It's 12:59pm and my index finger is ready. I keep refreshing the page. In one minute exactly, I'll hit "Buy" to purchase a piece of hip-hop history...Well, that was the idea. What actually happened was being stuck in a frustrating online queue—despite opening several tabs at once—for the next 15 minutes. Spinning wheel of doom. Hello old friend.
Last week, Nas partnered with Royal in offering fans ownership of two songs: "Ultra Black" and "Rare". According to the press release, this was the first time that the general public could invest in Nas’ music by owning partial streaming royalty rights in his songs. The rapper was offering fifty percent of his streaming rights for each song—with different tiers available for each track, ranging in royalty ownership—starting at $50 and going up to almost $5,000.
In a matter of seconds (milliseconds?), the sale was over and my little $250 investment was burning a hole in my hot wallet.
Heading over to Discord, people weren't happy. One dad wanted to buy the NFT for his kid. A lot were lifelong Nas fans. The sentiment ranged from dejection and sadness to anger and conspiracy theorists accusing the platform of succumbing to bots or some secret white list: I WAITED HELLA LONG FOR THIS. WTF MAN. How did others get priority over me was it random? PAIN.
Not gonna lie, I let off a few bars of my own disappointment. But the fact that I didn't get the NFT wasn't that surprising. I mean, I've only been a Nas fan for like, more than half my life but yeah, whatever... 🙄 Math wasn't on my side. With under 1000 tokens available per song (and that probably doesn't cover the friends and family tokens usually set aside in every project), I knew this would be a big release. I also didn't use my media privileges to get any kind of preferential treatment. I wanted to experience this as a regular fan.
Royal, as a platform, has already been successful in launching music streaming ownership NFTs. 3lau reportedly made $6 million by selling streaming royalties to his song "Worst Case." Both the DJ/producer and Nas are co-owners in the platform— which has snagged millions from Silicon Valley investors and include big names like Kygo, Logic, The Chainsmokers and Andreessen Horowitz.
What was the real let down was seeing the coveted Nas token being resold seconds...SECONDS! later on the secondary market. People (or bots?) were flipping the tokens for thousands. And not to be a conspiracy theorist, but how did some people score BOTH NFTS? How Sway?
Now, I get that we're in a NFT bull market. Everybody gotta get paid. Nas famously once said, he was out for dead presidents to represent him. But the entire point of a drop like this is to build community. This drop was meant for Nas fans, hip-hop heads and geeky '90s rap collectors.
Herein lies one of the biggest challenges for hip-hop NFTs: Hip-hop is a culture. If anything is truly going to make an impact in the culture, it has to be authentic. NFT creators and consumers set the tone. Cash grabs or mercenary vibes will ultimately drive away true fans and attract parasites. Plus, it makes even entering the space less appealing for skeptics who see NFTs as just overpriced jpegs.
If it's just commerce, then fuck it, let's get paid. But if NFTs are a way to support your favorite artist, connect with likeminded fans and create wealth opportunities (especially for people traditionally left out of those conversations), buying and selling has to be handled with care.
NFTs can be the new fan clubs, it they serve true fans. Paper hands not welcomed.