For a kid from small town Suffolk, Virginia who started out writing beats on a Playstation at just 9 years old, Lex Luger sure has come a long way. He got his first big break at 17 when Waka Flocka Flame hit him up on Myspace to say thank you for helping him find his sound. “At the time, I’m 17 years old. I didn’t even know what that meant, really. Or didn’t think about it too hard,” Luger says. “But now that I’m 30 years old, I really understand what that means now. And I’m like – that was the start of my career.”
Thirteen years later, Luger has built a star-studded CV that boasts rap royalty like Snoop Dogg, Wale, Gucci Mane, Rick Ross, Wiz Khalifa, 2 Chainz, and more. In one particularly surreal moment, he even got called into a session at Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Lady Studios in New York City’s Greenwich Village, where he met up with Jay-Z and Kanye West “in full tuxedo with no shoes on and a whole bottle of Hennessy in his hand” to show them the beat that would go on to become the certified gold track H•A•M on their collaborative studio album Watch The Throne.
For Luger, “Making music is like a drug to me, honestly. It’s an amazing feeling. I just get lost in it.” And MASCHINE is a crucial part of his production workflow. “It just made me take it to the next level just cause I was kind of stuck in this box of clicking on these certain sounds, this pattern, these triplets. The MASCHINE just added more feel to my beats.”
Watch this Sketches video to see how Lex Luger builds a cinematic trap beat from scratch with MASCHINE+ and the KOMPLETE KONTROL S61 Keyboard at the Vintage Synthesizer Museum in Los Angeles.
When it comes to building a beat, Luger prefers a cinematic approach: “When I’m makin’ a beat, I try to be a director, you know? I try to have a buildup, have a climax.” So he starts the track by using the Auto Sampler on MASCHINE+ to sample sounds from several vintage synths in the museum’s legendary collection. Then he uses MASSIVE to lay down a bell sound for the foundational melody, a cinematic string sound for additional atmospherics, and a ragtime piano for harmonic support. “I encourage any producer out there to be as creative as you can with your sounds. Try not to just use the stock sound. Try to recreate that sound and make it sound like you.”
With the foundational elements in place, he programs the drums with MASCHINE+. Using Note Repeat to nail trap’s signature hi-hat triplets and quantizing individual sounds to tighten up the production, Luger lays down a bounce-heavy 808 and drenches it in reverb and delay – “I encourage everybody to use reverb on the 808s. It just adds more of a warm feel to it,” he says – before programming several more drum patterns to add more excitement to the beat.
Then it’s time for the switch-up: “I try to have like one sound that’s going, and then out of nowhere, it’s like a movie, man, it just come and changes the whole plot.” Making use of the museum’s extensive collection, Luger adds a dark horn sound sampled from a vintage Elka Synthex and a violin sound sampled from a vintage Jupiter 6.
“This is the part of the movie where we take something out.” With all the pieces in place, Luger deliberately removes elements of the track to make room for the artist. “I don’t wanna add too much to it to where an artist doesn’t know how to approach it,” he says. “That’s very important. Try to lay out the floor plan for the artist so that the house isn’t all the way built yet. You know, they can add their decor, whatever they want to it.”