Frank Lucas, Jr.: Son Of An American Gangster
Have we gone so far as to reward illegal activities with a smile and a paycheck? With the BET show of the same name profiling the ills of American society, should we not look at Frank Lucas, Jr. with that suspicious glance? As Frank Lucas, Jr. sits down with HipHopDX, he breaks down his riches-to-rags story, why T.I. and Jay-Z are not true American Gangsters and tackles criticism from the wife of Frank Lucas mentor Bumpy Johnson.
HipHopDX: How did your fathers legacy help you cement your own individuality?
Frank Lucas, Jr.: He helped in terms of way he operated. He was the type to be able to maneuver through the landmines of the Italian mafia world and to be able to survive and create his own situation. I applied those same principles in the world of entertainment. I see the whole playing field. The pitfalls are pretty much the same, except for when youre moving in the world that he was in. You saw money everyday. Every guy who thinks hes a rapper wants to be a gangster, every gangster you see wants to be a rapper and the athlete wants to be both. [Laughs] So, I know how to navigate through my world keeping who I am in tact.
DX: Well, it must be a little bit tough when people look at your father as a criminal and put their assumptions onto you. So, what were some of the things that you had to go through as a child to shy away from those assessments?
FL: As a child, those assessments were consistently placed upon me. Kids, you know how cruel they can be, would say, Your daddy is a drug dealer. Hes a jailbird! It was really wack at that time to be a drug dealer and a jail bird back in the day. Now, you got cats who are talking about being official. They come out saying, Yo, man, I just did a 10 year bid, and are happy about it. The mentality has reversed. You have people making records about how many times theyve been shot and that, to me, is interesting. I was an individual early on. The principles were set at a very young age from watching my father. I didnt know what he was doing at the age I was, but all I know and shall forever remember is that everyone respected him.
DX: With all the gangster talk in the music who really fits into your description of being a true gangster in rap?
FL: The closest thing to anyone fitting that definition is Ice-T. There was always something about the way that he operates in his circle and how he makes his moves. Id also say Haitian Jack. I had an opportunity to meet him and he was able to put pressure on people and still make moves. Now that Im in this game, aint nobody put that type of pressure on me. I dont want to come off like Im a bully. I am a very humble and respectful man. But Im a man, first! If you come at me, then understand that Ill come at you.
DX: What about those who think that youre just riding your fathers coattails at an opportune time to get your own situation off?
FL: Well, lets look at it like this, I am the son of an American gangster. I have a legitimate claim to the Lucas name. Others like T.I. he had a line where he said, Frank Lucas ain't the only one who made a million a day/But it's a American Gangster right here in your face How so? Hes not an American gangster, or else he wouldnt have gotten caught up like that. An American Gangster puts at least seven to 10 levels between him and the streets. Thats one of the prime code definitions of what an American Gangster is and what one does. One has to have the ability to move very powerfully and swiftly in silence. With Jay, hes not hurting, and you know that Frank Lucas exists as an artist. So, why didnt you reach out to the man that is responsible for your inspiration? I know that Jay didnt put any work in like Nicky Barnes, Frank Lucas, Lucky Luciano or any of those other made men, did. Your inspiration came from the people who approached you about doing a situation, which was Brian Grazer and Ridley Scott. They approached him about doing a soundtrack. Jay was feeling it and then somewhere it turns into an album of inspired music. But Jay didnt want to pay homage to my father. He didnt meet the man or anything like that. Its a hell of a responsibility to call yourself an American gangster. I was slated to be down with the soundtrack, but it turned, so once it did I didnt want to be a part of it. If your inspiration is for real, then go to the source! You can get the information from him. The way the album is shaping up, its going to look like hes going to lose his fan base and hell look like a shadow of his former self because hes not getting the full story.
DX: In another interview you did, you said that you had gone from having the silver spoon spending $100 on candy to it being taken away. How did that help to motivate you into getting into rap?
FL: My thing is this having so many things at one time and it being taken away, what it does is that it exemplifies the have and the have-not. So, for me to have it and then not to have it anymore it checked me to know what could happen if I dont have my game on point. The approach isnt over; things would have to be readjusted. Im never comfortable with my resume. Anything can be taken away from you in a heart beat and I think that theres never enough work to do to keep attaining more.
DX: Do you think your story is one that can be tangible to the people?
FL: Yeah, theyre going to love it. You have a lot of people who are putting themselves in the shoes of an American gangster, so telling the story the right way is going to be put forth by my company The Lucas Legacy Group. Its going to shape the future. Well be doing all forms multimedia from clothing to music to movies. Were doing the same thing, but in the style of American gangster and with a different style and a different flare. Im excited by how people will check for this. Its in a good position to be done very well. A lot of people want to see this happen. Overall, the response is very warm and people want to see the change happen. They want to see the regime thats now make room for the other; for the future. [Laughs] Dont forget that my name is Frank Lucas People ask me if Im built like my pops, but as time goes on, theyll all understand that its a resounding and positive answer at that. Im extremely dedicated to my craft and making things happen.
