When you’re 16 and signed to Def Jam and then dropped from the label while still a teenager—what happens next.
Last week, I posted my first VSB story, on how I snuck into Teaneck High to cover rapper Lady Luck, who had been signed to Def Jam. I reached out to Luck this weekend to see what her life has been like since the Def Jam days.
Here’s our convo today. I love this kid. Still. (And I’m glad she’s finally claiming her birthright as a direct descendant of the legendary Sugar Hill Records legacy.)
Aliya: Luck! How are you? I miss you so much!
Luck: What’s good Aliya?!
Aliya: So yesterday, I shared the epic tale of our first meeting. You were 17 years old and signed to Def Jam going into senior year. What do you remember feeling?
Luck: It was euphoric. I actually got signed in 11th grade and told everyone and no one believed me. But then “Simon Says” came out. So when I started senior year and people heard the song and saw the video, it was real. I had always believed it would happen. Always. In 9th grade, I prayed to God for a record deal. And I said if I don’t get a deal, I’m going to college. So I was hitting the books hard all through high school and rapping every chance I could get. I’d let God decide which way I was supposed to go. Got signed to Def Jam as soon as it was time to start thinking about college.
Aliya: What do you remember about that first day of school?
Luck: I remember all the iced-out jewelry I was rocking. And of course I remember YOU.
Aliya: What went through your mind when I finally told you I wasn’t a student?
Luck: Here’s the thing. I kept seeing you in the halls and to be honest you looked familiar. I thought maybe you were somebody’s cousin or friend. I was like, let me help shorty out. And then when you pulled me into the bathroom….
Aliya: I know. You must have been like, what the hell?
Luck: Look, when anyone pulls you into a bathroom and says I need to talk to you. It can’t be good.
Aliya: So, I spent an entire year chronicling your career. What do you remember about the time we spent together?
Luck: I remember one month you and Shelby Gates, the photographer, came to my school and there was a pep rally. I had spent three thousand dollars on all this fresh Iceberg shit. But the picture y’all ran was me wearing a white tank top. It was not the look I was going for. I remember I went up to Def Jam after that issue came out and Lyor Cohen was trying to be funny and he said, Oh, you look so sexy. I was like, what the hell? I’m a 17-year-old tomboy. Why don’t I have hair and makeup? I’m doing a column in The Source every month for a year and I don’t have a stylist?
Aliya: What else do you remember?
Luck: I remember the time Kevin Liles made me cry in his office.
Aliya: Oh God, Luck. I forgot all about that. That was horrible. What did he say exactly?
Luck: You asked him when my album was gonna drop. And he said: “Luck’s album will drop when she’s going to change the face of women in hip-hop.” That is a lot of pressure to put on a 17-year-old.
Aliya: I remember now. That was tough.
Luck: Remember what he said in The New Yorker story about me?
Aliya: Kind of. He was comparing you to Kim and Foxy, I think?
Luck: He said, Kim is the rapper who will fuck you and then shoot you. Foxy will fuck you and then stab you or something. But Luck will just chill with you and then beat you with a baseball bat.
Luck: Exactly. But that wasn’t me at ALL. So I was like, wait. Is this the rapper they expect me to be?
Aliya: Why didn’t you tell him that’s not who you were?
Luck: Aliya, I was just happy to have a record deal. I did whatever they told me to do. I wasn’t rapping about killing people before I got signed. But I wanted to make Kevin happy. He signed the checks.
Aliya: What else did you do that they influenced you to do?
Luck: I was in LA with Kevin and we met up with Foxy. He put a baseball cap on me before we took a picture and that was it. I was supposed to always rock a baseball cap. I never wore hats like that. But when the president of Def Jam slaps a baseball cap on your head, you wear it.
Aliya: I don’t think I ever saw you without a baseball cap the whole year.
Luck: I remember when I finally stopped wearing baseball caps, the top of my head was two different colors. [laughs]
Aliya: I remember you were really cool with DJ Enuff during this time. I have this distinct memory of you coming to his office straight from school all the time and dumping your backpack in his office before wandering the halls of Def Jam.
Luck: Yup. I remember.
Aliya: But he left during the year I was covering you.
Aliya: Tell me if I’m wrong. But I feel like you guys stopped being cool after he left. What happened?
Luck: I was young. I didn’t know about “industry friendships.’ So I heard Enuff on the radio one day talking about me and Remy battling. And he said, “I told Luck not to battle her. That’s why I left Def Jam. Because she didn’t listen to me.”
Aliya: Wait. He said he left Def Jam because of you?
Luck: Yeah. Which isn’t true. But whatever. I learned about how the industry worked. When you’re hot you’re hot. When shit changes…
Aliya: Tell me when you realized for sure that some of your Def Jam friendships only were real when you were signed to the label.
Luck: After the Remy battle, I’m off Def Jam. I’m still grinding. I’m selling my own CDs. Literally, in barbershops and wherever. After Def Jam, I had no problem still going back to the basics to make it happen. So I walk inside this barbershop and I see Stef Luva on television with Remy. Me and Steph Luva had been super close. And she’s on television with Remy clowning me. I went outside and started crying. Right there on the street.
Aliya: How did the Remy thing even start?
