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Behind the Beat: How Rick Ross' "B.M.F." Made & Almost Broke Lex Luger
In our latest Behind the Beat, Thomas Hobbs spoke with Lex Luger about how producing Rick Ross' "B.M.F. (Blowin Money Fast)" changed his life — for better or worse.
The beaming smile on Rick Ross’ face told producer Lex Luger (real name Lexus Arnel Lewi) everything he needed to know. It was the first time the pair had met since the release of their collaboration "B.M.F. (Blowin Money Fast)," and there was a euphoria in the air you usually only encountered at graduation parties.
“I landed in Miami and this Rolls Royce Phantom pulled up. A gigantic fucking dude got out the driver’s seat. He opened the door, a lot like a butler, and then I see Rick Ross sitting in the back seat, laughing,” recalled the Suffolk, Virginia-born producer in a phone interview. “So, I get in and Ross handed me a box filled with 50 or so blunts, all loaded with Kush.”
The duo had a lot to celebrate. Released on June 29, 2010, "B.M.F." left a crater in the epicenter of hip-hop, giving the trap genre a new national anthem and hardcoding the words “I think I’m Big Meech, Larry Hoover” into every gangsta rap fan’s subconscious. Across four minutes and 10 seconds, Ross rapped with grunted vocals so powerful they hit you like Zeus barking to his followers from the top of Mt. Olympus. Even the raucous “urghhhh” ad-libs served as a statement of intent.
Every lyric on this song is a potential catch phrase — the cocaine “so white” that Rozay is 100% justified in charging you double for a shipment. If 2006’s “Hustlin'" had established the portly Floridan rapper as a star, then the more raucous “B.M.F” cemented his mainstream impact. He was now one of pop culture’s biggest bosses, with shark black eyes hidden behind Louis Vuitton sunglasses and an iconic beard that reminded us of Isaac Hayes. “He was the definition of luxury 'bawse',” Lex said. “And that was in and outside of the studio.”
The song also turbo-charged the career of its producer, becoming the kind of instrumental every rapper on Planet Earth felt compelled to record a freestyle over. When Lex was growing up, he wanted to be the Black Han Solo, and the "B.M.F." beat subsequently contains a reoccurring sci-fi synth pattern that mimics the noise of the Millennium Falcon powering up to light speed. It became Lex’s signature. The ticking hi-hats, meanwhile, are like a Capo tutting because someone just tested their gangster, and the combination of these two elements is so intoxicating it is difficult to stand still.
“Star Wars was my shit.” Lex said of the "B.M.F." beat’s unique layering. “I really liked the idea of mixing sci-fi with trap.” Growing up, Lex was the drummer in his church band, sitting on his grandmother’s lap as she played the keyboard. Therefore, he instinctively knows how to create drum patterns and keys that can fill big rooms.
“With the 'B.M.F.' beat I started out with the horns and added some little leads on top, but I think it was the drums that made it hit so fucking hard. The song drives people crazy because of the way it comes on with that stomp noise. When you hear that shit, it sounds like a war is about to begin. You feel like you’re riding out to battle.”
It's fair to say 2010 was a transformational year for Lex Luger. Before his breakout, he was living in rapper and friend Waka Flocka Flame’s basement, lurking in a makeshift studio where he crafted trap beats on Fruity Loops Studio. “The basement had no internet, no TV, no gaming, none of that shit," Lex said. "So, I was just down there going in, pretty much all day, every day, creating with the Brick Squad.”
Away from the sunlight, Lex produced Waka’s massive single “Hard In Da Paint,” which mixed the gutter with the tempo of an overexcited school marching band. It became so popular that it birthed President Barack Obama parodies on YouTube, and Lex suddenly transitioned from eating Pop Tarts to charging six figure sums for beats.
Spliff TV, who had directed some of Rick Ross’ music videos, emailed Lex, telling him the Miami rapper would like to spit a freestyle over the “Hard In Da Paint'' instrumental. In reply, and rather audaciously, Lex sent back 100 beats he had recently made. This bold chess move paid off, with Ross hearing two instrumentals — “B.M.F.” and “MC Hammer” — that would become the beating heart of his fourth studio album, Teflon Don. The two songs sound so similar because they were originally one beat, with Lex ultimately deciding to chop them down the middle.
