EXCLUSIVE Interview: The Leaders of NFTs Past, Present, and Future - Part 1

Exclusive interviews with Ja Rule, Tim Draper, Alex Salnikov (Rarible), the CEO of Heavy Metal, and other leaders in the NFT space

Happy NFT season – a time for big gifts and bigger dreams – and despite some turbulence with specific projects, the NFT market shines more brightly than ever.

According to DappRadar, NFT trading volume in Q3 2021 increased 704% over Q2 and has leaped over 38,000% since this time last year. 

Chainalysis recently released a new report, 2021 NFT Marketplace Explained, which put a price tag on all the 2021 NFT hype – $26.9 billion in ERC-721 and ERC-1155 contracts, the types associated with NFTs. According to the report, the number of active NFT collections peaked at 2,300 in late October, up from just 193 in March. Most interestingly, the report indicates that retail buyers represent the vast majority of NFT transactions. 

With Christmas just 15 days away, people are fighting slower shipping and delays from supply chain issues to get last-minute presents. Fortunately, supply chain and shipping are not impediments for NFTs as gifts, which is in part why Bloomberg Wealth called NFTs the big new gift of 2021. Also, no wrapping paper required – though if you do want NFT-themed wrapping paper, you can find it on Etsy. 

The holidays are also traditionally a time for self-reflection, as Charles Dickens illustrated in “The Christmas Carol”, the classic work which virtually defined the modern concept of Christmas. 

We can’t be sure who the three ghosts that haunted Scrooge in Dickens' classic story might visit in 2021. Perhaps it will be Better.com CEO Vishal Garg, who marked the holiday season by firing 900 employees on a Zoom call despite (or because of) a recent influx of $750 million. 

However, we are taking the opportunity to revisit some of our best interviews from 2021 and check in with influencers and leaders in the space on their view of the Past, Present, and Future for NFTs.

Ja Rule

Hit recording artist, rapper, writer, entrepreneur, and Head of Artists and Repertoire for Flipkick

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“I think that's what's special about 2021, that was right at the beginning of it all – for me, it screams, f**k you to big corporations. This is the little guy's introduction into a big market and not in a small way but in a very aggressive, disruptive way. 

I think that's the beauty of what NFTs are, of what decentralization is... People get to come together, pool resources, and we all vote collectively on what moves are made out of money spent – when a project goes and how it takes off, and how it's built, or structured, everything is voted on. I like to call it the round table versus the big table with heads at the table, everybody gets a chance to have their say and get their vote, even if your initial investment isn't as big as the next guy’s. When you look at it that way, it really gives a voice to the voiceless…

The thing that I hope goes away is guys doing shady shit. Rug pulls, pump and dumps, or people being anonymous with projects, you know, those are all of the things that make blockchain, DeFi, and crypto special, but they are also things that give it a black eye,” Rule said. 

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

“(In the present) People are learning to do their own research and we are getting more good projects that are built the right way. In time people will learn to navigate which ones are good projects and which are the s**t projects.. you know, I tell everybody, be careful. Don't spend money that you can't afford to lose..,” Rule said.

NFTs Future - is the growth sustainable?

“There's definitely going to be a drop-off, and the good projects will survive, and the bad ones will fall by the wayside…. I don't know how bad it's gonna be. I don't know what the fallout is gonna look like. But I tell people all the time, buy things that you like, buy things that are interesting to you. If it doesn't turn out to be the next big project, or the next blue-chip project, or whatever, at least you have a piece of art that you love, and for me, that's what it's about. 

First and foremost, it's about the art. But of course, people come into this space to make money, let's not be naive… and they're flipping it by the hour, so you have to be honest with yourself and what's going on in the space and how the space is actually being grown. So don't go in with blinders on, try to pick the projects that you love,” Rule said. 

Tim Draper

Venture capital, entrepreneur, investor, Founder of Draper Associates

NFTs past: 

“NFTs are awesome. The ability to have ownership in something specific to you allows for a surfeit of opportunities, from art and in-game items to holding a wallet, a drivers license, or a patent. I believe the NFT art prices and the prices paid for Bored Apes show the excitement people have for the future of NFTs,” Draper said. 

NFTs Present:

“I fully expect the excitement to wane a little before coming back in a variety of forms, some of which we can anticipate, and some beyond our imaginations,” Draper said.

NFTs Future: 

“We are particularly optimistic about Unstoppable Domains, where anyone can get a decentralized domain (.crypto .zil…) and make it their wallet, their free speech platform, and their NFT holder all in one. I look forward to see what the Draper Associates Entrepreneurs do with this amazing technology over the next decade,” Draper said. 

