words: Eamon Whalen
photos: Andrew Zeiter
“I can never enjoy my own music, because I’m always gonna find something wrong with it,” says Lucki Eck$ in Closed Sessions’ short video documenting the recording of his song, “All Senses.” Those are the words of a true writer, never satisfied with their work, continually sweating the details, always feeling like they could’ve left more of themselves on the page. Or in Lucki’s case, the beat.
The seventeen-year-old is a product of both the West and South sides of Chicago has dubbed his lyrically intricate, meltingly slow flow and sonically adventurous brand of rap, “Alternative Trap.” In the midst of what would be his senior year of high school, his mixtape of the same name has him fielding calls from record labels and journalists, instead of potential prom dates or his football coach.
He had to leave his high school because he was becoming too well-known. “I started getting friends I didn’t have before all that started. I still don’t really like talking about it. Like when people and fans come up to me I’m not trying to be mean I just don’t really like talking about my music,” Lucki said over the phone from his home in Chicago.
It was a particular line from his one time idol Lil’ Wayne that made Lucki want to try writing his own rhymes when he was ten years old:
On that song ‘Stuntin Like My Daddy,’ you know his second
verse when he was like, “Show me my opponent,” then he
acts like he’s eating? That was in my head for like two weeks.
I started to listen to Lil’ Wayne, and that’s how I started
When he was fifteen he took a trip to the teenage-oriented program YouMedia, now made popular by one of last year’s national breakout rap stars (and Greenroom Issue 001 Cover Story), Chance The Rapper. “This was before he [Chance] dropped [his first mixtape] 10 Day. He was in a group called Instrumentality,” said Lucki. It wasn’t until he stepped in a cypher with Chance that he knew he had something. “He was cool as hell. [sic] He told me to start taking it more serious, so thats what I did,” said Lucki.
But Lucki felt like he couldn’t just rap, because everyone was already doing that. He felt like he needed an edge, some originality. “I had to find my sound first. I didn’t want to record any music when I wasn’t really good,” he says. He watched Spike Lee’s Malcolm X biopic in English Class, and liked the idea of “X” representing the unknown, so he attached it to his given name - Lucki. “When I was 16 I was just into spelling shit weird, so I came up with Ecks, kind of like a teenage phase so I just spelled it out that way. When you say X, that’s how it sounds.”
He makes clear he never liked writing and was a horrible student, going so far as to refuse to say the name of his former high school, but he admits that that same English class was foundational for his aesthetic. “We watched the Ritchie Valens movie and [his teacher] Mr. King yelled loud as hell ‘In order to be a good artist, you got to know how to blend genres,’ and so that’s what I started doing. That’s how it started clicking,” he recalls.
Like Ritchie Valens blended Latin music with Rock, Lucki wanted to take some of the themes of the wildly popular Chicago “Drill” (a Chicago mutation of Atlanta Trap music) rappers like King Louie and Chief Keef and cast them in a new, alternative direction. He’d been listening to a lot of Berkeley rapper Lil B and Miami’s Robb Banks, especially caught by their choice of instrumentals based on unconventional, dreamy samples with a percussive backbone similar to Drill.
Though born and raised on the West side, Lucki hung out on the South side of the city, off of 48th Street. “I learned everything on 48th. That’s where I learned me at,” says Lucki. His friend Plu2o Nash was a well-known producer in the Drill scene, but ready to showcase his versatility. By the summer of 2013 “Alternative Trap” was released to immediate internet buzz.
“By the third month I already had a label calling for me and stuff like that,” he said with the same nonchalance he kicks a 16. Almost immediately Lucki was signed to a management deal with Hollywood mogul Scott Vener, most well known for curating the soundtracks to the show Entourage. Now, he’s managed by Andrew Barber, founder of Fake Shore Drive, a Chicago-based website and blog that has acted as the online epicenter of the city’s rap explosion. It’s an undoubtedly more appropriate fit as Lucki’s perspective and aesthetic is thoroughly Chicagoan, just perhaps one we haven’t seen yet.
