 808s.
The journey began in Suffolk, Virginia, a small town he described to me as "Patrick Star under a rock."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
HNHH: Kids from small towns usually get into a bit of trouble out of boredom. Do you remember getting into these types of situations with your friends?
Lex Luger: Yeah, we were really young and nobody had their license. So, my one friends, his mom would work late so we would steal her car at night. Everyone had different turns to drive, and it was my mine. I was driving through the neighborhoods and whatnot, and a police officer got right behind us. Everybody started panicking like, "Oh no." Then they’re like "Nah, you’re cool. Just put on your signals." Blasé, blasé.
The cop followed us for about 4 blocks, then he turns on the lights. Everybody's like, "Aw sh*t." So, he comes and he's like, "Hey, man. You know you had your lights off for like 4 blocks?" I had been riding around with my lights off the whole night. He kind of just let us go. He said, "Get your asses home."
And we did not go home. I think we went to this teenage club called Janelle's that wasn’t too far. We were kind of like tough guys. We felt like the big guys on the block. Blasé, blasé. So, we leave out of there and n*ggas start shooting at our car. Not no Tom Cruise Mission Impossible-type shooting but, like, 2 shots at the car. We were like, "Man, let's just go the hell home."
No way, so things do go down in Virginia. So, you only had a Wal-Mart and this teenage club called Janelle’s?
Yeah, it was like a teen club that wasn’t even in Suffolk. It was like 15 minutes from Suffolk in Chesapeake.
What type of music were they bumping there at the time?
Oh, wow. It had to be like snap music? Like "Shake That Laffy Taffy," like D4L and Lil Jon's "Snap Yo Fingers." It was a lot of dancing going on like "Crank That (Soulja Boy)" and things like that.
That’s pretty dope. What made you transition into production? What was that moment music clicked for you?
So, I had been playing the drums for my mom and dad's church, the church we went to since I was like 11 or 12. It went from that to learning how to DJ, how 2 songs mesh together, taking a Michael Jackson acapella and putting it with a Lil Jon beat or any Hip Hop beat. My friend came over with Fruityloops one day and he was like "Man, you can make your own beats with this. It’s super simple. You don’t have to have all the equipment, the MPCs, and all that stuff." I had used programs in the past, but my beats sucked. I wouldn’t play them for anyone. I was embarrassed. But once I got Fruityloops I got my confidence like, "I’m pretty good at this.” All the rappers liked it, the local rappers liked it. I kind of got my identity, you know?
Photo by Tommy Trilla
Are there any of those local rappers you're still linking with musically?
Yeah, yeah, I actually just signed my first artist, his name is Big Dog Duke. We call him Duke.
Big Dog Duke?
Yeah, he's the little brother of the guy who introduced me to Fruityloops. We grew up together and we still make music together to this day. He'll sit in the studio with me while I make beats for Wiz. Anybody that grew up in my circle since high school that I was really tight with, we always do music together regardless.
You just signed Duke, so you have your own label going on now?
Yeah so, I have an LLC. I’m just using that platform to maybe work with the major labels and get a label deal. Everything is kind of us and independent right now.
What made you want to extend your platform like that since that’s a lot of responsibility on its own, you know?
I always got the question, "Why don’t you start your own label?" It was because I was so young, and I was going through the whole addiction with the drugs and alcohol. I just wasn't in the right mind. I felt like I didn't want to babysit no guy, no rapper, you know? Rappers got a mind of their own. They're wild so I didn't want to deal with that. But now that I’m older and I see the impact I have on young kids and the influence I have, I just kind of want to hone in on that. Be a man, take the responsibility and really start something for my kids. God forbid, if he takes me away tomorrow they can have this. I teach them music when I can. It’s kind of an investment. I’m thinking for the future.
So longevity. That’s a smart move.
Yes, and Virginia is a hub. A lot of people are from here, they start trends here. It's so creative here, but it's not like Atlanta, or New York, or LA. Pharrell is from here, Missy’s from here, Teddy Riley, Allen Iverson, Michael Vick. So, I just want to make it a place where people come and get that uniqueness and creativity.
