In one of the more eventful years hip-hop has experienced in recent memory, it’s easy for some artists and projects to get slept on or lost in the shuffle amid all of the blockbuster album releases. While talented beyond measure, Joyner Lucas‘ most recent body of work, 508-507-2209, was a bit understated in comparison to other seismic LPs and initially flew under the radar, but has slowly gained traction with rap enthusiasts enamored by the rapper’s superb lyricism and knack for storytelling.
Lucas may still be in the process of becoming a household name, but in rap circles, he has already solidified himself as a rabid rhyme animal, thanks to an impressive showing at the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards, where he was tapped to participate in the award show’s annual cypher. However, the Worcester, Mass. native is adamant about presenting more than lyrical miracles to the public and is more focused on being regarded as an artist with range and versatility as opposed to a one-trick pony.
This is exemplified on 508-507-2209, which captures Lucas delivering everything from party-hearty club bangers to conceptual masterpieces, making it clear that he has a story to tell and a purpose beyond strictly stringing words together. Despite only being months removed from the album’s release, Joyner Lucas is not content resting on his laurels, as he continues to promote the project—he just dropped his “Winter Blues” video—while preparing to hit the road to further touch base with his fans. In addition to touring, the Atlantic Records signee is also looking forward to his next project, one he hopes will elevate his stature as an artist and will be his most ambitious release to date.
Joyner Lucas stopped by the XXL office to talk 508-507-2209, coping with racial tensions, what he has in store next musically, his acting dreams and more.
XXL: Your most recent release, 508-507-2209, dropped a few months ago. How does it feel to have your first body of work out in the world?
Joyner Lucas: It feels good, man. You know, especially when people can listen to it all the way through. It was created for you to listen to it straight through. So it feels good to reach a different level and have a body of work that new fans can listen to and appreciate, as well as the older fans that been waiting.
Are there any tour stops in particular that you’re looking forward to on The 508 Tour?
I’m definitely looking forward to my hometown date on the 22nd, at the Palladium. I’m definitely looking forward to the SOBs date, Oct. 12, that’s gonna be dope. The A3C Festival, that’s another one I’m looking forward to. I haven’t really performed since I dropped the project. I’ve been creating visuals, stuff like that. Doing these press runs.
So what songs are you matching with the visuals?
I’m shooting videos to “Look What You Made Me Do” with Stefflon Don in London. We’re shooting “We Gon Be Alright,” we shooting that one and then we’re shooting some more videos to some more unreleased records that’s not tied to the project.
Will that be your first time overseas?
I’ve been in London, I’ve been to Jamaica, I’ve never performed overseas though. Never, I haven’t. I think I’m gonna do a U.K. tour, though. It’s gonna be dope.
You made a lot of references to your son and your past failures as a father on your new album. Was it difficult to speak on that subject transparently and revisit those low moments?
I wouldn’t say it was difficult to tap into those emotions. It wasn’t difficult to go back in the past and talk about that, it was more difficult to confront those feelings because they’ve always been there. It’s not something that just went away. Those are feelings that always been there and in order for me not to feel the way that I felt towards my son’s mother, I needed to get that out and I needed to let the world hear it. So it was difficult confronting those feelings, but it’s not like I had to reach back. It’s always been there, you know?
Was there a song on the album that took a lot out of you emotionally to write and record?
That one. “Forever,” definitely. This ain’t the typical daddy-son record; we’ve heard those. Even Eminem when he wrote about killing his son’s mother, then he had the “Mockingbird” joint, that’s records more geared towards how much he loves his daughter, being nurturing and stuff, and Will Smith had “Just the Two of Us.” A lot of people had records that are catered to their kids, but this is me actually telling my son that I didn’t want him.
It’s the opposite. Like “Bro, if it was up to me, you definitely wouldn’t even be here.” That’s a hard thing to confront, ’cause now I’m thinking when he gets older, is he gonna hold those feelings against me? So that definitely, confronting those feelings definitely took a lot out of me.
How would you say you’ve grown as a father from then to where you are now?
I think I’ve always been, even since day one, I’ve always been a great father, went above and beyond. Nothing’s changed. It wasn’t like I was a partial deadbeat and then I stepped my game up.
