Frankie-Tha-Lucky-Dog-by-Victor-Michael

Doggystyle

From celebrity rap blogger to Dunkin' Donuts attendant: How Louisiana hip hop broke Frankie Tha Lucky Dog's heart.

Words by David Drake Photographs by Victor Michael

The world’s foremost chronicler of Baton Rouge hip hop is a skinny 26-year-old caucasian with Asperger’s Syndrome from Peckville, Pennsylvania. He has never been to Louisiana. The rap blogosphere knows him only as Frankie Tha Lucky Dog. Tiny Baton Rouge, Louisiana is one of hip hop’s most important cities. Lil Boosie and Kevin Gates—two of rap’s biggest underground stars in 2015—both hail from this town of 230,000. In 2011, Baton Rouge’s crime rate was the 8th highest in the nation; from 2005 to 2009, the city ranked 11th in the USA for “concentrated poverty.” In this oppressive environment, music has been a cultural life force. Yet, despite its tremendous legacy, much of that culture has gone undocumented and underreported. Compared to hip hop epicenters like New York or Atlanta, Baton Rouge has been bypassed. Renowned within a small circle of online obsessives, Frankie Tha Lucky Dog is the singular soul bringing a microscope to one of hip hop’s most vibrant communities. His relationship with that community is complicated. Much more than an amateur historian, his videos identify him as “Musician / Editor / Host / Music Promoter.” If anything, this understates his ambitions.

Frankie is incredibly prolific, particularly on his YouTube channel where he uploads rare Louisiana rap songs, hosts video countdowns and awards shows, tells personal stories, shoots commercials for artists, and celebrates artists’ birthdays. On his comprehensive blogspot, he writes track-by-track reviews of Baton Rouge mixtapes, an archive he’s kept since 2008. His YouTube and DatPiff accounts host his own productions, as well as songs and mixtapes by artists who would otherwise be invisible. He’s curated nearly 20 of his own Baton Rouge compilations, filled with songs that are difficult or impossible to find anywhere else. Although this massive archive has found a devoted following, that following is not very large. To use the terminology of the digital media business, Frankie’s content is not particularly “scalable.” In many ways, it’s an anachronism from the time before social media, an era when the Internet—and the people who lived most of their lives on it—seemed, well, a little weird. And there’s no doubt Frankie fits that description. Frankie never chased paid work from publications, nor sought approval from his blogging peers—in fact, he actively ignored most hip hop websites, self-segregating from the “rap Internet.” Instead, he wrote for a very specific readership: the rappers themselves, many of whom weren’t used to press attention of any kind. Artists including Lil Mista, Savage, Quikkdraw, and DJ B-Real acknowledged Frankie’s passion by reaching out in return. Frankie treasures a hand-written letter Young Ready once mailed him. His enthusiasm for these connections was real.

Yet, in the past two years, Frankie’s passion for Baton Rouge hip hop has waned. He no longer tapes year-end awards shows or compiles Baton Rouge mixes. His year-end music list for 2014—a compilation of 655 songs—contains only the occasional Baton Rouge record, typically by major artists like Kevin Gates, rather than the deep cuts that once peppered his lists. He still celebrates rappers’ birthdays on YouTube (he spells out their names in lottery tickets), but the reviews on his blog have become notably darker, even bitter.

Look closely, and you’ll find allusions to the cause of his distress: a story of betrayal and heartbreak. Dig even deeper, and you’ll find a true believer who’s being left behind in a rapidly shifting media landscape; his moment of glory becoming a mere blip in music history, ground beneath capitalism’s treads. He’s traded in his position as the arbiter of Louisiana hip hop for a new job as shift leader at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Peckville, PA—population 6,564—is a sleepy town 15 minutes outside Joe Biden’s home of Scranton. Frankie lives just past Prospect Hill Cemetery—a frequent setting for his videos—with his mother and stepfather, who works as a butcher. His mother was once a butcher too; now she’s a stay-at-home mom for Frankie and his half-brother. Frankie’s father, who lives on Long Island, is a butcher as well.

