Have you ever wanted to smoke a blunt with Fat Joe or hear Ashanti sing “Happy Birthday” for you? Well now you can with a new app, ICONN, which is launching April 1. Jeffrey Bruce Atkins, who goes by the stage name Ja Rule, is one of a few industry veterans who brought this vision to life.
Ja Rule is best known for being a prolific rapper, actor, singer and songwriter. His first single debuted in 1999, which goes to show Ja has been killin’ it in the music industry for decades. Throughout the years his popularity skyrocketed, leading to Grammy nominations (but no wins), hit singles topping the Hot 100 Chart and millions of triple platinum status albums having been sold.
But now Ja Rule is transitioning into the tech world. He helped develop, create and promote his live streaming concierge service, which connects fans, aspiring musicians, journalists and more to thousands of artists. There is a wide array of available services, which Ja told me all about during our interview.
Fyre Fest Lingers
Unfortunately for him, he’s still embroiled in a highly public legal feud surrounding the Fyre Festival, a venture in which Ja Rule was heavily involved. People dropped large sums of money to attend what was billed as a luxury music festival, one sold as “the best in food, art, music and adventure.” Folks were excited to be on the private island, until it went south fast.
The entire gig ended up being considered fraudulent, because it never took place. The end result? Fyre Festival was postponed indefinitely, and refunds weren’t and won’t be made.
He’s still not keen to talk about, in part because of his lawyers and also because his publicist is adamant he stay quiet on the biggest blotch on his storied resume, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t ask.
Despite the people who participated in the creation of Fyre Festival being successfully sued, the judge found Ja Rule innocent. He was acquitted, thus didn’t have to pay millions of dollars or spend time in prison like his colleagues. However, he proceeded to sell a painting associated with the controversy, regardless of the damage it could — and likely will — cause his reputation. The painting once hung in Fyre Media’s headquarters, and he sold it for $122,000 on eBay (a note from Ja included in the sale did read “F— this painting”).
But enough of the past, Ja Rule is trying to move beyond the blunder of Fyre Fest and into the tech future. Besides his desire to salvage his name and move on to the next chapter, his new app, ICONN, is pretty frickin awesome.
Our interview was even streamed live through the app where people could watch and comment, and I personally preferred that kind of meeting to, say, Zoom or Google Meet.
In our interview for The News Station, Ja Rule spoke out about marijuana, his soon-to-launch app, the services ICONN offers and so much more.
The News Station: Do you use cannabis on a regular basis, and if so, how often?
Ja Rule: [Laughs and lights lighter while holding a joint] I smoke cannabis, I love weed. It’s very much so my drug of choice. I don’t really like to drink too much anymore. A little bit of weed, a little puff will keep me right, I like it, yeah. I use the RAW cones, joints. That’s my jam right there. I puff it and that’s it.
TNS: I just taught my dad how to use RAW cones — he’s on medical marijuana.
JR: See, that’s the beautiful thing about marijuana, it’s actually medicine. So you know, at the end of the day, as bad as you feel about smoking, it makes you feel a little better knowing that people take a few tokes for health reasons, too. I feel like it’s healthy for me, when I smoke bud, and I don’t know what it’s doing, but we’ll find out.
I’m also a thinker. Sometimes I just sit and think, think and think. Often too much, and marijuana helps me relax a little bit, so my mind is less wired.
TNS: Do you feel like smoking herb enhances your creativity when it comes to making music?
JR: I used to believe that when I was younger and making music, and then I had a period of time where I had to stop smoking weed because of some legal issues. During that time, I realized that it’s not the weed that helps me think of all these great raps, lyrics, words and how to put it all together. It’s just me, it’s just what God has given me the ability to do.
Sometimes people like to think that smoking weed or having a drink or whatever enhances creativity, but I think that instead, it gives you a sense of calm or a little bit of courage, like liquor. For instance, some people are not used to going into a studio and recording in front of a lot of people. Everyone has kind of like their method in how they do things.
Before I became famous, I’d be in the studio by myself all the time recording because nobody wanted to be in there with me [laughs], but after you become famous, everybody wants to be in the studio watching your sessions. So now it becomes a show. It’s like you’re on stage and that creativity — it’s to the point now where I’m like, am I performing or creating?
That can become an issue, but I found that weed helps me in public settings. Smoking helps me settle down and realize, alright, this is part of my new process, and people want to see it happening now. We made magic, and now people want to actually see the magic.
But for me, I also enjoy having a crowd and knowing that first reaction from my peoples. That’s important and cannabis helped me learn to deal with it.
TNS: In what ways has weed benefited your relationships?