Alex Salnikov

Co-founder and head of product at Rarible

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“The explosive growth of the NFT market in 2021 was strongly correlated to the advent of the COVID pandemic. Over the last year and a half, communities around the globe were required to rapidly adapt to life online, and as such, began seeking new creative and economic opportunities in the digital space. Through this shift in daily life, NFTs emerged as the dominant trend, empowering creators, brands, and collectors everywhere to fulfill their desire for deeper artistic experiences in the new digital reality,” Salnikov said.

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

“NFTs made a big splash in 2021 but for the industry to maintain its momentum and truly establish a long-standing presence in mainstream culture, NFTs need to become more accessible for the average creator and consumer. NFT projects will need to rethink their underlying technological infrastructure and implement strategies to improve usability for non-crypto native communities.  

The impact of the NFT industry on the environment is also a growing concern among both consumers and investors across the broader blockchain space. As the NFT industry continues to mature, projects will need to reconsider the impact of their operations on the environment and devote greater resources towards developing a more sustainable, inclusive system. 

Rarible has already established itself as a multi-chain platform through its recent integration with the energy-efficient Flow blockchain. As we continue to move in that direction, we’ll soon start supporting Tezos, another Proof of Stake blockchain whose energy consumption is estimated at 0.001 TWh…  We’ll be soon adding the option for any user to offset the carbon footprint for any Ethereum NFT minted on Rarible via our partnership with Nori,” Salnikov said.

NFTs Future - is the growth sustainable?

“2022 will be strongly geared towards realizing a multichain future, in both the NFT space and the broader blockchain industry. As such, we can expect to see a proliferation of new projects designed to bridge the many fractionated NFT communities across various chains and ecosystems. With improved communication and engagement across the NFT industry, we anticipate greater collaboration between popular projects and development of new technology designed to vastly improve user experience across different ecosystems,” Salnikov said.

Emerging Leaders in NFTs

Nadja Bester

Co-founder of AdLunam, Inc. 

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“The philosophical underpinnings of crypto that first captured the imagination of a select few rewrote the rules of what money is and how it's made and owned. But money isn't a sexy topic and the concept of power to the people so foreign to the world that adoption was bound to be slow on the uptake. The arts, however, has always made up in other ways what it lacked in profitability, and with crypto paving the way, the current conversation is a natural evolution. Why *not* decentralize art and allow technology to bring forth a modern-day Renaissance? Tech was the revenge of the nerd, crypto that of the anarchist, and NFTs the revenge of the artist. Society labels stereotypes 'undesirable' until it starts turning a profit; then it becomes pop culture. Why the uptick in popularity? Because it's an idea whose time has come,” Bester said.

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

“The proverbial 15 minutes of fame has nothing on the five minutes of hype in crypto where cutting-edge technologies are constantly being tapped for the latest use case. NFTs have already captured the imagination of the general public and in its current metamorphosis will have a much longer shelf life in mainstream culture,” Bester said.

NFTs Future - what’s next?

Crypto projects are suddenly faced with a unique problem never experienced before: Stay and ride the massive incoming wave that's mass adoption, or continue to disrupt an already disruptive technology by pushing the boundaries on what NFTs are defined as even further,” Bester said.

Mieke Marple

Artist, Creator of the Medusa Collection NFTs

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“I think there was a need—given the amount of time we spend in digital space—to have it replicate the "real" world more and give us that same depth of experience. And this need drastically increased when the pandemic hit and people were spending more time on their computers than ever before. Like it or not, digital ownership gives the digital realm an added dimension of complexity.”

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

“Building a community around your project is the short answer. But I'd say that you really want a community that is there for you no matter what, that believes in you and what you are doing market trends aside. Conversely, I think you need to be there providing constant value for your community even when you are having a tough time. It's got to be a reciprocal relationship,” Marple said.

NFTs Future - what’s next?

“I don't think generative art is going anywhere. I can't imagine an art form that is more reflective of our time. That said, a lot of the speculative money that was in 1:1s and open editions in Feb/March '21 and then in PFP projects in Aug/Sept '21 has now moved on to metaverse real estate. So I don't think there will be quite as much money flowing in generative projects in 2022, but it's good. It means that the space will be filled with people who really want to be there, who aren't there purely for financial gain,” Marple said.

Dan Jovevski

Founder and CEO of WeMoney

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“NFTs were put on the map in 2021 – we found out that in a recent survey around 4.4% of Australians have some type of NFT exposure – it’s an amazing number for a burgeoning sector,” Jovevski said.

