In lieu of an image of an NFT to kick this post off, I thought a Bobby Digital album made as much sense.
In 2017, as part of a 24-hour engineering contest, I developed a cryptocurrency token for StockX, an online market and reseller of sneakers among other things (and a company that has some music industry connections, with investment money coming in from Eminem, Scooter Braun, Steve Aoki, and Marky Mark Wahlberg). The coin in this case was tied to a physical good (a pair of verified sneakers), and allowed users to track the chain of ownership from when it was sold, to its verification by StockX, to its receipt by the purchaser. The purpose of this was to help eliminate the market for bogus resellers who were making duplicates of the StockX verification tag and selling fake sneakers to StockX users. This past week, StockX announced they were offering NFTs with a very similar setup that I'd like to think I inspired.
I mention all of that because, hey, maybe you're looking for a guy who can write a blog post once every 3 months at the same time as architecting whatever blockchain project you've been dreaming up in your head. Or, more importantly in the context of this post, maybe you're an artist that is trying to understand whether "the blockchain" is something that can help your career and my resume might be enough to convince you that I have some idea of what I'm talking about.
So the purpose of this post is not to turn you into an expert on all things crypto, my goal is really just to provide a basic description of some of the key pieces of the crypto world and hopefully make a case for why you, the independent artist, should consider looking into it further. And I appreciate that learning a technology that has baffled many people who have a career in I.T. may be a daunting request for a musician, but I'd also point out that the music industry has had to adapt to a major technology change every 5-10 years at least since the 80's, and the artists that are the quickest to adapt to it are often the artists that find the most success. Just going back a couple of decades, think about these milestones:
The music industry already seems to be taking its first steps into adapting cryptocurrency and specifically NFTs. Though it didn't go as smoothly as he would have liked, Nas sold the royalty rights to two of his new songs. And if you spend any time at all on Instagram, you've likely seen numerous musicians pitch the NFT "artwork" that they're either selling or buying (Jay-Z, for example, uses his NFT as his profile pic). As with any new technology, there's a lot of opportunity for scammers and grifters to make some money off of the ignorance of others, but there are also some legitimate use cases for it. To me, the biggest opportunity is tying royalty rights and ownership of a song through the secure contracts that NFTs allow for.
I am in the early stages of a new project trying to leverage NFTs exactly for that reason, and I could write pages more on the topic. For today though, I just want to define a few key terms with the hopes that might give you enough info to go out and start learning on your own:
NFT - Non-Fungible Token, a cryptocurrency-based token whose chain of ownership is tracked through the blockchain. In plain english, it is a unique identifier tied to a digital or physical item that cannot be stolen or copied but can be transferred or sold to others by the owner.
Fungible Token - an item or currency that can be exchanged for similar items without losing value. The primary example is cash (ex. I can give you a one dollar bill in exchange for 4 quarters from you, and we both still walk away with the same amount of money even if the overall value of one u.s. dollar changes)
Blockchain - Digital ledgers that track crypto currency coins and tokens. The blockchain is used to identify the current owner of any given crypto currency token, and when that token is sold or transferred it is recorded on the blockchain. Due to the way that the blockchain is built, you can be fully confident that no one can steal or duplicate the token.
Gas - Gas is what it costs to complete a transaction on a blockchain. This is important because while you may price an item for $X, the buyer will also have to pay the gas cost on top of that like they would a sales tax. Depending on the crypto currency involved - ethereum in most cases for NFTs at this point - this could be tens or hundreds of dollars.
Metaverse - An online world that you can participate in with a digital avatar (a digital representation of yourself). There are a handful of metaverses currently, with Facebook's upcoming meta universe likely to be the largest once it launches. Metaverses are expected to be the primary location to display any art/music/etc NFTs that one owns.
Avatar - A digital representation of yourself in the metaverse. Essentially it's your character that you move around in, the way you might control a character in a video game.
Verchandise - Virtual Merchandise, a branded digital item tied to an NFT, which a musician or artist sells to their fanbase. As an example, the the metaverse platform Decentraland, you might sell a virtual tshirt with your logo on it to one of your fans, who would then have their digital avatar wear the shirt in the metaverse.
