Joyner Lucas On Going Independent and His Controversial Grammy-Nominated Video

ISSUE 2 2019 - PRESS PHOTO
Trevor Finney
Joyner Lucas

On Eminem’s Grammy-nominated 2018 song, “Lucky You,” 30-year-old Joyner Lucas raps: “All my life I want a Grammy but I’ll prolly never get it.” Now the Massachusetts native is up for two -- best rap song and best music video -- for his own track, the controversial “I’m Not Racist.” (It begins with a white man in a Make America Great Again hat spitting off racial stereotypes and slurs at a young black man.) He wrote, directed, shot, edited and released the video in one week.

How do you think a Grammy win could change the course of your career?

It’s like winning a degree. I look at it like you go to school, become a doctor, get a Ph.D. -- you work for that. That’s an actual degree you can feel, touch, put on your wall. You show people, “This is what I’ve earned.” A Grammy is a symbol of what would be a musical degree. That’s something that no one could ever take away from me. That just puts you in [another] conversation. It gives you a whole new level of respect.

The video for “I’m Not Racist” was polarizing -- what message did you want to convey?

We have to live in a world with people that we don’t like. We have opinions that we don’t agree on. But we still [have] to live together. And we have to figure out how we’re going to continue to live together under the same roof. That’s the message I wanted to convey: “Let’s agree to disagree and move on.”

Are you and your team campaigning for the Grammy?

Nah. I feel like “I’m Not Racist” changed a lot of things, and it caused a lot of damage and opened up room for conversations. Like I pushed the envelope for people like Childish Gambino to come out and make “This Is America.” I feel like I made him comfortable enough to make a record like that. I love that video. I think he’s going to win [best music video] -- I hope he wins it. But there’s no campaign. Either I win or I don’t. If I don’t, I’m grateful that I was even a part of it.

You’ve parted ways with Atlantic Records. Why?

I’m an independent artist now. No label deal. No publishing deal. Going through life as a signed artist, I started realizing a lot of these things I could be doing on my own. That’s no disrespect to the label. It just means so much more to not have anything else tied to your art besides you, for you to own 100 percent of everything that you do and not have someone else’s entity, label or name tied to it.

2019 Grammy Awards

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 26 issue of Billboard.