Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For ‘Tour Tales,’ we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it’s still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on ‘Tour Tales.’
Barry “Hefner” Johnson has been one of the central guiding forces behind the careers of EarthGang and J.I.D. years before they achieved Dreamville fame. So, he is keenly aware of what it takes to become an in-demand hip hop act.
“Them boys spent three to five years away from their families for small to medium to big-sized money. I also think they felt like Atlanta was so heavily trap rap at the time that they weren’t going to get their just dues at home right now,” Johnson told REVOLT.
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the SinceThe80s co-founder talks about sacrifices EarthGang made to tour with Ab-Soul, performing at a festival during the pandemic, and Dreamville planning a special performance at Red Rocks Amphitheatre. Read below.
What was the first EarthGang and J.I.D. show you attended?
The first show I saw from them was a Spoiled Milk show, a curated show. They had [Young] Thug on it. They had Rich Homie Quan, as well... I had just met them and was coming to see their performance to see if I wanted to get in business with them... I remember when I pulled up, I had my camera because I wanted to get the footage of their show to study it and see how their performance was... J.I.D., Hollywood JB, and Jordan Bryant performed. They were trying to put the whole Spillage Village on this little 15-minute set. By the time EarthGang got to perform, their time was up. So, they never got to perform. I just saw their stage presence and their energy. I was highly pissed off because I was coming for EarthGang, but that was also when I saw J.I.D. perform and I was like, “Damn, this little nigga is amazing too.”
What did you notice they needed to adjust for their live performance?
I watched a lot of shows and I’ve seen a lot of rap performers, and I instantly knew they were better than everybody. They were captivating from out the gate. You may not have heard of their music, but when they left the stage, you were going to be like, “Who the fuck was that?” We were actually talking about this recently. We had big conversations with AEG and Live Nation about these tour deals they sent over for the guys. We were telling them that their strength was their stage presence, energy, and how captivating they were. Their weakness was they didn’t know how to put a set together. They didn’t understand how to curate their shows. At the time, I don’t think they knew crowds, energy, and how to curate a show in the sense of how to include your short songs that people can get. I remember at one point in time, they used to never perform one of their biggest songs. They had to learn how to not just include songs they thought were the best songs, but also songs that actually move the crowd.
One of their first big tours was on Ab-Soul’s “These Days Tour” in 2014. What show did EarthGang win the crowd over?
Every fucking night. You have to realize, we weren’t getting paid for those shows. That was money I took out of my pocket, and we went across the country for two and a half months in a Chevy Traverse opening up. It was really an opportunity. At that time, TDE was the biggest. I don’t think Dreamville was really in the picture for us at that time. We were all just cool with them. EarthGang always felt like Atlanta fucked with them but they had to prove themselves outside the city to come back. Every night they showed their ass for 15 minutes and they had to. They were the underdogs. They were the ones trying to get their name out there... The most impressive show was in New York because we had technical difficulties and they fought through that to keep the crowd engaged. New York will boo your ass. I think they freestyled and all types of shit because it felt like somebody was sabotaging us at the time. The sound went out and shit wasn’t working. It was weird.
What was that backstage camaraderie like between EarthGang and Ab-Soul?
We were the baby act. We were the opening act. We were the niggas in the Chevy Traverse. Bas and Ab-Soul were on the bus. We didn’t have any tour bus or anything. A lot of times when we got off stage, we had to get rest because niggas were driving. We had one hotel room in every city with six niggas sleeping in that motherfucker. We really had to use our time wisely. The first two to three weeks of the tour, we didn’t really have any camaraderie with Ab-Soul. He was on his bus. He would say what’s up, but we didn’t start vibing with him until a few weeks on the road. Once niggas started kicking it, they started inviting niggas on the bus and shit. It was really relaxed energy. We were really close with this nigga Doe Burger. He was coming through fucking with niggas.
How important is it for you to see a live performance before you decide to manage an act like EarthGang?