Bitcoin - A crypto currency whose primary purpose is to track ownership. Meaning a bitcoin itself does not do anything other than identify its owner.
Ethereum - A crypto currency that not only can track ownership but also can have an action or "contract" tied to it. For any coin you create using Ethereum (or many of the other new forms of crypto currency), you can have it run code that you write any time a certain action happens, like when you transfer it to a new person. So as an example, I could create an Ethereum-based coin that pays out a royalty to the original creator of the coin every time it is transferred to a new owner. A real-world application of this might be to say every time an nft tied to an mp3 is resold, some percentage of that coin is transferred back to the original creator.
As you may have seen, the crypto market is currently in a bit of a crash (along with the stock market). I won't take the time in this post to talk through the financial pros and cons of trying to invest in it right now, but it is worth mentioning some of the potential forces driving the NFT market in particular since I am here pitching the idea that NFTs are worth pursuing. It is something of a joke at the moment that a random picture of a cartoon ape can sell for tens of thousands of dollars. There are a few possible reasons why the prices on NFTs are astronomically high at the moment:
People truly believe the artwork they're buying is worth the money they're paying for. Seems unlikely, but barring evidence otherwise it can't be discounted.
Investors who have a lot of money tied up in cryptocurrency don't have an easy way to use it. Bitcoin, as an example, has made some folks multi millionaires on paper, but it is not easy to convert large chunks of bitcoin into currency that's usable for purchasing real world items. It is not too difficult, however, to move those bitcoins into other crypto coins that can then be used pretty easily to purchase NFTs. For some, diversifying within cryptocurrency is a slightly safer approach than keeping all of your money in bitcoin.
It's a way to launder money. Let's say you've made a million dollars from some sort of criminal activity - it's hard to put that money to use without drawing some attention from the IRS. I'll spare you the full breakdown on how to launder money, but creating an NFT and then selling it to yourself for some absurd amount of money would be one way to do it and due to the nature of cryptocurrency it wouldn't be obvious that you were both the seller and the buyer.
I don't know if any of the above adequately explain the amount of money Quavo has allegedly made off of his NFTs, but the uncertainty around what is driving the NFT market suggests there is a pretty limited amount of time that they'll be worth as much as they are today. So if you want to act quickly you might still be able to use NFTs as an avenue for a quick shot at becoming a millionaire, but I think the longer term play here is to leverage NFTs for a way of ensuring you are able to keep and track the ownership of the digital music you are creating.
That's my sales pitch for today, if anyone is interested in moving forward on a project like this please hit me up!
Booster shot got me feeling like I caught everything from the Alpha to the Omicron Omega variants all at once, but my ears are still working enough to appreciate how good this one is. Hot off the digital presses from Ludo, Ulysses and Griff, this synchs quite nicely with the Pfizer-enhanced fever dreams I'm currently navigating through. Time to crawl back into my own personal Station Eleven until the new year, see y'all in 2022.
Career Crooks (aka Small Pro and Zilla Rocca) have a new album out. It's dope. Benicio Del Toro is not only the standout track of the album, it's one of my favorite songs to come out at least since the clocks turned back.
Go buy the album, cop a corduroy hat for your undercover underground rap head Dad, and a cassette or two as Christmas gifts.
And since Zilla quoted it in the song, here's the original source of, "I don't even rhyme no more, I explain [the rules of the game]:"
If you aren't up on NORE's Drink Champs show, you should really get familiar with it. I'm sure he's breaking a whole lot of journalism protocols with his approach to interviewing, but he has a knack for getting some great stories out of his guests. One of the best episodes is a recent one with MC Serch, a guy who refers to himself as the Forrest Gump of hip hop and makes a pretty strong case for the title. The episode covers a ton of ground - from dropping the science on the infamous "Serchlight Publishing" line on Takeover to talking through the importance of owning your own publishing - but what caught my attention was the names he called out as new rappers that he's most interested in. This is a guy who has had a hand in signing some of the greatest emcees of all time, Nas being at the top of the list, so he's got a proven track record. So I pulled up a couple songs from the rappers that he name dropped:
First up is S.U.R.F., a 21 year old out of Atlanta. I've never been a huge fan of auto-tuned choruses, but his actual rapping is legit and has me bookmarking his bandcamp page for future releases.
