he late 2000s saw Justin Bieber’s rise to fame propelled by the adoration of millions of preteen girls across America. But alongside Bieber’s predominantly female middle-school fanbase, Prince Lucas, MCAS ’22, who was 10 years old when Bieber released his first single, proudly counted himself as a fan.
At the time, Lucas, raised in Harlem, New York City by Nigerian immigrant parents, found himself inspired by Bieber’s instant success story. Lucas gave online fame a shot by posting his own singing videos on YouTube. While Lucas never took off in the way Bieber did, those videos are still online today—a testament to Lucas’ ambition and love for music, a passion that has evolved, but never once faltered.
Lucas’ taste eventually matured. He started listening to the old-school R&B that his mother and brothers were fond of, as well as afrobeat, a style characterized by a blend of West African rhythms and American funk and jazz flourishes.
Embarrassed by the attention his classmates gave his videos in middle and high school, Lucas kept his musical endeavors to himself for a time. But after seeing Bronx rapper Lil Tjay rack up plays online last year, he was once again inspired to give music a shot.
“After watching [the music video for “Goat”], I said, ‘What am I doing? I might as well just chase my dream,’” Lucas said.
Lucas released three singles, but picking up momentum online was a challenge for him. He spent hours laboring over his music video for his single “Drina,” which has attracted around 1,300 views since it was first posted on YouTube in April 2019.
“People appreciated the song, but it just stayed very local,” Lucas said.
Through trial and error, Lucas stumbled upon the crucial realization that in an era of short attention spans, it’s important to grab listeners’ attention right away.
“I always focus on the first 15 seconds of my music to make sure people are hooked in,” said Lucas.
turning point came for Lucas when, following the suggestion of his sister-in-law, he began to incorporate afrobeat and his parents’ mother tongue of Yoruba—a West African language—into his music.
he result was “Back It,” an upbeat, dancehall-inspired song that finds Lucas smoothly flowing between English and Yoruba. It became more popular than any of Lucas’ previous singles, with 3,000 streams on Spotify to date.
Blending English and Yoruba was a way for Lucas to showcase his roots while at the same time set his work apart from other rappers’. The uniqueness of the bilingual effect is what made “Back It” catch on, Lucas said.
“If I say something, you may not understand what I’m saying, but you’re gonna feel it,” Lucas said, regarding his decision to use Yoruba.
Lucas has tried submitting his music to blogs dedicated to hip-hop and afrobeat, mostly to no avail. Ultimately, he said, word of mouth has proven to be the most powerful tool.
“My friends still play my songs in Seattle and Los Angeles. Even when they travel to Japan, China, all these places they play it,” Lucas said. “Last week, I had 400 Shazams in Paris.”
Lucas initially found producers online, searching for hours through YouTube to find the perfect beat and paying for them fully formed. Now, despite lamenting the lack of a hip-hop scene in Boston, he works with engineers nearby rather than making the pilgrimage back to New York to find collaborators.
“In New York, when I get back, I have a lot of stuff to do because there are so many things I miss out on. New York has such a big hip-hop scene,” Lucas said. “That’s why I think [Boston City Limits] was such a dope idea. I think it was a good idea to shed light on some hip-hop artists in Boston.”
Before beginning his opening set at the Campus Activity Board’s new winter concert on Jan. 25, Lucas imparted a piece of wisdom to the crowd.
“There’s gonna be obstacles when you’re chasing your dream, and there’s one thing you’re never gonna do—never stop,” Lucas said to the crowd before launching into his single “Never Gon Stop.”
oston City Limits, which featured R&B artist DaniLeigh as the headliner, was a chance for Lucas to introduce his music to BC students. The credit for getting Lucas on board goes to Ellana Lawrence, CSOM ’22, a friend of Lucas’ since their freshman year and one of CAB’s live entertainment coordinators.
“It’s hard to grow up in a school that supports you, but not fully enough,” Lucas said.
ollowing the final Plexapalooza before the demolition of the Plex, Lawrence was eager to propose something beyond the scope of what CAB had traditionally organized. Over the summer, an idea formed in Lawrence’s mind to create a concert designed to reach out to segments of the student body Lawrence felt hadn’t been adequately catered to.
“Especially knowing that the last Plexapalooza was last year, I knew that there would be a better shot of bringing new ideas and new concerts and new artists, and just kind of switching it up a little bit,” Lawrence said.
