Label Focus: Lex Records

Rough Trade Records

May 26th, 2024


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“We have rappers, beat makers, left-field rock artists and techno producers. We’ve worked a lot on film and audio with Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins. But the categories that their art fits into is definitely an afterthought…we support their creativity wherever it takes them.”

A London-based imprint representing a range of innovative artists, straddling the diversified worlds of alternative music, collaboration and hip-hop. The Lex Records story is without doubt an interesting one. The brainchild of former Warp Records employee and events promoter Tom Brown, Lex was founded in 2001, driven by an intention of nurturing artists with fresh artistic originality and just getting great music out in sync with this.

Although heavily inspired by Tom‘s appreciation for ’90s East Coast rap, the Lex Records sound has never been restricted by genre, building itself on its strong connections to hip hop and underground rap to step out a reputable independent record label, music publisher and film production company, boasting a remarkable roster of eclectic artists. MF DOOM, Neon Neon, cartoonist Alan Moore, BADBADNOTGOOD, Eyedress, Danger Mouse, MIKE, Kae Tempest are just some of the incredible names that call Lex Records home and it’s been a pleasure to watch the Lex family evolve and discover consistent gems in its diverse discography.

In celebration of our own longstanding interest in the label, we take a fresh look at the triumphs of Lex Records so far, introducing several new exclusive vinyl pressings, limited markdowns and some classic Lex merchandise. Read on to further discover the real sound of Lex Records in our Q&A with label boss Tom Brown.

Lex Records Exclusives

Danger Mouse and JeminiGhetto Pop Life 
One of the key releases of the label’s early days, Ghetto Pop Life was originally released on Lex Records in 2003. Cinematic, conceptual, funky and uplifting, we are thrilled to see this long out-of-print debut reissued on Rough Trade Exclusive gold vinyl, in line with the release of the duo’s much-anticipated follow-up Born Again.

Danger Mouse and Jemini Born Again
The legendary duo reunite. Soul and funk-infused hip-hop tour de force Born Again arrives on Rough Trade Exclusive flouro green vinyl, two decades after its creation (which was straight off the back of the duo’s successful debut LP, Ghetto Pop Life) Well worth the wait.

Neon Neon Stainless Style
The debut album from Neon Neon (Gruff Rhys & Boom Bip), nominated for the UK Mercury Music Prize in 2008. A genre-crossing, retro-futuristic concept album about the extraordinary life of 20th Century playboy and car maker John Delorean, the man responsible for the gull-winged stainless steel vehicle featured in the Back to the Future films. An absolutely essential project to check out, now reissued on sparkle vinyl.

Lex Sampler 
To commemorate XX years of Lex Records, this limited 12-inch sampler curates remixes by Danger Mouse, Boards of Canada, DJ Premier, and Kevin Shields, for their first time on vinyl. Includes a sticker representing each track!

Lex Records Markdowns

We have special pricing (for a limited time only) across select titles in the label’s catalogue in-store and online.  Titles from JJ Doom, Badbadnotgood, Nehruviandoom, MF DOOM, Ghostface Killah, Fly Anakin, Dangerdoom, Pink Siifu, B Cool Aid, Eyedress and more, with up to 30% off.

Lex Records Merch

Four fresh t-shirt designs featuring the iconic Lex logo, the JJ DOOM BOOKHEAD cover artwork or the Sour Soul t-shirt, screen printed with the artwork from the collaborative album by Toronto jazz/hip-hop band BADBADNOTGOOD and Staten Island rap champ Ghostface Killah. 

Or get your grid on with a Lex grid tote bag. Fits records, metal face masks and all sorts.


Q&A with Tom Brown, Lex Records founder

Over two decades on from inception, Lex Records founder Tom Brown shares a deeper insight into the label’s evolution, its artist-focused nature and releasing MF DOOM’s final solo album.

Lex founder Tom Brown (right) with MF DOOM in the Lex Office, 2013.

Lex is quite distinctly one of the UK’s leading independent labels championing hip hop to the British music scene, best known for releasing music from MF DOOM, Danger Mouse, Ghostface Killah, BADBADNOTGOOD, Chuck Strangers, Fly Anakin, Pink Siifu and many more. Lex is also a label home to alt-rock band Neon Neon and writer, cartoonist and filmmaker Alan Moore, and has produced both shorts and feature films. With this diverse artistry, can you highlight what makes an artist a good fit for the Lex roster?

Aww, thanks! We’re an artist-focused label. Maybe there’s a better way of expressing that. But to me, it means that we don’t try to get artists to fit in with a label sound, or conform to a specific genre. Instead, we support their creativity wherever it takes them. Some artists travel a long way.

Boom Bip, who’s been with the label longer than anyone, has shifted genres across almost every project. His LP Seed To Sun was the very first album on Lex. It’s made of samples, loops, electronic production and a couple of guest MCs. We’ve worked with him through all his solo albums and his two strange pop albums with Gruff Rhys as Neon Neon. A low-key but influential art project called Music For Sleeping Children with artist Charlie White. His latest incarnation is Belief, his group with Stella Mozgawa, turning out bleepy techno dancefloor bangers. 