It was just the jitters?
Right. Even though I wasn’t feeling the situation, I’m talking, this isn’t even when she was pregnant but I had some of these emotions and feelings toward my baby mama even when my son was here, you know what I’m saying? I still felt like… the feeling of having your actual child physically there, but you’re still semi-mad at your baby mother for having him, it’s fucked up. ’Cause in the sense, it’s kind of me, if you think about it, being mad at her for not killing my son. So it’s like, bro, I had to talk about that to let those feelings go. So that’s why that record it so important.
On a lighter note, being that you’re a Massachusetts native, I’m sure you’ve heard about the trade between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Boston Celtics. What was your initial reaction to the news?
I thought it was dope. Kyrie Irving’s coming to Boston. That’s all I care about. I thought that was dope. I’m a huge Kyrie Irving fan, so the fact that he’s out here, it’s gonna be lit.
How far do you feel the Celtics can go this season?
Honestly, I don’t know because the Celtics are a little flip-floppy, man. They go on a little spree and then they’ll lose 15 games straight, I can’t really gauge them. All I can say is that I’m gonna be at a couple of games, so that’s definitely gonna be dope.
Much of the news cycle this year has been dominated by things like racism. The White nationalist march in Charlottesville, Va. that resulted in injuries and a death is one of them. How closely have you been following the issue and what are you thoughts on it?
Yeah. I think White supremacy, I think all that shit is sick, just sickening, man. It’s horrible and it’s something that’s just self-explanatory to anybody who’s Black is gonna feel, but I just think it’s horrible shit. It’s not surprising because these are all Trump’s little minions, man, and we got a racist President so they’re coming out of the woodworks and all this crazy shit now, but at the end of the day, I stopped really paying any mind to it because if I do, it’s gonna make me start writing a bunch of depressing-ass music about it. I know It’s there and it’s sad shit, but that’s just the way the world is right now, man.
You try not to be engulfed by it.
Because everything’s gonna get political. I’m not trying to be a political rapper. I did it with the “Don’t Shoot” record and talked about all that. It’s just too many opinions on that type of shit it’s kinda like talking about religion; you’ll have a million people. So at the end of the day, it’s fucked up, but yeah.
Your home state also has a reputation for being racially divided in certain areas.
Massachusetts, where I’m from, yeah. I mean, I think everybody’s gone through some racist moment in their life. Nothing recently that’s happened, but that’s because I stay pretty low-key and I’m really never anywhere where something crazy could happen, you know, I’m always inside. I don’t really go out much or indulge. I don’t know, I’m just not in the loop like that when it comes to being out places where something could happen, you know what I mean?
Either I’m in my car driving to a certain destination, which is a house or somebody’s crib or something like that, where it’s a contained, controlled environment. I don’t really experience too much right now.
Have you ever experienced discrimination or racism on a personal level?
Yeah, absolutely. In the past, I’ve experienced that. Schoolteachers would say certain things to me. Females that I’ve dated, their dads are racist, certain shit like that. Cops, racist cops. I think these are things that happen everywhere, but I’m not saying that this is something I’ve been through on a daily basis, but I think these are things who’s ever lived in the United States, not just Boston [has experienced].
There’s gonna be racist people, you know what I mean, and if you’re just at that right place at the right time with the right racist person, they might say some racist shit to you. No matter if you’re in Boston or Mississippi or North Carolina or New York, if it happens, it’s gonna happen.
Who are some of the artists besides yourself that you’re checking for, far as home and nationally?
Coustin Stizz. Cousin Stizz is dope.
What artist have you met who are a fan of your music that surprised you?
A lot. Kevin Durant, which was dope. I’ve never met Kevin Durant, so it was random as hell to get a tweet from Kevin Durant saying, “If you don’t fuck with Joyner Lucas, then you’re wack,” you know what I’m saying? Dude, that’s Kevin Durant, a champion, MVP, that’s crazy. But you got Kevin Durant, Charlamagne Tha God, you got Joe Budden, Royce Da 5’9, Boi-1da.