You mentioned bringing that flavor with Duke. Are there any other projects you’re excited about?
Yeah, I’m stepping into apparel. I got a collection dropping for ComplexCon and I have all these records that I’ve done with [Young] Thug, me and A-Track together. Or like Waka, Hood Rich Pablo Juan. It hasn’t been released. We just sitting on these records so now I’m trying to get clearance on these records. If not, then [I'd] pay for the feature or pay for the song so it could be a Lex Luger song, kind of like how DJ Khaled does. It's complicated but that's the goal for me. To really put out my own music and let people get a feel of Virginia.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting in the music game?
F*ck, yes! Oh, man, cause I was like 16, 17. The business, I didn't give a shit about. You know LLCs, copyright, publishing. I had no one to teach me about that, no mentors. I just jumped in, signed this for this amount. I didn't care about what was happening later, I just knew I had this money now. If I could've had a book...I mean they do, but like I said, I was 17. I wasn’t reading no books. The next person who had less than me, I didn't really care what they had to say, even though that's f*cked up. I didn’t listen to people trying to tell me about copyright, sample clearance.
I got sued one time with Wale, Jeremih, and Rick Ross, cause I had a Curtis Mayfield sample in there and the label told me that we were gonna take care of it. But they were just saying that they wanted to put the record out. But I know now [that] ultimately it's on the producer. The producer samples it so I have to get it cleared. So I went through that struggle at 18, 19-years-old. Curtis Mayfield's people suing me.
I also wish somebody would have told me these rappers are like really fake too. I don’t wanna get blackballed but it's entertainment. I'm learning that now and I'm teaching Duke that you have to be an entertainer. It's not too much about being true to the streets. You just have to entertain these people and these fans and that's all they want. They're paying you to be entertained.
So, in what sense is it mostly entertainment in your opinion?
Let me try to explain this, 'cause I'm really not trying to call anybody out. So you see Tom Cruise on the street. You can't expect him to be Mission Impossible, jumping off buildings and sh*t. He did that to entertain you. He got paid. It might've changed some people's lives. Duke has a story, not to say it's fake, but he's gonna portray it a certain way because he can't tell the truth about everything. Some of that sh*t might get him in trouble. He has to make it like a movie, like presentable PG-13, Rated R or whatever so people can take that movie or that song and it can get them through the day. I’ve dealt with addiction in the past and there are certain movies and songs that helped me pass through that 'cause I can hear this artist going through the same thing that I went through and they're okay now.
It's just a persona. I get that.
Yeah, and I mean who wants to wear 10 chains all day? Sh*t hurts.
I think most people do know that there is theatrics involved. Maybe, with the rise of the different social media platforms, it gets a bit more confusing?
It really does. Don't get me wrong, there are some folks out here that really have lived everything they rapping about but "have" is the keyword They're not really going through it anymore, so in a sense, that's fake to me too. Or just rappers [saying], “Hey, send me some beats.” I pick the beat, I send them the beat. They send me the song and then [nothing]. Why would you say you gonna do this and that and I hear nothing back from you? I think that's part of every industry, it's part of the game. You just gotta never complain and come out like a boss.
Speaking of misunderstandings and the transactional part of the relationship between the producer and the artist, I do wanna bring up Azealia Banks.
That's my homie.
Y'all were going at each other on Twitter back in the day.
Yes, we were at each others' necks. I was really dealing with addiction and mental issues. Anybody could say anything that I didn't like and I wouldn't just take it as 'f*ck you.' I would take it as 'f*ck you, your dad, your mother, your sister, and your brother.' Now that I’m sobered up, we cleared that up. I'm sending her beats, she's doing songs. I really can say I wasn't in my right mind and I'm trying to right my wrongs with that. That's why I apologized and we're all good.
That's dope.. you're working on music with her right now?
Yeah, and I had to ask her how much she was gonna pay me for beats. I sent them and she was like, "Ok, I'm doing this," and I was like, "Azealia, where’s my money?" And she was like, "N*gga, no. I’ll give you 40 dollars and a bag of Cheetos." This is quote, unquote. And I was like, "Nah."
She was joking when she said that, right?
