At the height of 2011, Lex Luger was credibly the most desired hip hop producer in mainstream music. His beats and production were reveled across the industry for his fearless embrace of the darkest elements of Trap, hip hop’s sub-genre. Spurring and elevating the early careers of rap recording artists like Waka Flocka, and Rick Ross helped put Luger on the map – but his ability to crossover into mainstream music took his beats worldwide. While other producers dabbled in, or tip-toed around the darkness of the sub-genre, Luger impressively heightened a quick and menacing build-up that would also become his characteristic and unparalleled sound.
Over the next 10 years, Luger would go on to create records and work with many of music’s most influential artists, including Kanye West, Jay-Z, Rick Ross, Snoop Dog, 2 Chainz, Big Sean, and more. While following producers would contribute to the evolution of Luger’s initial sound, educated fans of the genre will always recognize Luger as Trap’s most influential founder. To this day, the Suffolk, Virginia native is still recognized among the most influential and genre-defining producers of the last decade.
We spoke to the producer about his decade-long career – his legacy, his hopes to inspire the young Black youth of the current generation, and his brand TMOG. Read our full conversation below.
Thank you so much for speaking with us. How have you been doing during quarantine, and how has the first few months of 2020 been for you?
Lex: My quarantine has been fucking amazing. I’ve been able to work like crazy, and at the same time spend time with my family. I’ve been able to kind of sit down and just find myself more, which in return helps my music. I feel like the more I know myself the better my music is. 2020 has been awesome for me. As of right now, just working on stuff behind the scenes. I have a lot more producing going on than beat making now. All of the records I have now say featuring Lex Luger. Just trying to progress and expand with my whole brand, and take my music to the next level.
The acknowledgement of producers in hip hop has increased over the last decade, and you played a key role in that shift towards a greater recognition for the craft. How have you seen the opportunities for producers change, and what has your experience been like?
Lex: I really appreciate you guys looking at me as one of these guys who helped producers get more recognition, more love, and respect in the game. I really appreciate that. I think that is very true. I think it’s been around for a minute though. Now it’s really booming, but you’ve always had the P. Diddy’s. I mean even Hi-Tek stepped into rapping when he was a really awesome producer. For me, producing is the total opposite. That’s why I love it, it’s behind the scenes. I don’t have to really go to shows a lot and show my face and do album release parties. One day I probably will step out of my box and make that move, but as of right now I’m just pretty chill. I’m a laid back dude. I know what I’ve done in the music business, music industry, and the effect that it has on young kids. That’s what makes me happy. I don’t really need all of the recognition, but it’s awesome that we’re getting it. With everything going on in the world now, as a Black man, I think it’s awesome that I could use that platform to speak to young Black males. Music did save my life from going another route. I got FL Studios and it changed my life. I think it’s amazing how people have learned to love the producer. Producers have as much followers as the rapper nowadays.
To add to that, I feel like that’s what makes the rap-producer duo awesome too. Like Snoop and Dre, they made each other pop more. They both big each other up, that whole little team. That teamwork right there – Shawty Redd and Young Jeezy, or me and Waka Flocka. For people like Pharrell, it’s amazing what he’s done as far as taking a producer or beat maker and becoming this huge brand. He’s one of my top producers I look up to as far as people looking at him as more than just a producer.
The path for producers isn’t always clear. You fully committed to producing before even graduating high school. What was guiding you during your earliest days, and were you sure of your direction?
Lex: I really wasn’t succeeding in high school the way that I wanted to, the way my parents wanted to, the way society wants you to, and I just had a huge love for music. I had learned to play the drums, and I had just fucking drowned myself in music. I woke up to it, from going to sleep with it already in my ears. I would go to sleep with the headphones on, wake up, make a beat. It got to the point where nothing else existed. There were no parties, no friends. I mean I had friends, but they did music too. Those were my brothers, you know what I mean. That became life for us.
