- Hip-hop artist Joyner Lucas and his manager and business partner Dhruv Joshi spoke to Insider about the trajectory of their music app startup, Tully, ahead of an announcement of the startup’s new venture into music distribution.
- Lucas and Joshi discussed Lucas’ path as an independent artist in relation to questions about the startup’s progression and the Kanye West Netflix documentary “Jeen-Yuhs.”
On Tuesday, the Grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Joyner Lucas and his manager and business partner Dhruv Joshi spoke to Insider about the trajectory of their music app startup, Tully, ahead of an announcement of the startup’s new venture into music distribution.
In the interview, Lucas and Joshi related how they co-founded Tully in 2015 as a way to streamline Lucas’ creative process through digital tools, and how the platform has evolved into what Joshi called an “end-to-end workflow for creation, management, and music distribution” with the intention of giving independent artists more control and transparency over a variety of aspects of their careers.
Sony Music Entertainment made a strategic investment into the app in April 2020, and the app had a subsequent expansion of features into a tiered subscription service.
Joshi described the app’s new music distribution arm, announced on Wednesday, as a “do-it-yourself distribution platform” similar to the existing distribution platforms TuneCore and UnitedMasters. Tied to the announcement, and through the app, Lucas is offering an independent artist the opportunity to get on a remix of his platinum-selling single “ISIS” from his debut album, “ADHD,” which he released independently in 2020.
In a 20-minute phone interview, Lucas and Joshi discussed Lucas’ path as an independent artist in relation to the startup’s progression, its funding from Sony, and the Kanye West
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
John Lynch: What do you see in the prospects of this venture into music distribution, how the app is changing to accommodate that?
Joyner Lucas: How what? How music is accommodating?
Lynch: Yeah. Music distribution.
Lucas: How the distribution is changed? I don’t understand your question.
Lynch: That’s my bad. You know, I talk a certain way. [Laugh]. But, you know, you’re venturing into music distribution. What are you looking forward to out of that?
Lucas: I think for artists to kinda be in control of the driver’s seat, and not have to depend on labels to distribute their music and then take a crazy percentage and leave the artist with pretty much not really having control of their intellectual property. And I think that, you know, what we’re doing is, with the flaw in the system that we’ve seen, that we decided that what we wanted to do was let artists keep a hundred percent of their royalties and, you know, distribute through Tully. With the click of a button they can, you know.. Whatever is recorded, straight from there, master it, upload it onto Spotify, Apple iTunes, themselves on their phone. Don’t even gotta go through no other company, or don’t gotta go through nothing. They can just do it and maintain a hundred percent of their royalties. And I think that it puts the control in the artist’s hands. You know what I’m saying?
Dhruv Joshi: Another thing to mention on that is like, let’s just say an artist did sign through a label, right? Like, they still don’t control any of their assets. They still don’t control any of their IP or their creative work, you know? They couldn’t tell you split sheets on songs within seconds. You know, they couldn’t just pull up lyrics that they’ve written for previous songs or production all in a central place, or even their entire team in a single place..
Lucas: I’d just say, you can ask any artist right now. It don’t matter if it’s Drake. It don’t matter if it’s.. Whoever. You can ask any artist what their splits are on a specific or particular record, and they could not tell you what their splits are. They couldn’t tell you how much they’re getting, what the producer got, what this person got. They couldn’t tell you the breakdown. They couldn’t tell you the percentage. And that’s important information to know, you know what I’m saying?
Joshi: Joyner, I think when we was talking previously, you were saying, you have an online business and you could see all of this stuff, but as an artist, we’re a business and we can’t see none of it.
Joshi: Like, you know what shoes you’re selling on an online store. You can see the activity of it. But it’s like, where’s the activity of the artist? And this came from more like me having to reiterate information to Joyner, right? Like, ’cause Joyner would depend on me to pull it. And then I’m depending on a lawyer and a business manager. I mean, there’s a whole lot in it. [Laugh]. Right?
Joshi: And so, you know, he asks me a question and then I’ve gotta relay back to somebody else. And what the [Tully] system does, it just allows everybody to kind of have access. But Joyner decides who has access and what to. So Dhruv has master control over everything because that’s my manager, okay? The lawyer can have access to contracts, he doesn’t need to listen to my music. My engineer can listen to my music and upload stems and everything I need him to do, and complete metadata regarding certain sessions or whatever. You see what I’m saying?
Joshi: Like he’s starting to like give you permissions and roles. And that level of control doesn’t exist, whether you’re signed, whether you’re independent. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t exist. If you type in “music management systems” on Google, you won’t find anything. [Laugh]. You know what I’m saying? ‘Cause nobody’s tried to fix that, because that’s where, you know, they keep artists isolated, where they don’t want them to have the transparency in information, and they don’t want an artist to have full control. Right? And, and so why build it? Because he had these interests to build it. You know? [Laugh].
