In preparing to launch the app, and tease out a new live concert series idea, Atkins says he's also ready to address his role in the disastrous 2017 event in the Exumas, Bahamas. Blown up across social media and two documentary films, the failings of the 2017 Fyre Festival have been litigated and debated for years now. Ticket-holders expecting a high-end island getaway arrived to find a poorly prepared site with damaged tents, wet weather and soggy cheese sandwiches. The mastermind behind Fyre, Billy McFarland, is currently serving a six-and-a-half year federal prison sentence for defrauding investors out of millions of dollars.
“It was a fucked up situation, the festival went bad,” Atkins says. “I think a lot of misconception that people have is that the festival itself was a fraud — that we set out to defraud people. I want everybody to know that we wanted to do this festival so bad. We really tried to put on a dope festival. Even Billy, with all his faults, wanted to put on a dope festival."
Atkins tells Billboard that he didn’t know McFarland was making misrepresentations to investors and noted that the former chief executive gave Atkins a number of assurances that the festival site would be ready to go when fans arrived.
"He got in way over his head and he lied to investors and did things to doctors the papers to investors and that’s where the crime was," Atkins said. "And when people say, 'why is Ja Rule not in jail either?' That's why guys. I wasn't a part of that. My part was creative; making it dope and trying to make it happen."
Atkins was sued in a $100 million class action lawsuit for his connection to the festival in a case brought by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, but the civil suit against Atkins was dropped in late 2019 after the judge in the case ruled that there was no evidence Ja knowingly defrauded investors.
"His ruling is nothing short of a total vindication of Mr. Atkins," said Ja Rule’s attorney Ryan Hayden Smith in a statement provided to Billboard at the time. Today Atkins says the lesson from Fyre is "be careful which tasks you delegate. After everything I went through, it's difficult for me to trust anyone, but I can’t do it all myself so I'm learning to trust the right people."
Atkins says he was planning to return to touring at the beginning of 2020 but the COVID-19 pandemic made getting back on the road impossible. But the pandemic has also given him more time to finish Iconn and build out opportunities for artists to monetize their content, whether that's accepting payment and getting tips through the app or making special appearances.
"It allows the consumer to have a B2B relationship with talent. If you want to book an artist for a live event, you can do that," Atkins says. "Or if you want Jah Rule to hype up the kids before the big game, we can do that. I wanted to make a space for artists like myself to be able to monetize their brand and their content in a different way. After seeing the industry get hit hard by COVID-19, we've got to find a way to give artists the tools they need to generate income directly from fans."
When artists can get back on the road, Atkins said artists should consider new show formats, including a concept he's working on for the Iconn app called Vibes concerts that has artists play one of their most album populars from beginning to end, while telling stories about the making of the album between songs.
"It's telling the stories behind the music, and after the show the recording can be used to release a live album for streaming purposes and artists can make money and profit too," Atkins said, adding that he will be playing one of the first vibes concerts, which he is launching next month.
"It's going to be a real vibe man," Atkins says laughing. "Between the story-telling, the full band and hit after hit, it's a format that both fans and artists are going to want to try out."