Lex Luger produced one of the biggest rap songs of 2010, featuring the young producer’s signature horror movie synths over a rumbling bass line and scattered, pounding drums. Only the track wasn’t recorded by Waka Flocka, it was Rick Ross’s “B.M.F.” Kanye West also employed Luger to produce “H.A.M.,” the first single off of his and Hov’s massive Watch the Throne album.
Waka—who claims to have came up with the word "HAM"—says he felt relieved by the similarities. “What are y’all gonna say now?” he says when asked about these songs. “Jay-Z stupid as hell? My sound is wack? You gonna say that? They love the sound. They can’t run away from it. That shit re-sparked niggas’ careers. My sound put life into a lot of people’s careers. I feel like my sound changed hip-hop. Period. It’s crazy when I came out with it everybody laughed at it, but the next year everybody’s doing it. They getting credit for the shit you started. You be like, Damn, how is this nigga a genius for doing something I started?”
My sound put life into a lot of people’s careers. I feel like my sound changed hip-hop. Period. It’s crazy when I came out with it everybody laughed at it, but the next year everybody’s doing it.
Kanye is known for keeping his finger on the pulse of the moment to create something greater. After “H.A.M.” he moved on—there were no other flourishes of Waka-ness on The Throne album. But Rick Ross delved deeper into the sound, co-opting it as his own.
“That’s crazy,” says Waka. “But what you gonna say? This nigga out here making 30 fucking songs with your sound. He watering it down, just putting words together that sounded good. Shit would be harder if it was the truth.”
If you think Waka might be supremely pissed about the imitators, you’re right. He is. “That shit made me tight,” he says. “Niggas built labels off our sound—like, literally. You know how many niggas sound like Lex Luger and Southside? I go in niggas’ studios, all their beats sound like my producers. I be like, What the fuck?” But above all he tries to maintain perspective: "You can't be mad at something you can't control."
When it comes to the next generation of rappers, Waka is more understanding. Take the Chicago sensation Chief Keef, for example. His songs, which include “Bang” and “I Don’t Like,” have a rambunctious style reminiscent of Flocka’s. He even has a “bang!” ad-lib that’s very similar to Waka’s “bow!”
Still Waka’s got nothing but love for Keef. “That nigga remind me of me. Like a motherfucker,” he says. “That’s the homie.” He’s not just passing platitudes, either. Waka digs the dude’s music so much he hopped on a track with him called “Murda.” Their chemistry felt so organic, Keef would seem to make a good addition to 1017 Bricksquad.
But Waka’s more focused on his own project at the moment. With his sound no longer exclusively his own, he returned to the studio this time around with his mind set on creating a broader album. He says he’s not as angry as he was when he recorded Flockavelli, so there’s not as much vitriol being spewed. He wanted to expand his new effort—both topically and sonically. Waka’s especially proud of the song “Power of the Pen,” in which he reflects on the ills of the ghetto and the pitfalls that come with trying to make it out. He hopes the song shows people another side of him.
“I want them to hear facts; to hear how I feel sometimes,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t say certain shit. Or I don’t touch certain topics. I just wanted to give them another side of me other than money, cars, clothes, and hoes.”
That’s not to say Waka’s about to start rapping circles around fools. Nah. He still doesn’t believe that he needs to; nor does he want to. The way he sees it, there’s been people like him all throughout rap. “From Lil Jon back to Doug E. Fresh,” he says. “That’s the same shit. You always got your party people, the dance people, the lyricists,” he says. “That’s just how shit goes. It just so happens I’m the nigga at the party. Lyricist niggas always got the wackest job—they’re boring.”
If there’s one thing Waka is not, it’s boring. After our interview, he leaves to embark on yet another press run that culminates with a Spinmagazine party at the Bowery Hotel. Swanky, curtained, and quiet, it’s not the sort of place you’d normally expect to see a guy like Waka do his thing. All the terraces on the second floor are buzzing with people on this warm spring night. Dressed in a white wifebeater and shorts, Waka stands head and shoulders above everyone. Right now, he just seems happy to be in NYC around some cool people. Still, people seem surprised to find that the guy who made that song “Fuck This Industry” is so chill. He's been working on it.
You're not invincible. You bleed the same. You get thirsty just like another person. You feel pain. You get stressed. It's like with me—you don't know what tomorrow holds. So that's why i keep a level mind right now.
"It's like, the more money you get, the more you think you're invincible," Waka said back at Complex. "You'll be a red light and you'll think, 'I don't even gotta wait for this shit. I'll just pay the ticket.' You get out of control sometimes. You gotta put a meter on it and you gotta check it and see the person you are because the person you used to be you're probably going to lose contact with. And coming from all the way up there to coming back down is like reality check. You're not invincible. You bleed the same. You get thirsty just like another person. You feel pain. You get stressed. It's like with me—you don't know what tomorrow holds. So that's why i keep a level mind right now. I always try to be calm, always try to be easy. That shit's crazy though, man."
With five minutes to go until showtime, Waka makes his way to the stage. Despite its small size, you could power all the iPhones in NYC with the energy building in the room. Clouds of weed smoke float through the air.
The opening synths of “Hard in the Paint” ring out and the crowd begins to mosh together as Waka flails his dreads to the beat. It’s obvious he’s worked on his stage performance. He’s more controlled (for Waka) and raps more of the song that he did in years past. He works the stage better, too, interacting with people on both ends.
This guy’s nearly got this star shit down. For “No Hands” he brings a few ladies on stage to dance with him. The stage, already packed with Waka’s people, is not big enough to accommodate many more people, but Waka doesn’t care. He does what he wants.