After settling on an R&B-focused concert, CAB set its sights on finding a student opener. Lawrence immediately thought of Lucas.
“I felt like Prince would be a good person to open because not only would it give him more exposure and more experience on stage, allow people to hear his music, it would also be good for CAB as well,” Lawrence said.
Lawrence was confident in Lucas’ ability to entertain a crowd. In the days leading up to the show, she only gave him a few tips. And when it came time for him to perform, Lucas didn’t disappoint, she said.
“He was so comfortable on stage,” Lawrence said.
Lucas admitted that he doesn’t experience the stage fright that others usually do. In his day-to-day life, he’s rather introverted, so much so that he said just walking through campus between classes induces anxiety in him. But when he’s performing, it’s a different story.
“When I’m on stage, I feel like it’s a different energy,” he said. “You just feel different. You’re just letting your music speak, and you’re just having fun and rocking out. It’s the dream I’ve had since I was 8 years old posting on YouTube.”
Lucas takes notes on how other seasoned performers have expertly honed their stage presences.
“I try to pick up little techniques of how you engage with the crowd, like counting down to make sure people are engaged, singing a cappella, just little things to embrace the crowd and make you seem more natural,” Lucas said.
Lucas’ friend Zaymira Gaspard, MCAS ’21, said she noticed members of the crowd at Boston City Limits singing along to his songs.
“It was really good to see him put all of those hard nights and hard work onto the stage,” Gaspard said. “Even though it may not have been the biggest crowd, it was definitely a crowd full of a lot of supporters.”
Lawrence acknowledged that Boston City Limits saw lower attendance than previous CAB events, but she said she was still satisfied with the concert and that it achieved its mission of inclusivity.
“The impact of it is more important than the numbers, and even though there wasn’t as big of a turnout as concerts in the past, the energy was still there,” Lawrence said. “We had a different demographic of people who hadn’t come to past CAB events.”
Lucas agreed that although Boston City Limits didn’t have the biggest crowd, it was a step in the right direction.
“I think it’s a work in progress,” Lucas said. “I think it’s just going to continue growing from here on out. Obviously there was a decrease in [attendance], but I feel like the people that really love hip-hop and R&B really appreciated the fact that CAB took the time out to actually spend money and dedicate their time on this specific job.”
lthough Boston City Limits represents an important step in supporting hip-hop and R&B for Lawrence and Lucas, Lucas said that Boston College is still a difficult place to be a fledgling rapper due to the lack of a rap community at the school. Music Guild, for example, provides a platform for indie-rockers to showcase their music, but there are no formal equivalents for student rappers.
s a result, Lucas is largely operating solo. Although his friends offer him much-needed support, he hasn’t collaborated with other BC students.
“I don’t really know anyone here that makes music at BC like hip-hop or R&B or afrobeat,” Lucas said.
Because of BC’s struggles with diversity in its student body and its practically non-existent rap scene, Lucas initially considered transferring to a school back in New York City. But he decided to stay and forge an uncharted path, inspiring others to follow in his footsteps in the process: Some of Lucas’ friends have even decided to try their hand at music after witnessing his success.
Still, Lucas said he thinks that if BC were more diverse, his music would have taken off more.
“It’s hard to grow up in a school that supports you, but not fully enough,” Lucas said.
Gaspard recognized that Lucas has had to work twice as hard to get his music heard. But while he lacks easy access to music studios or the inspiration of a nearby hip-hop scene, he has continued to persevere. The obstacles that BC has presented to Lucas have only made him grow more confident in his abilities, she said.
“Right now, he’s in such a groove,” Gaspard said. “There’s been a big evolution ever since the first time that I met him.”
Lucas intends to keep capitalizing on his creative burst of energy: He plans to release a mixtape of around 13 songs in September. And while wants to ensure that he has enough time to perfect the songs until he’s satisfied, in the meantime, he’ll drop music videos for his two most popular songs, “Kind Love” and “Back It,” along with music videos for two completely new singles.
For Lucas, Boston City Limits was just the beginning, but it reminded him to stay focused.
“Even watching or being next to DaniLeigh, it motivated me because this is the lane I want to go down,” Lucas said. “She’s already on top.”
Featured Images by Prince Lucas