JR: I think edibles or joints bring the tension down in my marriage, less arguments. When we’re both high, we don’t even got the energy man, like I’m good, listen [laughs.] So you know, weed is definitely really good, and I don’t even want to call it a drug anymore because it’s legal, it’s medicine…food for the soul.
TNS: For decades, hip hop artists have been targeted by law enforcement for possession of marijuana. It’s been a recurring issue. So what do you make of the hip hop artists like Master P, Jay-Z and others who are now launching their own legal cannabis labels?
JR: I love it. You know, it’s about damn time, is what I’m going to say. But you got to think that usually, Black and brown communities bear the brunt of drug culture. It is usually one of the ways that we attempt to make ends meet for our families. Now they’re making pot legal and the people who took heat for possessing marijuana get pushed to the back — they don’t get to indulge in legal smoking, which I think is wrong.
Now we’re in the front of it, and I think that is what’s important. For Jay-Z to be able to have Monogram and different artists to have their own strains legally is important because for years and years and years, Black people have been marginalized and thrown in prison over weed charges. Myself included.
TNS: In the future, do you think you’ll create your own legal cannabis brand or strain?
JR: Yeah, I’m working on something really cool with my guy overseas. He’s from Dubai and has a cool company. This is next level for marijuana and what the cannabis health trade is going to become. Here’s how it works: someone will take a swab of your saliva, and you send the sample out to the lab, and then the company can create strains that are healthier and specific to your needs. I’ve been working with these guys, and we’re looking to partner up and bring it to the US. What they’re doing is special, and I’m loving how I’m now a part of it.
TNS: So what led you to transition from the music industry into the tech world?
JR: I just love tech. I started to realize that tech is a different industry. Tech is an industry not like music, it’s not all subjective. You don’t have to like Ja Rule, you don’t have to like Beyonce, you don’t have to like us as artists or people, but it directly hurts your sales or your brand if people don’t like you. You understand?
I learned when you’re doing tech, more or less, you’re creating a service for people that helps them and is useful to them. So that’s the thing, I could be mad at Mark Zuckerberg, like I was just mad at Vlad from Robin Hood, you know, the CEO of Robin Hood for the whole thing. But I haven’t left Robin Hood [laughs] because I like Robin Hood! I like what it does for me. And that’s the same thing with tech, with any other tech thing, you know. It’s just different. It’s not subjective. I don’t have to be in love with the owner of said company to still use the company, and that’s the difference.
TNS: You just have to like the services and what they offer.
JR: You just have to like what they’re building and creating, and that’s what it should be about. With music, it should be about the music, you know, it should be about what we do, what we create, that’s what you go and buy. You’re not buying our life story. With social media, everybody is privy to everything, and so now “I don’t like the way this guy eats his spaghetti, so I don’t like him anymore! He puts sugar in it instead of eating it regular.”
So, it has become like this and it’s tough to kind of walk on eggshells to sell a product. People want to be themselves, too. No one wants to be themselves more than artists, all celebrities, because sometimes we have to act like different people in different settings. I’m very happy that I don’t have to be that guy. People kind of know what I am and what I do and who I am, so I get to move and shake like that.
But there’s a lot of artists that are living two separate lives. Sometimes they’re in the spotlight, and then other times, a different person behind closed doors. When people find out what the artist is like when behind closed doors, they’re like, holy shit, I don’t like this guy anymore. But he’s just a regular person, he’s normal like me and you, doing normal things.
ICONN is really cool because I wanted to build something different. This is what we call a live streaming marketplace where we allow artists to monetize here in a lot of ways and I think that’s the next level, the next step of social media.
TNS: Can you tell us a little bit of information about your new business venture, ICONN?
JR: Sure, I mean, people like to ask me, what would you compare it to? And I’m just at the point now where I’m like, nothing. The app is growing and going to be something like you’ve never seen with original content.
Everyone is going to have their own merch store where they’re able to sell their products and more. So you know, these are things we’re still adding in. There are components we’ve implemented on this platform that no other platform has. I want to see what kind of legs the artists will have being able to actually charge for their live session.
Now, I know it sounds like nobody’s done it, no one has actually said, “Alright, I’m going live and I’m charging $5 for it, and y’all gotta pay to watch me do whatever the fuck it is I’m doing.” It sounds like, why would I pay for that?
But now think about it. Just think about it. It’s summertime, hot outside and you’re scrolling on ICONN, and you go past, I don’t know, Drake’s page, and there’s a lock on the screen, and the screen says, “Drake’s Summer Pool Party.” For $1 or $5? Let me see what’s happening, man! You understand? That’s the difference of what ICONN can become and will be.