The “BMF” beat is all pounding metal, arguably an early inspiration for Chicago’s burgeoning drill movement (Lex would go onto work with Fredo Santana on 2013’s “Street Niggas.") But it also carries a hardcore rock energy, with crowds tellingly opening mosh pits to the song at Rick Ross’ live shows. “My mom would always play alternative music. It was always inside of me. André 3000 is actually my mentor and he told me recently the 'BMF' beat reminded him of Bad Brains. He said that I was a Black punk.”
Lex having a mentor is a clue that the massive success he enjoyed at the start of the 2010s didn’t exactly go to plan. The success of “BMF” would lead to meetings with The Throne (Lex co-produced JAY-Z and Kanye’s ambitious trap symphony "H•A•M") and massive levels of attention, like being profiled by the New York Times, but that didn’t necessarily stop the producer from feeling lost.
“The 'Hard In Da Paint' and the 'B.M.F.' beats sound so aggressive because at that age I was lost, confused, angry, hungry, ambitious, depressed, and determined,” Lex said. “All of those things come out in the sound. It was a stressful time [for me]. I was moving way too fast, unprepared for what to do with all the money. I was making a lot of cash and I was doing a lot of drugs just so I could work through the nights. My addiction ruined a lot of relationships and I made a lot of mistakes that I still regret to this day.”
This subtext means “BMF” is somewhat of a bittersweet memory for Lex. Although it’s arguably his greatest production, it also serves as a reminder of a time he compares to being “like a speeding train” headed for derailment. However, now sober, the producer is in a much clearer place, where he can finally enjoy that “Blowing Money Fast” Platinum plaque on his wall.
“I’ve realized the song is much, much bigger than me,” he said. “If you’re in the club you don’t have to be the dope boy to sing 'B.M.F.' You could be working a 9-to-5 and the confident way Ross raps will inspire you. It has this really wide appeal cos’ it celebrates the people who are self-made, regardless of where they come from. That’s a beautiful thing.” Having The Lox’ Styles P rap about sitting on a pile of $100 bills in his guest verse also helped widen the song’s appeal, ensuring it boomed out of speakers in Yonkers and not just Carol City.
The song’s title is a reference to the Black Mafia Family, the Detroit street gang (founded by Demetrius "Big Meech" Flenory and Terry "Southwest T" Flenory) that established cocaine distribution throughout America. There’s also a clear reference in the hook to Larry Hoover, the incarcerated drug trafficker and co-founder of Chicago’s Gangster Disciples. Critics have argued that Ross’ references brought negative attention to these men, making imprisoned hood legends seem cartoonish. However, Lex insists the song was only ever intended as a tribute.
“Ross was paying his dues to the drug dealing culture that rap music is built off of,” he said. “The Black Mafia Family now has a whole TV series about their lives; it’s incredible to see. Ross captured how those guys were rock stars to the people in the hood. It was all love.”
Lex Luger has clearly learned a lot of lessons from his time in the rap game, coming across today like someone who has made it to the other side and transformed as a human being. The producer is currently working on new material with Juicy J and recent production work on the flute-heavy “Raw Sex As Friends” by Chris Crack hints that his sound has evolved to a more serene space. At just 31, he feels like his best days are still ahead of him.
The other day Rick Ross sent Lex a DM, telling him he’d like to meet up. Could "B.M.F. 2" be on the horizon? “I couldn’t tell you man. I’m just happy to be here. I look at my house, I look at my kids, I look at these plaques, and I am finally in a place where I can enjoy them," Lex said. “I see DMs from all these young guys who say they look up to me, and I’m in a position where I can help them so they don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Whether it’s the good or the bad, everything happened that was supposed to happen. We came away from it with a classic song. I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Thomas Hobbs is a freelance culture and music journalist from the UK. His work has appeared in the Guardian, VICE, Financial Times, Dazed, Pitchfork, New Statesman, Little White Lies, The i and Time Out. You can find him on Twitter: @thobbsjourno
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