EXCLUSIVE: NFTs And Hip Hop With Ja Rule

Interview with Ja Rule on music, crypto, and the opportunities for artists created by NFTs.

If you’ve spent any time on Discord, Twitter, or Telegram watching a hot NFT project interacting with its audience, it’s clear to see that NFTs haven’t just brought self-expression to the crypto world -- they’ve brought hype that we haven’t seen since ICOs and a party atmosphere fueled by prizes, gains, and gamification.

Of course, what’s a party without music? Perhaps that’s why so many artists are joining the fray with their own projects.

OneOf, an NFT platform specifically for music fans and artists, has teamed with iHeartMedia to create the Official Collectible NFT for the 2021 iHeartradio Music Festival

Users can visit OneOf.com to claim a free, random “poker chip” NFT daily through September 14 with the goal of collecting a set. Once fans collect a complete set, they will be eligible to receive a limited edition 2021 iHeartRadio Music Festival digital art NFT by Cory Van Lew and will be entered into a sweepstake to win a free trip to the Festival in Las Vegas on September 17 and Sept 18. 

OneOf said in a press release that it is planning NFT drops from Doja Cat slated in early September, and additional drops in the future from artists including Whitney Houston, Quincy Jones, H.E.R., The Kid LAROI, TLC, Alesso, G-Eazy, Charlie Puth, Jacob Collier, and AURORA.

In the same week, the iconic Heavy Metal Magazine has partnered with Crypto.com on a series of planned NFT Collections, including collaborations with Joe Trohman of Fall Out Boy and George C. Romero.

Heavy Metal’s debut collection is scheduled for release on September 15, 2021 at 9 a.m. PT.

“When I took over Heavy Metal, it was with the singular goal of bringing the proverbial ‘Ranger from the North back to his rightful throne at Minas Tirith’; collaborating with Crypto.com on a slate of digital collectibles is like taking a giant step closer to Gondor,” Heavy Metal CEO Matthew Medney said. “The next four months with Crypto.com/NFT are going to be insane — or as my partner, Heavy Metal President and Head of Studio Tommy Coriale, so eloquently puts it: ‘Buckle the f--- up.’”

We spoke with Joe Conyers III, Executive Vice President and Global Head of NFT for Crypto.com, a highly-curated NFT marketplace that also focuses on music and pop-culture artists and personalities. 

“As an invite-only marketplace specializing in art, entertainment, fashion and sports NFTs, we pride ourselves on only working with premier talent: music icons like Snoop Dogg, Boy George, and Lionel Richie... as well as some of the most exciting brands across industries — from Heavy Metal to digital clothing platform DRESSX. We only want to work with people and companies that are doing cool, interesting things — and pushing boundaries as much as we can,” Conyers said.

The first Heavy Metal/Crypto.com NFT drop is based on the best-selling hard science fiction novel “Beyond Kuiper: The Galactic Star Alliance,” followed by a drop based on George C. Romero’s “The Rise” — the comic book series prologue to his father George A. Romero’s 1968 classic zombie movie “Night of the Living Dead.” The third collection will be based on “The Axe,” a project which was recently announced by Joe Trohman, guitarist of Fall Out Boy and The Damned Things.

“I think we’re seeing that the community plays such a huge role in determining where the space is going and what the truly successful projects will be. We’ve only just scratched the surface of what can and will be done with NFTs, not to mention the potential practical applications. As cliché as it sounds, the possibilities are truly endless — and we’ve found more value in reacting to the market than trying to predict it at this point, to a degree. We try to find the balance of giving the community what it wants, but also exposing it to cool new possibilities and ideas. In a way, we’re along for the ride as much as anyone — and it’s definitely been an exciting one,” Conyers said.

NFT projects have a way of presenting all the glitz and glamor of the artists themselves, but rarely do we have the chance to hear what the artists think, in anything more than a quick quote in the press release. 

That’s why it was good to sit down with Ja Rule, hit recording artist, rapper, writer, entrepreneur, and new Head of Artists and Repertoire for Flipkick, a high-end NFT marketplace that offers combined digital and physical NFT art collections.