“Frankie tha—T-H-A—Lucky Dog,” he says in his unmistakable monotone voice, sitting in his bedroom, the walls of which are papered in lotto tickets. He breaks down the handle, first used November 4, 2002, on the message board neoseeker.com: “My name is Frankie, and I’m ‘lucky’ because I win on scratch-offs.” He gestures to the tickets on the walls. “I’ve found quite a bit of money, hundreds of dollars worth. On August 28, 2007, at around 12:35 p.m., on Level and Beat Flippa’s birthday”— these are obscure Baton Rouge rap artists, whose birth dates Frankie has memorized—”I found a $200 winner. And a dog’s my favorite animal.”

Frankie was born Frank Patrick Seminario on June 21, 1988, in Port Jefferson, New York. His parents were divorced in the late 1990s. He discovered rap music in the spring of 2000 while listening to Party 105, the Long Island radio station WPTY-FM. “They have rhythmic music,” he says. “Dance, EDM, some upbeat pop, rap/R&B, and all that. That became my music taste at age 11. Ever since, I was just enthralled—it became my lifestyle.”

When Frankie relocated from Long Island, his musical taste didn’t win him any friends. “Here in Pennsylvania, it’s all country music: rap haters, no black people. It’s very boring,” he says. “Throughout high school, it’s all rock music or whatever, and that’s not me. That’s why I didn’t connect with many people.” “Connecting” is a big deal for him. Frankie’s musical obsession initially manifested in manic record-keeping. On July 5, 2000, when he was 12, he began documenting his top 10 records of that day, every day. 14 years later, he’s still at it. He was diagnosed with autism on February 12, 2001, which later evolved into Asperger’s Syndrome. Like many who have this form of high-functioning autism, Frankie speaks with a loud, flat affect, even as he adopts certain facets of black dialect. He also fixates on certain subjects, both in conversation and more broadly in life—for Frankie, that means lottery tickets and Louisiana rap music.

Another common symptom of Asperger’s is the tendency to collect things. The drawers in Frankie’s room are packed with Baton Rouge hip hop CDs, many of which were sent directly to him by the artists themselves. It is a priceless archive, but Frankie knows exactly what it cost. “I wound up calculating how much I spent on Louisiana music over the past almost seven years,” he says. “I have all my receipts from online. I think I spent around $2,800.” When Frankie approximates, it’s hard not to suspect that he actually knows the exact amount, but is bowing to social custom. Frankie earned the bulk of the money he spent on CDs by “networking”—reaching out and connecting with artists and DJs online. Sometimes, he provides services in exchange for small amounts of money: a mixtape placement for $20, or a self-produced commercial on his YouTube channel.

Frankie-Tha-Lucky-Dog-CDs

Frankie attended Lackawanna College in Scranton, PA from 2006 until 2008, majoring in Business Studies. Although he had listened to hip hop for years, his fascination with Baton Rouge rap hit him at Lackawanna after he became enamored of an African- American football player at the school named Jeff Gumbs. “As an autistic person, you go through friendship phases that are almost like obsessions,” says Frankie. This friendship was something of a roller-coaster ride. “He didn’t have his priorities right with me,” Frankie recalls, ”and I kept trying to show him love.” One day while perusing the now-defunct WordOfSouth.com message board, Frankie came across a thread about a mixtape called Gangsta Gumbo Vol. 1. “That had ‘gumb’ in it, and because his last name was ‘Gumbs,’ I was like, ‘Why don’t you send me a copy? Maybe I’ll do a review on it.’”

