Hip-Hop

Joyner Lucas Wants to Be a Legend on His Own Terms

Joyner Lucas
Trevor Finney

Joyner Lucas

The word "legend" can be frightening for most. Many become intimidated by the challenges of reaching that status of acclaim, because it's a tireless pursuit. But if you listen to Joyner Lucas' record "Legend," it's a test that he relishes and hopes to conquer one day in his rap career. So far, the Worchester, MA, product is off to a great start.

In 2019, Lucas netted two Grammy nominations, most notably for best rap song as a feature on Eminem's "Lucky You." Last year, he scored a top-ten debut on the Billboard 200 with his independently-released album ADHD. The project was anchored by his platinum single "ISIS," featuring one-time foe Logic and his tuneful banger "I Love." He also nimbly threaded together a wildly entertaining record titled "Will," where he paid homage to Will Smith. The innovative video went viral and caught the attention of Smith, who later joined the burgeoning MC on the song's remix. 

His latest win came this week when his new record "Ramen and OJ" with Lil Baby debuted at No. 67 on the Hot 100. The motivational record finds the rap stars trading stories about their humble beginnings. "Ramen and OJ" was also the result of Lucas' new app Tully. Catered to independent artists, Tully is a communication channel that organizes and gives Lucas access to his masters, stems, contracts, and song splits without relying on managers, lawyers, or major record label hurdles or confusion. It also enables him to focus solely on creating the best music possible while watching the business side unfold in real-time.

"I would tell other artists to trust your gut and believe in your art," Lucas tells Billboard. "Find the right tools to help you create and manage and distribute your music. That's why we created Tully."

Billboard spoke to Lucas about his new record "Ramen and OJ," what it means to be a legend, working with Will Smith and Mark Wahlberg, and more.  

If you had to rank your own top three videos, which three would you choose and why?

No. 1, "Will." No. 2 has gotta be "Fall Slowly" and No. 3 I would say "Forever" with my son. All three are really personal to me.

"Will" is a personal record to me because I spent a long time thinking about creating something for Will [Smith], because he's such a huge inspiration to me. When I finally figured it out and executed it, and it came out the way that it did, it was very special to me. That was a very pivotal point in my life. Before that, I never met him. I just grew up watching his movies and Fresh Prince, and being such a fan. Being able to create something that could catch his attention and get his respect was very personal to me. 

"Fall Slowly" [with Ashanti], because I actually went through those things in the music video. It was a very toxic point in my life, and a real toxic relationship. To be able to recreate that with one of the baddest R&B legends in the game [is dope because] she don't do videos like that. So getting her to do that was major for me. I grew up loving Ashanti and loving her music. Everyone crushed on Ashanti, so being able to shoot a music video and have her play the role of what I went through with my ex was fire. "That was another one." [DJ Khaled voice]. 

[Actually] you could put "Forever" at the top, being No. 1. "Will" could be second and "Fall Slowly" third for sure. That's the order. "Forever" is the most important to me because it captures a point in time when my son was one years old. I got to shoot a video to a record that was about him and my feelings toward him, his mother being pregnant, and the emotions I was dealing with. That captured a real point in my life and he'll always be able to go back and watch that video and capture that point in time when he was that small. That's why "Forever" goes at the top.

Let's touch on the "Ramen & OJ" record with Lil Baby. Nobody wants to go back to the bottom, but what's a low moment in your life that you keep on the forefront of your mind every day?

What's interesting about that -- I purposely put myself in places that I was when I was hungry. I'll literally go back to old apartments I used to live at, and seek out the old car I used to have and sit in there. Maybe borrow it or drive around so I can feel what it feels like. I would go to Florida and go to my old apartment complex and sit on the steps so I could get that energy.

I'll purposely seek out old friends I went to school with so I could feel the energy of that point and time. It keeps me grounded so I never forget where I come from. When I go back to these places, I'm bringing my Lambo. I'm bringing the foreign and my neck is dripping. Life is different now and s--t has changed. It's kind of like a time capsule for me where the new me is able to go back in time, with all of the assets and my accomplishments [I have now], and to put myself back in those places and soak in the vibe. 

You speak about reaching the next level on "Legend." When did that moment hit you that you were a legend?

I feel like that if I died, I would be a legend. I feel like there's so much content -- and I honestly feel if I go early, that's when people do their research for real and get hip to you. Then they'll see the gems and the s--t that went over people's heads. They'll be able to see a lot of the s--t that I created. The same thing that happened with Nipsey [Hussle].

When Nip was alive, they didn't appreciate him. The ones who knew, they knew. He didn't start shining until he damn near passed away, which is horrible. I feel like I'm guilty of that too. When XXXTENTACION died, I went back and started listening like, "How did I miss this?" I didn't give it a chance really. Not that I didn't want to, I don't really listen to too much like that, because it's my job and life. I kind of just listen to R&B and island music to clear my mind.

I heard a few XXX records and I thought he was dope, but I never dove into his discography until he died. Once that happened, I felt like, "Wow, this dude was different!" I'm guilty of that and I feel like a lot of people are guilty of that. Believe it or not, when DMX died, a lot of people didn't know his discography either -- a lot of the young kids. 

You bring up XXXTENTACION, and you used an old clip of him on your song "On This Way."

XXXTENTACION was very aware of me, and he talked about me in a few interviews I had seen. Days before he passed, he sent me a message reaching out on Instagram, and told me verbatim, "You're better than 2Pac, I don't give a f--k what nobody says." Instagram didn't have the feature at the time to see messages from verified pages, so I didn't see it. When I read that message, I was like, "Damn." I wish I would've seen it -- because I definitely would've worked with him for sure.

