Frank Lucas: The Real American Gangster

Frank Lucas on what he hopes his legacy will be:“I’m very remorseful. Sorry I did what I did. I did it. Wouldn’t do it again if it was laying out on the table for me. My name is Frank Lucas and please respect me as such.”Frank Lucas has been highly respected for a number of […]

Frank Lucas on what he hopes his legacy will be:“I’m very remorseful. Sorry I did what I did. I did it. Wouldn’t do it again if it was laying out on the table for me. My name is Frank Lucas and please respect me as such.”Frank Lucas has been highly respected for a number of things he has been: father, husband, businessman, and one of the leading drug lords in the 60’s and 70’s. These days, the 77-year-old North Carolina transplant is regarded as the “American Gangster” and his life is now an acclaimed film starring Denzel Washington, Russell Crowe and rappers like Common and T.I. A sizable segment of the population loathes Lucas for his drug dealing days, where he went so far as to transport near-pure heroin in the caskets of dead Viet Nam vets though the U.S. military. These days, he rejects the American Gangster moniker and is now seeks to do some good for all of the negative he’s contributed to the world, especially his drug haven of Harlem, New York. With all his illegal millions gone, he now denounces his gangster ways, but Frank Lucas is what he is and when you hear his gruff, abrasive voice recall the old days, you know he’s the genuine article. In this AllHipHop interview, he examines how he became the infamous Frank Lucas. He trounces commonly held street notions about rival Nicky Barnes and The Council. He discusses his son’s rap career. Finally, he’s also got a few barbed words for rap magistrate Jay-Z and that infamous line from “No Hook” from his hit album American At one point, I heard you were charging for interviews so I didn’t think we’d ever get to talk.Frank Lucas: I don’t never do too much for free, but hey…why the hell not? You don’t pay for your interviews? No. I don’t get any money for interviews that I do. Frank Lucas: Why not? I hear you’re a super [laughs] I’m somebody, but I don’t know about a super star. That’s you.Frank Lucas: That’s the word out there – super [joking] Well maybe I should charge then.Frank Lucas: Let’s So, how do you feel you were represented in the movie American Gangster, which is based on your lifes and times in Harlem?Frank Lucas: Well, I said it once and I’ll say it again, I don’t have anything to say but good when you have Mr. Denzel Washington doing your It’s a great movie, from my perspective. Frank Lucas: You saw the movie so there ain’t much I can tell Who is the real Frank Lucas? Obviously, we’ve seen the movie, but its just that – a movie. How accurate is the movie?Frank Lucas: Through that whole movie, and the parts that Mr. Washington does, is 85-95% accurate. You can’t get much better than The opening scene of the movie is a shocker to me. I know you’ve said on the record that you haven’t killed anybody, but how were they able to represent you that way?Frank Lucas: I told you it was a movie.  They’re gonna make their money regardless. You gotta look at it that way also, you know? I get it. It stated in the movie that there is an experience you had before coming to Harlem where you experienced a lot of racism and hardships. Can you speak on that and how it affected you into what you eventually became.Frank Lucas: When you are a kid and you see something like that, you can’t help but affect your life. You can’t help but think that the whole world is trying to tear you down and rip you off. When you are six years old and you see something like a Ku Klux Klan knock your cousin’s teeth out with handle of a shotgun and turn around and put it in his mouth and pull the trigger… I mean, his face looked good, but you could put a cantaloupe in the back of his head [because the hole was so big]. That can’t help but affect you. I’m speaking to you now, but a little while ago I was feeling sick. Brains …brains…bone…blood…teeth…was all over the Wow.Frank Lucas: Did you read about why he got that? Yeah, for looking at a White woman – “reckless eyeballing.”Frank Lucas: Yeah, you got it. Reckless eyeballing. I don’t even think that was in the movie, but that’s what it was. All that was for reckless eyeballing and that’s a damn That was crazy and that was in North Carolina, correct?Frank Lucas: A lot of your family is from  North Carolina…Frank Lucas: All my family is from North Carolina…we all come from down Do you stay in touch with your family at all?Frank Lucas: Heck yeah. I’ve always been a family man, always will be. I’m about family more than anything else in the world. Without family, you’ve got You’re right. I’m close to my family too. How did you maintain the life in the drug game with a family? It’s not a lifestyle conducive to having loved ones. In the period of the movie you supposedly had a daughter that wasn’t depicted.Frank Lucas: It might be hard for some people, but it wasn’t hard for me. You mean, back in the money days, the glory days…that’s what you’re talking about? Yeah.Frank