Luckyiam isn’t a rapper. He’s ashamed to claim the title.
“Everybody’s a rapper these days,” huffs the co-founder of L.A.’s the Living Legends and one half of the Mystik Journeymen. “It’s ridiculous. I’m a public speaker. If anything, I’m an MC.”
Lucky’s relaxing on a worn-out couch in a practice room at Nightingale Studios in Burbank, where he’s rehearsing for his upcoming Rock the Bells Festival 2007 tour date in San Bernardino. Maybe, he ponders, he’s an educator. “I think I would be more effective in a classroom. There are enough kids trying to be rappers and athletes. I could communicate with a kid that looks like me in a classroom. I don’t do it for money. It’s not just about a living. What is it doing in the end, ultimately?”
So he’s having an existential crisis. He considers rap a fad, but he participates in it. He questions the lack of quality control in modern-day hip-hop even as he unveils his official solo debut, Most Likely to Succeed, this week. The rapper can’t help but think that his time on this planet could be better spent. But maybe, in some secret spot in his psyche, the MC realizes that hip-hop needs some educators in the game, artists like Aceyalone and Murs, who add different kinds of lessons to the curriculum. In California, gangsters put rap on the map. Lucky and his colleagues rep for the less-trigger-happy members of the community.
“My hood is a war zone,” he explains. “I live on 52nd and Wilton Place. I live right around the corner from Slauson Swap Meet, and I don’t bust gangster rap. There are gunshots and helicopters. I just feel like that story has been told before, and I’m blessed to have been raised the way I was raised, with both of my parents. I understand what makes people get into a gang .?.?. but I am who I am. I didn’t grow up like that. I don’t think it needs to be told by me. I want to do something different.”
The Living Legends are one of the most successful and enduring Cali rap crews, like a West Coast Wu-Tang Clan, complete with solo entities and inter-crew side projects. Luckyiam was born in Inglewood and then moved to Mid-City, around Pico and La Brea. Murs grew up on the same block as Lucky (who viewed the youngster as the weird little kid down the street). Eligh and Scarub went to elementary school together. Eligh, Scarub and Murs attended the same high school. Lucky met Sunspot Jonz (the other half of the Mystik Journeymen) right after the L.A. riots. And so on .?.?.
For a time in his early 20s, Lucky escaped to the Bay Area, where he learned about grass-roots movements and then put the knowledge to work. He and his rhyme partners recorded their tracks in home studios, manufactured their own CDs and shuttled them to the distributor themselves, thus making more per CD than had they been signed to a major label. Classic DIY. (“We don’t sell as much,” he admits, “but we’re not hurting.”)
At the same time he was recording with his buddies, Lucky was also amassing solo joints to release on his own one day.
For his first solo CD, he feels like he went with a fitting title, Most Likely to Succeed, because “that’s what I’m voted out of the crew,” he boasts.
One of the surprise joys of his new CD is collaborator Marty James, a singer-songwriter featured on four tracks. The two met at the Echo and became fast friends. James had worked with artists like Mike Jones, E-40 and Baby Bash, and sang the chorus on the Federation’s “I Wear My Stunna Glasses at Night,” so he knows something about broad appeal. James, who leads a group called One Block Radius, and Lucky comprise the Owls — actually an acronym for “Overweight Lotharios.”
“I bring something different to the table,” James explains. “I’m more of a melody guy. I push Lucky in directions he wouldn’t go in on his own.” He also adds just the right amount of funky soul to Lucky’s jams, as well as the occasional bit of sage advice. A little more than a year ago, Lucky hatched a plan to create two albums: the first would be part three of his independently released Extra Credit series; the other, a more serious album, with a single producer, to shop to labels. James, however, convinced Lucky to combine all the tracks into one disc of the best. At the beginning of 2007, Lucky put it all together. Soon thereafter, he signed to indie label Cornerstone R.A.S. (home to the Shape Shifters). He calls the new disc his first properly distributed release, and gets visibly excited when he discusses it.
In addition to the Legends and the Owls, Lucky and Living Legend member the Grouch have a group, CMA (Cool Man Association/California Music Authority). The Grouch calls the beats on Lucky’s Succeed “clean and big,” and explains that their duo works because of their chemistry. “Lucky and I see eye to eye,” says the Grouch. “We can both be in same room and not communicate, and we have the same ideas as far as how to present something. We complete each other’s sentences. Our styles complement each other.”
Lucky works well with his Mystik Journeymen partner Sunspot as well, but their recent inactivity has raised questions about future Journeymen projects. Lucky says that they’re not broken up. The lyrics on “Dynamic Duos,” however, reveal some interesting insights. On the track, Lucky raps about how he only sees his partner and friend when it comes time to do business: “He ain’t been at my house in like a year/The communication breakdown is making it clear.”
“I only see him if we are .?.?. at rehearsal,” Lucky comments. “We used to be around each other a lot more. I even played him that song about a month ago, and since then he still hasn’t been to my house. He knows. He’s probably a little hurt. He understood where I was coming from. He didn’t dispute it and he didn’t prove me wrong by coming over to my house right after that. If someone would’ve played me that song, I would have been at their house the next day, like, ‘What’s up?’?”
But despite his excitement about his new projects, Lucky still seems happy to be a Legend and a Journeyman. He enjoys making music — though he might not always sell it. Which means that while many rap players move to Hollywood, for now Lucky’s remaining at 52nd and Wilton. “It’s cheap,” he figures. “I got a nice little house over there. My block is cool. There’s gangsters, but they know what I’m doing, so I got a ghetto pass. I’m a little hood star. They know I rap. They know about our crew. They know what I do. They’re like the little lieutenants in the neighborhood. They don’t bother me. I’m off the radar now.”
Luckyiam’s solo debut, Most Likely to Succeed, comes out Tues., Aug. 7. He appears at Rock the Bells Festival 2007 at the Hyundai Pavilion in San Bernardino on Sat., Aug. 11. For more information, visit www.luckyiam.com.