These little things can have legs that nobody’s thought about. Because people are so into pop culture and let’s put it this way, people are also very nosy. I think people would want to tag in to see something like that if it was for $1 or $2 or whatever. But now you think about that on a large scale. Drake has millions and millions of followers. These guys would probably make $100,000 just for going live? $200,000? Who knows?
I know a lot of people like to think, well wow, damn, these guys are making a lot of money doing this, like why would we want to create an app that only makes the rich richer? But here’s when you start to think about the trickle-down effect like what they try to do with taxes, where they say, let’s lessen the taxes for the rich so that maybe the poor will catch the trickle-down effect — they want to spend more money, they want to invest, they want to this, they want to that. Well, that’s what I’m looking at with ICONN.
Every aspect of this app is charitable. So if I go live and want to charge for doing so, I can donate a portion of the profits I’d make to charity. What I see happening is the trickle-down effect like no other. Artists are gonna donate to charities at a high clip on ICONN if they’re making good money. It’s trickling down, and now we’re putting money back into our communities, cancer and AIDS research, and you know, pandemic relief, even front-line responders. All of this stuff becomes very, very possible because ICONN has a charitable component like no other platform. So I really believe in the goodness of people, especially when it comes to hip hop artists. I think we get a bad rap, but even the ones that get bad raps are good people.
Whenever there’s something that happens and people give back and donate, hip hop artists are always front and center. We’re always on the front lines. So having a platform where it’s easy and convenient for artists to give, a lot more money will be donated, and by all.
When I see D-Nice DJ-ing on Instagram, I’d love to give him a tip. You know, throw him a little, because come on he got me rockin’ in the crib, come on man! Give D-Nice $20, man! You know $20 times 1,000 is money. These are situations that ICONN can present and I think it’s going to be good for all involved.
TNS: Will fans also have the ability to schedule virtual meet and greets with their favorite artists?
JR: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve created a ‘book now’ button on every artist’s page. We’re solving another problem here, which is the booking industry. The booking industry is very archaic. How do you book Ja Rule, how do you book Ashanti, how do you get to these people when you need to? You gotta’ jump through 3,000 hoops. Call the agent, and the agent may never even give the tell the artist if the financial offer isn’t on point.
I created this ‘book now’ button where you can actually go on there and book an artist for a private live session. You want me to come and pump the kids up for the big game, wish your wife a happy anniversary or whatever, live? You can book that. You can actually book me for an event. You can book Ja Rule for your bar mitzvah, wedding, whatever, or an arena or club show, anything. It’s giving a lot of options for artists to monetize their brand.
TNS: Did the global pandemic inspire you and the other industry veterans who designed ICONN to create this game-changing celebrity booking and concierge service?
JR: Absolutely. Before COVID we were tackling the booking, and the booking industry is crazy—so many shows going on. But we were dealing with the difference between what we call hard ticket to soft ticket. So hard tickets are like, big tours, big bus tours, arenas, and stuff like that. The soft tickets are more like venue shows, after-party shows, personal or private events like I said bar mitzvahs or weddings. That market is huge but nobody is really catering to it.
Photo courtesy of Ja Rule.
TNS: I’m engaged and I want an artist at my wedding, I can tell you that.
JR: Yes! It’s a big market, trust me when I say that. But people like yourself that are getting engaged, you don’t even know who you can get, how much the price would be, who’s available, what artists are willing to do these types of events. We are helping that whole industry out.
Then the pandemic happened and of course there’s no shows going on now. I said we got to pivot, we got to get it to the point where we’re going a little further down the line with our live services. We started working on the live-streaming component and then I started to see certain things, like DJs going live on Instagram. But they would cut their music off because no one’s paying the artist for the rights to their music.
Or people did want to tip D-Nice but had to go to third party, CashApp, PayPal, and that’s too much work, for some people. But if it’s convenient and money is there, you know? I started seeing these little things and I said, you know what, this is what we need to build, something that doesn’t exist. People can’t do these things on any other platform.
TNS: Can we expect to hear some new songs from you soon?
JR: Real soon. Real soon. I don’t want to give dates or anything but I’m working on stuff right now. I’m actually going to shoot a video next weekend, so yeah, we’re getting music soon.
TNS: Do you have any final words you’d like to share with us?
JR: First of all, download ICONN. [laughs] You can go to the bio on my Instagram page, as matter of fact, just go to iconn.live, it’s there so you guys can access the platform. That’s even better, even easier.
But a message to mankind? Be kind to one another. That’s all. Just be good to each other. Let’s figure out how to get to a place where we love and respect each other. We don’t like each other all the way, yet we can love and respect one another and I think that’ll take us a long way.