Last month, Chris Brown’s seventh album, Royalty, debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard charts. When the R&B stylist’s label, RCA, started taking pre-orders a few weeks before the release date, the single “Wrist,” featuring Atlanta-via-Fort Worth rapper Solo Lucci, hit the airwaves. Now signed with RCA, the 29-year-old Eastern Hills High School graduate is collaborating with some huge names and preparing for his major label debut.
Lucci has been living in Atlanta since 2011, but he returns to Fort Worth regularly and still considers himself a part of Fort Worth hip-hop. He’s now poised to be a breakout star, but his success came after major adversity. Lucci’s life and career changed four years ago when he was shot and almost killed in his hometown. Now, with a palpable buzz behind him, he has started a Fort Worth-based record label, Foreign Money, and has begun mentoring young artists.
Lucci has been rapping since his early teens and spent years performing all over North Texas. After dozens of shows, he was wondering if he had made it as far as he could locally.
In January 2011, Lucci and some friends were playing video games at his brother’s house in the Meadowbrook neighborhood. The then-25-year-old rapper was just getting out of the shower, about to leave to perform a show that night.
“It was a robbery,” Lucci said, speaking to Fort Worth Weekly from Los Angeles.
Lucci recognized the faces of the four young men who broke into his brother’s place. They were from his neighborhood.
“They came in and said, ‘You know what it is,’ and started shooting,” Lucci said. He was shot twice — in his liver and lung — and a friend was shot three times. Both were lucky to survive, but a third friend didn’t make it.
“I stayed in the hospital for five months,” Lucci said. “I had to learn how to walk and talk again.”
At the time, Lucci had already collaborated with artists in other cities, including Yung Joc, who visited him in the hospital and urged him to move to Atlanta.
Lucci also was in a coma for about a week. But once he was able to get around without a wheelchair, the young rapper took his new friend’s advice and left his poverty-stricken neighborhood to start over in Atlanta. But his near-death experience sparked something in him.
“I was so broke,” he said. “I put my whole life on the line. But it made me more determined. It made me cherish life more and realize I have to do this right now because I may not be here tomorrow.”
After a few years in the hip-hop mecca of the South, performing at open-mics and any show he could book, Lucci wasn’t any closer to his major label dream. His fortunes quickly changed when Mark Pitts, who managed The Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, accidentally stumbled across one of Lucci’s videos. Pitts and Jay-Z were scouting an artist with a similar name, and Solo Lucci’s video for one of his singles, “Whip It,” came up on YouTube. Jay-Z was curious about the confident rapper covered in tattoos with blond streaks.
Pitts and Jay-Z were impressed with Lucci’s well-earned intensity –– in most of his early material, he addresses his tragic past. Jay-Z even called Lucci and expressed an interest in signing him. But Pitts, who took over as Lucci’s manager, was an executive at RCA and quickly secured a deal with his company that made him labelmates with Chris Brown.
Pitts was in L.A. while Brown was recording and suggested Lucci jump on a track. The next thing the Fort Worth native knew, he was in L.A. shooting the video for “Wrist.”
These days, Lucci regularly collaborates with well-known artists, including Akon, and R. Kelly. Despite living in Atlanta and making frequent trips to L.A., Lucci is still devoted to Foreign Money, the label he started in 2011 aimed at developing local talent. He does a lot of the engineering on the albums that he records, but most of the producers he works with — Titunz, Brian Beata, and Wrecka Beats — are from Fort Worth. And he has no plans to change that. His goal for the label is for RCA to subsidize it, but, for now, he is funding it himself. He has already signed up-and-comers Jaio, Smoke Dean, and Cousin Pete.
“My goal is to show the world that we have talent,” Lucci said.