DX: You mentioned that Jay-Z never talked to your father about doing the album and whatnot. Do you feel that hes taking away from the shine that was originally focused on your father with the American Gangster.
FL: Movie coming out? He cant do anything to my father. My father doesnt rap I do. So, if anything hes taking away from me. But, by my name being mentioned with his, with no album in the marketplace, its helping me out. Now, I can show corporate America what type of competitor that I am.
DX: You are the son of a hustler, a known international entrepreneur of sorts how did you dodge the allure of the streets?
FL: You have to be flexible. You have to know when to move with it and when to move against it. Like my father said, I got a PhD in the streets. I was blessed with that same knowledge. My mindset is like, Okay, lets get done what we need to get done. I feel good about all the moves that were making. The Lucas Legacy Group is going to create jobs for our people and our brand is going to be strong enough to carry over into the mainstream public. Were going to ride this out! Its going to be nice, long ride, too...
DX: Once the hype of the movie and Jays new album passes what do you and your camp plan on doing to keep the buzz with your work going on?
FL: Well, since we have the peoples ears, we have our fashion lines American Gangster Couture and the Frank Lucas clothing line in the works. We have a few movie projects that are being talked about. The Birthright CD is coming out really soon. We have the Frank Lucas soundtrack, too. Then, in February, well be trying to push the movie, too. Believe me, all these guys in the rap game have to change their names for it sound gangster, but I dont have to. When I say gangster, Im not talking about being a rah-rah type of individual. Its not a conversation, its an action. Thats what New York was born and bred upon. It used to be the prominent place for music and its been lacking. So, things are going to, indeed, change. [Laughs]
DX: Mayme Johnson the wife of Bumpy is planning on coming out with a book about her husbands life. There is an excerpt where she says, When I heard that the Harlem dope dealer, Frank Lucas, wrote a magazine article a few years back claiming that he was Bumpys right hand man and that Bumpy died in his arms I was upset. He lied. How do you deal with peoples negative association with your father?
FL: That is true. He [Bumpy Johnson] did die in my fathers arms. But with positive things, youre always going to have people saying negative things about you. Frank, my father, was Bumpys right-hand man. He worked for Bumpy and he did everything that he wanted him to do. Anything who knows anything about that knows that Frank was like a son to Bumpy. His wife wasnt involved in his street business and was Bumpy really married? We need to bring that into light, as well I know that he had kids, but theres no question that Frank Lucas was Bumpy Johnsons right-hand man. Zack Robinson was my fathers godfather and when Zack left my father was next in charge. My dad was 15-years-old when he started protecting Bumpy Johnson.
If she [Mayme] knew her facts, shed say that he was an international distributor and not a Harlem dope dealer. He sold weight to people who sold drugs. He was a wholesaler. At the time of Bumpy Johnsons reign, Zack Robinson was next after him. He was between Bumpy and Frank. If all these gentlemen were ahead of Frank on Bumpys totem pole, where were they when he died? Why when Bumpy died why didnt they take out Frank? Why was he the one to do what he did? If Bumpy taught them the same thing that he taught Frank shouldnt they be where he was at? There had to be something that happened! I am not here to glorify the negativity of criminality and drugs; Im just here to shed light on it. Frank Lucas was Bumpys driver he could tell you what his whole day consisted of.
DX: In the business that your father was involved in, you spoke of a code and how that doesnt exist now. With Hollywood and the rap industry having its share of twists and turns what code do you use to navigate the business?
FL: There is no code. Its a very unethical business. The only cheap ethic is to plug yourself So, with that said, be sure to go check out MySpace.com/FrankLucasMusic. The Birthright album is coming out soon. We have the hoodie line coming out this December. The next single is "Five Years Old" and thats coming out soon. I just want people to know who I am and I am what to music, what my father was to the drug game.
DX: And how important, to you, is respect in the rap game?
FL: In the rap game, its not about respect, it about a hot beat that is going to make people shake they ass in the club. Look at the material that gets played! Its not about respect. I was supposed to do an interview with Wendy Williams and something happened and she was jumping out talking crazy without knowing it. Dont get it twisted, Im not saying that there should be respect; I just dont see much of it. Nobody is working with anyone anymore. You dont hear R&B singers talking like that All these rappers are mad at each other and its not about that. Its about progress. We need to be financially stable. Its hard for us to do that when were arguing about our differences. We need to have that solid foundation.