How Jburn is building a hip hop career from the ground up

Clovis McEvoy
June 27, 2022
“If Jburn says he's gonna do something crazy in a tweet – well, watch out because he’ll actually do it.”

“I don’t have designs or big plans for these things I’m making, I just build them brick by brick.” Jburn shows how artists are taking careers into their own hands with web3. He talks web3 music with Clovis McEvoy, and figuring out how to adjust to finally having fans.

“The first time I had actual fans, I was paranoid. I thought they were lying.” So says Jburn, the independent rapper-producer whose bite-sized beats and vibey GIFs make for some of the most striking web3-native music around. “Of course, they genuinely liked the music and wanted to say something nice, but really taking what they were saying to heart? That was a learning curve for me.”

Needing time to adjust is understandable: web3 moves at a breakneck pace, but Jburn's journey to defining the new "music NFT standard" was not pre-ordained. Today, Jburn enjoys the support of an active community and thousands of fans, but rewind even a few years back and he was struggling to find his footing in the old-school music industry.

“I was living in my dad's basement,” he recalls. “I had a little cracked version of Fruity Loops, and I was just chasing the music, learning, making amateur stuff.” Jburn spent five years as part of underground hip-hop group, The Free Souls, before kicking off his solo career in 2020. He remembers those early years as a great learning experience, but also the sense of frustration that came with trying to gain followers and find collaborators.

“Only so many people can get this collab or this song, and I love it.”

— Jburn

“Most of the things I'm doing right now in web3 are things I wanted to do in web2 - but it was just so much harder there,” he says. “Now, there's so much incentive for early listeners, and for collab’s. Here I've met more motivated people, with more heart, and more determination. It's been fantastic.”

The jump off point for web3 came to Jburn from a seemingly left-field source: basketball cards. A long-time collector and trader, he first took notice of the crypto world when the NBA started releasing their Top Shot NFTs. Around the same timeframe Dogecoin was breaking through into the popular consciousness, Bitcoin was rising ever higher, and Jburn began thinking about how his songs could translate to the world of NFTs.

“I'd always been collecting basketball cards, buying and selling,” says Jburn. “It was about bringing that same desire into the digital, gamifying things and making my music collectible, like really collectible. Only so many people can get this collab or this song, and I love it. I think it’s so cool. It makes the collecting experience unique and fun.”

After some initial shopping around, the artist settled on Tezos and the Objkt marketplace as the space to release his work. “Tezos immediately felt like home,” he says. “It just had everything that I wanted, all just readily available and accessible. I haven't looked back since then.”

Part of what has made Jburn’s work so successful on the platform is his distinctive blend of moving images and hip-hop vignettes. Many of his songs come in under the two-minute mark, their lo-fi production, and introspective lyrics infinitely replay-able. It’s a format the integrates perfectly with GIFs, the tiny, looping videos that have become ubiquitous in internet memes.

Working with some of his favourite digital artists, Jburn pairs each release with bespoke animation that not only catch the eye but adds new layers of meaning to the song.

“I started out making GIFs on my own,” he says. “I was really digging the vibe that they could provide – it’s like sharing a story, it takes people deeper into the song. Pretty quickly I realised my own limitations as a visual artist, and so I wanted to do collaborations with other amazing artists that could complement my sound and give it more of a cohesive vision than a still image would.”

His first collaboration was with Artikude on the track Abundance. With fluorescent cyberpunk style, and a TV-cat scrolling through cynical lyrics, the interplay between Artikude’s visuals and Jburn’s snappish beats felt undeniably fresh when first minted in November 2021.

“Most of the things I'm doing right now in web3 are things I wanted to do in web2 — but it was just so much harder there.”

— Jburn

“When Abundance dropped, I was so happy with the product,” he says. “I felt like this is the new music NFT standard, for me at least.” Now, JBurn says GIFs have become his “bread and butter” and he alternates between collaborations with visual artists and releases which feature his own art.

In February 2022 he released The Micro Album, a ten-track collection that cemented his place in the new world of independent web3 music; it's just 12 minutes and 20 seconds long. “The Micro Album originally came together because a lot of people were bothering me about like releasing cohesive projects,” he says. “But I make one-minute songs and even if I did 20 tracks it's not gonna be a full album. So, I was like ‘alright, you guys want an album? Here's a micro album'."

“If Jburn says he’s gonna do something crazy in a tweet — well, watch out because he’ll actually do it.”

— Jburn

The songs may have been short, but the concept quickly grew into his biggest project to date, featuring collaborations with ten separate visual artists, one for each track, and an accompanying ‘micro concert’ on Twitter Spaces that brought together fellow web3 hip hop artists CarissaVissionary, Migs718, Slyme, and Jamee Cornelia. No small feat for an idea that Jburn says began as a throwaway tweet.

“I was randomly tweeting about the concert, and people were getting extremely excited about it,” he recalls. “So, then I just had to follow through and do it. Rug pulls are a thing, you know? I don't want to rug pull somebody's emotions. At the end of the day, I want people to know me as a man of my word. If Jburn says he’s gonna do something crazy in a tweet – well, watch out because he’ll actually do it.”

The GIF made by Loopdelaila to accompany You'll be fine, one of the songs in The Micro Album.

Looking ahead, Jburn plans to keep pushing forward: he’s formed a Tezos-based hip-hop collective alongside 25 other artists with plans to perform more livestream concerts; there’s plans for physical merchandise and new tracks are dropping almost every other day. It’s all the more impressive when you remember that Jburn is growing his career without any record label support or management.

He’s the first to acknowledge that doing everything yourself is not an easy path, and that there are some drawbacks. “It can be super hard. I write the songs, sometimes I produce them, I perform them, I promote them, I have to upload it all, and I need to reach out and stay connected with the fans and collectors. There's a bunch of things that I just don't do because I don't have the bandwidth.”

However, when asked whether he’d sign all that control over for an easier ride, the answer is clear. “I like the independence. I like that when I do something it’s because I want to, or because I think it's a good idea. But to be clear, I don't know what the hell's going – it's more of a vibe and an intuition, like I don't have designs or big plans for these things I’m making, I just build them brick by brick. And if I fall on hard times, I'm just gonna continue to chase my dream, because I really can't imagine doing anything else.

Cover art from JBurn’s The Micro Album.
Cover art from JBurn’s The Micro Album.
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Clovis McEvoy
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Clovis is a New Zealand born writer, journalist, and educator working at the meeting point between music and technological innovation. He is also an active composer and sound artist, and his virtual reality and live-electronic works have been shown in over fifteen countries around the world.