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Cool Hand Lucas : On a path that led from Copenhagen to New York's Lower East Side, newcomer Lucas is proving the rap may have been born in the 'hood, but its got a global appeal.

October 30, 1994|Gil Griffin | Gil Griffin is a free-lance writer based in Washington, D.C

NEW YORK — It is late on a weeknight, and silence prevails in the dimly lit, fifth-floor hallway of the Hit Factory--the renowned, midtown Manhattan recording studio.

Until the door to Studio A3 opens.

Inside, a tall, slender young man with a round crew cut and a matching 5 o'clock shadow stands in near-darkness behind a glass panel, grinning while he playfully babbles into an overhead microphone.

"Click, click, click, clock," pops and rolls off the tongue of 23-year-old rapper Lucas, the quirkiest arrival to hit the pop world since Beck unleashed his loser's litany at the beginning of the year. Lucas is preparing to record vocals for a song he's recording for director Nora Ephron to consider using in her upcoming film, "Mixed Nuts."

"Ah-one-two, ah-one-two," he continues in his mid-range, New York-accented voice, jerking his shoulders back and forth and rhythmically bobbing his head. "What'cha gonna do when the L-U-C is comin' after you?"

Lucas' antics, while breaking up the engineer at the soundboard on the other side of the glass, might lead an outsider to believe he has flipped his lid.

He has.

And so have multitudes of listeners and viewers across the United States, Canada and Europe who have heard his catchy, left-field hit "Lucas With the Lid Off" and seen its illusionist, black-and-white video.

The energetic and cerebral single, which combines ragtime jazz horns and booming bass rhythms with reggae chatting, scat singing and strong rapping, is an across-the-board smash. Drawn from Lucas' new album "Lucacentric," it is soaring up the nation's pop, rap and modern rock charts. ( See review, Page 70.)

While the hip-hop arena may seem like the most logical place to promote Lucas, his record company is also trying to cultivate an audience for him on the college and alternative scene.

"I felt out of place when I heard the song on an alternative station after a Soup Dragons record," Lucas says with a chuckle, sitting at a console and pulling on the strings of his gray, hooded sweat shirt--a hoody , in hip-hop-speak. His equally hip-hop blue-and-gold suede Puma sneakers lie on the other side of the console. "I just couldn't picture all these long-haired alternative rock kids listening to me."

That's because Lucas Secon, born in Copenhagen to a Corsican Danish mother and a Lithuanian American father, has had hip-hop culture flowing through his veins since he first visited New York in the summer of 1983, when he was 12.

His parents had recently divorced, and Lucas, an only child, was making the first of what would become annual summer visits to his father's home in Manhattan's Lower East Side.

That summer, and the next few after, "old school" hip-hop's golden age was flourishing. Break-dancing, graffiti art and block parties featuring rapping and deejay contests were all the rage with young people in many of New York's predominantly African American and Latino communities. When Lucas glimpsed elaborate graffiti murals on playground walls and saw spinning, twisting break-dancers bust their moves on pieces of cardboard on the sidewalk, he was hooked.

Lucas' steady immersion into hip-hop helped him break free from what he describes as Denmark's culturally restrictive grip.

"There's a limited amount of creativity coming out of Copenhagen," he says. "There's a conformist mentality, and there's no room for a subculture. I love rap because it's uninhibited."

And when you're raised by a mother who's a surrealist painter and a father who for years wrote songs for the Mills Brothers, as Lucas was, a little thing like freedom of expression is vital.

Leslie's Dance Studio in the East Village's Broadway/Lafayette section was Lucas' entree into the culture in which his career and life are so firmly entrenched.

Jeff Otero, who was then a member of a dance, rap and graffiti art group called the Scrambling Feet Crew, taught curious kids the acrobatics of break-dancing. After Lucas signed up for lessons, he gained a mentor and confidant. Otero, now an aspiring rapper and producer, remains a good friend of Lucas'.

"His father brought him in one day," Otero, 27, recalls. "There were hardly any other white kids who came down there. He was mad shy and he thought he didn't fit in. I told him to loosen up."

Lucas soon did, especially after Otero brought him to his Lower East Side block and introduced him to his neighborhood friends. Together, they frequented some of the city's hippest dance and rap clubs, such as Roxy's and the Fun House. Otero would also bring Lucas to his apartment, where he'd school him in rapping, scratching, mixing and recording, using a microphone, tape deck, turntables and sequencer.

As Lucas raps on his song "Born," which he dedicates to Otero: "I used to have ideas, yo / But couldn't freak the sample technique / Had so many words / But I couldn't speak / Until my man Jeff set me free."

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