Saturday, May 1, 2010


As published in the Illinois Entertainer sometime in late 1994 or early 1995...

Charles Mingus once wrote a song called "All the Things You Could Be By Now If Sigmund Freud's Wife Was Your Mother."

Now, thirty-four years later, the twenty-three-year-old hip-hop artist known as Lucas is a prime example of all the things you could be if your father was a playwright, Tin Pan Alley songwriter, and former editor of Billboard and if your mother was an artist who frequently traveled the world with you in tow.

"She used to travel and exhibit her work," Lucas recalls. "She wanted to spend her money on traveling instead of on other things. So we traveled about four times a year, across different continents and different cultures. And we lived in different places, like London, Venice, and France. I went to Africa, too. So the metaphor of motion has always been in my past."

Obviously, Lucas--née Lucas Secon--experienced a different sort of upbringing than Snoop Doggy Dogg or Warren G did. With his racially diverse background (Lucas's dad was "an American of Russian-Jewish extraction"), his financial security, and his awareness that it's a small world after all, Lucas is easily the least stereoptypical rapper to enjoy success since Vanilla Ice.

The success he's enjoyed so far stems from "Lucas with the Lid Off," the first single from his Big Beat/Atlantic debut, Lucacentric. The song revolves around a sample from Benny Goodman's "When Buddha Smiles" and thereby not only avoids the melodic monotony of most rap but also proves that the Swing Era wasn't named the “swing” era by accident. Atop Goodman’s riffs, Lucas scat-raps: "Whatever bubbles bubbles up. / Everybody's got the lid on tightly / afraid of what might be lurking right behind the knot of safety ... look up and let / whatever bubbles up out your head / spread the vibes and illuminate the sky."

Or, as Madonna (or the La Leche League) might put it, express yourself.

Lucas believes so strongly in himself as a wellspring of creativity that he's named his production company Whatever Bubbles Bubbles Up Productions. He even uses the sentence to begin his answer to the inevitable question about what he means by the term "metaphor of motion."

"Whatever bubbles bubbles up," he responds. "Water is natural motion. You can't suppress that. It keeps coming. It's what reflects what's natural inside you. You can't hold that back. You try to hold it down like water, and it comes up between your fingers. That's, like, the ultimate--your own identity."

Despite the airplay generated by "Lucas with the Lid Off" ("It went to twenty-something on the charts and has sold about 200,000," Lucas notes), what really got the song noticed was its video, a video for which motion was anything but a metaphor. Rolling Stone devoted an entire article to it, calling it a "disorienting roller-coaster ride where the viewer is never sure which way is up." Meanwhile, speaking of Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger recently called "Lid Off" his favorite current song.

Nevertheless, Lucas has no intention of milking "Lid Off" as a Swing-meets-hip-hop novelty record and then resting on his laurels. He already has big plans for single number two.

"'Wau Wau Wau' is a cool record," he enthuses. "We have some really nice mixes, and the girl from Incognito--who are probably the most successful acid-jazz band in the world--came and sang on the remix. There'll be about six mixes on the single, so it should be good."

As for what the phrase "wau wau wau" really means--"It's a drunk message a friend of mine left on my answering machine. I decided it was so strange I had to put it in the chorus. And it kind of sums up a triple frustration--wau wau wau. It's like a non-lyrical lyric."

If nothing else, the song should teach Lucas's friends to be careful when phoning.

"Exactly. They could be the author of my next hit."

Lucas also plans to release "Spin the Globe," a continent-spanning rap tribute to world music, replete with verses in Spanish, French, and African and Indian languages. Considering Lucas's globe-trotting wonder years, he's the perfect--perhaps the only--rapper capable of making such a song work. Besides, it's about time radio turned lyrics like "ogara pi ma lokirika, sii ta ku" and "bu ved du at jeg folger mit instinkt" into pop-cultural mantras.

While no other tracks on Lucacentric match the singles’ sheer catchiness, several stand out because of their lyrics' emphasis on the dehumanizing aspects of the recording industry. "Stratusphere" parts one and two, "Livin' In a Silicone Dream," and "In It for the Lifelong" consist of raps that sound like pep talks from Lucas-the-bubbly-celebrity to Lucas-the-barely-old-enough-to-drink- mannish-boy.

"And you can't mention 'Silicone Dream' without mentioning 'Inflatable People,' " Lucas points out. He's referring to the Lucacentric track that begins "This is a song about the industry / and also about relationships / and about life."

Why did he choose "silicone" as his overriding metaphor for star-machine corruption?

"Because of what women use silicone for, to receive the idealized form of beauty in their own minds that they'll never be able to achieve. You know, the instant-gratification society that we live is not only physical, but it's emotional as well: emotional instant gratification."

Translation: "Don't bubble up whatever doesn't bubble up."

As for the self-directed pep talks, Lucas believes he has reason to feel confident about the role he'll play in the ongoing story of hip-hop.

"There's nothing [else] like 'Lucas With the Lid Off.' There's not a record like 'Spin the Globe' that exists right now that I know of. So as far as I know, the whole global fusion is unique in rap. That's my contribution."

That and pulling the lid off a fountain of verbal, musical, and rhythmic vigor that won't easily be put back on.

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