Lex Luger, Watch The Throne, and the Future of Hip Hop
While not a result of its overall musical quality, Rick Ross‘s Teflon Don record may just be the most influential rap album of the last few years. It wasn’t until Ross teamed up with young producer Lex Luger for the tracks “MC Hammer” and “B.M.F.” that rap started to head in a similar direction.
Luger’s production is operatic, dark and menacing, with the synths playing the role of Fat Lady. Let’s just say this – if his music wasn’t rap, it could pass for shitty black metal (listen to his work on Meek Milli‘s “Work”, which features a Dimmu Borgir-esque synth line) – yes, he uses similar chord progressions. With that comes tastelessness, an obvious characteristic of his production habits. Instead of soul samples and groove-focused drums, he opts for over-the-top theatrics and double-bass rolls.
But none of that seems to matter. Since his contribution to Teflon Don, Luger has also been featured on Ross’s Ashes to Ashes mixtape, Wiz Khalifa‘s Cabin Fever EP, Waka Flocka Flame‘s Flockaveli, Snoop Dogg‘s Doggumentary, Ace Hood‘s Blood, Sweat & Tears, Game‘s upcoming R.E.D. Album, DJ Khaled‘s We the Best Forever and is the main producer on the Juicy J mixtapes Rubba Band Business 1 and 2.
That’s without mentioning his numerous other one-off contributions with lesser-known artists or his co-production credit on Kanye West & Jay-Z‘s “H.A.M.”.
Sure, most of Luger’s associated artists don’t exactly scream “sophisticated”, but in rap, a genre now driven by mixtapes and tracks that leak online, that doesn’t matter. Regardless of his objective quality, Luger has created a sound movement within the community – pushed further by the copy and paste attitude Luger has towards his own beats.
Example: Listening to Maybach Music‘s Self Made Vol.1, it is shocking to find out that Luger only produces one track and co-producers one other. This is especially surprising since his sole effort is the non-Lugerish “That Way”. Other featured producers (Cardiak, Young Shun) do their best Luger impressions – and pull them off. It isn’t a hard sound to imitate.
In the past year, Luger has dominated a good chunk of the rap game. While his sound is going stale, it won’t go away until the Maybach and Brick Squad crews get tired of it.
While Luger represents the trends of a bunch of coke-hustling rappers, upper echelon hip hop of the next while is going to largely be influenced by the highly anticipated Kanye & Jay-Z collaboration Watch The Throne. Yes, this record’s first single was Luger’s most ridiculous work yet (despite being co-produced by West) – the choral and operatic “H.A.M.”, a track now relegated to “bonus” status – but a record Kanye has claimed as “couture hip hop”.
From Kanye’s production history and second single “Otis”, it is easy to see why; soul samples and emotion is brought to the forefront, something even more apparent on Watch The Throne, which features tracks like “Why I Love You” – self-explanatory – and “New Day” – a number about their unborn sons.
It became obvious on Kanye’s brilliant My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy that West has become more self-aware and evaluating than ever. And while Jay-Z doesn’t always soulsearch while spitting, his contributions to Throne are said to be deeper than ever before.
The obvious soul and emotion that will come out of this record is the by-product of their brotherly, push each other as hard as possible relationship. Whether you like Kanye or not, he is a perfectionist (in a recent interview with Angie Martinez, Hov mentioned that the record has been re-done three times) and genuinely cares about the music he creates. They both do. Never has it been so rewarding to have rich artists making music (I wonder how much that “Otis” sample cost?) because rich artists of late – especially those in the hip hop community – don’t seem to genuinely care about the music they are creating.
The last two years have been great for hip hop, with standout records from Big Boi, Black Milk, J. Cole (both past and upcoming), Shad, The Roots, Currensy, Big K.R.I.T. and Shabazz Palaces leading the way. These artists have helped set a high precedent for those hoping to help take hip hop into another golden era.
What will really help get it there will be a Throne record that takes hip hop to its limits and sets a new standard for great art.