To answer your question, I feel like it's too early for me to consider myself a legend. I feel locally, where I'm from, that I'm a legend... there's a lot of talented artists trying to really break from Massachusetts, and nobody's really done it. I'm talking about rappers. You got New Edition, Bobby Brown and all of them cats, but Benzino I don't think was fully mainstream in the door. He was the biggest from Boston at that time.

I feel like his daughter Coi Leray is more famous than he ever was. She's got more records, more popular, and his daughter surpassed him. It's a different wave now. Around his time, I could say the same for me. I know how difficult it was at that time with no internet to break [artists]. In Benzino's defense, it was probably extremely hard to break into the industry at that time. As opposed to now, you could go directly to the fans. You had to rely on the record label. Maybe that's the reason why I've become the biggest artist out of Massachusetts to actually break through.

Let's get back to "Ramen and OJ." I think Lil Baby has really proven himself on the lyrical side. When did you have that "aha" moment to where you wanted to collaborate with him? 

When I heard "Drip Too Hard," I was like, "I like this guy." Then I started getting into everything. Listening to his records and pretty much being a fan. On The Breakfast Club, I told Charlamagne, I'm my own worst enemy. He said, "I don't understand why you're not bigger than what you are." I told him, "I can't blame anybody for that but myself," and told him I needed to work harder. I decided that I was going to play the game. Beforehand, I stuck to myself and built my own fan base up and did my storytelling joints, and joints with bars... After working with Chris Brown, [Eminem], Logic, Will Smith and a lot of legendary people that I respect, I said one thing I haven't done was tapped into the new generation that's doing it right now.

So basically, I'm getting tapped in and I'm just creating records with the new generation. I'm not gonna give you any more names, but just know Lil Baby was No. 1. There's about seven more. It will probably be next month -- I got some solo stuff coming and another joint with somebody else with somebody new that's a popular face and killing it. I got another one coming with somebody that's considered a GOAT. I'm tapped in, completely.

I always ask the wordsmiths this, do bars matter in 2021? If so, why?

I think bars matter, but it's subjective, though. I think it depends on who's listening. It might not matter to a Soulja Boy fan. He's a swag rapper, and he lets that be known, and he's good at what he does. Maybe not even to a Migos fan. It may not matter to an NBA YoungBoy fan, and there's a whole lane of cats like that that don't really spit bars. It's all swag vibe records. None of their fans really give a f--k if there's bars or not. 

If you're a fan of [Eminem] or [JAY-Z], absolutely you care about bars. You heard the Twitter uproar about what he was saying on the "Sorry Not Sorry" with Nas. So when it comes to bars, it absolutely matters. When it comes to Kendrick, it absolutely matters. If they're deprived of some Kendrick bars, they're gonna be pissed. If J. Cole don't come with the fire bars on his album, his fans are gonna be tight. 

The other guys I mentioned, nobody gives a f--k if they spit bars or not. If I don't come through with some bars, they're gonna be pissed. I figured out how to blend the two worlds together. 

Talk a little bit about the Tully platform you put together, and what you really learned from putting this "Ramen & OJ" record together on there, with you being independent. 

Tully was built as a way to provide more tools for artists at scale. It works for me, and therefore I hope it helps thousands of artists. As an independent artist, it's not really easy. Hence, why most artists are signed. Labels are essentially business and marketing teams. If I'm able to manage my business with Tully and able to independently market myself, then the use of a label is only money and they're only a bank at that point. It should be considered a loan, and I don't know of any other business that allows a bank to own an artist's intellectual property. 

My goal has always been to show it doesn't require a major label to be a successful artist. When I signed to a major label, it was a bucket list thing for me as something I wanted to do as a kid. If I didn't do it, I would always have that question of what if and feel like I missed out on something. 

When So So Def was popping, I wanted a So So Def Chain. When Roc-A-Fella was popping, I wanted a Roc chain. I wanted to be part of all these labels. I wanted to be on Ruff Ryders and I wanted to be on Cash Money. My newest jewelry is getting made right now, and is all of those labels.

Regarding tech and all the tools an artist has, we do what a lot of major labels use. Regarding the release with Lil Baby, that was [done] independently and my plan is to continue to release music independently. Hopefully it inspires other artists to have that self-confidence to do the same. 

I heard you have a new video with some big people in it. Do you wanna talk about what shooting it was like?

Yeah, Mark Wahlberg is my brother. He's a Boston native, and he is somebody that is an extremely dope guy. He reached out to me when I dropped "Will" and was like, "Let me get this straight, you couldn't drop this record called 'Mark?'" We built a relationship from there. He talked about, "Coming where we're from, what you've been able to do musically, I haven't been able to do." He wrapped his arm around me and played a big brother role. Any way he can help me in any form, he's there. I asked him to be in this music video and he was there.

In 2017, I did an interview with XXL and they asked me about my music videos and movies and I told them, "The first actor I know I'm going to work with is Mark Wahlberg." I said, 'Mark my words.'" Sure enough, Mark Wahlberg is the first actor I've used in my music videos. This is the first time I said, "Let me get some actors now." He gave me his time and I got to act alongside him. I got to act alongside George Lopez. It was amazing, bro. 

Is there anything you want to say before I let you go?

I want to go on record and say that I personally feel like I wouldn't be where I'm at if it weren't for my manager, Dhruv Joshi, and my business partner, Sean Macdonald. I can't really take the full credit for being where I'm at. Those two were really essential in helping me. I wouldn't have gotten anywhere if it weren't for those two. Sean and Dhruv are the two guys that really helped me get to the next level. I wouldn't have been here and been able to do all I've done without them in my life. Buying my first mansion, or being able to retire my mother, or buy all the dream cars I wanted, and to work with who I want. I have the stress relief of real life s--t, so I wouldn't be able to do this without them, and I'm happy they're part of my journey for sure.