Five years ago, Chicago rapper Lucki—who was going by Lucki Eck$ at the time—released a project called Alternative Trap. He was just 17 years old, and his sedated deliveries, effortless melodies, and spacey, sometimes drumless production choices made him an instant standout from the aggressive trap sound that was dominating popular hip-hop at the time. His consistency and singularity put him on everyone's artists-to-watch lists, and soon he was collaborating with FKA twigs, Chance The Rapper, King Krule, and Danny Brown. It seemed like only a matter of time before Lucki Eck$ was a household name.

That never quite happened. Lucki—who dropped the Eck$ from his name in 2016—has experienced some major setbacks over the past years that involved drugs, management changes, and struggles with mental health. At one point in late 2016 he stopped making music altogether, but despite falling off the map a few times, he kept coming back. And each time, his fan base kept growing. Concurrently, the popular sounds of hip-hop—morphing variations of trap, rockstar mentality, omnipresent melody—have shifted in favor of Lucki's strengths. The music he was making five years ago wouldn't sound at all out of place in today's market.

At 21 years old, Lucki has become something of an underground enigma, an influence to many and a veteran compared to most artists his age. He's stayed independent for his entire career, remains dedicated to never selling out or compromising, and keeps evolving with each project. Mentally, Lucki says he's in a good place today. He's comfortable with his career, ready to release new music with a strategy in mind, and he's noticed that more people are listening now than ever before. Five years after his debut project, Lucki might finally be ready for his breakthrough moment... again.

When you first started making music, what was your plan?

I didn’t really have no plan. When I first started making music I was going to that [Chicago Public Library], so there was a lot of action up there. A lot of Chicago acts like Chance The Rapper, Kembe X, Alex Wiley, Vic Mensa. So when I first started rapping it was real easy to get noticed. I just thought that if you knew a lot of people, you could get famous fast. I saw it happen with Chance, and it just seemed like that’s how it worked. So I didn’t really have no goals, I was just going with the flow.

Sometimes people don’t be glorifying [DRUGS], they just be expressing themselves through music and talking about their everyday life and the shit they do. And some people do drugs every day.

How do you feel about Alternative Trap now, five years later? Do you go back and listen to it?

I never listen to Alternative Trap. I really don’t like Alternative Trap. I just don’t like hearing my voice at puberty, bro. That’s the most annoying thing. That’s really the only reason I never listen to Alternative Trap. People be stuck on that, but even back in the day when I made Alternative Trap, I didn’t really listen to that the way I listen to myself now. I’m surprised people still like that.

After that you did a bunch of big collaborations—FKA twigs, Chance The Rapper, Danny Brown—but it still seemed like you never tried to make a radio hit or a crossover record. Was that intentional, or were you just making the music you wanted to make?

It was both. When I first came in, I was so serious about making real music. Scott Vener was my first manager and I remember saying, “I never want to make a radio song.” I was super serious about that. It was just me being young. When I started rapping, the people I was listening to were like Curren$y, A$AP Rocky, a lot of the people who are legends now. I kind of wanted to be like them. I wanted to be like Curren$y.

Lucki

You haven’t been collaborating as much lately. Why is that?

I really never liked collaborating that much in the first place. When I was doing that FKA twigs song or that King Krule song, it always takes hella months to get them back. Music is natural for me, so I really don’t like collaborating because it puts you on the spot.

What changes do you see in music over the past five years? Have things gotten better, or worse, or just different?

I can’t say it’s better or worse, just different. And it’s going to keep being different. At the same time, it’s always going to stay the same too. People find different ways to make every genre a subgenre. They chop up every genre in every way. It’s a lot.

Social media has changed things too. You’re active on social media, but I don’t see you trying too hard to get attention. Does it bother you that so many artists break by doing crazy shit on the internet?

It don’t bother me. I laugh when some people do that, I just don’t see myself doing stuff like that. I think it gives some people a reason not to like you, just being extra. I give people music and do an interview here and there, but I don’t like being extra, especially on social media. When I was a kid, like when I was 17, I used to be extra. I just posted hella drugs and shit on the internet.

I just want to be retired by the time I’m 30, and I’ll be known as some type of legend like Mos Def—half underground, half mainstream, never sold myself out. 

There’s kind of been a backlash against drugs. I know you’ve been through your own shit with that, but do you see it changing?

People are gonna say we should stop glorifying it. Some rappers say that, but they be going right back to it. People are gonna do drugs. Sometimes people don’t be glorifying it, they just be expressing themselves through music and talking about their everyday life and the shit they do. And some people do drugs every day. It’s never going to change because people have been doing drugs forever, and people are always going to do drugs. It’s just with all the social media now, you see it a lot more.

It seems like some people just jump on board with whatever drug is popular at the moment and use that to fit in.

Yeah, people do that but it’s pretty easy to see the people who do stuff like that.

Is there any resentment when you hear someone trying to sound like you?