Ja Rule

Certain prominent creators like Gary Vee (Vaynerchuck) have been very vocal that NFTs have opened a new age with unprecedented opportunities for creators. Do you agree?

“Absolutely. Because for the creatives, it's all about ownership. Too many times in the past artists, whether it’s Basquiat or Van Gogh.. all the way up to Ja Rule or Jay Z -- we've always suffered the brunt of making incredible art but not being compensated for it in the right way. With musicians, it's been tough. It's been a fight for us, with no time to own our masters and stuff like that. 

But for artists like painters and sculptors, it's been an even tougher road. Think about how many artists over the last few centuries have died broke... I'm sure that their work lives on and it's worth millions (but) their families don't get to feed off that amazing work. I think that should change and I think it will over time eventually. And that's what Flipkick does… To me, it's a special company, and that's why I wanted to be a part of it.
Flipkick brings art up to speed with the 21st century and, and the whole business model is to cryptographically authenticate those works. So that now, artists can be paid in perpetuity and feed their families off their amazing physical works. So I think that's the beauty of what Flipkick is and what it can be and what we are aiming to be. You get that with NFTs and that's why the NFT market is booming the way it is. Artists can now get royalties from their work forever... And I think that they're rushing to the space because this is the first time in history that's ever been offered to them,” Rule said.

Tell me about your own NFT drop on Flipkick? 

“So I sold my painting from Fyre (Festival)... I wanted that energy out of my house. Bad juju… And then there was another item that came across our table, which was the cheese sandwich original photograph... At first, I was like, guys, this is not the Fyre auction here… (but) the guy who actually took the picture (Trevor DeHaas) needed a kidney transplant... We talked it over, put it up, and didn't garnish the sale... and he was able to get us to transplant. So, you know, every story has a silver lining…”

The sale of the cheese sandwich photo raised $80,000, with all proceeds going towards the medical expenses for DeHaas’ daily dialysis and kidney transplant.

Ja Rule sold the 48″ by 60″ oil painting of the original Fyre Festival logo in NFT form for $122,000.

The painting was sold with a handwritten note by Ja Rule which read “Fuck this painting”.

Was selling the Fyre painting a way of letting go of the negativity? 

“It was a very, very bad situation and a business opportunity that didn't go right for me. I was also a victim in that situation, but people don't like to look at it that way. And I get that, you know, but I was cleared of any wrongdoing. But, it's a very teachable moment. I think people should learn from it instead of always having a joke or downplaying it…,” Rule said. 

What’s the lesson?

“The lesson is to be very careful in who you do business with and how you do business with these people... I have a lot of things going on and have my hands in different spaces. If you're not 100%, on top of the business venture that uses your name, you maybe shouldn't be a part of that business venture or put your name on that business…. I hate to be a Monday morning quarterback because you also have to trust people, so it's a tough thing. But I hope people can learn from it. And the biggest takeaway is resilience. When things don't go the way you planned, it doesn't mean you ball up in the corner and die. You get up off your a** and work twice as hard. And you put it all back together and make it twice as good,” Rule said. 

What about laying down some tracks and releasing music as NFTs?

“I think that’s a really interesting thing about NFTs -- the music aspect that people are now starting to dive into. I really love that part of it, because it's full ownership... On an even doper vibe, you could share that royalty if you want to... So it's really an untapped space and people are starting to drop music NFTs. I'm going to do one soon. I have a unique way that I kind of want to put it out there and the business model is kind of cool and unique. Coming really, really soon, I'm gonna drop that music NFT,” Rule said. 

Do people you talk to “get” your involvement with crypto? What do you say to people who aren’t part of the crypto community?

“When Alexander Graham Bell told people, you're going to be able to talk to somebody 100 miles away, they thought he was crazy. And they probably thought that was a hustle… when the Wright brothers were making a plane, people thought they were f**king crazy, you know? This is what innovation is, some people have the vision to see tomorrow -- and some people can barely see what's in front of them. 

Even with making my music, I was one of the first artists to really step out and put melodic flows into my music, actually singing and rapping and making it like cool and sexy to do and still be hood and street. And at the time, when I did it, a lot of people thought I was crazy. I was stepping out of the box, and maybe I shouldn't go that far and do that. Maybe I'll get a lot of backlash. When I did it, magic was made. I did get some backlash, but the magic was made and you can still hear the influence today in the music and that and that's what it's all about,” Rule said. 