Danger Mouse’s first album, Ghetto Pop Life, is made from old-school drum breaks and big samples, with Jemini spitting thugged-out bars, signing soulful hooks. A few years later we released his intense introspective Dark Night of the Soul with Sparklehorse, followed by his homage to Italian film scores, Rome, with Daniele Luppi.

Matthew Tavares, who we first worked with as one of the original trio of BADBADNOTGOOD, who made Sour Soul with Ghostface Killah has just delivered a loved-up throwback bubblegum-garage-rock project. I definitely wasn’t expecting that when we signed him but it works and we love it.

We have rappers, beat makers, left-field rock artists and techno producers. We’ve worked a lot on film and audio with Alan Moore and Mitch Jenkins. But the categories that their art fits into is definitely an afterthought.


“Hip-hop was definitely the starting point for most early signings, but it was never the plan to stay exclusively in that lane. There was the deliberate decision from the start to keep it artist-focused, and not be constrained by a genre.”


DOOM and Danger Mouse.

Lex began as an imprint of the renowned post-genre music label Warp. Today, the label clearly shares a similar forward-thinking approach and experimental artistry as its former parent label, but there has always been a distinctive, hip-hop-orientated Lex sound. Was there a vision for the label’s sound from day one and has this vision developed as you had imagined?

The name Lex is a one-syllabler like Warp, an abbreviation of lexicon. Warp’s name suited the futuristic mainly instrumental electronic output of the label at the time (even if that wasn’t the origin of the name). I wanted the name Lex to fit with Lex’s output, I knew from the start that rap would be a big part of that.

The Warp bosses gave me pretty much a free rein when I started the label but there were just a couple of rules. One rule was that I shouldn’t try to sign artists who they were already on their radar. Just because there was no point in creating another label that covered the same ground as Warp. At the time, most artists signed to Warp were British. They’d recently signed Vincent Gallo and Prefuse 73, but apart from that there were very few American artists. That meant I had the scope to explore artists in the States and there was so much going on at the time there that I was absorbed by. I particularly love early 90s East Coast rap, and I was intrigued by releases coming out on labels like Anticon, Wordsound and Mush and the scene around Company Flow.

Hip-hop was definitely the starting point for most early signings, but it was never the plan to stay exclusively in that lane. There was the deliberate decision from the start to keep it artist-focused, and not be constrained by a genre. 

Collaboration seems to be at the heart of the label’s output. A great example is Danger Mouse & Jemini, whose original collaborations on a single progressed into one of the label’s early full-length releases (Ghetto Pop Life). The album also includes features from Prince Po and Cee Lo Green, whom Danger Mouse has strong connections with. How has collaboration impacted the label’s evolution and has it had a direct influence on the roster?

Collabs have ended up being central to how the roster has grown but it wasn’t planned. Early on it felt like every record had a feature on it, and we’d hear more of what that featured artist was working on and end up signing them. Danger Mouse was one of Lex’s first signings. He wanted to get Jemini to record one verse on his first 12” but when they got in the studio they clicked and ended up recording a whole album together. Prince Po from Organised Konfusion was a guest on that album, which led to Prince Po making an album for us. MF DOOM was featured on Prince Po’s album, which led directly to DANGERDOOM. That album featured Cee Lo, and then Danger Mouse and Cee Lo got in the studio to record what became Gnarls Barkley. It worked in the same way with Boom Bip. His debut LP featured Doseone. We signed the band Subtle, and that led to us working with Yoni Wolf and Andrew Broder and loads of other artists from that scene.

And it still happens like that. Quite recently, Fly Anakin & Pink Siifu’s FlySiifu‘s album featured so many artists that we ended up signing. Fly Siifu’s was the first time we released music by Chuck Strangers, Foisey, Ahwlee of B. Cool-Aid and YUNGMORPHEUS. All those artists went on to release full-length projects on the label. 

Danger Mouse and Jemini.

Danger Mouse and Jemini have reunited to release Born Again, the sequel to Ghetto Pop Life, twenty years on from their debut album collaboration. What is it like to witness long-standing relationships between the label and its artists or certain projects?

It’s satisfying to have so many long-standing relationships with artists. We’ve always tried to sign artists for multiple albums and some of those deals and the relationships with the artists have run the whole life of the label. Born Again was actually recorded straight after Ghetto Pop Life. I don’t think there was a gap between wrapping up recording for one album and the start of the next. They just kept recording. The Danger Mouse beat CDs that Jemini was working from included instrumentals that ended up on both Gnarls Barkley’s albums and on DANGERDOOM, so Born Again is a half-brother of those projects. There was a version of Born Again twenty years ago. But before we could drop it, everything got complicated. Not least because Danger Mouse became a huge star. 

Not everyone has carried on releasing on Lex though. Our twentieth anniversary project, Lex-XX took years to put together. It was so cool to be back in touch with some of the artists that we’d hardly spoken to for years and arrange remixes of their tracks from ten or twenty years ago. 


“Anakin and Siifu aren’t just MCs, they’re the creative directors and executive producers of their own ambitious projects.”