Look, look, look. I didn’t used to care when people copy me, but nowadays when someone copies me and a fan sends me a link, I just be hoping I don’t sound like that. I hear people trying to mimic my style, but I just hope I don’t sound like that. I don’t really care about that though, I know how to do what I do. 

What’s your long-term plan now?

By the time I’m 30 or 31, I want to be retired from rapping and have a job in TV, like 50 Cent do. But not acting, I want to produce TV, documentaries, hella other shit. I just want to be retired by the time I’m 30, and I’ll be known as some type of legend like Mos Def—half underground, half mainstream, never sold myself out. 

A lot of young hip-hop artists mention you as an influence or someone they’re a fan of. Do you talk to a lot of the younger artists coming up now or give them advice?

I never give them advice, but I usually always talk to the younger artists because they always hit me up. I always respect most of them, because they always reach out and let me know how much they fuck with me. I worked with Lil Skies. He’s on my project. That’s one of the only new ones I worked with. Lil Skies really knows how to rap. He put a fire verse on my tape.

Lucki

Any other new rappers that you really like?

There’s a lot of new rappers I like, but I don’t see myself working with a lot of new rappers. Hella people. Let me go through my SoundCloud likes… I like Duwop Kaine. I don’t know if Kodak’s new. He’s not new. G Herbo is probably new to a lot of people, I listen to G Herbo a lot. I listen to Uno [The Activist]. Chief Keef. Actually, I really don’t listen to nothing new, honestly. It really depends on the producer.

Where do you feel like you’re at with your career right now? You’ve had a couple ups and downs, where you’ve had a breakthrough moment and then fell back. Do you have a lot coming up right now, or are you planning to fall back again?

Right now I’m just getting ready to drop hella music. Right now, I feel like more people are looking at me than any other time in my career, so I actually gotta take advantage of it and not fall back again.

You sound good. Are you in a good place mentally and emotionally? You feel good about life overall?

Yeah, most of the time I do. I just like where I’m at right now.

Do you ever think about your legacy? Or are you just in the moment?

I actually think about it a lot, but I don’t get caught up in it. I don’t get caught up in it at all.

Right now, I feel like more people are looking at me than any other time in my career, so I actually gotta take advantage of it and not fall back again.

Who are the people you look up to or consider legends?

Everybody from my generation says Lil Wayne, of course. And then Chief Keef. Kanye, of course. You know that Mount Rushmore thing that Chief Keef posted the other day? It was kind of weird, because everyone on there was how I feel. Everyone on that thing. It was exactly everyone on there.

Seems like people either aren’t fans of Keef, or they think he’s the most influential of the decade.

If there was no Chief Keef, there wouldn’t be no mumble rap right now. Or it would just be super underground. Without Chief Keef, there wouldn’t be a lot of this shit available right now. I wouldn’t say he lowered the standard for bars, but he just let people know that you gotta listen to rap more sonically instead of just listening to the lyrics. People can do a lot more than just try to be super lyrical. If it wasn’t for him, the mainstream wouldn’t have noticed that.

In the past five years, your music has changed a lot. Is that something that happens naturally, or are you always trying to make something different from what you’ve already done?

It happens naturally. It really be what I’m listening to. I catch inspiration from certain songs of bodies of work that I’m listening to. I don’t really be thinking like, “Oh, I gotta switch it up.”

Have you changed a lot as a person over the last years?

Yeah. [Laughs] I used to be so open, but so closed at the same time. I was always in my head. I still be in my head, but I’ve definitely changed. I’m still young, so I feel like I was going to change regardless, but it’s hard to explain. Now I just go with the flow a little more, but I’m in control.

So many artists come and go in a couple of years, especially today. Why do you think you’ve stayed relevant?

This is why: there’s hella different things I’m doing. Every time I drop a project, I reach a different fan base because I’m making a different type of music. Every project sounds completely different. I don’t know, but that could be it.

I was just 18 years old and crazy in the head. A lot of things were going on in my life. It took me a long time to get back to being myself.

Does anything stick out to you as the biggest hurdle you’ve had to get over in the past five years?

Yeah, there was a lot of crazy shit going on in my life at the end of 2016. I wasn’t even making music either, I was just 18 years old and crazy in the head. A lot of things were going on in my life. It took me a long time to get back to being myself. Fuck the music, I just had to be back to myself so I could think free and make music. I never regret nothing because everything makes me as strong as I am now, but I don’t really be thinking about it anymore.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on this project called Better Days, and it’s pretty fire. People liked Watch My Back, but I’m pretty sure Better Days is better than Watch My Back. And the way I’m dropping everything now is with a strategy. The grown ass way, I guess.

The randomness of your releases had a genuine feel though.

Yeah that’s what I’m talking about. It looks random but there’s still a little planning behind it from me and my team. When I used to drop songs they’d get like 100,000 plays in the first couple of days and then they’d stay there. I want the songs to carry out longer, and that’s what they’re starting to do now. That’s what I’m talking about, more people are watching now than ever before. There’s hella kids who are die-hard Lucki fans, but there’s still way more people who are like, “Who the fuck is Lucki and why do people like him so much?”

Lucki