A breakout star in web3 music, Domino broke new ground with the release of Presessence Vol.1. As he prepares for the release of his follow-up album, the artist sits down with Clovis McEvoy to talk about Rolling Stone, the magic of music, and what it takes to build an independent career.
“I got the ‘S’ in ‘Stone’” says Domino, the LA based rapper, visual artist, and web3 world builder. “It definitely felt good to get one of the capital letters!” The stone he’s referring to is, of course, Rolling Stone. At the start of the year, the iconic music publication partnered with Coinbase on an ambitious NFT project: a custom logo, with each letter being designed by one of twelve must-watch artists working at the forefront of web3.
As the only musician included in the project, which launched on December 8th, Domino’s contribution re-imagines that single serpentine character as a collage of self-portraits and fragments from his previous visual work. “It cohesively tells my story in web3 so far,” he says. “The pictures move around in a circular motion to represent the ups and downs of that journey.”
It is a drop perfectly in keeping with Domino’s multi-media brand; his ambitious web3 releases engage multiple art forms – including film, dance, visual art, poetry and, of course, music – and offers an experience full of hints, puzzles, and loose threads that, once pulled, draw you deeper into an ongoing narrative.
Building a theatrical sense of mystery around his work is nothing new for Domino – in fact, he spent much of his youth as a professional card magician. “From the age of eight I was practising sleight of hand and performance magic,” he recalls. “It was my whole life; I was a professional by twelve.” It might strike some as an odd starting point for a future musician, but as Domino points out, “it’s one of the oldest performance arts to exist, and it ties into every craft that we know today. When you see someone do something that shouldn't be possible, it brings out a core human reaction – music does that too.”
“I always wholeheartedly believed in having 100 superfans over 10,000 casual listeners.”
While the hard-earned skills of a street performer have informed his approach to building industry mystique, Domino’s lyrical style and intricate hip hop productions originally grew out of his love for poetry. After joining a peer support programme in high school, Domino emerged as a leader in the area of public speaking. “I would end my speeches with spoken word pieces,” he recalls. “Students started coming up to me like ‘yo, we want to listen to more of this, but we need some music behind it’. So, I started chopping up orchestral pieces, sampling, and doing my poetry over it.”
Even in the early days, Domino says that he prized creative control, and was determined that his career path would be an independent one. “It’s always been embedded in my head that this could just be a grassroots type of thing,” he says. “But I always wholeheartedly believed in having 100 superfans over 10,000 casual listeners.” Inspired by artists like Mac Miller and Chance The Rapper, Domino pushed himself to learn the skills necessary to produce, promote, and distribute his music. By the time that the web3 music scene was beginning to take off at the start of 2021, Domino was already primed and ready to take full advantage.
“I started out by dropping visual pieces with music,” says Domino. “I was leading people to my songs through visual art, drawings, film, photography, and poetry.” Those breadcrumb trails worked, and by the time he was getting ready to roll out his album, Presessence Vol.1, Domino had an engaged web3 community that was ready to follow him wherever he was taking them.
The album stands out not only for its songwriting, but also for the sophisticated – and uniquely web3 – approach taken in its release. Beginning with weekly drops, Domino alternated between different art forms, always paired with music, offering oblique fragments of the album’s themes and narratives. It proved to be a highly influential approach, with artists like Jagwar Twin following similar release strategies for their recent albums.
“It made people think of the music differently and connect with it on a deeper level,” he says. “There were things, like hidden phone numbers, in the drops that would tell stories. There were lots of things that not many people saw, but the people who got it, really got it. The whole point of volume one was to say: if you’re here, if you’re present, this is going to be special.”
“When you see someone do something that shouldn't be possible, it brings out a core human reaction – music does that too.”
Conceptualised as the first of three parts, Vol. 1 sets the stage for a self-reflective examination of Domino’s career and goals as an artist. “The whole trilogy is an exploration of success and what that means to me,” he says. The story is set inside a limo, with the narrator in transit to win a fictional music award. As the car rolls on towards its destination, the artist reflects on his life and the path that has lead him to a moment of recognition within the industry.
“This release is so much more than just the music.”
“As a young artist, you're like ‘I want this, I need this, it’s my version of success’. Vol. 2 will take off right from that moment – the feeling of winning and being so high, and then the aftermath of that, which is what I've been experiencing this last year.”
The release of Presessence Vol.1 was a breakout success, generating $175,000 in primary sales and setting a new standard for immersive web3 music releases. Dropping in October 2021, the album arrived with seven original artworks – one for each track. Alongside the music itself, Domino also released a series of cinematic dance NFTs on Nifty Gateway created in collaboration with some of LA’s hottest young choreographers, and a third collection containing all the NFTs that dropped in the lead up to the album.
Since then, Domino has been hard at work on the second instalment of the trilogy, breaking up his writing schedule with metaverse concerts in Decentraland and in-person performances at venues such as The Peppermint Club in LA. Whilst he has some plans for further appearances at 2023's NFT conferences, he makes it clear that the imminent arrival of Volume Two is his primary focus. “There's a lot of planning involved because this release is so much more than just the music,” he says. “We’ve filmed six videos already and there’s lots of things I can’t talk about yet, but it's incredibly exciting.”
“I'm making sure that this music will be the best thing that I've ever made.”
Talking to Domino, one is struck by the sheer breadth of knowledge, competency, and talent needed to pull together such multi-layered projects. However, getting pulled in too many directions is something that the artist is extremely conscious of: “You have to do everything – you have to be the marketer, you have to be social media savvy, you have to know how to talk to other artists, but also how to talk to the people that are funding things. There are so many things that come into play.”
With so many plates to keep spinning, an artist needs one overriding goal, one centre of gravity that pulls their entire project together. For Domino, that centre is his songs and the stories that they tell. “No matter what,” he says. “I'm making sure that this music will be the best thing that I've ever made and, hopefully, the best thing that people have heard, too.”
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.
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