When the tape’s host, Jimmy the DJ, sent a copy, Frankie reviewed it on his blog (“It was just OK”). And after Gumbs cut him off for good (“Don’t email me no more, man”) Frankie followed up with Jimmy. “We were on the phone for like 20 minutes talking about Southern rap,” Frankie recalls. “I’ve never had a phone call with a non-family member for that long.” DJ Jimmy began sending more Louisiana music, and Frankie fell in love with the sound.

Asked to elaborate on what he likes about Baton Rouge hip hop, Frankie doesn’t delve too deeply: “The sound of it,” he says. “The way people have their certain style of rapping—their voices, their flow, delivery… Dreads, grills, just Southern living.”

More telling is his writing style, which is markedly different than the typical critic. “I’m not a fan of regular reviews, where it’s in an essay format,” Frankie says. “I don’t feel their energy.” Frankie’s review style is an exact record of his thoughts while listening to music. He is 100% transparent, sometimes to a fault. “It brings more fun into it,” he explains. “I’m like, This is what I’m feeling right now… If I’m reviewing and I have to take a shit, hold on review! I write it in there, ‘I have to take a shit real quick’—intermission.”

Frankie’s open about his own biases. Every review includes a disclaimer explaining his 0–5 rating system: “I don’t care how lyrical you are, as long as it’s jammin’ enough for me to like it! I look for beats, then vocals, and then lyrics.” He also leans toward artists he considers overlooked. “I’m gonna be the one that appreciates the underdog,” he says. Still, he hasn’t turned his back on those who’ve gone on to great success. Kevin Gates— whose All Or Nuthin CD Frankie first reviewed in 2008, years before he was a national star— remains a favorite. “Consistency” is one of Frankie’s most valued qualities, and one he strives for personally.

Despite his infectious enthusiasm, savant-like knowledge, and collector’s instincts, Frankie’s appreciation of the scene is impaired by both his distance from it and his thirst for acceptance. He often tries to persuade rappers to visit him in Pennsylvania or even Long Island, offering them inexpensive videography services ($100 for a music video) if they make the trip. “I’ve had seven failed visits from January 2009 to January 2014,” Frankie says of artists who ultimately declined the offer. Some who’d already made the trip to New York City were hesitant to reach out. “New York City to Long Island, it’s only 70 minutes away,” Frankie says. “How can you not drive 70 minutes to see me? I had a radio show at the time. How was 106 & Park more of a priority than my radio show?”

One artist did meet up with Frankie and even promised to make a return voyage—if Frankie would wire him $500 to help cover the cost. After sending the money, Frankie never heard from him again, an experience that affected his taste in music. ”Ever since I got robbed, the whole money obsession with everybody sickens me a little,” Frankie says. His reviews of songs that focus on money became especially dismissive.

Much as Frankie’s personal history colored his understanding of the economic circumstances in Baton Rouge, he could be stubborn about his worldview. Louisiana rapper Marcel P. Black called out Frankie’s casual use of the N-word on Twitter (“So when did all the rappers decide to let @LuckyFrankie621 slide with sayin ‘nigga?’”) In late 2014, Frankie blocked him, arguing that his “mutual strong connection” made use of the racial slur OK. “I grew up around the culture and I feel like I’m accepted by all them,” Frankie contends, suggesting that his autism has made him unafraid, even granted him a special status. “I can go to Philadelphia and hang with a bunch of black people and still feel accepted,” he says. “Those kinds of things a random white person wouldn’t do. They would fear it.” While Frankie may have a warped perception, his autism does make his relationship with Louisiana rappers unique: he is guileless to the point of transparency, and this sincerity makes him a more trustworthy business associate—or friend—than most other people in the industry. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it could also make him a target.

