Denzel Tells How Frank Lucas Became American Gangster

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Denzel Washington Interview

The Return of Superfly
Frank Lucas, once the city’s biggest, baddest heroin kingpin the original O.G. in chinchilla, now seems like just a very likable guy. But don’t be fooled.

* By Mark Jacobson
* Published Aug 14, 2000

During the early seventies, when for a sable-coat-wearing, Superfly-strutting instant of urban time he was perhaps the biggest heroin dealer in Harlem, Frank Lucas would sit at the corner of 116th Street and Eighth Avenue in a beat-up Chevrolet he called Nellybelle. Then living in a suite at the Regency Hotel with 100 custom-made, multi-hued suits in the closet, Lucas owned several cars. He had a Rolls, a Mercedes, a Corvette Sting Ray, and a 427 muscle job he’d once topped out at 160 mph near Exit 16E of the Jersey Turnpike, scaring himself so silly that he gave the car to his brother’s wife just to get it out of his sight.

But for “spying,” Nellybelle was best.

“Who’d think I’d be in a shit $300 car like that?” asks Lucas, who claims he’d clear up to $1 million a day selling dope on 116th Street.

“One-sixteenth Street between Seventh and Eighth Avenue was mine. I bought it. I ran it. I owned it,” Lucas says. “When something is yours, you’ve got to be Johnny-on-the-spot, ready to take it to the top. So I’d sit in Nellybelle by the Roman Garden Bar, cap pulled down, with a fake beard, dark glasses, long wig . . . I’d be up beside people dealing my stuff, and no one knew who I was . . .”

It was a matter of control, and trust. As the leader of the heroin-dealing ring called the Country Boys, Lucas, older brother to Ezell, Vernon Lee, John Paul, Larry, and Leevan Lucas, was known for restricting his operation to blood relatives and others from his rural North Carolina area hometown. This was because, Lucas says, in his down-home creak of a voice, “a country boy, he ain’t hip . . . he’s not used to big cars, fancy ladies, and diamond rings. He’ll be loyal to you. A country boy, you can give him any amount of money. His wife and kids might be hungry, and he’ll never touch your stuff until he checks with you. City boys ain’t like that. A city boy will take your last dime, look you in the face, and swear he ain’t got it . . . You don’t want a city boy — the sonofabitch is just no good.”

Back in the early seventies, there were many “brands” of dope in Harlem. Tru Blu, Mean Machine, Could Be Fatal, Dick Down, Boody, Cooley High, Capone, Ding Dong, Fuck Me, Fuck You, Nice, Nice to Be Nice, Oh — Can’t Get Enough of That Funky Stuff, Tragic Magic, Gerber, The Judge, 32, 32-20, O.D., Correct, Official Correct, Past Due, Payback, Revenge, Green Tape, Red Tape, Rush, Swear to God, PraisePraisePraise, KillKillKill, Killer 1, Killer 2, KKK, Good Pussy, Taster’s Choice, Harlem Hijack, Joint, Insured for Life, and Insured for Death were only a few of the brand names rubber-stamped onto cellophane bags. But none sold like Frank Lucas’s Blue Magic.

“That’s because with Blue Magic, you could get 10 percent purity,” Lucas asserts. “Any other, if you got 5 percent, you were doing good. We put it out there at four in the afternoon, when the cops changed shifts. That gave you a couple of hours before those lazy bastards got down there. My buyers, though, you could set your watch by them. By four o’clock, we had enough niggers in the street to make a Tarzan movie. They had to reroute the bus on Eighth Avenue. Call the Transit Department if it’s not so. By nine o’clock, I ain’t got a fucking gram. Everything is gone. Sold . . . and I got myself a million dollars.

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