Luck: I started it. I was running the streets doing stuff I had no business doing. A friend called me and told me “Remy is down here in this battle talking shit about you.” I was in Massachusetts and we drove straight to New York so I could battle her.
Aliya: It didn’t end the way you planned. What would you have done differently?
Luck: I battled Remy on her turf, in front of all of her people. I had no idea. I didn’t even think about how that would affect the turnout. But it was all according to God’s plan.
Aliya: I came to see you a few years ago. You were living in Newark and I’m telling you, I was worried. You weren’t yourself. You were living in a sketchy neighborhood around some sketchy people. You grew up in a very nice house in Teaneck with a warm and loving family and it just seemed like you were acting out. When I left your apartment that day, I said, “Luck’s going to end up in some shit.”
Luck: I ended up in jail. And I wouldn’t change a single minute of it.
Aliya: How did you end up locked up?
Luck: I was working with a management team who was trying to get me on J Records. The deal fell through and they just basically started ignoring me. You can’t manage someone and then just stop supporting them because a deal falls through. One of the other rappers they were managing was a street kid who was robbing people. So me, this middle-class girl from Teaneck, decides since she raps about robbing people, she’s gonna rob people too.
Aliya: So who did you rob?
Luck: The people from the management company!
Aliya: Oh my god.
Luck: I know. So I get charged with 1st degree robbery. I decide to make up this huge lie as my defense. I said that I robbed them because they were robbing me. I told them they were selling my CDs overseas and not telling me about it or giving me the profits.
Aliya: Good lie!
Luck: Yeah well. It gets better. The prosecutor decides to Google it to see if it’s true. This is the early 2000s. Google was new. She looks it up and it was TRUE. They actually were selling my shit overseas!! The judge is like, well she’s not lying about that. I couldn’t believe it.
Aliya: WHAT!? That’s insane.
Luck: I still got charged. I was looking at 3-5 years. I prayed to God. I said if I can do 3-5 months instead of 3-5 years, I’ll never do any dumb shit like this again. I will be true to who I am and how I was raised.
So the day of sentencing, the judge says I’m getting a 364. I had no idea what that meant. My lawyer said, it’s one day under a full year so you’ll be in a county jail instead of prison. I ended up doing 110 days. A little over three months. Just what I prayed for.
Aliya: You said prison was the best thing that could have happened to you….
Luck: When I got there, people were like, oh shit, Lady Luck is here. So people wanted me to rap. So I’d spit my guns-gangsta-killer rhymes. This woman, a fiend, she scrunched up her face at me and said. That’s what you rap about? What about the kids who listen to your music? I said what all the hardcore rappers said. I was like, that ain’t my responsibility. This is real! This is what’s going on! But that night in my bunk, I was like, this woman is a crack fiend. I’m rapping to her kids. With a mother who is in jail. That changed my whole frame of mind about my music.
Aliya: What else did you learn while you were locked up?
Luck: Something really disturbing. Every single woman in there that had grown up being promiscuous? People we call sluts and thots and hoes? 99% of them had been sexually abused before they reached sexual maturity.
Aliya: Today, a lot of people don’t know what you’re up to. I follow you on Twitter so I see you have a dedicated fan base. But not mainstream attention. What are you doing now?
Luck: Everything. I write short films. I write treatments for videos. My name still carries weight. People remember me. So I’m able to stay out there. I realized that I can write songs and I spent all of 2014 writing songs for other artists and trying to shop them. Huge names. Got a lot of positive feedback. But I couldn’t sell a single song. Finally, a well-known producer pulled me to the side and told me. It’s impossible to cold-sell a song to an artist these days. Everyone has their own team. Artists write a lot more now. Their managers also have writers they’re managing that they can use. By the time they bring you in to hear your songs, they’re done picking songs. You need to use your songs and find your own artists. So that’s what I’ve been doing. I still do shows and my own music. But I’m writing and developing artists as well.
I also have an independent album, She God dropping next month. I did the GO-Rilla Warfare League and battled against a girl named O’ficial from New Orleans and that was awesome. I’m doing an album with an artist, Lenisha Nelson, we’re a writing team. And I’m working with my cousin, Lea Robinson.
Aliya: When we were writing the column you begged me not to mention that you were Sylvia Robinson’s niece. You never wanted anyone to know that you were connected to the Sugar Hill Records legacy.
Luck: I know. I regret that. Rest in peace to my Aunt Sylvia. I didn’t realize just how iconic she was at the time. All I knew is that people were always around me whispering about how she stole from her artists and she was this awful person. Then I get in the business and I’m like, wait. ALL labels steal from artists. This whole industry is a mess! I’m not saying she was perfect. But her legacy? I’m proud to be a part of this epic family. The writers from Empire are writing a script about the label. I’m excited about that.
Aliya: Um. Luck. Do you realize that one of the writers on the script was MY editor at The Source when we were working on the column!
Aliya: Yeah, Carlito Rodriguez. He was my boss at The Source. And now he writes for Empire. And he’s the one who was tapped to write the script.
Luck: Look at God. That’s crazy.
Aliya: How do you feel about 2016?
Luck: Good. Really good. Between developing artists, writing songs and doing my own music, I’ve had a better eight months than the past ten years. I’m going to make you proud of me this year.
Aliya: Luck. Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve been proud of you since the day I met you.
Luck: Thanks Aliya. I appreciate that.