FlySiffu by 1000words.nyc.

Can you share five releases which have defined the label’s success in terms of shaping the ethos, as well as commercially?

Danger Mouse & Jemini – Ghetto Pop Life (2003)
This was a level-up moment for Lex. It was our first album that got on the cover of a magazine, it got daytime BBC Radio One plays and Zane Lowe was supporting. There was so much goodwill towards this album from the start, and it was doing great at an indie level. In the middle of the Ghetto Pop Life  campaign, Danger Mouse gave us The Grey Album mixtape, an illicit mashup of The Beatles White Album, and Jay-Z’s recent Black Album. It was the high-water mark in the mash-up craze and landed during the mainstream debate about internet file-sharing. It wove those themes together and became the music story of the year.

The attention that The Grey Album got, coupled with Danger Mouse’s huge talent and ambition led directly to him co-producing Gorillaz’Demon Days, then making Gnarls Barkley’s inescapable hit Crazy and the first MF DOOM album on Lex, DANGERDOOM‘s The Mouse & The Mask. But it all started with Ghetto Pop Life.

Neon Neon – Stainless Style (2008) 
This album was the end of a chapter for the label. Lex had peeled off from Warp in 2005 to go it alone and it had worked out swell and we were having a lot of fun. Stainless Style felt like a high point before the recorded music business went into worldwide meltdown for several years. This was the last blow-out all-night party before the cold dawn of a nuclear winter. Gruff Rhys was a bona fide rockstar, hugely talented and just the nicest guy. Boom Bip was an in-demand producer at the core of our roster. They bonded over Cold War aesthetics and made a biographical album (like that was a thing) about legendary carmaker and unsuccessful drug dealer John DeLorean. They were excited to try anything. They wrote the album on a pair of Casio keyboards and a guitar and then fleshed out the songs into slick drive-time rock, crunk and domestic Italo Disco.

MF DOOM – Born Like This (2009) 
Nobody knew it, but this was DOOM’s final solo album. It pulled together recordings from 2004 – 2008 and here we find him at his lyrical peak. The J Dilla beats are insane, and hint at what a full collab album between those two could have been. But DOOM was at his best when he rhymed his own production, and the high point here is the eternal banger That’s That.

Eyedress –  Let’s Skip to the Wedding (2020) 
This was huge for us but we weren’t expecting it. We had released Eyedress’ debut album in 2017. In 2019 he moved from Manila to LA and toured relentlessly and recorded in his bedroom in Silver Lake with cheap guitar and his Mac. We dropped Jealous in December ahead of a planned album release in early Spring 2020. The track slowly built momentum but soon we were in the pandemic era, record stores closed and touring stopped abruptly. We agreed to push the album back, and back… And Jealous just kept building all year. By late summer of 2020, Jealous had so much momentum, we had to drop the album. But then it really blew up when it found an audience on TikTok. It’s triple platinum in the USA now and gold and platinum in countries all around the world, a genuine sleeper hit. Shortly after that, another single from the album, Romantic Lover followed the same trajectory, blowing up on TikTok and then going platinum. We’re really proud we could break through at that level without compromising Eyedress’ art at all or resorting to anything wack.

Fly Anakin & Pink Siifu – FlySiifu’s (2021) 
This was the first release for both Fly Anakin and Pink Siifu on Lex. They’re two amazing artists that still have their best work ahead of them. The album has dozens of features and guest producers across the original LP and the extended version, but it all holds together with an unmistakable vibe throughout. One of the songs from Fly Siifu’s, Creme’s Interlude, featuring Fousheé, is popping off right now. It feels so good to have such a beautiful sprawling album and find success with it.  

Anakin and Siifu aren’t just MCs, they’re the creative directors and executive producers of their own ambitious projects.

Sage Francis, Doseone and Danger Mouse, Rough Trade Neal’s Yard, 2003. 

Finally, what would you say is particularly special about listening to these albums on a vinyl record? We know Lex started off originally releasing 12” singles and EPs, transitioning to full length records as the label grew. Does the format offer an expanded experience of what the artist has worked hard to craft?

At the start, we were a vinyl-only label. Not to make a statement, just because that was the way things were back then. Digital downloads weren’t a thing until two years later when the iTunes Store went online. Streaming was a decade away.  There were barely any Internet mail-order shops. If you wanted to hear Lex music you had to go into a record store. I spent my weekends back then buying vinyl in record stores and that was exactly where I wanted Lex music to be.

The first things we released were a series of 12”s with really intense sleeves by EHQuestionmark that looked totally different to everything else. Some of the sleeve art was scanned from decomposed linoleum floors from old shops in London with the cracks and edges debossed so you feel them. They felt good to hold, record shoppers were compelled to pick them up and examine them. Those first releases included 12”s Boom Bip & Doseone, Danger Mouse & Jemini and the three Lexoleum EPs with tracks from Madlib, Edan, J-Zone, Peaches, and all the Lex artists at the time.  

We still put everything into our vinyl releases, and hopefully, anyone visiting Rough Trade this month will pick up on that.


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