EXCLUSIVE Interview: Rolling Deep with the Squad of Knights and Illmind

Thousands of music artists come together to collaborate through Squad of Knights NFTs.

If you have an interest in cryptocurrency you will surely read about Peter Thiel’s keynote speech at Bitcoin Miami 2022. Thiel gave the audience a clear, compelling narrative – Bitcoin ($BTC) is ideally beyond regulation, immune to “wokeness” (whatever that means in this context), and that Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) is the enemy of BTC. 

“When you think ESG, you should be thinking CCP,” Thiel said, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. 

Thiel is impassioned in his speech, and it’s fun to watch billionaires take shots at other billionaires over the nature of money, but the idea of technology can grow without operating under the rules and sensibilities of human society is dubious. It’s a popular myth in blockchain that the algorithm or the smart contract can do it better without human interference – but if we will ever reach that point, we haven’t yet. 

Bitcoin is staked in belief, and collective belief requires humans, humans that Thiel is trying to persuade, so clearly he knows that “Social” plays a role in BTC as an investment. Without the collective wishes of people all over the world suffering through inflation, supply chain issues, brutal war, and a still-active pandemic, Bitcoin’s star wouldn’t have risen as it did in 2021. 

Unfortunately, projects are rarely constructed to the sensibilities of their audience or to serve the buying audience with real utility. 

That’s why it was good to catch up with songwriter/producer Illmind. Illmind is a two-time Grammy winner that has co-written and produced for music labels such as Cash Money, Def Jam, and Aftermath, and has worked with a who’s who of artists including Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Drake, J. Cole, Dr. Dre, Ludacris, 50 Cent, Ariana Grande, and many others. Now Illmind is seeking out a new squad through his NFT project, Squad of Knights.

Unlike other NFT projects where ongoing utility that serves the community of NFT holders seems entirely like an afterthought, Squad of Knights, which bills itself as the first NFT holder-powered music production community, has the vision to serve a community of music and other artists. Powered by Moonwalk, Squad of Knights launched on March 30 and its public mint has been extended to April 8, 2022.

See also: NFT Release Calendar

Illmind

When did you first become aware of NFTs?

The first time I heard the word NFT was in October 2019 from a good friend named J.N. Silva, who is kind of an OG in the space, a great photographer, great artist. We exchanged DMS on Twitter. He saw I was doing these really soundpack releases. 

And I made a tweet asking why piracy is running rampant in the soundpack industry. It's hard to avoid. So I was trying to figure out a way to authenticate digital sound.  And J.N. was like, Yo, dude, you should check out NFTs. And then I kind of went into the rabbit hole and I found a website called Mintegral, which was the first marketplace that I discovered. So I decided in January 2021 to release the first soundpack collection as an NFT. 

My 1/1 soundpack NFT sold for 4.5, ethereal in February of 2021. The guy who bought it was able to create a song that ended up on a Migos album. So he got his return on his investment, like 100x… And because I’ve given him 100% exclusive rights ownership, I don't take any of that publishing or royalty from it.

That's what got the wheels turning like wow, this NFT thing is real. I see a lot of use cases, especially in music ownership and community building, and that's literally been my mission ever since.

Are you pushing against unfair practices in the music business through NFTs?

I'm noticing that certain practices in the industry, just in terms of bad contracts and bad publishing deals are kind of changing… Like, MDRC (Minimum Delivery & Release Commitment) deals that used to lock people in for five songs, but because of the fine print it's technically 50 songs, and then you're stuck in these deals for years. So stuff like that is kind of becoming eradicated (but) it's definitely not where we want it to be. 

This new generation of artists and executives and thinkers coming into the space are changing it. But again, I don't want to sugarcoat the whole thing yet, because we still have a long way to go. What I'm hoping to happen is NFT and blockchain adoption will help people finally get paid not only what they deserve, but get paid in a timely manner. 

How is Squad of Knights a continuation of your passion or work?

2010 was around the time that I started to really gain this realization and passion for what I do, but also for meeting other people. So I started this event back in 2010, called BLAP, it stood for Beats Love Alcohol Party. Once per month where five or six producers would come to a bar or club we would rent out... And we would plug their laptops in. Some brought their beat machines, their NPCs. And instead of a DJ playing music, it would be us playing unreleased beats one by one. It was a beat cipher. And then you would have people at the bar networking and keep listening to new music they've never heard.

