As the CEO of one of the most established independent music companies of our day, Ted Lucas rarely gets a moment to breathe anything but business. Lucas founded Slip-n-Slide Records in 1994 in Miami, Florida, and has since sold over 16 million records through the label. From his first signee Trick Daddy to his most recent success with Rick Ross, Lucas has set a definitive pace for label executives working outside of Los Angeles and New York.
Lucas has reached out regularly to his community to seek out new talent and young people to mentor in business. Through his efforts, he found some serious problems with the learning process in his local Miami-Dade County schools. To help turn his community around, Lucas started the Ted Lucas Foundation, and has made strides in helping kids boost their grades.
In this exclusive interview, Ted Lucas tells UrbLife.com why he feels it is so important to help kids when they are young, how he has applied the best career advice he received, and more! Read on…
Looking back over the course of your career, what would you say is some of your biggest accomplishments?
Ted Lucas: When Miami was known for Luther Campbell and booty shaking kind of music, to take artists such as Trick Daddy, Trina and Rick Ross… to make them become these stars when Miami didn’t have that [sound] on the map. To accomplish that is truly a blessing. To take the vision of what I saw in the artists, to be able to help them take care of their families is a blessing, to be a blessing to someone else.
We created a lane. It’s not like we started in a market where people knew of Miami for gangsta rap, or whatever you want to call it, just Hip Hop… it wasn’t known for that. We knocked down a lot of walls and barriers to get over it to make it happen.
What is the biggest reality check you had in your career?
TL: One of the biggest things that someone told me was that, “No one is going to want it more than you, so you’re going to have to want it more than everyone else.” You can’t put it in the hands of someone else or depend on someone else to get it done. You have to want it. If you want it, then you have to go out and get it, and then everyone else will follow.
It made me understand, when I first got my hit record I was like, “I did it.” No, I didn’t do anything, because now you have to start over and do it again and again and again. That was some of the best advice that I have ever received. That’s the part of this business that is challenging.
What are some things that your company has done to keep up with the digital age?
TL: You basically have to take that same philosophy you had on the streets and now do it on the internet. You have to control internet marketing and make sure your online marketing is on point to feed the customers, because now it’s a lot faster.
Before, we had to stay up all night putting up posters and people would wake up in the morning to see it. Now you’ve got to stay up all night on the internet and make sure your artists are present on different sites. People wake up and check the internet and [the artist's] presence is there, and people know where they are. You’ve got to make these people on these different sites and bring them into your artist’s world, and get them to know your artists and believe in them.
Tell us a little about the Ted Lucas Foundation, and what you’re hoping to accomplish in your community.
TL: I was born and raised near Miami, and one day I saw a kid that was playing little league football and this kid was really dominating little league football. He was getting ready to pick the high school that he was going to, and it was brought to my attention that [because of] his grades, it was not possible for him to play high school football, that really touched my heart. I said, “Wow, how did this happen and how did he get here?”
I went home one night and it was really bothering me. We allow kids that are great athletes to keep getting by, but they can’t read and write. Life doesn’t stop after that little league football, they have to go on and get an education and go to college and do the best for themselves. Just throwing a football and hitting a baseball doesn’t stop that. It touched me.
I said, “How many other kids from my community are struggling from this?” They’re not able to pass the SAT or the FCAT [Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test]. You have the opportunity to be something in life, so I took it upon myself and went to visit the elementary school that I attended.
When I got there, they were in the process of closing the school, and they told me that the school was a D school. The school board was talking about closing the school down, because for the last three years they’ve been coming back as a D and F school. An elementary school, talking about from 1st grade to 6th grade, and you’re telling me that you’re averaging a D? It was sad and I couldn’t believe it, that really bothered me.
I put a lot of effort and my time because we have to do something. Last year, we were able to take that same school and turn it into a C school. I brought back other people that went to that elementary school that went on to be successful in life, to throw something back to these kids – that you made it through that same neighborhood, same elementary school, that you can help these kids by letting them know. You’re a doctor now, you’re an attorney now, you’re a great athlete and you went on to play in the NFL, but you went to these same schools.