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

“This market is not going away, even if it feels like a bubble now you can’t re-cork the wine bottle, the concept of having digital ownership of goods is here to stay.

“Creator economy NFT projects like Chronicle are doing amazing things with brands such as Paddington Bear, and charitable initiatives with Panda International where they donate proceeds to charitable foundations is an amazing way that projects are doing NFTs for good.

“There is a cultural zeitgeist occurring right now that’s a battle between Gen Z and Millennials vs. Boomers, they’re staking their claim to what ownership means in the 21st century - NFT’s are democratizing the way creators earn their fair share of the pie,” Jovevski said.

NFTs Future – what’s next?

“Even if we have a NFT price winter, it will be ok, there’s so much activity right now in the hype cycle that it’s becoming harder to stand out, the product cycle of NFTs will continue to grow, but there is a chance of a correction in the market in 2022.

“We’ve never seen a time in history where people’s power has risen to the point where people are in control of their economic futures – we see a very bright future of the NFT creator economy ahead,” Jovevski said.

David Waslen

Co-Founder Wilder World

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“During the first few big years in crypto, peer-to-peer financial technologies focused mainly on buying/selling crypto coins, lending, and borrowing. That made sense because those are the basics of a money system. But once people realized that you could take the peer-to-peer model to a commerce level with blockchain technology, that really brought massive opportunities to light to everyone. And that happened in 2021; first within the crypto community, then the art world, sports, music, gaming, real estate, collectibles, and the metaverse, one after another. All these industries went full-throttle into digital ownership and NFTs in 2021...,” Waslen said. 

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

“The focus in 2022 should be on continuing the infrastructure build for NFT markets and tightening up the UI and security of these platforms. New NFT projects can be networking with other platforms to gain reach and for collaborative efforts to help widen audiences to a specific NFT brand,” Waslen said. 

NFTs Future – what’s next?

“We’re just beginning to see secondary NFT markets gain traction, and it’s helping to increase inclusivity by putting more digital items into active markets with many different price ranges. Money has been pouring into esports, DeFi gaming, and metaverse projects, all of which use NFTs as their main attraction and currency. With so many industry sectors taking the leap into NFTs in 2021, 2022 holds a lot of promise as platforms continue to build out and more creators come online to find a very favorable business ecosystem based on crypto and cryptographically secure digital assets,” Waslen said. 

Matt Medney

CEO of Heavy Metal Magazine

NFTs past: What brought us to this incredible point in NFTs in 2021?

“I think it’s the explosion of the next phase of our existence. We have been toying with digital selves for years now, but finally we have a mechanism in place to own and to trade, digitally. That’s a first. Crypto as an industry has been bubbling for the past decade and has incrementally moved closer to the mainstream year over year. However, what happened in 2021 was spectacular, similar to the dot com boom, and for a lot of people, it finally clicked. That’s what we saw, and the ability for digital artists, brands, and more to find ways to create value in an entirely new white space…,” Medney said.

NFTs Present - what should people be focused on right now?

 “...At Heavy Metal we are adding utility from within our ethos, reading stories, chance to meet our creators and more. I firmly believe that if a project has proper value, structure, and a support team behind it with passion, it will succeed in this market, the only instability is in the projects that were trying to take advantage of the wave,” Medney said.

NFTs Future - what’s next?

“We are only at the beginning, I don’t even think we are past the prolog yet. Generative Art projects will continue to grow, as long as the utility and value remain high. Heavy Metal is toying with some ideas for Generatives and we are betting big on the blockchain and NFTs in general for our 2022 outlook. I think NFTs, Blockchain, Generative Art is a trillion-dollar business that is learning how to integrate in the physical and digital worlds, and for me, it's the most exciting time to be alive. If you’re a sci-fi nerd, which I am, what we have been believing in was fiction, but is now turning into reality,” Medney said.


It has been an incredible year in NFTs and an incredible run of interviews for this writer speaking with investors, artists, analysts, technologists, and heads of projects. The number and diversity of voices in the NFT space is the hidden strength of the market. Sales figures can be measured with their daily fluctuations, but the creativity and spirit of innovation are much harder to quantify.


Whether the NFT phenomenon is “Revenge of the artists,” as Bester said or a stalwart middle finger to the establishment as Ja Rule suggested, they combine the value and speculation of crypto with the self-expression native to the arts and entertainment world – and the combination has set off a reaction that we will see play out through 2022 and beyond.


Soon, we will publish Part 2 of this article to wrap up NFTs in 2021, with additional commentary from leaders in the space like Jordan Belfort and Brock Pierce.


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