For me, that was phase one of bringing people together and meeting other producers. Then in 2014, I started a monthly club for music producers, where every month they would receive exclusive sound packs from me and submit music to collaborate with me and do contests and all this cool stuff. Then I started a monthly music producer artists meetups… So when I started getting into NFTs and crypto and stuff, I'm thinking, how can we use this technology to solve some of the problems that we're experiencing as songwriters, musicians, producers, and artists, and how can I continue to build on the passion of bringing creative people together? And that's exactly what my project is… It's a generative project and basically, each NFT acts as an access token to become part of this project. 

As a music producer, one of my jobs is to bring people together in the studio. It's all about curating experiences. And that's what I've done in 21 years being a producer. 

In Squad of Knights, we're doing a thing that actually solves a problem. And it's something I love to do. I love bringing people together. I love creating music. You get one of these NFTs and you become a member of the squad of knights. Now you have access to thousands of other creative people – some of them are music producers, some of them are musicians, some of them are songwriters, and rappers. What I'm doing is curating events in real life and in the metaverse, bringing these people together to get to know each other, collaborate, and create new music. I think amazing music is going to come out of this, we're gamifying all things. 

How are you using gamification, incentives, and rewards to encourage community interaction?

We work with Moonwalk to create these Web 3 wallets, where we can do contests. We come together and share samples or whatever and the winner gets a certain amount of tokens. We have off-chain reward tokens called $Knight tokens. So we're going to do challenges where if they make music and they win tokens, then they could use those tokens to book studio time... We partnered with 20 Studios in Los Angeles out here to be able to do this where Knight members can come in and use the studios and meet each other in real life and actually physically make music together. 

We are gamifying and rewarding people for collaborating with one another.

We're doing our first contest for our Knights... I'm getting in the studio with Domino and we're going to make a song. And we're going to offer our Squad of Knights members to remix that song. We'll give them the audio stems and the acapella vocals, and their job is to create a new version and add verses as well. We're going to choose the winners and give reward tokens and we have a couple of prizes for them.

How is the metaverse enhancing collaboration for artists?

I like the metaverse, because, with blackpoll studio in the metaverse, it's really a meeting place. It's a place that you go into and you'll never know who's in there at any point so you can get in there and get to know people. So that's going to be a very interesting kind of revolving door system for our members to see how they can connect them that way. 

We're still very early on the metaverse in my opinion… Spatial is on the way to really help innovate the community part of the metaverse. I think that metaverse is still very, not super user-friendly. And we're very limited in what we can do… But I think that's gonna change. One day we will be in the metaverse and I can render a keyboard in my room, and it'll pop up in the metaverse and then you can touch it and play keys in the metaverse. That's the kind of stuff I'm looking for how can we take the collaboration to the next level.

Are Knight holders going to be able to monetize the songs they help create?

Yeah, we partnered with MintSongs to give squad members the option to take all this music they're creating, and pipeline that up to MintSongs so that they can start releasing music on Web 3 as NFTs. And there's no fee so they don't have to pay to mint their songs. And MintSongs, has a really cool system, where we can choose specific projects and put a little more juice behind those projects. And the thing I want to make clear about this project is we have zero intentions of owning any of the music, I have no intention of turning this into a label, where we're owning something, or we're helping you push something. This is about helping people come together and collaborate, to create the music people really want to create. 

What is your motivation?

Mainly, it's understanding what it's like to be a creative person, and not knowing what the fuck to do. For example, if I played guitar really well. What the hell do I do? Do I join a band? Do I make loops and sell them as NFTs? Do I try to teach myself how to make beats? Because I play guitar really well? Or do I go on tour? Or maybe I should start singing and become, you know, John Mayer? And how do I even get my music out there? 

So there are all these question marks that you experience as a creative person in music. I ultimately have always, always, always wanted to make it just a little bit easier for them. 

Summary

While the majority of the NFT space continues to focus on PFP and generative projects as the superstars, I find myself more and more partial to more “craft brew” projects where the artists have a personal stake in the product and are offering something unique or where the audience is more defined, smaller, and often more involved. 

What’s impressive about Squad of Knights is the thought that Illmind put into creating the community and the strength of his partnerships Moonwalk, an NFT platform for creators, and Spatial which bills itself as the metaverse for arts and culture. For the users who make music, this project is all about utility. While generative projects may say they rely on community, Squad needs its community in order to pull off its use case of musical collaboration.

I hope to see some good collabs come out of this music NFT project – and I hope there are imitators in the arts and beyond. Imagine a similarly vibrant community of programmers or game devs sharing skills and resources, working individually and together to create something new. Collaboration is an effective way to make both a stronger and more productive community. 

Cover image by Sick-Street-Photography on Pixabay. 

Posted In: CryptocurrencyExclusivesMarkets

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