I kinda’ always knew. It was a feeling that if I went hard enough, and was passionate enough (which I was), and believed in god, and prayed every night, that life would turn in my favour. Anything I want he would give me. I just stuck to that plan, kept it going, worked my ass off. After awhile I just completely said screw school and I just drowned myself in music, studying music. Me and my buddies began to really love it, like a child, like your wife, like this is all I have. I’m doing everything for this thing called music. I completely gave it my all. This might sound insane, this might be crazy. Now that I’m older I know that it is. I didn’t see any other future for me. I just saw music. I just saw me being a producer. That was it. I didn’t see no plan B. There was no job out there that I wanted. I didn’t have a high school education anyway. That’s some real life shit. I had so much of a tunnel vision I didn’t see a negative outcome at all, or the fact that I might not make it. Now I live off of it. That’s what kept me going.
As your career elevated, and following the success of “Hard in Da Paint,” how did you know which steps to take business wise?
Lex: Honestly, I did not know which step to take after that. I was fresh in the game. I had took business in high school, and like I said I had dropped out of that. Got with Debra Antney – she really schooled me on a bunch of things, and told me how I should go about my business. I was just so young. I didn’t know what was going on. I didn’t trust nobody. I had dabbled in some drugs. I was just paranoid as shit, so I didn’t make the best business decisions. Thank god for my Uncle Chum. He was there for me, to kind of put me on the right path. My boy Jada Man (Jada Man 757) – he’s like my big brother. He just texted me today about investing in stocks and all this. I got good people around me, so they were able to steer me the right way. Took me a little while to learn. I was a young hothead, but I think that’s just a part of life, just a part of growing up. I had no idea what to do. I just wanted to make music and make money from it. I look back now and I know better now.
Most aspiring hip hop producers have, and currently use, your drum kits. Did you ever think that you would become one of the forefathers of Trap and a credited innovator of the subgenre?
Lex: A part of me believes that I didn’t know, but at the same time I had so much faith. Just something in me driving me, like I know this is going to pop off. What really did it was all of my buddies, all of my friends in Suffolk. Like people not even my friends, people that I don’t even know, people that never would’ve talked to me before, people started hearing my music. In school we had a little rap group. They would tell me, ‘Man I never heard no shit like this. Your sound is crazy. I never heard a sound like this.’ Once people can connect like that off what I’m doing at the house, man that’s amazing. It just gave me this drive, like I know I can make the whole world feel like that.
I didn’t know the whole drum kit thing would go as crazy as it did, and the whole sound. I got a strong passionate love for this music shit, so I’m just keeping it going, trying to make a new sound. That’s my new goal right now. Tryna’ make a new sound to change the whole game again.
At what point did you know that the impact of your production had become career-defining – was there a specific time?
Lex: Waka sent me a DM on Myspace, that’s how long ago this was. I had sent him some beats already. He was like, ‘You helped me find my sound.’ I’ll never forget that. In music, that’s some real shit. We had created that when he found, “Hard in Da Paint,” so we just kept making that sound. It’s a certain vibe, when people feel it they feel a certain way. We clicked.
Me and Waka dropped, then (Rick) Ross got a hold of it. Ross had already been a huge artist at the time, and the record made him even bigger. We had two of them, “B.M.F.” and “MC Hammer.” I think Ace Hood was right after that. They were going once they hopped on my shit, or once we linked that sound. That’s when I realized I’m in there, I’m somebody now, I’m good at what I do. Thank you god. I feel like Ross’ record really stamped it, but when Waka first told me, ‘You helped me find my sound,’ that was amazing to me.
You’ve worked with the biggest names in music, and in hip hop. What has been the most memorable or most inspiring moment in your career that you reflect on now?
Lex: I really can’t narrow it down to one, but I can narrow it down to one group of occasions or situations.