It doesn’t stop right here, look how important education was to them. Every year I find different people that attended my elementary school, and I bring them back to pour into the school and other elementary schools in the Miami-Dade community to let these kids know how important education is.
My foundation, I really make sure that we focus on education first, then take the kids out and showing them other things in life, because life is a lot bigger than going to school and playing around. I want to challenge a couple of people in the music industry. Instead of playing sports against each other, let’s play how can we go in and help these kids with their education around the country.
It’s very important to me, that’s our future. Nobody made me sit down and do my homework and let me know how important [it would be to] go to college and try to be something in life. Focus on those ABCs and 123s and that would determine how your life was going to go… a lot of people don’t understand that it starts with those numbers and the alphabet. If we don’t get that first then we don’t have anything.
Reading and writing, that’s where it starts. You need to know how to do that to fill out your application for your bank account. You have to be able read and write to fill out a checkbook. A lot of kids are 25-years-old and never opened up a bank account, because they ran away from it. If you can go the young kids and catch it there and get them on the right track, then they might want to go to college.
If we stop learning in the 3rd or 4th grade and now we’re behind, we’re in the 6th grade but we’re reading on the 1st grade level, they’re done. They’re not interested anymore because they got so far behind, [like], “Why would I want a scholarship when I can’t make it junior high school?” I try to catch the problem before it gets out of hand.
If you listen to some of these kids, they’re like, “Can you just give my mom a bed?” I challenge the kids, I tell them, “Listen last year you didn’t pass the FCAT, if you pass it this year I’ll give you three things on the list that you wish for.” When you have a kid say, “Just give my mom a car so she won’t have to catch the bus anymore” or “the lights haven’t been on in the house for a year, can you just turn the lights on…” It’s real.
It touched me and it made me make my foundation be responsible to get back out there. I didn’t expect [to hear] that, I expected the same thing you did… a bike or an iPad. They’re some serious things that these kids deal with. They have to get to school to focus on education, but when they get home they don’t have any electricity. I found that a lot of the kids are being raised by their grandmother. A lot in my community were in foster homes.
I’m just trying to help them stay focused and go in the right direction. I don’t want to be known for the guy that did music, I want to be known for going back to the community and making a difference.
If someone were to come to you and say that they want to do what you do, what is the best advice you would give them outside of education?
TL: If you really want to do this, you can’t want it more than anybody else wants it for you. You have to be the one that wants it for you. You have to dig down deep. When I first started, I didn’t want to meet with no [corporate] man. To tell you the truth, I had six golds at the top and six golds at the bottom, and I wanted to pay my employees to go meet with the attorneys and the marketing person, because I just wanted to stay in the background. I was from the hood, and I didn’t want them stereotyping me.
There was a lady by the name of Debbie Bennett, and she said, “If you don’t take the meetings Ted, then we will not make it happen.” That was some of the best advice that she gave me, because I had to get off of my butt. Now I go meet with these different corporate people. I wouldn’t say that I was afraid [back then], but they’d be sitting across from me looking like I’m some type of thug that robbed them. I know if I saw them in a different area they would look at me crazy.
It made me have to take responsibility, to say if I want it then I have to dig down deep and do it. It’s so much easier now to educate yourself, research, and put the work in to accomplish what you want to accomplish, because we have access to the internet that can bring a lot of that information to us.
My advice is to take it serious and take on every opportunity you can to research, and find out more about what you want to accomplish. It’s not going to fall in your lap, I promise you, it’s not that easy.
These 20 years coming up on Slip-n-Slide there have been some ups and downs, but when I fell down I got back up. I continued to dig and write hard to find new artists, and help them accomplish what they wanted to accomplish. Dig down deep and don’t give up on what’s in your heart that you want to do, because no one is going to give it to you.