Lynch: It’s a dope product. Dope, uh, prospect.. what y’all are putting together. Uh, Joyner. I wanted to ask, what’s more challenging: Being a startup founder, or an independent artist?
Lucas: What’s more challenging, being a startup founder on a..
Lynch: Or an independent artist. [Laugh.]
Lucas: Or an independent artist. What’s more challenging. Well, honestly. I honestly can’t answer that. And the reason why I can’t answer that is because we used our platform after we already went through the struggle of being an independent artist. We used my platform to catapult Tully. So without my platform, I couldn’t tell you what it would’ve been like, starting from ground zero to getting where we are now. I credit my platform, being able to use that as leverage, because as I started to go up. Pause. [Pause.] We was able to use that as leverage to ink deals on behalf of Tully or, you know, to kind of be in the driver’s seat. You know what I’m saying? Because obviously, me and Dhruv, we own Tully, so when certain things went crazy, you know what I’m saying, people wanted to be involved. And it was like due to the music. And because Tully is a music platform, it just went hand in hand, you know what I’m saying? It was like, we already was building relationships with Sony on behalf of the music. So those relationships was already in place when it came to Tully. So it was a no-brainer.
Joshi: Tully got the fast forward button. I think that’s what happened. [Laugh].
Lucas: Yeah, yeah.
Joshi: Tully got the fast forward button. Because Joyner’s journey was a very long.. like dawning, you know. It was more relief.
Lucas: Yeah. But. But I would say this: if Tully wasn’t a music platform and it was another platform that had nothing to do with music, I would be able to answer that question. But because it goes hand in hand with the music, and I was able to push the fast forward button on that. Then I can’t answer it. You understand what I’m trying to say?
Lynch: No, that’s fair, it’s one in the same. I feel you.
Lucas: If I was trying to tell sneakers or some sh-t, if it was a sneaker app, I could be like, “Yo, it’s hard, because you can’t sell,” you know what I mean? Like it’s two different markets. You understand? So I don’t know.
Lynch: What’s the strategy behind the “ISIS” remix opp here?
Lucas: The strategy behind the “ISIS” remix?
Lucas: Really just giving an independent artist, uh.. just wanting to give.. I mean, I know what it is to be an independent artist, especially one that started from ground zero. So, for me, it’s like, instead of putting on one of my celebrity friends, which I could easily put on there and make it go crazy, I decided, you know what, why not just give an opportunity to an up-and-coming artist to jump on something like “ISIS,” you know, and get in front of the platform and, you know what I’m saying, take advantage of it.
Joshi: That’s Joyner’s first platinum-selling single as well.
Lucas: A hundred percent.
Joshi: So he was like, “Man, this my first platinum-selling single. And I did it independent.” And so he, was like..
Lucas: But why not.. So instead of.. Instead of doing a completely new record, it’s like, why not take something that already was successful? And because people know it, a lot of people know it, it’s kind of the fast forward button all over again, because, it’s like, people would want to hear the remix. “Who’s on the remix?” You know what I’m saying? And I think it’s a good opportunity for an up-and-coming artist to be a part of something like this, you know? And again, it goes hand-in-hand with Tully, you know what I mean? Because then again, independent artists should already.. I believe that they should already, you know, have..
[Lucas’ line cut out, followed by a 20-second period of silence.]
Joshi: Did Joyner cut out, or what was that?
Lynch: Yeah. It cut out on my end.
Joshi: Joyner, you there?
Lucas: Yeah. I’m here. I’m sorry. What’d you say?
Joshi: You cut out completely. We didn’t catch the last 15 seconds. [Laugh].
Lucas: [Laugh]. I said that, I think that it goes hand-in-hand with everything that we’re doing on Tully, as far as me feeling like all independent artists should have an account on Tully, ’cause I think that it’s very useful. And I think that, you know, it’s something that they’re not gonna know that they need until they have it. And I think that it goes hand in hand with what I’m trying to do, because I already feel like they should get a subscription, period. But this is just, you know what I’m saying, more incentive to wanna do that. And I’mma be doing a whole bunch of things on there such as even giving artists opportunity. I’m about to go on tour. So giving another artist the opportunity to go on tour with me, you know what I’m saying?
Joshi: Yeah, we’re announcing a tour towards the fall, and we’re thinking about considering an artist to go on the road.
Lucas: Giving them the platform. Giving an independent artist the platform, you know what I’m saying? I can go on tour with anybody I want to, but I’d rather give the independent platform to another artist that can use it. And it’s an all-expenses-paid tour.
Joshi: We’re not signing the artist. Like this is not an artist that we’re signing and now have a deal with or..
Lucas: Nah, none of that. It ain’t none of that. It’s just, you know, giving them the platform, helping them out, putting them on, you know. Come on tour, and you get paid. So you get to really experience this tour life. You get a check for being there. You get a spot on a bunk, you know what I’m saying? You get to open up and perform. You get to hit the road with us. Like, and it’s just really just..
Joshi: Then you get to see the engine, you see the merchandise, you see the team, and you see the right course.