Lucas: I did both. I matched them up real well. It wasn’t hard for me, not at all. They had everything they could dream about. They had everything. On the other hand, I wasn’t a happy camper, because I was thinking back and forth in my head, “What’s gonna happen when this is over.” A lot of people ask, “Why didn’t you stop?” Can you answer that question now?Frank Lucas: I can answer it now, but I don’t know if it’s the answer you looking for. I didn’t stop, because my wife gotta get me to stop. Some of my family gotta get me to stop. Them laws [can’t make me stop]. They ain’t even know what I was – I went like 10 years before they even knew what I was doing. The law [police] is a lie. Always something. But anyway, my wife caught onto it like any wife would. She kept on digging and digging and digging and she caught on to it. And I kept telling her, “One more time, just one more time, one more trip, one more trip. I’m getting $3,000 for this one, just leave me alone.” Three thousand was a big load back then. I guess it still might be. I’m not in it no more so I wouldn’t know. I told [his wife], “Leave me alone. I’ma do this.” When you do that, you’re gonna lose big time. How low did you get?Frank Lucas: What do you mean? In the movie, it shows basically you losing everything. Was that the case? Typically there is a stash somewhere.Frank Lucas: I was down to zero; living like I was when I was six years old. I didn’t have no money, man. When I come out the joint, I could buy a pack of cigarettes and a cup off coffee – At the end of the movie, when you get out, there is rap music playing. Was there a point, they were trying to make?Frank Lucas: You gotta remember when I went into the penitentiary, there wasn’t a such thing as rap music. There was James Brown, Aretha Franklin…they were popular then. “Bop, bop, bop” [rap music]– that wasn’t around then. The world was a different place when I come What do you think about this? In real life, you were considered a gangster, but…Frank Lucas: I hope What? You don’t want to be considered a gangster?Frank Lucas: No Why not?Frank Lucas: I went that route and it didn’t get me nothing. It got me a whole lot of clout and I hurt a lot of people. I don’t want to hurt people no more. I’m very remorseful for what I did. I don’t want to go through that road…I don’t want to do that again. That’s a good message to send. I recently spoke to some people and they were asking me if American Gangster would be adopted like Scarface has been embraced by Hip-Hop. I told them no…the stories end differently. Secondly, you have expressed a certain amount of remorse. Frank Lucas: I have all the remorse in the world. I didn’t do it right. That was a terrible thing I did. Also, you gotta understand. Me and “Scarface” were in two different worlds. He was in the cocaine world and I was in the other world – the real dirty world. Why do you say “the real dirty world?”Frank Lucas: Heroin is a real dirty business. That’s a horrible business to be in. People get up, get into that and they don’t come back. I’m not speaking on this [from personal knowledge], because I wasn’t on the s**t. But a cocaine user can do without it, they don’t have to have it. Heroin, you know you have to have that. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s what I I know a few people in the music game that casually use it on the weekends and then they go to work on Monday. Frank Lucas: You can’t do that with heroin. You do that with heroin, you get hooked. You gotta have that every day. Every day is Sunday, Monday to Your son is rapping now. Frank Lucas: That’s my son. For real, that’s my How do you feel about him using your name to jump start his career in that manner?Frank Lucas: Hey, you know what? More power to him. If I could help him, I would, but ain’t much I can do, because I’m not out there like that no more, you know? I just hope he goes out there and has a great career, you know, and do the right thing. I know he is. He ain’t into drugs so I know he ain’t going to get into drugs. He’s old now so I don’t believe he’s going to get into it They say Hip-Hop is the new dope game. Like all the street dudes are getting into the rap game to keep it legit, but still talk about their experience in the street. Frank Lucas: That could be true, but I’m not into rapping and all that kind of thing. I really wouldn’t OK, no problem. This might be a rumor, but I heard that Nicky Barnes didn’t like his portrayal in the American Gangster movie. Frank Lucas: I don’t know. Let me tell you, I have no idea. I haven’t spoken to him since the movie came out. Have you seen his movie, Mr. Untouchable?Frank Lucas: No, have you seen it? No, but I’m trying to. I really want to see it, you know. A lot of us in the Hip-Hop Generation are fascinated by those times. Also, with all the rappers dropping names, we hear it but we don’t always get the story, whether it’s a movie, book or documentary. Now, we are getting some of the real stories. Frank Lucas: I heard its pretty good, Mr. Untouchable. Did you hear about it? I’m reading the book, but I heard its pretty goodFrank Lucas: You