What was the moment for you where you knew crypto was going to be big?

“When I heard about Bitcoin, crypto, the whole idea of decentralization, and what it meant to the little guy, I liked the idea of it from the start. I like to fight for the voiceless, the people who may not be heard. I guess that's Hip Hop in me, because that's where hip hop came from. 

Bitcoin is no different than the start of hip hop to me, but a lot of people thought hip hop wouldn't be here and thought it wouldn't last. It's now the number one genre of music. So I don't know when or how long it's going to take for cryptocurrencies to catch up with the rest of the world, but I think it's happening slowly but surely.

NFTs are just another cool way of investing for some, and for others, it’s about buying really, really cool art. All of this stuff is subjective -- with music and art, you don't have to like it, you don't have to love it. It's all about taste,” Rule said.

Is crypto an equalizer in what otherwise is perhaps an unfair system?

“To me, it's equivalent to the Gold Rush, but instead of everybody going out West to try to find gold. But instead, it's kind of like everybody's hitting their computer trying to find gold. 

It gives people an opportunity and a chance to be a part of something, while it's in its infancy which allows for greater growth...  So I think people enjoy being able to get in on something at the ground floor, grassroots level, and watch it grow. If the gamble pays off, people are going to be very happy that they took the chance. If it doesn't, I'm hoping people spent just what they were able to part with,” Rule said. 

What crypto are you most interested in?

“I really, really love Ethereum. It’s my favorite, a lot of utility -- NFT stuff, NBA top shots… Bitcoin is more of a holding, it doesn't have too much utility, but it's the OG, the Godfather, and it's not going anywhere. But maybe Ethereum could surpass Bitcoin at some point,” Rule said. 

Do you consider yourself primarily a recording artist? Are you primarily an entrepreneur? 

“I try to look at myself as the best of both worlds. I still love to create music. For me, it's all about creativity. I'm creative first and foremost, and so music is never gonna leave me. I make music in my sleep. I'm saying rhymes in my head during the day when I'm just in my office on my computer. That's just part of me. So I'll do that for a very long time, I believe, even if it's not for myself, I'll probably write for others... But tech is a really cool space because I get to still be creative. Tech is the same thing. It's all about being creative and keeping those juices flowing,” Rule said. 

So, artists write about the things in their lives. Do you have any bars about crypto?

(Note: At this point, Ja Rule delivered a few bars that haven’t appeared anywhere -- not just a couple of lines, but bars with two doubles and a flip. Which shows he really has been writing all the time. Much respect.)

“It’s said that I'm intrusive in the space.

When I wave that tech in your face.

It's sweat equity in its truest form.” 
-- Ja Rule


If you follow Ja Rule on Twitter, you’ll see that he’s seriously involved with NFTs. He isn’t just a paid spokesperson from the mainstream world who participates just long enough to fulfill a contract -- he seems to be in it for the long term. As he said, he is a very busy person in 2021.

In addition to his work with Flipkick and his constant involvement in the NFT space, Ja Rule is involved with the ICONN app which lets fans book artists for guest appearances, meet and greets, and special events, and includes live stream performances.

In February, Ja Rule completed the Harvard Business School Online Certificate Program — Entrepreneurship Essentials.

Fortunately, NFTs may create a perfect situation for artists like Ja Rule to thrive in the cryptosphere with new ways to reach and build relationships with fans. 

Robert Testagrossa, Chief Executive Officer of Flipkick shares Rule’s enthusiasm for the intersection of blockchain and art, as he expressed in a brief interview. 

“NFTs are a new way to commercialize digital and physical art. It introduces the art world to a totally new segment of consumers eager to collect. It's the future of their ability to make a living from their creations. It is both an innovation and a renaissance in that way. We think it will empower creators and catalyze the creation of new art,” Testagrossa said.

There have been many similar sentiments expressed around the potential of NFTs -- we look forward to seeing a use case that really does reward the artist long-term and encourages creators to continue to bring us new art and music, validated and monetized on blockchain.

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