In the Fall of 2008, Frankie transferred from Lackawanna College to Marywood University, also in Scranton. In 2010, while attending Marywood, Frankie recorded a mixtape of his own. Within a Personal Point of View covered the experiences, ambitions, and frustrations of Frankie at age 22. Written, produced, and mixed entirely by Frankie Tha Lucky Dog and released on DatPiff, the mixtape’s production is a disorienting facsimile of the Louisiana music with which he is obsessed. His rapping is sincere, yet stiff. In his exacting cadence, he conveys the struggles of a compelling personal story with sophisticated self-awareness. In particular, he addresses the benefits of autism, and confronts the racism of his troubled younger brother Michael (“Sleepless Nights”). The album’s most powerful moment is “Louisiana—A Sound, A Love, A Cure, A Future”—the tale of how Louisiana hip hop—”a love so pure”—helped Frankie find himself.

In 2010, Frankie earned a Bachelor’s degree in digital media and broadcast productions and began working towards his Master’s. While attending Marywood, he also ran a Saturday night radio show called Tha Louisiana Pit, mainly playing underground Baton Rouge hip hop. Most of it was laced with profanity, so he crafted meticulous radio edits of over 2,000 records before playing them on-air.

It was during his time hosting this radio show that he came into contact with B-Real, a Baton Rouge-based rapper and producer. Not to be confused with the rapper from the multiplatinum group Cypress Hill, this B-Real gained notoriety in 2006 after producing “Meet Me In the Parking Lot,” a regional hit by Thrasher Boy, Lil’ Ronnie, and Lil’ Head— available in radio edit form on Frankie Tha Lucky Dog’s YouTube channel—and went on to produce for many artists, including Lil Boosie.

B-Real and Frankie first connected on October 3, 2011. Five days later, Frankie interviewed him on his radio program for 20 minutes—the longest interview he’d ever conducted. At first B-Real was grateful, even effusive in his support. “Baton Rouge— there’s a lot of gems out here that people in the industry don’t even know about,” he told Frankie. “You don’t overlook talent. You acknowledge it and you let it be known.”

After graduating from Marywood with a Master’s in production, Frankie interned at the local news station, but wasn’t hired. On August 19, 2012, he hosted the last episode of Tha Louisiana Pit. A few months later, he celebrated the end of the year with an online awards show. He printed and mailed awards to each winner, including “Most Frequent Person I Talked To By Phone,” and a “classic” designation for records played at least 100 times. “It cost like $56 to send out like a total of maybe $120 a year, between buying ink, printing, and sending,” Frankie estimates. One “classic record” that year was DJ B-Real’s “Full Of Dat (Part 2).”

“I began a phase with DJ B-Real on January 1, 2013, after having a dream that he was on Long Island and I was 20 minutes away trying to see him,” Frankie recalls. Like his friendship phase with Jeff Gumbs, Frankie’s friendship with B-Real was intense. B-Real reached out to Frankie to promote his Pay Da Producer mixtape. B-Real paid Frankie, and Frankie uploaded the tape to DatPiff. On February 6, Frankie taped a “live review” of the tape, standing in front of a graffiti-covered wall in New York. He gave the tape 4.7 out of 5, raving: “Wow, can this CD be, like, my best friend or somethin’?!? Holy shit, I think we finally have anotha pure classic in BR!!!”

On Super Bowl Sunday, B-Real was robbed and all of his production equipment was stolen. “Me being in a phase with him at the moment,” Frankie says, “and just really wanting to connect with him, I came up with a plan.” Frankie purchased replacements for each piece of stolen equipment and had them shipped to B-Real, with the understanding that B-Real would repay him. “I wound up spending $1,524 of my hard-earned Louisiana money to go get this boy his equipment back,” Frankie recalls. “He thanked me so much, [said] I saved his career and all that. But I really only had three weeks of fame.”