In the last year alone, the intersection between Chicago’s trend toward violent crime, the socio-political dynamics, and the burgeoning rap scene has resulted in documentary film crews from around the country flocking to the city. From Robert Redford and CNN’s Chicagoland--in which Barber was featured on one episode--to Vice’s Chiraq series and World Star Hip Hop’s, The Field, there has been an ongoing obsession with capturing the real Chicago. Usually the focus is centered on the Southside in all of it’s redlined, post-industrial grit. Lucki is dealing with the same exact terrain of abuse, violence and isolation, but filtering it through his own psychadelic teenage lens.
He says he doesn’t sell drugs, but when asked if he’s trying to glorify drug culture or merely describing his surroundings, he answers “It’s like both. In Chicago the drug culture is too smackin. There is so much fucking drugs in Chicago, everyone does drugs, it’s around you every day. Then I watch a lot of crime-based movies.” He says that new music usually coincides with a new playlist on his Netflix account. “I love movies,” says Lucki before pausing and saying it again with more emphasis, “I love movies.”
His favorite films includ Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, and Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. His rhymes show the attention to detail of a seasoned screenwriter. Take a few from the song “Interest” one of the standouts on “Alternative Trap,” produced by Nash:
I done bust a move by the carload my next trip a bus,
I done served Hispanics named Carlos, but he's black as fuck
That ain't my place to question, as long as I get cash and such
Fuck I look like asking where you from, pulling the atlas up
Got a wild bitch, she keep a pistol by her tan line,
She ain't scared to use it, she just want that money, and time
The scene is created with the bluntness of Quentin Tarantino and the twisted irony of Guy Ritchie, two directors he spends a good portion of the interview comparing and contrasting. A Hispanic “named Carlos, but he’s black as fuck...A wild bitch who keeps a pistol by her tan line.” Most of the subject matter on “Alternative Trap” paints similar pictures of the drug culture in Chicago with a cinematic scope: competition between dealers, strained relationships between customers and suppliers.
The mixtape’s artwork has 1920s mafia boss Lucky Luciano cast against a background of lush impressionist still-life of flowers. The music could be described as such a juxtaposition. Lyrics that speak to a life of “trapping” delivered with half the intensity and double the eloquence of the average Drill rapper, over slow scaled-down, dreamy instrumentals by Nash and fellow Chicago producers like Hytman and Hippie Dream, some of which have little to no drums behind them.
In contrast to the syllable-stacking speed-rap called “twisting” that his city became famous for, Lucki’s flow is laid-back, even coming off as intentionally lazy at points. “I ain’t even notice I was really rapping that slow. It’s just the way it forms. When I started writing music I would write to the bass and the kicks you know?” His scenes are peppered with cleverly written lines that give new life to the oft-exhausted metaphors and similes. Unlike his rapping style, which he says comes almost unconsciously, Lucki’s rhymes are delivered with a concentrated intention and contain layers of references that approach esoteric levels.
“I do that consciously. If I know hella people use that line I ain’t going to try and use it. You know how many Mortal Kombat lines I got in my head? And they’re raw as hell. But people use hella Mortal Kombat lines so I don’t be wanting to use them,” says Lucki. He continues, “but mines are way better than everybody else’s. But it’s so predictable. That’s why I feel like Lil ‘Wayne be tweaking now. He used to be a god to me. But his lines be so predictable and stepped on. I call them stepped on lines, everybody uses them.”
Though clearly steeped in Chicago street culture, you won’t see Lucki adopting the “Chiraq” moniker that’s been fetishized by outsiders and unfortunately embraced by some of Lucki’s peers. “I hate that shit,” he says. Then repeats “I hate that shit” four more times. “It’s so damn lame and corny. I don’t kill people, my friends don’t kill people. That’s them, don’t put that on the whole [sic] Chicago, you know?”
The industry microscope has been on Chicago for three years now, a fact that made Lucki wary of the instant response his music received. Lucki recalls having to stay on-guard to the myriad of offers coming his way, making sure not to be “tricked” or “lured” into the wrong section of industry hype-machine.
Towards the end of the interview Lucki puts his blooming career into perspective. “Those 13 songs [On Alternative Trap] are 13 of the first 20 songs I ever wrote in my life.” As of now Lucki is focused on what’s in front of him, which means a new playlist of movies on his Netflix Queue, constant studio sessions and a high profile slot opening for Danny Brown on tour. What he did say about his upcoming project “Body High" is what every writer strives for in their next piece: “It’s just going to be better overall you know? Better details.”