I was in the studio with Kanye and Beyonce and Jay-Z when Kanye West had picked “H.A.M.” I was working on “See Me Now” for Kanye West, and Charlie Wilson, and Beyonce – so I had met Jay-Z and Beyonce. Beyonce wanted me to play her something, so Jay-Z was like, ‘Yeah man, how do you feel? You’re the hottest producer in the game right now, everybody wants your drums. How does that make you feel?‘ I was so speechless at the time, because it’s fucking HOV. I don’t even remember what I said, but I just remember that shit hit me hard. It became a weight on my shoulder, like damn you gotta’ do your thing now, bro.
My first year winning BMI, I went there and I think they were honouring Snoop Dog. BMI was honouring him for the awards in LA. He won the award, and Snoop Dog gave his speech. He pointed to me and shouted me out, saying that it’s amazing that young Black brothers are here succeeding and striving and doing our thing in the world. When he pointed to me on that stage it just made me feel amazing.
I was working with Andre 3000. Just being in his presence, he’s one of the coolest dudes. He has so much knowledge. I feel like he’s one of those Will Smith guys. He’s just got life figured out, he doesn’t fail. I was working in the studio with him, and he was so organic. That was probably the most inspirational moment in music in my life. It was nuts, we were in Malibu at Rick Rubin’s studio. The other two moments were just heavy-hitters on my heart.
You’ve been very honest about the environments that come with success in the music industry, your struggle with addiction, and how you overcame it. How has life and work been on the other side of that?
Lex: Life’s been dope. Some days it’s harder than others, but I’ve come so far, it’s insane. I look back sometimes like, what the fuck ever happened to go through those things that I went through. But it just made me a better person. I’m able to take care of my kids, and provide for my kids even better now than I was. I’m here, I’m more conscious now. Thank god for that. I’m able to handle my finances now, I’m better with that. Working on all of my business – making it bigger and better, making the brand bigger and better. It’s a different pace for me.
Now that COVID-19 is happening I’m really just chilling at the crib with the kids tryna’ take care of them. My daughters are 9 and 10 so they put me onto Tik Tok and the new songs. I try to see what’s cool what’s not cool, put my input to it and put it out to the world. That’s just where I’m at in life. I don’t have time for no beef, I don’t want no smoke. I’m just tryna’ feed the kids, build a brand, feed my family, feed my bros.
How much does the support of your children and family contribute to the direction you’re moving now?
Lex: They have full control of any directions I’m going right now. (laughs) They’re right there with me. Like I said, my daughters are 9 and 10 so they’re really in tune with social media. I’ll mention something or ask they’re opinion on something and they’ll just be brutally honest with me about how old it is or how last year it is. That helps me steer in the right direction.
Now I’m just kind of focused on self. I try to give everybody me and what I’m feeling, but I try to give them what they’re feeling too. Like I feel what ya’ll going through, I’m putting it in this music. When I let the kids hear it and I let the fam’ hear it, I’ve gotta’ kind of think like them. And it comes out as a successful record. They’re right there with me. They’re steering me all the way.
Last week marked the 10-year Anniversary of the release of “B.M.F. (Blowin’ Money Fast).” How was that introduction made with Rick Ross and what was it like working with him on that track, and at that time?
Lex: SpiffTV had gave me a call, or an e-mail, and basically said Ross wants the “Hard in Da Paint” instrumental. In my head I’m thinking like – yeah, but I got so much other shit. I’m like, ‘Yeah I got that, but I’m gonna’ send you a gang of other shit.’ Shout-out to SpiffTV. So I sent them “Hard in Da Paint” in one e-mail, and then I sent another e-mail with maybe 30 beats. Then I sent two more emails with like 30 beats in each e-mail. (laughs)
I didn’t hear anything, and then Spiff hit me up and was like, ‘Hey, Ross used two of the beats.’ He was gonna’ put them on the mixtape. At the time LiveMixtapes was really, really popping, so he had the EP on LiveMixtapes. Ross flew me out there to Miami right after the record dropped – flew me out to Miami, picked me up in a Phantom, had blunts already pre-rolled in the back for me. We linked up, ate some food, went a little shopping, went to the crib, and got to work. It was southern hospitality. He has a certain love for music too. Ross is a little older than me, so it’s a little deeper I feel like because the music back then was just so soulful. Just that time was so different than what we’re in now. So we were just going over how we felt about music and what we thought we needed – what we could bring to the game. We did like 9-piece I think, we did some records. He’s an amazing dude. He’s real. He just gave me so much game. I was so young coming in, he put me on game about a lot of things. I really appreciate that from Ross.