B-Real was paying Frankie back in $300 installments when the trouble started. In Frankie’s telling, his falling out with B-Real involves the kind of mind games normally associated with limerence rather than friendship. Feeling he wasn’t receiving the right degree of attention, Frankie called B-Real one night in April 2013 and left an aggrieved message. “Sometimes if I listen to dance music, I get—not beer balls, but dance music balls,” he explains. “I will go at someone for me being jealous if they’re not answering.” With loud dance music playing in the background, B-Real couldn’t understand the message. He texted Frankie back, “So I guess you got the money?” Frankie gave a reckless reply: “’So I guess’—this one producer, Lil Ken—’So I guess his dick taste good…’”

This time, B-Real got the message, and Frankie got a quick response via text: “Bitch, you got me fucked up. I should spit in your face.” Frankie tried to reach him, but only got an angry voicemail. “I cried like a fucking…“ Frankie trails off. “It was terrible.” He apologized on Facebook, and B-Real sent another $100 before communication broke down completely.

Frankie-Tha-Lucky-Dog-Computer

At the end of the year, Frankie did his final Louisiana Awards Show, with the bulk of the awards going to B-Real. “He got 30 awards. ‘Person I Talked To Longest On the Phone,’ ‘Best CD,’ ‘Best Collaboration,’ whatever.” Frankie mailed them all to his house, but received no response. Then B-Real’s phone number changed. The last time they spoke was October 11. On February 5, 2014—Kevin Gates’ birthday— B-Real blocked Frankie on Facebook. “That set a path of destruction for my Louisiana passion,” Frankie says.

B-Real considered Frankie an enigma. “I remember him saying that a lot of people were saying he was kind of autistic,” B-Real explained by phone. “I didn’t think nothing of it. But certain stuff—I couldn’t really understand it…It’d be kind of aggravating.”

Frankie was aggressive in his quest to get a response from B-Real. Although he says B-Real still owes him $400, his real focus has been on re-connecting with the producer. Frankie wrote letters to the B-Real’s mom and brothers. “Nobody was answering me,” Frankie said. To B-Real, Frankie just blew things out of proportion: “Anybody that was affiliated with me, he’d just go off and get to running them stories about how I don’t talk to him…I just try to keep myself cool about the situation, but sometimes, it really just be like—man, he’s really starting to work up my nerves. For real! Things that he might say or do, like, a woman’s supposed to say stuff like that. I ain’t used to no man telling me stuff like this. I’m like, man, is you really autistic? That just had me puzzled.”

If B-Real thought Frankie might be homosexual, the idea never seems to have occurred to Frankie. “I’m not gay,” he responded when asked. “I’ve never had sex before, so I’m a virgin, specifically.” Frankie says he now regrets the remark about Ken’s dick tasting good. “I used really vulgar, incorrect wording,” he says. “I’m very jealous of communication. I deserve that. We’re doing business and all that, why would you ignore me? I should be your top priority.”

“It ain’t like I owe him four or five grand,” says B-Real. “It’s a few hundred bucks.” He says he appreciates what Frankie has done for the music, but things were happening in his life that Tha Lucky Dog wouldn’t understand. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s going on here—people lose hope, people getting killed and stuff like that,” says B-Real. He hopes to get a production deal, but it’s been an uphill climb. “I ain’t working nowhere. I do the music thing 24/7, and sometimes I want to stop messing with it. Sometimes I just be thinking, ‘What’s next?’” Fed up with all the B-Real drama, Frankie was having similar thoughts.

On March 24, 2014, Frankie was hired by Dunkin’ Donuts, and his life settled into a new routine. Five days later, he uploaded a new video— written, produced, and directed by Frankie himself. A tour-de-force of art meeting life, “My Obscure, Unsure, Impure Future” captured his frustrations during a rocky period. It was as dark as “Louisiana—A Sound, A Love, A Cure, A Future” had been exhilarating.

The video compiles a wealth of personal footage: real moments of Frankie, broken and sobbing (“I just don’t know why I’m not important to certain people”), text message exchanges with B-Real and other artists, audio of phone conversations, emails from alienated potential employers, student loan letters, and other signs of financial pressure. Then the whirlwind of anxiety suddenly shifts to silence: “On March 14, 2014, at 1:15 p.m., Frankie received a life-changing phone call, when he arranged his first-ever job interview.” The video concludes with a clip of Frankie sending DJ B-Real production equipment, followed by a big red X.

