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February 14, 2022

Rare Digital Art Festival #1 Anniversary: Joe Looney

RCS speaks to the founder of Rare Pepe Wallet about what changed on that day in 2018
Credit: Anonymous (“ICQ”), HOMER PEPE, 2016
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Rare Digital Art Festival #1 Anniversary: Joe Looney

In 2018, Joe Looney kicked off Rare AF with a demo of his Rare Pepe Wallet. In the years since, dozens if not hundreds of NFT marketplaces have launched, with many borrowing heavily from the vision presented in this early and important demo.

RCS: How did the idea for Rare AF come about?

Joe Looney: After seeing the CryptoKitties launch in November 2017, there was a spotlight on crypto collectibles in the greater cryptosphere. I decided to send out a tweet in December of that year suggesting we have some kind of event and I tagged everyone I could think of in the crypto art and collectible space (when still small enough to fit in a single tweet lol). Tommy Nicholas from a platform called Rare Art Labs took the ball and ran with it.

RCS: Were you surprised by how many people showed up?

JL: Yes. I gave the first presentation of the day and was shocked to look out at the start of the presentation and see a packed house, standing room only.


RCS: Do any particular memories stand out for you from the conference?

JL: The HOMERPEPE auction at the end was the biggest standout for me because of all the energy and excitement in the room although one of my favorite moments was the look on everyone’s face when Dj Pepe showed up to a panel and first spoke.

RCS: What has struck you most about the growth of NFTs in the four years since Rare AF#1?

JL: The speed with which the broader public has accepted the premise of NFTs was probably the most surprising to me. I think a lot of the credit goes to NBA Top Shot because it made it easier for people to make the jump to NFTs from trading cards, which they were already familiar with.


RCS: What are the biggest problems we face in the NFT space today?

JL: Knowledge and understanding of what NFTs are on a technical level.  This leads to a lot of misunderstanding from both the pro and anti-NFT crowds.

RCS: When Homer Pepe sold for $40,000 it made news around the world. Now $40,000+ NFT sales happen weekly, if not daily, and hardly raise an eyebrow. What do you think changed?

JL: The number of participants in the market as well as the increase in nominal cryptocurrency values.

Anonymous (“ICQ”), HOMER PEPE, 2016

RCS: What are some common misconceptions about the history of NFTs?

JL: The term NFT was created by the CryptoKitties team in the fall of 2017 with a specific meaning which has now evolved to include all crypto art and collectibles although some would argue the original meaning is the “real” one. When we can’t even agree on the definition of a term it becomes even more difficult to apply that term retroactively.

Throughout 2021, there was a constant battle surrounding which NFTs were the “first.” This is a bad framing because there were many “firsts” in the collectible token space; some of them were intentional and others were unintentional. The idea evolved over time, likely starting with Namecoin in 2011 which was the first non-monetary application of a public blockchain. It’s more important to study the evolution of the concept than to try and pinpoint a specific moment when it happened.

RCS: You created the first NFT art platform as a fun community project, which served as a blueprint for all modern NFT platforms. OpenSea now has a $13.3 billion valuation. Do you ever wish you had turned Rare Pepe Wallet into a for-profit company? Why or why not?

JL: In 2017, I actually started the process of forming a company around rare digital art. However, it started to feel like a job so I made the decision not to pursue it any longer and it was over before it started. I don’t regret my decision as it’s allowed me to maintain an independent voice in the space and freedom to experiment with the nature of NFTs.  


RCS: Are NFTs still fun? If not, what could make them fun again?

JL: YES! For anyone that thinks otherwise, they should log out of all discord servers and stay off Twitter for a few weeks.

RCS: What artists or projects in the space today do you think are doing cool and innovative work?

JL: It’s been really great to see the resurgence of Counterparty (the platform built on Bitcoin that rare pepes are minted on) over the last year and the continuation of the Rare Pepe Directory model with Fake Rares and Dank Rares allowing new artists to submit their work.  

Another interesting project that has flown under the radar so far is Dogeparty, a Counterparty fork built on the Dogecoin blockchain that lay dormant and abandoned for about five years before it was resurrected a few months ago.

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Joe Looney is a retired Rare Pepe Scientist and creator of Rare Pepe Wallet and Freeport. You can follow him on Twitter @wasthatawolf.