While you’ve been listening to Cardi B on repeat, a distinctly new sound has been brimming on the East Coast. This new movement is reminiscent of ’90s grimy street-level rhymes compounded with sample-heavy beats. The music never dissipated after the ’90s—it just became more of an underground endeavor as the 2000s ushered in more of a pop sound.
Roc Marciano, Eto, and Crimeapple are some of New York’s current heavy hitters, but the leaders of the new school are unquestionably the members of Griselda Records: Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, Benny The Butcher, and producer Daringer. The Buffalo, New York natives have put their “minimalist thug rap” on the map with overtly violent lyrics and a flair for art and fashion. They have made such an impression on the hip-hop world that Eminem signed them last year to his label, Shady Records. This has influenced many others to step out into the limelight from the deep, dark recesses of the underground. It’s a new era that refuses to be ignored in a time of terrible, terrible hip-hop music. In the midst of this new era, one of Milwaukee’s own has been in the background (and foreground), bearing witness to a hip-hop renaissance.
Producer/engineer Alejandro Vazquez Jr., a.k.a. Lex Luther, a.k.a. Lex With The Records, was born and raised on Milwaukee’s south side. Most remember him as the super young dude with the fire beats from the Miltown Beat Down beat battles. Lex has also worked with a myriad of Milwaukee hip-hop artists over the last decade-plus. He moved out to the mecca of hip-hop, New York, to further his career as a producer and engineer. If you have been keeping an eye on him on social media, you can see that he did just that. Lex gave Milwaukee Record a little history and the scoop on what his life has been about since moving to the East Coast.
Milwaukee Record: How did you get started producing?
Lex With The Records: I got started producing by messing around with music-making programs like Acid Pro and Fruity Loops when I was in eighth and ninth grade. I would sit with my brother, David, and go through loop packs and one shots and try to assemble a beat in the programs. My cousin Jorge used to spin house music as well, and I used to sit in on sessions and be awed by the sounds he was blending together. By the time I got to be a senior in high school at Marquette, I was heavy in to underground hip-hop via the internet, and I was reading credits and interviews about what roles people played in making the track.
MR: You eventually went on to compete in several Miltown Beat Down battles. How did they benefit you as a producer?
LWTR: The Miltown Beat Down had a huge impact on my early career as a producer. I was the youngest to ever win, at 21 years old, and it gave me a platform to display my skills without the MC being the front man. I was fortunate to have Jake One, Vitamin D, Jonathan Moore (RIP), and Red Bull USA select me to go to their Big Tune beat battle event in 2010 in Minneapolis. I got some national YouTube exposure and met many other great producers that I still have some ties with. A year later I entered another producer showcase hosted by iStandard and won the event in Chicago. They invited me to New York to participate in a showcase in 2012. Once again I met other talented producers and made connections, but the biggest reward for my trip was being in a studio session with Statik Selektah the following day.
MR: How did the two of you start working together?
LWTR: I had known him since his first album, Spell My Name Right, in which I gave him the sample for his first single “6 In The Morning” with Joell Ortiz, Sheek Louch, and Kool G Rap. I pulled up to his place in Bushwick, Brooklyn with a bag of vinyl records. I would show him where the breaks were on each and he would proceed to make the beat with them. After the session he invited me to DJ Premier’s studio in Manhattan where I once again got to watch a master at work. I was a fly on the wall for an hour while Premier was doing a hook scratch for a Papoose record he had produced earlier. That experience alone played a major part influencing me to one day return to NYC.
MR: What made you decide to make the big move to NYC? I mean, who would want to leave MKE?
LWTR: I once again returned to NYC in March 2016 to support my cousin Mauricio’s art gallery showing in Manhattan, as well as shoot a music video with Louie-Z and Big Curse. That weekend I end up linking with Statik again and provided more samples I had brought. He invited me to a session with record dealer Gene Brown, who is famous for dealing to elite producers like 9th Wonder, Just Blaze, Kanye West, and more. Two months later I am in Las Vegas for my birthday and who do I run in to that weekend? Statik. We hit it off and do the Vegas thing and he tells me a painful truth at the time: as a producer, nobody is checking for me in Milwaukee. I need to go somewhere and get it poppin’ because Milwaukee ain’t it for the style of music I am doing.
