From TikTok star to record deal: Meet Brooklyn rapper JUFU

December 16, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Performer JUFU may credit most of his success to the social media platform TikTok, but an innovative music program at his Brooklyn alma mater holds just as big a place in his heart.

The artist formerly known as Julian Jeanmarie, a graduate of Edward R. Murrow High School’s class of 2018, returned to the Midwood school on Friday to discuss his recent virality, the intricacies of social media business, and a newly minted recording contract with Island Records with students of the same program.

During his time at Murrow, JUFU was part of the school’s “Music x Technology” program, called music tech, for short. Music tech launched at Murrow in September 2015 — made possible by donations from Grammy Award-winning artist Alicia Keys and Levi’s — and has since given students hands-on experience in music, film, production and engineering.

“The curriculum runs the full gamut of music from songwriting to final stages of work,” Murrow’s music tech teacher, Joe Riley, said. “So [students] see different ways to produce music, to write songs and then to record, edit, mix and master them.”

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The now 3-year-old program admits students for up to three years — their sophomore, junior and senior years — if they wish to join music tech.

JUFU and Murrow teacher Joe Riley. Photo: Meaghan McGoldrick/Brooklyn Eagle

JUFU’s trajectory began to shift this year after he released a song called “Woahh.” A clip of the track did so well on TikTok — a video-sharing app with more than 500 million active users — that everyday people and big-name artists alike joined in on the trend, creating and posting their own videos to the song.

“It went crazy but I kind of didn’t get the credit for it,” JUFU said of his first hit. “So I was just sitting in my room thinking, how can I make a record that tops that?”

Almost like clockwork, the follow-up track, “Who R U,” became an instant hit. JUFU told students Friday that it was inspired by a scene in the movie “Rush Hour 3.” Again, hundreds of thousands of TikTok users created their own videos using the song. This time, it also landed him a record deal.

“I definitely learned from my mistakes the second time around,” he said.

Before blowing up on TikTok, JUFU was among the first of Murrow’s students to sign up for the music tech program during his junior year, and he originally focused on film. Ultimately, he learned how to create, produce and perform under Riley’s guidance.

He had been pushing content on social media since his high school days. “I thought Vine was gonna be here forever, and I was wrong,” he said Friday, admitting that he’d had to start from scratch on apps like Musical.ly and eventually, TikTok, after losing thousands of followers on the now-defunct Vine app. “When Vine died, I had to start all over again.”

It wasn’t until he hosted Music Tech Fest 2018 — the program’s big, end-of-year performance showcase — that he realized that at least part of his dream was to be on stage. Eventually, the music he produced began to reflect that.

“Performing wasn’t always a dream of mine from the start. It actually started, I think, the first time I hosted Music Tech Fest,” JUFU said. “I kind of got a feel for being on stage. Now here I am.”

JUFU, who now shares a label with artists like Justin Bieber, Elton John and U2, hopes working with Island Records will help him “push positivity and spread happiness through the world” at a company, he says, feels like family.

“Roughly 15 labels reached out to me about the song, but when I got to Island Records, I felt a real family vibe from them. I really liked that they were pushing more for my longevity as an artist than saying, ‘How can we make [“Who R U”] a number one song’ and then throw me on a shelf,” he said. They’re very open to my creativity and my artistry … so I really like that as well.”

JUFU and students at Murrow High School. Photo: Meaghan McGoldrick/Brooklyn Eagle

JUFU may be the first of the music tech program’s students to catch his big break, but after hearing him speak Friday, students said they felt confident he wouldn’t be the last.

“Any one of us could be next,” a student was heard saying as the bell rang Friday on another one of Riley’s classes.

“That’s right,” the teacher said.

JUFU, who ended the talk with a group photo, kept coming back to the same few pieces of advice: keep pushing, keep creating and keep working. And do it all with consistency.

“Just constantly work on your craft,” he told current music tech students. “I’m very, very grateful that music tech is here because it gives people that opportunity. It gave me that opportunity.”

Murrow students in the program said their favorite part of the music tech program is its the friendly, encouraging environment, and the variety of work that keeps them hooked.

“I like the people the most,” sophomore Charlotte Regalado said. “There’s so many different types of people trying to do so many types of things and make so many different types of music. It’s just a big mush of ideas.”

Junior Nick Kokinis said its the creative freedom he gets in music tech that inspires him the most.

“Everyone is so friendly,” he said. “You get to work on almost anything you want, the way that you want to do it.”

For junior Romani Amon, its the variety of the curriculum.

“We learn about everything,” she said. “Even all the various types of microphones. I like that there’s a vast variety of equipment.

As for his road ahead, JUFU said confidently, “I’m still gonna be working the same way I’ve been working, just five times harder now.”

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