Dubai and Michigan bred BAYBY Juls walks me through landing a record deal, working as both a signed and independent artist, reflecting on the learning curves and LA stories along the way. Now with a recalibrated mind and approach, he embarks on the independent artists’ path with nothing short of success in his line of vision.
I’m met with an air of confidence and experience as we sit in a hotel lobby and the conversation reveals many aspects that shaped this Iraqi-American artist. From family & friends, industry peers, travels and celebrity encounters, the honesty and insight here can protect any disillusioned artist that the moment you’re signed, you’ve made it. Sure there are levels of recognition, funding, support and faith that a label invests in you, but why has there been a wave of independent artists that found themselves selling out arenas towards the back end of the previous decade?
How long were you with the label?
I was contracted for five years but I stayed with them for two and a half years. The exec. at the time still had the power to get me out of my contract before he left, and at that time I was kind of unhappy because there were high expectations for the last single that I dropped, but in my opinion they didn’t deliver whatsoever. It was kind of just released and sat there. It just didn’t deliver.
Around this time a lot of artists were coming up and promoting independency, and for me making the music was never a struggle, so I said why not take that risk?
How did you get noticed and at what stage did you get signed?
I was 20. I was releasing a bunch of songs, and there was this song called Barbie that changed everything. My father shared it and it got into the hands of this executive who reached out and wanted to sign me. The executive at the time came from America and wanted to bring that US kind of music but out of the Middle East. I was actually the first artist that got signed to this label along with a couple of other artists.
This exec took my song and sent it out to Jeremih and the producer of Rihanna’s Diamond, to test my music out there. They clearly liked it because they said “yes he’s good at what he does!”
Did you start off making music here or in America?
No I was making music when I was here. My dad went to a music institution in Iraq he was a professional pianist and his father was a violinist. I grew up around music, and when I was in Michigan where Eminem was a big deal, it got me into rap. I learned how to play a C chord when I was a kid, and then I figured if you move the same shape down the keyboard you can make a progression and that for me as a kid was a beautiful thing, and that’s how I got into producing. So I was writing music and producing music until I was about 18. The majority of my music is self-produced and engineered too.
As I got older I started wanting to be in America. In my opinion the music industry here evolved compared to 10yrs ago, but there’s still something missing. I see how the music industry is evolving in places like Africa, the UK, even Canada - countries that weren’t as popular as America but have grown. Here I don’t know if it’s the content or the sound, or if it just isn’t the Middle East’s time. So I feel I need to be in America to understand how the industry is moving. We can all make good music, but it’s about how you put it out there. What I’ve found out is that to make a hit record is the money behind it, it’s not the song. Labels know the people that can put your song on billboard… It’s all about the money.
How did the label support you and what did they project for you?
Every artist wants a label for a couple of reasons. They want the connections that they bring and also the money behind it. The labels really control the way you move as an artist. They can control the lyrics, and even the style, your outfit etc. so there are pro’s and con’s with a label. I’m grateful for the label because I know other artists who are really unhappy with their label. Unfortunately, here, some people that are hired at some labels really don’t know what they’re doing.
Where was the label looking for success?
The plan was to take a kid form Dubai and make me popular there [America] and then have this kid who’s ‘in the LA scene’ and sell that back here [Dubai]. In my opinion it was a waste of time and money. I get why they did that, my co-manager there was Randy Jackson from American Idol. He gave me some good pointers and I got to go to Quincy Jones’ house. I was in the hub y’know. You’d just be in restaurants and DJ Khaled is there and his album just went platinum and I’m meeting all the people out there which was great. I was on a half-a-million dollar contract but I felt that money could have been spent better.
So they didn’t seem to have a strategy other than making you big in America. Had they found success before with other artists they worked with?
With Arab artists yes. They come off of TV shows and they’re already popular. But when it comes to hip hop artists they don’t know what to do with them. In this genre, you need to create, step outside and do something that’s yours. As an artist your dream is to be with a group of people who believe in you. But it wasn’t that. The label never pushed me to go to the studio to sit with producers, other artists, to learn and make me better. They just took whatever I gave them and said okay let’s go with it. When they sign an Artist on the basis that he sounds good, okay now you have to produce and package him. With all my respects to artists, and me being one of them, we are a product and you have to promote and sell us to the rest of the world.
The label depends on the artists themselves to deliver the music, but if the artist can’t, then they don’t know what to do.
Looking at the consumer side, how do you compare the US and the UAE?
Usually when an artist makes it, they make it where they’re from and then it spreads. But here, there’s no community here. The only people who support artists here are other artists. I focus more on having an impact in America, because there’s more of a community for me in Michigan. You look at someone like Freek and he has a community. He’s in the right place for it. We can’t create our own genre because everyone here is from different places. If you go to any other place like Michigan it has its own sounds. Here we don’t have our own sound.
For me I’m in between two places, but I have faith in my music. I just want to be me and keep it original. I feel like people don’t connect with my music right away, but I feel like it’s my own thing it’s my own lane and I gotta keep pushing until it goes somewhere.
What is your vision as an artist? Is necessarily to succeed here?
I don’t have a target place, If you tell me I’m popular in Bombay, okay at the end of the day a fan is a fan - whoever likes my music. That’s all I wanted.
I’m in a position now where I get to call the shots. Look at guys like Russ and Chance they’re signing partnerships not deals. I’m in a place right now where I’m so happy and comfortable. With these labels they’re gonna put you on a shelf and you’ll just sit there.
What are the cons of being independent?
You have to do everything. Also you’re going to have to fund everything yourself that a label would normally fund like shooting videos. You have to put things together yourself, but if you want to put in a little extra work it can become a pro. But on the other hand you keep everything you earn.
In the beginning, if you’re an artist with a deal, you’re not gonna make that money. At most you’re going to break even after yo’ve paid back the money that they’ve spent on you. That’s labels all over. I seen it before I got signed.
Russ had shows where one or two hundred people would show up. The mentality here is “if it’s not from there [outside the UAE] it doesn’t count”. But I’m very grateful for that label. It gave me confidence. I collaborated with Jeremih, and where I am now it doesn’t seem big but I know and I believe for a fact I’m getting there.
My time learning about the inner workings of his experience with the label shows not any resentment but rather gratitude towards his former employer. Despite witnessing an accumulation of arguable shortcomings, there was some visible input that propelled him into the right places like LA. Perhaps, moral and creative support didn’t quite align with the resources that were made available for Juls. Where that was intended to take him is irrelevant as now the rapper has clearly found himself in a place that suits his vision best. Is it the label, the contacts, or the scene that make the artist? What I can’t ignore is the level of uncertainty when it comes to getting signed. It’s an opportunity that no musician would resist considering, but tales like these are necessary for teaching us that no-one can believe and invest in your ability as much as yourself. There are enough success stories to support the independent route. I want to meet Juls again when he’s selling out arenas to talk us through this new path he chose.
Image Courtesy: Supplied