Rollin' with the Holy

If you are a Miami native and you love hip-hop from the 305, then you know Slip-N-Slide Records. Named Best Independent Record Label by Miami New Times earlier this year, the company has sold more than 15 million records since its inception in 1993. That number should grow exponentially: In February 2006, the company's president and CEO, Ted "Touche" Lucas, signed a multimillion-dollar distribution deal with Def Jam.

On a recent Thursday afternoon, I head to Lucas's office, ostensibly to talk about upcoming Slip-N-Slide releases (from Plies, Trick Daddy, Trina, and Rick Ross), music videos, and his accomplishments as head of his own empire. (In 2001, Vibe magazine recognized him as a "Major Player in the Game," and for four consecutive years The Source magazine listed him in its "Top Power 30.")

His headquarters are discreet. Nestled on a quiet residential corner in Miami Beach, an entire dark green and yellow house has been converted into the Slip-N-Slide fortress. In the waiting area, I sit anxiously on a large blue couch and sip a complimentary energy beverage until Lucas's assistant Kai waves me over.

I'm led through reception, past a recording studio, past a framed poster of Slip-N-Slide artist Trina with Lil Jon, past walls of CDs, T-shirts, and boxes. Through another hallway, down some stairs, and past employees sitting in front of their computers is Lucas's office, so large it's equipped with its own bathroom. On the wall behind his desk hangs a painting of a bronze-skinned Jesus tending sheep. A diamond-encrusted cross dangles from the CEO's gold necklace. As we shake hands, I spot on his desk an enormous hardcover Bible, opened to the Book of Proverbs.

"You read the Bible?" Lucas asks as a cell phone on his desk rings. "Let me take this call; it's Trina's manager." He hangs up the phone and looks at me. "Talk to me, Jason." I finish the energy drink as I sit down in front of the desk. "Relax. You want another energy beverage?" I decline. "How about some water?" Lucas insists. He pushes a button on his landline phone. "Bring me two cold bottles of water," he directs Kai.

There is no computer in his office; spread atop his desk are two cell phones (one for family, one for business), a BlackBerry he uses for e-mail, a landline speaker phone, and that enormous hardcover Bible. Nearby there are dumbbells on the floor. The walls are festooned with gold records, photos of his wife and kids, a large-screen TV set playing MTV2 on mute, and a wooden cross over the window. Ted, as he insists I call him, is now on two phones simultaneously. "Did we tell Trick Daddy $15,000? His manager is sayin' 25...." He looks up and apologizes as I sip water and watch R. Kelly on the TV. When Ted gets off the phones, he asks me how I'm doing. I tell him his publicist has been ambiguous about this interview, but I wanted to meet him; this interview will be about whatever he wants it to be about.

"You know this whole interview is gonna be about God." He laughs and then continues, "I'm not doing God's will if I don't tell you the truth. We gonna pray before you leave, so don't worry about that." I tell him I'm cool with it. "God has a lot in store for you. You know that, right?" Ted makes direct eye contact with me in the completely silent office. "When you walked in, you asked me what I want out of this interview. This is what I want: If I can save somebody's soul, or let somebody know that that rap label, who they thought or what they thought it was, and they gonna get Jesus out of it, that's the most important thing I ever need. God is happy with me right now because I am connecting."

Ted talks about his missionary work. "I've gone inside crack houses, told them about Jesus as they blow out the smoke. One time one of them had a heart attack and I called an ambulance." He stops, smiles, and silences the buzzing BlackBerry. "I tell you, there's nothing like a beating from the Lord. There's no other beating I experienced worse than that. He is gonna break you down, until you know that there is nothing that you can do to fix it."

He takes a deep breath and continues, recounting one such incident when God showed him who's boss. "I have a million-dollar deal on the table and I'm about to close ... and it don't close. God is saying, 'That wasn't for you.'" Ted raises his voice. "I'm like, 'What you mean? What are you talking about that wasn't for me?'" He stands up, raising his arms in the air for emphasis. "'We right here to close and it's ready to get done. I'm getting ready to make a million dollars! What are you talking about?'" He sits back down. "Man! I used to get upset. I felt like I had the power. But if God don't want it to happen, it is not going to happen. I had to learn that the hard way. But I learned it, you know?"

Miami rap stars Trick Daddy, Trina, and Rick Ross are all part of the Slip-N-Slide family, and they all have new albums coming out soon. Their songs glorify the thug life: expensive cars and jewelry, drug dealing, AK-47s, and lots of sex. But Ted has a response to that.

"A lot of Slip-N-Slide artists don't believe in Jesus. I don't beat it across their head. But I feed them Jesus at all times," he insists. "When Rick Ross or Plies says, 'Ted, let's pray,' they know I don't care what time you call and say let's pray. They have all started charity foundations, giving back to their communities, doing something positive in the neighborhood where they came from. People don't understand. Once you surrender, and God know your heart, He opens up doors for you that you would never even imagine. No other rap label is doing better than Slip-N-Slide."

A man steps into the office to discuss some legal matters, and they talk quietly as I duck out. When I return, Ted resumes by asking, "You thought we were gonna be some gangstas with guns, smoking blunts, huh? Let me tell you something. I don't need no security, no bodyguards, none of that. This business is covered, I'm covered, and this place is covered. I wake up at 5:00 every morning with my wife. We pray — before the sun rises, before I get distracted, before I get to work ... just to start my day off."

Born in 1973 in Miami and raised here, Ted is optimistic about the future of the city's hip-hop. "Miami is headed in the right direction. Every day it gets better and better: with DJ Khaled, [producers] Cool & Dre, Rick Ross, [fellow local label] Poe Boy, [and] all these different labels. One problem is that you got Miami and South Beach. It's like two different sides.

"Not to dis a place like ATL; there's a lot of things goin' on in Atlanta, but it don't have no ground behind it. It's just come and go right quick — one-hit wonder songs, and they be gone. In Miami we've really built a strong foundation behind it, so it sticks. In Atlanta you don't know who's rappin' this week. It's just a hot record, know what I'm sayin'? Down here we got a great foundation."

But what about the dichotomy between his religious beliefs and some of the content of the records his company puts out? Again, Ted doesn't sweat it. "I tell everybody how I serve the Lord. Some people be ashamed or be scared. They don't want nobody to know because they have an image to live up to," Ted says. "They be like, 'How you gonna do that rap music and talk about how you go to church?' When I first started, I wasn't where I'm at today. I still was makin' some sins. I didn't know how I would stop certain things. But one day that blunt ain't gonna taste good no more."

His phones are ringing like crazy, and it seems that, two hours on, our time is up. "I gotta go to my son's baseball game. You ready to pray?" He stands up and holds out his hands. I take them. "All you gotta do is accept Jesus Christ. And once you accept, He can do the rest. Now your life doesn't get easier. It gets harder — because the Devil is upset now. You gotta ignore the Devil and tell him to flee in the name of Jesus." We hold hands in the center of his office as Ted prays. Letting go, I thank him for his time. He bellows, "Don't thank me. Thank God!"

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Jason Handelsman