You’ve been recognized for your ability to combine Trap elements with other genres of production through your work with Kanye and also with A-Trak. Was it intentional to cross subgenres and push the boundaries of music with both of those collaborators?
Lex: With the A-Trak EP, yes. I feel like we didn’t know it was going to sound like that – you never really know. But what we came out with was amazing. I feel like he knew that. He had a game plan. We both kinda’ did after awhile, we were just clicking on so many ideas. I think that’s what made us link up like that. And I was really at a low point in my life, so I called A-Trak not too long ago and thanked him for taking out the time to fuck with me and do that EP because it was really dope.
A-Trak had travelled the world and had seen what EDM was doing. He was a part of EDM culture, so he understood it. He wanted to get the authentic sound, and just kind of see what we could come up with. The biggest thing was just to have fun. We linked up and I think we was in Atlanta, Chicago and might have went to New York too. At first it was a little shaky. We didn’t know where we were going. We knew what we wanted to do and what we wanted to accomplish. After a few runs we got some other producers in there, we got some artists in there. We found the sound of like – fun, trippy synths but still coming through Fruity Loops, coming through MyDaw. And just me putting my touches on it or Metro putting his touches on it – it just became dark at the same time. To take this fun, happy, let’s party – but at the same time trapped out, doped out, drug music – it really just came together so beautifully. It’s amazing.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave in music, and have your goals changed from when you started?
Lex: My goals change all the time. (laughs) The more I grow the more they change. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I’ve accomplished a lot of the goals so I just try to set them higher. I’m just trying to go further with them but they always change.
I have three boys and three girls. I want them to follow in music. I want them to do whatever they want, but that’s a dream of mine. To be a dad with the whole clique in the music industry just doing our thing.
I come from a generation of young black men and we’re lost, and nobody has the answers for us. Things are changing now with Black Lives Matter, but I just wanted to always be a guy who kids could look up to. Like – look how he did it, look what he did, he’s like me. That’s my biggest thing because I’m from Virginia. I’m from Suffolk, at that.
I just want to be that guy that kids look up to, like damn I could do it when they’re telling me no. I could do it like this, when these people are talking about me like this. And even though I made these mistakes, I still could go about it this way. Even though I only have a crap version of a program that I didn’t pay anything for and it barely works. I still could become one of the top producers in the game or just beat the odds. That’s my legacy – that’s what I want my legacy to be.
Looking forward, what’s next in your plans and can we expect new music soon?
Lex: I do want to put out more music with my name out there more – actually producing and not just beat-making. I want to get a production team going, help some kids out, just make this thing huge. Not even me, just make TMOG huge. TMOG is “Things Made Of Gold,” that’s my brand. “Things Made of Gold, Things Made of Greatness, Things Made of God,” that’s how we carrying it. That’s my baby right now, and that’s what I’m running with. It’s a good meaning. It stands for something. I feel proud of it. I really stand by it.
As far as music, I just did “Black Madonna” with Azealia Banks. It’s one of my favourite records right now. I got some shit with OG Maco and Juicy J. Me and Travis (Scott) been working too. Just linking with the new cats, the sound is crazy out now. Getting in tune with the young producers, they are the future. Getting some sounds, giving them some sounds, giving me some game, I’m giving them some game. Just having fun out here. I’m trying to change somebody’s life out here. I’ve got kids, I’m trying to do what I gotta’ do before I’m gone. Imma’ keep trapping out, keep making these beats. TMOG, we the future.
Listen to”Black Madonna” by Azealia Banks produced by Lex Luger below, and follow Lex Luger on Instagram for future updates and releases.