Lucas: Riiight. For real for real. So I think so we all about that because we came from that, you know what I mean? We came from that independent grind. We’ve been signed to the labels. We know how tour support works and doesn’t work. We know the ins and out. So now that we’ve been a part of these entities, we know how it rocks. We know, you know, what the royalties look like. We know what splits and percentages are. We know what it’s like to be involved in a team that ain’t really gon’ give a f— about you as much as you gon’ care about your sh-t. We know what it’s like. So now that we independent, it’s like, we know exactly what to do. And we know where these artists are at, and we know exactly how to help them. And this is what we all about. So, apart from just this “ISIS” remix, there’s gonna be other opportunities that we give to independent artists. You feel me? So it all goes hand in hand with what we doing with Tully.
Lynch: That’s dope. You know, you said on Twitter, you made “Ye Not Crazy” after you watched “Jeen-Yuhs.”
Lucas: A hundred percent.
Lynch: What did you take away from that doc as an independent artist?
Lucas: Man, watching that documentary just reminded me of my journey. The only difference is he documented everything. He had a camera man with him at all times, documenting everything. So everything that he was going through, I went through. Going to labels. You know what I’m saying? Begging for a chance. You know, trying to.. anybody that I could build a relationship with, playing them my stuff. Getting shut down in the studio. People not really listening to some of my sh-t. It was just reminding me of my journey.
Joshi: When I took him to the BET cypher, he just like turned up to like some online one, and then they pulled him to the side and put him on the TV one. Like in 2015?
Joshi: You know, and this was him. Someone said he should go there. He might get on the BET cypher. He gets there. It’s not for the actual BET cypher. It’s for like this online contest or whatever, right? From that, he meets Busta Rhymes and, boom, then he gets the word up that he should actually be on the real cypher. He stays there one day. The next day, he ends up on stage doing the actual BET cyber, the real one that’s televised. Us seeing his fans just grow, you know what I mean? Like stages. He had like 700 subscribers. He’s now got about 5.3 million. 4.8 million Facebook followers. You know?
Lynch: Congrats on that sh-t.
Lucas: But bro, this is all independent. This ain’t with the machine. Even when we was signed, we were still independent while we were signed. I don’t even know if that..
Joshi: If people look at his Twitter, one of his tweets, he mentions, he released, when we were signed over at Atlantic Records, he got on the phone, he was like, “Dhruv release that sh-t right now.” And I was like, “What do you mean? Give me a second.” He’s like, “Nope. Put it out right now. It doesn’t have to go through them.” The record went out through TuneCore. It went out through an independent distributor. I’m not racist. It went out through an independent distributor. It went out through TuneCore. It didn’t go out through Atlantic Records. That went out for $50. Ended up on the front page of CNN within 24 hours. And then three days later, Atlantic Records claimed the record, ’cause we were signed there. That went against the machine. The minute we did this independently and we could see we could do it against the machine, and we knew how to make it work, it wasn’t them making this work, it was us making this work, I think all the fear just left. That’s what I saw in Joyner. All the fear just left. Yeah. He said, “I’m fed up. I’m tired of this sh-t. I want to do it myself.”
Lucas: But it was confirmation to me that I can do this sh-t without an entity. And it can go crazy without the.. To me, it was like, at that point, there is no machine. I am the machine. I am the person that drives this sh-t. I am the one that dictates this sh-t. There is no f—ing machine. There’s no magic involved.
Joshi: But when you look at the Kanye documentary, you’re like, “He was the machine.” His person.
Joshi: When he said that, that’s what I think, because I’m like, I’ve seen the journey. I’m like, where’s his mind at? I’m like, “Man, f—.” Like he gets it. You know what I mean? There’s a lot of similarities there. Like for me, when I watch that documentary, I can relate to it a lot, ’cause I’ve seen the outside perspective of Joyner’s life, the growth from zero to where it’s at right now, you know? And, to me, I think he’s actually the biggest independent artist, ’cause a lot of artists, their music catalogs are buried at a record label. They might be independent now, but a lot of their music is buried with a record label somewhere. Joyner’s been independent from his first album, which is “ADHD.” That’s his first album. He was independent from that first album. Everything before that was mixtapes. So everyone else might have six, seven albums, if they’re the biggest independent artist. Joyner has one actual album, you know? So to me, Joyner is the biggest independent artist in the world. ‘Cause who else off of one album is independent at that level.
Lynch: I mean..
Joshi: You know what I mean?
Lynch: You got the, uh.. the right to it. To that title. Joyner, what do you see.. just in closing here, what do you see in the process of putting together a follow up to “ADHD”? How are you thinking about that?
Lucas: So, I already got the concept. It’s gonna be completely different than “ADHD.” Concept is already done. I’m already working on it right now. And again, it’s just gonna be a completely different concept. I can’t really say much other than that. It’s a whole completely different concept. And yeah, I’m in a different place now, so it’s gonna be relevant to that for sure.