It depends on the type of artist you’re dealing with. We all want to put artists into groups. If you rap, then they say you’re a rapper. We try to put people in certain areas because it makes it easier for us to identify. In actuality, there are certain artists who do certain things. My thing has always been about the strength of the artist. To develop an act from the ground up that doesn’t already have a base, performance is key. You have to be able to get in front of people and win people over. How do you leave an impact on somebody when the airwaves are too noisy with too many releases for you to catch people’s attention? How do you catch people’s attention when you’re not the type of artist willing to get on the internet to entertain and clown via IG or something? The performance will always be key.
No more than three years after you started working with EarthGang and J.I.D., they were touring overseas. What do you attribute to that leap from opening act to headliners?
It was just the vision we had for one another as a team. When I first started managing EarthGang and J.I.D., we sat down as a team and talked about global domination. We talked about sacrificing certain things early in their careers to have later in their careers. Everybody we brought on to the team, we made sure they knew these were the things we wanted to do. We felt if we did the things nobody was willing to do, eventually, we’ll be bigger than everybody, especially on that touring front. I tip my hats to them because them boys spent three to five years away from their families for small to medium to big-sized money. I also think they felt like Atlanta was so heavily trapped rap at the time that they weren’t going to get their just dues at home right now. In order for them to really do it, they had to impact everywhere else and then Atlanta would start paying attention.
EarthGang has performed almost everywhere, and you’re doing a big Dreamville at Red Rocks concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater in October. Have you all ever done that stage?
Nope, we never have. Mac Miller used to kill that shit and used to have that shit rocking. I’m interested in seeing how we perform. They both have new music on the way and they’re looking for every opportunity to test out new shit before it drops. Both of their albums will probably be out before the concert.
I was telling [Ibrahim ‘Ib’ Hamad] the other day that we can focus on the storytelling and put on a really amazing show. I want it to be a legendary night. Coming off these albums that will be out by that time, it would be amazing. We all haven’t been on stage together in two years almost because of the pandemic.
What are J.I.D. and EarthGang’s tour hits?
For J.I.D., “Ed, Edd & Eddy” goes stupid. “Westbrook” goes stupid. I’ve seen people mosh pitting to J.I.D.’s shit and I didn’t understand. “All Bad” is a tour hit. People love when he sings that. Those are low-key joints. “Off Da Zoinkys” go crazy. For EarthGang, they have a lot of music. “A.W.O.L.” used to go crazy. “Liquor Sto’” used to go crazy. “MACHETE” used to go crazy. “Momma’s Calling” used to go crazy. Anything off of their EPs. One of our favorite songs that people like from those EPs is “So Many Feelings.” People love to dance to those records. They’d invite people on stage to dance.
EarthGang left their families to perform at the Bay Dreams Festival in New Zealand in January during the pandemic. What went into that decision?
We put a lot of work in around the world. Those guys — for four to five years — have done nothing but tour. That was the plan because we knew if you don’t make hits, you have to figure out how you attack the business from another route. You can’t finesse people. That decision was made because of their love of what they do. They love their fans. They were dedicated to being on the road and performing. Doc has a son. To him, it was like, “When I come back, it’s going to be something they can talk about. It’s going to be something where my son can see how dedicated I was at my job.” This was an opportunity to not only show people we will get back to normalcy but also spread positivity.
They have some of the most dedicated fans. What are the most interactions you’ve seen on the road?
I remember when we first started, EarthGang was signing titties every night. It got so crazy to the point where the dudes were like “Sign my forehead.” They were signing people’s heads and titties. I was confused because that wasn’t that type of music. Those girls were super dedicated to that shit. J.I.D.’s fans just think he’s a rockstar. I remember they were bringing paintings for J.I.D. He was signing shoes. He was doing all of that shit. When Doc from EarthGang got the “No More Bad Karma” tattoo, a lot of people started to get NBK tattoos.
What moments do you feel strengthened your bond with EarthGang?
I hated them niggas when we first toured. They were hard-headed. I just had my son, so I was the person trying to be the adult. It was my first time driving around the country, as well. I was trying to keep us safe. One thing I will say about touring, you will learn a lot about a person... They wanted to smoke everywhere and shit. That process brought us closer together because if you can survive with someone on the road for two and a half months, you do get to see a lot of things about that person. That road will tell you if you’re really made for this shit or not. I saw that even though we aren’t where we are yet, they’re willing to do what it takes to get there. That’s all I needed to know about them at the time.