These are people that came out the woodwork and approached me and was like, “Yo, you’re dope.” Busta Rhymes, you know? The list goes on, but those are just some of the people. They came, pause [laughs].
You gotta play the pause game when you’re in New York City [laughs].
My pauses be ridiculous tho, man, I be going in.
When did you get put on to the pause game?
Honestly, I started playing the pause game right after the 2015 BET Hip Hop Awards cypher, that’s around when pauses really started. My man Skyzoo, he put me on to the pause. He was pausing me all the time and I would say a lot of pause-worthy shit and he was just pausing me and I was like, “How is that a pause?” and he’d say, “You said, ‘Such-and-such.’ You said, ‘I like the way that this feeling going down your throat.'” [laughs]. But he put me on to that, man, and ever since then, I be pausing my mom [laughs].
Speaking of music, have you been in the studio lately working on any new stuff?
Yeah, I definitely been just working on some new stuff. I been in the studio, just kinda trying to experiment and transition and definitely go into different directions and musically just try new stuff. I’m having my time in the studio right now where I’m just trying to try new sounds and try new things and trying to stay active. It will be some more new stuff coming out soon, probably within the next month, so I’m all ready.
Are there any artists you’ve connected with recently or have tracks with in the stash?
Actually, nah, man. I don’t collab often. Not now, at least, it’s got to be a time and a place for that where it’s special, kind of like Bryson Tiller. Bryson Tiller went, like, pretty much his whole career without collaborating and then now he’s starting to do records with Rihanna, but I’m trying to get people to respect me musically and then those things will fall into place.
I don’t wanna go look for it or just go out of my way and try to force features and make people feel like they have to. I don’t wanna pay people [to collaborate with me], I just want it to be organic, I want to make records with some of my favorite people, and yeah.
You were just talking about experimenting and trying new things. What’s an aspect of your artistry that you wanna showcase more that you haven’t yet?
Definitely experiment more with some of my vibey records. More vibey, less lyrical, toned down. Honestly, when I do a lot of records where it’s super lyrical, all that it is to prove and to show people, like, I can really rap. I can switch flows, I can go with the best of them so first of all, I want you to respect me as a rapper. Now, the further I get along, the more fans understand I can kind of shift gears a little bit ’cause I already proved what it is. But I’m really into doing vibey stuff and all different type of shit, I don’t really wanna be stuck in a box, you know?
More of songwriting thing as a opposed to a rapper?
I don’t want people to get it confused. I’m struggling with this idea that I don’t want any publications or DJs or any of these cats to think that I’m just this rappity-rapping ass nigga. I’m not. The BET cypher kind of was a gift and a curse because after that everyone wanted me to be in the cyphers and battle rap, and that’s not my shit. I did that to get some attention and it was an opportunity, but it’s not what I am.
If you watch the music videos and you pay attention you can see that these are well crafted records and videos, you know, that’s what I do. I don’t wanna freestyle rap, I don’t wanna do that stuff. So I just want to get into more vibey shit, you know what I’m saying, and yeah, I want to get into more vibey shit
As far as production, who have you been vibing with lately?
It’s the same people I’ve been rocking with, The Cratez, Boi-1da, Knox Beats, that’s my engineer, so we’ll come in and add different aesthetics to it. Guitars, pianos and have some live trumpet players come in over the records and stuff like that, but yeah, for the most part, it’s the same production. But I’d love to work with other producers, you know?
I can’t wait to hit the level where I’m working with a Timbo or a Swizz Beatz just because I know what I’m gonna do over those beats and what they’re gonna bring to the table. I just wanna sit in the studio with these cats, sit in there with Timbo while he just plays the beats and just start writing and go in there and just murder some shit.
What are some topics or themes you’re looking to touch on moving forward?
There’s a lot of things, a lot of concepts. I’m gonna touch on more topics that I haven’t touched on before, even regarding relationship shit. I wanna get more personal, you know what I’m saying, open up about my life, open up about my upbringing, just give people the opportunity to know who I am, who Joyner Lucas is. I wanna talk about things I haven’t talked about before, even things that ain’t in regards to my life.
Talk about drugs, a lot of different things. The concepts are just everlasting. You can talk about so much different shit and that’s what I plan on bringing to the table.