The summer goes by and he texts me at 5 a.m. on a Wednesday in August: “come to NYC bro.” And by that Friday I’m on a one way ticket there. I spent the next two weeks couch surfing and renting Airbnb’s until my money started running dry. In those two weeks I had provided samples for Statik that turned into songs with 2 Chainz and others. To see the vocals come in days later was surreal.
The day before I was set to leave back home for Milwaukee, someone was moving out of a studio space down the hall from where Statik’s was located. I asked him to put in the word for me and luckily it was available. I felt this was the move I had to make to further my career as a producer, and after being around for two weeks, I saw the potential opportunities that being in NYC had to offer, especially with knowing people already established in the music industry. I officially moved to NYC on Labor Day 2016 with the help of my father driving from Milwaukee to Brooklyn.
MR: Did you have a job, or were you just free balling it?
LWTR: I did not have a job or an official place to stay yet, but I knew this was going to be the stepping stone to the next level of music for me. I had been part of studios in Milwaukee, but this was the first time I had one all to my own. When I arrived I had ZERO ambitions of recording artists, given the limited seating in my ten-by-nine studio. I honestly thought my production solely would take me there, but reality soon kicked me in the stomach with a pair of Timbs. I eventually acquired a mic and preamp to record artists, and I was blessed with the chance to record artists Statik didn’t have time for with his schedule. I got to meet new artists like Conway The Machine, Nick Grant, Millyz, and veterans like Termanology, Lil Fame, Tek of Smif-N-Wessun, Skyzoo, and many more.
All this time I was still throwing him the lob for samples and he was slam dunking them daily. Through these relationships I was invited to Shade 45 on Thursdays for Showoff Radio with Statik and Term. The experience was invaluable. The interviews, the freestyles, the new releases. I dreamed of all this stuff years prior while driving around back home in Milwaukee.
MR: You found yourself in New York during a major resurgence of hardcore hip-hop. Did you know what was happening?
LWTR: I was not aware of what some would call a resurgence of hardcore hip-hop when I decided to move here. I just felt like there was always a strong scene here for that, but essentially, that is me on the outside looking in from a Milwaukee mentality. I don’t look at it like a “major resurgence.” There have been a lot of new faces recently, but that hardcore hip-hop sound never went away in my opinion. I knew what was happening here because I had people here who put me on way early. I was listening to Westside Gunn & Conway “Hall And Nash” and “Flygod” back in Milwaukee before I even got to NYC.
MR: How have Milwaukee peeps reacted to your big moves? Is there resentment? Haters?
LWTR: I’ve only been back twice in the last three years, and the only things I know are what’s on my timeline. I have received a lot of love from my peers and fans from back home. I think they understand how hard it is to make that transition from a smaller market to one of the biggest in the world, and the complexities of trying to make a name in it.
MR: Who have you worked with in Milwaukee?
LWTR: Stricklin, Yo-Dot, Mike Regal, Louie-Z, Big Curse, Joey Dee, Kid Dope, CAMEone, Tone Gomez, Cleo Fox, Adlib to name a few.
MR: Who are some of the people you’ve produced and/or recorded for since you’ve been in New York?
LWTR: I’ve been able to produce songs featuring Vado, Termanology, Crimeapple, Benny The Butcher, Felly, El Camino, Gorilla Nems, Madhattan, Fastlife, Lil Fame of MOP, Tek of Smif-N-Wessun, Millyz, Rigz, Cortez, and CJ Fly. I recorded songs for most of the people stated above including Conway The Machine, Rome Streetz, Skyzoo, Statik Selektah, Snow Goons, Psycho Les of The Beatnuts, and a bunch more I can’t remember off the top of my head!
MR: What are your plans for the future?
LWTR: I have plans to create a compilation album in the future as well as a few EPs. I’m always looking for that big placement opportunity, but that’s like catching a whale these days. Over the past several months I’ve begun to enjoy cultivating artists that might be the next big thing. I’m willing to work with anyone as long as the vibe is right and we aren’t wasting our time on each other. My main focus right now is No Mames Studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. That is the HQ for producing, recording, mixing/mastering, and studio rehearsal. I have been fortunate enough to collaborate with fellow producer/engineer Chris Labella who has helped me tremendously with the studio over the past six months. The goal is to expand and command more than one studio, and continue giving people quality work with an excellent turnaround.