know, when Nicky was out there, I know he did a lot of bad things, they treated him like a dog when he wasn’t out there [jail]. I heard after three months, he couldn’t buy a pack of cigarettes. They took all their money and dogged Are you talking about The Council? [Nicky Barnes organized and strengthened his power base by uniting other powerful drug dealers called The Council.]Frank Lucas: I didn’t know nothing about no Council when I was out there. I wouldn’t play that. If somebody wants to be a Don or a Gambino, the other guy wants to be Al Capone. The other guy wants to be Frank Nitti. Hey, you turn around [and] you got a mess. There wasn’t no damn Council. I can tell you that right now. That’s not true. Anybody [contradicts] that, they What do you mean?Frank Lucas: I wouldn’t have stood for it, ok? Say that again?Frank Lucas: If I say [there] ain’t no damn Council, ain’t gonna be no got damn Council. Believe Well, why do you say that? There was this whole thing, this organizational chart and all that. Frank Lucas: I don’t care what they say. They can say anything that they Are you saying that they made it seem like Nicky and The Council were more organized than they actually were?Frank Lucas: Of course they were. You know got damn well they gonna make it appear like they were all organized and that. I’m telling you there wasn’t no such thing. It was bulls**t is what I’m telling Ok, ok. Well, that’s a popular notion that there was the Council. There is a whole organizational chart right in the front of “Mr. Untouchable.” Frank Lucas: Nicky is lying. He’s making it up. He’s lying. I’m telling you, if I said there wasn’t going to be no Council, there wasn’t gonna be none. And I said there wasn’t no Council and there wasn’t no Council. They wasn’t no Gambinos, no Al Capone’s or no Bumpy Johnson’s…no I wasn’t having that. Now, you say you weren’t going to have that, but were you and Nicky rivals? With “Blue Magic,” you had a “better” drug product, but he covered more ground in New York than you. Am I correct in saying that?Frank Lucas: Hell, no you not correct. He ain’t cover more than nothing I did. It wasn’t good as mine, it wasn’t better than mine – it wasn’t nothing. I’m not bragging. I’m not bragging. I’m telling you how it was. If I was out there, I would have bought it [his own drugs] A lot of you were considered businessmen. Frank Lucas: Yes, I had businesses and stuff, from North Carolina to New York. New York, I had a supermarket. North Carolina, I had 6,000 acres of land [for] farming. Hey, I was a How did you maintain all your business and even your drug game? Did you have a tight grip on these other businesses as well?Frank Lucas: Yes, sir. In Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, [inaudible city], North Carolina, I had a lot of property and the government took every damn bit of it. They took everything I had, every dime I had. Put it like this, I wasn’t that smart of a businessman, because if I was, I would have put it somewhere they could [not] have took it. And I could have, but hell, I didn’t think they could take all those properties. My lawyer, Jeff Harper, told me they could not take nothing off shore [out of the United States], those bank accounts off shore. I believed what he told me and it cost me a whole lot of I thought they couldn’t take anything outside of the U.S. Frank Lucas: Don’t you ever believe that, you hear? They want something, they go and get it. They went and got mine. I don’t care what they say. They went and got mine. I wish to the world [that they couldn’t] – I’d be super rich if I could get my money back. And I’d be super rich all over Speaking of rich, can you tell me how much you took home from American Gangster for them using…Frank Lucas: Naw, naw, naw…that ain’t none of your business. I’m not gonna tell you Alright, I wouldn’t expect you to.Frank Lucas: You didn’t expect me to, but you did You can say no. I don’t mind you saying no.Frank Lucas: [laughs] I like you man. You alright. You OK. I’m gonna say what I gotta say my way and you do what you gotta Hey, I respect, “No” more than a bullcrap answer.Frank Lucas: I’m not gonna give you no bullcrap answer.  Jay-Z recently recorded an album inspired by the movie. He had a line on his song “No Hook” that was talking about you. I’m sure you heard it. Frank Lucas: No, I haven’t. I don’t listen to Mr. Jay-Z’s music, but please tell me what it He says, “I’m more Frank Lucas than Ludacris” and Ludacris is a rapper. Then he says, “Frank Lucas is cool, but I ain’t trying to snitch.” Now, I know that you on record have addressed that situation, but…Frank Lucas: Tell that young man to watch his mouth. Please watch his mouth. Tell that young man to please watch his mouth. Mr. Jay-Z, tell him to please watch his mouth. You saw the movie? I sure did. [In the movie, Frank provides information that leads to the conviction of crooked cops and Italian drug dealers. Critics say he offered information on others, a charge he denies.]Frank Lucas: Then you know what I did. You know exactly what I did. It was all in there. And if that’s what you call a snitch, then so be it.