Success obviously has its perks. What would you say has been your biggest highlight or moment since the album release?
The biggest moment so far? Dude, it’s honestly, it’s just hard to say because it’s been so many great moments, but Madden 18 was a huge moment for me. Getting on the soundtrack for Madden was lit ’cause I grew up playing that shit. Get in trouble, get my Madden taken away and I’d be pissed off. Now I’m in the game. It just reminds me of that Ab-Soul line when he said, “Dad took my TV, mom took my radio/Now I’m on TV and on the radio” [laughs], you know what I’m saying?
I take certain lines like that and I’m like, Damn man, and I think that’s dope. I got my game taken and now I’m on the shit. Madden was dope, getting signed to Atlantic was dope, ’cause growing up, everybody wanna get signed. Everybody got signed at some point, JAY-Z, Eminem, anybody you ever looked up to got signed, you know what I’m saying? So being signed or getting signed to a major was, like, a huge accomplishment. Selling out shows in my hometown and selling out shows on tour, not just in my hometown, is dope. Those are highlights for me, you know what I’m saying?
There’s a lot of stuff that are highlights for me that may not be highlights for other people, but because of where I came from and how long it took me to achieve those goals, it all means something to me. I never overlook those things, I think that those are important and they get me excited. Pause [laughs].
Any plans to drop any new projects or releases this year to hold fans over until your next major release?
Honestly, there’s a lot of different choices of what can come out next, I’m not sure. The “Look What You Made Me Do” and “We Gon Be Alright” video for but it’s all calculated and it’s all gonna make sense.
Is there a timetable for the next project?
Next year, and the next project I put out might even be a six-song EP. It’s definitely gonna be shorter than the last project. But yeah, I’d say first quarter next year.
What would you say are your three biggest goals for the rest of this year?
Definitely wanna jump on a tour with a major act, you know what I mean? That would be dope. That’s a huge goal. Selling out all of my tour dates—West Coast, East Coast, the U.K.—definitely is definitely a goal. Getting in some more movies, video games and soundtracks. Licensing shit is definitely a goal. And creating more records that get more viability and gaining more fans and just watching those numbers go up.
[At one point,] I had 2,100 fans on Facebook. I just broke 1,100,000 now. You couldn’t have told me three years ago that was gonna happen. I wouldn’t have believed you. I wouldn’t have thought that, but shit now I look back on that like shit, it’s crazy where it was. So I’m grateful.
How much would you say your lifestyle has changed since before the record deal to now?
My lifestyle hasn’t changed at all. I’m still the same exact person. I don’t go out like that, I don’t drink, smoke, I don’t really like being around a lot of people like that, I really keep to myself. It’s not like I bought a Ferrari and now I’m glistening in jewelry and my life has changed. I still don’t operate the way I didn’t operate before. My mom good, my sisters are good, my son good, my family is good. I make sure I take care of my family, but other than that, everything is still the same. Morally, I’m still the same person.
What would you say is the next level for Joyner Lucas as an artist and brand?
The album. Getting ready for the album, absolutely, that would be it. Getting into some movies, I wanna get into acting or all that shit.
Drama or comedy?
I would say suspenseful, absolutely. I’m gonna be doing some movies soon, just give me some time, I’ma be acting alongside some of the biggest actors ever. I think the first one, mark my words: Mark Wahlberg. That’s gonna be big actor that I’m gonna have, pause, you know [laughs]? But I think Mark Wahlberg is gonna be the one. I think he’s gonna be the first dude that’s gonna be the one.
Was that a hobby growing up, as far as acting and film?
You know, it’s crazy, even at a young age, when I had watched certain movies, I’ve always been wowed by the animation or by the graphics and shit. When people are paying attention to, like, the storyline, I’m just sitting there looking at the graphics, like, Bro! Like Jumanji. I see Jumanji and I’m like, “Bro, do you see how real that lion looks?” I’m just looking at the scenery, the cinematography and looking at all of that. Jumanji came out when I was like 10 or 12, you know what I’m saying, and growing up, watching certain movies, I feel it turned me into, like, a director, bro. That’s why you see all of that in my music videos.
See New Music Releases for October 2017