It’s difficult to disentangle Frankie’s personal and professional frustrations. “I wound up getting a job at Dunkin’ Donuts four minutes away,” he explains. “At Dunkin’ Donuts everyone loves me. The way B-Real disappointed me, I bring that as a counter-attack to my approach at Dunkin’ Donuts, where I never want to upset someone.”

B-Real refuses to accept responsibility for killing Frankie’s passion for music: “He’s saying he stopped messing with it because I stopped responding to him or whatever. I don’t know if that’s true or not. But at the end of the day, he made his decision as a grown man.”

It’s tough not to wonder if Frankie’s obsession with B-Real masked deeper insecurities. He was frustrated by social-media marginalization and decreasing interest from the artists in whom he’d invested so much time. He felt many of them were not sufficiently focused on their careers— especially when they became fathers. ”Kids seem to ruin everything for these rappers,” Frankie says. “They’re eating up your money, and they’re taking away your focus with trying to stay in touch with me.”

“I just think that their priorities are not in order,” he insists. “Do I have to physically see you? Do I have to take a piss in front of you? Do I have to fuck a girl in front of you? What is the deal? I don’t know. Being autistic, I don’t know what captures people’s attention.”

The final blow to Frankie’s Baton Rouge passion came not from Louisiana, but closer to home. On May 9, 2015, Frankie had a fight with his younger brother Michael, two years Frankie’s junior. Michael had a troubled history—“he would end up bouncing from house to house, place to place,” Frankie explains, “but for the most part he was always here with my mom and myself.” Michael had just completed his first semester at college when he relapsed into heroin addiction just before his 25th birthday. The night of the 9th, Frankie refused to drive his brother to Wilkes Barre, PA, where he believed Michael had scored drugs a few days earlier. “I don’t have time to waste two hours right now,” Frankie said. “I’ve got a very busy schedule with my hobbies and things I’m trying to do in the media business.” The two argued, and Frankie pulled out his camera to record the conflict. “You fuck with me,” he said, “I got the camera rolling.” It was the last time he saw his brother alive.

The next morning, Frankie woke at 2:59 a.m. as usual to work the morning shift at Dunkin’ Donuts, and heard music blasting from his brother’s room as he passed by. After a longer-than-average work day, he returned home to see his house surrounded by squad cars. Thinking Michael and his stepfather had gotten into another fight, Frankie searched the older man’s face for an injury. “The last time they fought, my brother punched my stepdad in the eye,” Frankie recalls. Instead, his stepfather broke the news. He’d discovered Michael’s body with 10 empty baggies and a needle nearby. “I didn’t know what to say. I went into the back yard and just slowly starting crying.”

Hoping for some compassion from his Baton Rouge associates, Frankie was soon disappointed. Savage ignored him on Twitter, so Frankie blocked him. Frankie compared the death of his brother with the passing of Lil Phat, a Trill Entertainment rapper who was killed in 2012. “They’re all on Lil Phat’s dick and all of this about him dying, but when I have a fucking loss, nobody answers me,” he said with exasperation. “It’s just a bunch of bullshit.”

Yet Frankie remains driven. “I’m not gonna let people down,” he vows. “I’m still gonna do shit. Every month I do a review. At least once a month. And if somebody dies, I still do my tribute videos. I’ve got things in store.” He pauses. “There’s never a never, in my book—I always do what I do. But I definitely need to get away from a lot of people.”

Frankie also tried a new number he’d obtained for B-Real, reaching out to share the bad news. So far, B-Real has ignored him. “I think it’s time for us to reconnect,” Frankie texted. “Because you never know when my last day gon’ be.”

This story appears in Mass Appeal Issue 56, which is available for purchase here. Read more stories from the issue here.

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