Yeah, but at the time I was out of my mind.
And you were on some Erykah Badu "sensitive" sh*t.
Yeah, exactly. You know what I’m talking about.
Has your creative process changed at all now that you have a clear mind?
Yes, it has. I got 4 kids so I do take out time [for them] until the boys are asleep. Then I'll be there working for 2 or 9 hours. But I know they're asleep the whole time so I'm not missing out on nobody’s first words or their first step and things like that. But when I didn't have any kids, I was like on go. Wake up go to work high as sh*t. I could work 12 hours and literally use up all those hours. It's just not like that anymore. I got bills and the kids.
How did you meet your girl?
I was at the studio, actually, and she was there too. Out of all the girls, she was lit. It was like some movie sh*t. When I saw her everything was in slow motion. Her hair was f*cking blowing in the wind and she just gave me this look with her eyes. It did it for me. I don’t walk up to women but I couldn't help it. I figured out I could literally walk to her house. Damn, man. We been around each other for about a year or two and we didn’t know it. Our connection was there and we didn't want to leave each other.
I have two daughters with another woman. My ex had my computer but I didn't wanna go to New York by myself. I called Erin, my girlfriend now, and I was like, "Hey, you wanna go to New York with me?" But I didn't tell her why we was going. We went up there and she was a soldier, man. She helped me get my computer. I got it and, believe it or not, I had to track out A$AP Ferg and ScHoolboy Q’s song. It's called "Let It Bang" off A$AP Ferg’s album. She went to the studio with me, helped me bang it out. I was high as shit, sleeping through the session, struggling with addiction. I lost my phone in New York and she helped me get that back. She just helped me everytime I failed and we weren’t even a thing yet. I love her to death. She's gonna be like Beyonce soon: "Shoulda put a ring on it."
What current albums are you listening to whether they’re new or old?
Definitely Blac Youngsta’s album. It's like Three 6 Mafia sh*t, the chants, the beats. I love Nipsey Hussle's album, Victory Lap. Have you heard of Jack Harlow?
I don’t think so.
You should check out Jack Harlow, man. He's this White kid. He even looks Jewish. He could sing a little. I really like his album. There's so much music coming out now. I go through my iTunes daily and go through the browse page, to new music, and to top charts to see who's really winning out here. I'm a firm believer in "good music is good music." This song is not gonna be in the top 50 if it's not good music. I really go look for any genre as long as it's good music.
Your other influences outside of Hip Hop. What would that be?
Jimi Hendrix. I gotta go to the studio in a little while and when I hop in the car, I'm definitely gonna put on some Jimi. My pops grew me up on Beach Boy [type] music. Man, I could go deep.
I have a question for a friend of mine. He was wondering how you get your 808s to sound so fat?
I get that question all the time and I don’t know. It's just kinda like sex. You just get in there and find that groove and that's it right there, don't move. When they match, I just turn those motherf*ckers up. I'm studying frequencies now and I'll just boost that low end up. If I'm making beats in the house I have to hear the pictures on the wall rattle or it's not right.
Now that there’s more energy, sensitivity, and care that goes into your music, are you more picky with the content that lays on top of it?
Yeah but, like I said, if it's good music it's gonna rock out. Like when Blac Youngsta dropped that "toot toot," a lot of my friends would be like, "That’s not it.” But it's the vibe of the song. It's the good feeling like if you go to the club and get a drink. Or if you don't drink you can still party. You get a good time out of the song. As long as it can move me I don't care if you're rapping like Kendrick Lamar or like...a rapper that can't rap like Kendrick. But I do try to go for that top artist, someone that's going to put it all out.
I think our readers would probably want to know your status with Southside? Have y'all talked?
We haven't had an in-person conversation or over the phone. But I had put a picture up with my kids and some of my plaques, and he had liked it and put one of the heart emojis. That was showing love. Recently, I went on and DM’d him and told him I apologize. He messaged me back like, “It’s cool, lil bro. Congratulations. I'm proud of you.” I feel like he's rooting for me and that's where we at right now.
That's good, man. It's hard to see brothers fighting.
Yeah, but brothers do fight.