SURF is still very much under the radar, but Serch's second pick OT The Real has a bit higher profile in part thanks to his 2020 song God's House getting the attention of Shaq. You can check for all of the Philly-based rappers music over at his IG page.
If you're still checking for this site, you're likely aware of the "origin story" of 33jones. While not literally true if you go by the domain registration date, in many ways today is the 20th anniversary of the site. My brother and I regrouped at our parents' house a few days after 9/11 and had this idea that we could build this site into something profitable enough to keep us from having to work in Manhattan ever again. Mission not quite accomplished, and on a less somber day I'll take some time to talk through the highs and the lows of the past two decades of this site. In the meantime if you really want to revisit the past, here's the last time I wrote about it on the 5th anniversary.
For today, I wanted to do two things: take a minute to remember the great folks that we lost that day, and, in keeping with the theme of this site, do something music related. The latter is easier, so let's tackle that first. There were a ton of songs that came out in the post-911 environment, from cash grabs to truly heartfelt efforts, but Petey Pablo's Raise Up is the one song that I always associate with it. The song had come out just a couple of weeks before 9/11, and despite it being from the south the song was getting constant play on Hot 97 at the time in between Aaliyah tributes. Pablo eventually tried to cash in on the moment by doing a "patriotic" remix of the song, but this is the version that, for better or worse, brings me back to that specific moment in 2001. I vividly remember it playing in my car as I raced over to my mom's house to find out if my dad had gone into work that day (thankfully he was travelling for work that day rather than going to his office at WTC).
More importantly, as I try to do every time this year I want to shout out the friends I lost on 9/11. I wish I could've seen you all in your forties, I'm sure you would be doing amazing things. Peace to Bryan, Kevin, Al, Welles, Kevin, and Amy. Miss you all a lot.
Since we last broke bread during the Pox-eclipse of the Vandals and Visigoths, several of you have bravely crossed into Tomorrow Morrow Land, guided by messenger RNA and other magic, and begun living your best lives, reviving the indoor dining industry, and breathing that Perri-air like it's all good once again. Me, I stay locked down in my cave, banging on this keyboard like an infinite monkey in an attempt to find the next great brick-and-mortar game store and become a Robinhood trillionaire (plug time: go check out my half finished project stoxxer.com, tell a friend!).
So yeah, I've been busy. You have too, I bet. But there are a couple of great new projects that have forced me to risk contamination and emerge from my protective bubble just long enough to ramble on a bit and broadcast some links, and I assure you they are worth finding time in your own busy schedule to listen to.
First up is an instrumental album from The Elohim, a production crew of Biblical proportions made up of 33jones fam Bless1 and newcomer Castro. You would never guess after listening to it that this very polished 7 track release called Sharp Metal Objects is the first thing Castro has ever put out. The album would work incredibly well as the score to a high budget crime flick, but is also a great one to load up into your headphones and help you feel like a badass right before you jump into your daily standup Zoom call and tell us all what TPS reports you plan to get done today. The lead track off of the album is The Sharpening Stone, linked up at the top of this post, but every track on here is strong enough to stand on its own.
For all of the many ways you can consume this album, go to The Elohim's link page over here: The Elohim Stream links
In equally important news, the day one homie Zilla Rocca has teamed up with the day one-and-a-half homie Alex Ludovico to release a brand new album, Cocaine & Therapy as a joint release under Insubordinate Records and Three Dollar Pistol. This is hot off the presses - I've had time to listen to it all of once - but just on the strength of everything they've put out over the past decade combined with the 60 or so minutes I've taken to digest the album, I am more than confident enough to recommend you go stop whatever it is you're doing (I mean, what you're doing is reading this so maybe don't stop until you finish up here. yaddadimean and all that.) and go check it out. The first single from the album is Hitters On Deck:
Zilla and the Insubordinate crew have become really good at creating merchandise, and this album release is no exception. There are hats, shirts, hell Ludo might even offer up some actual Cocaine-based therapy if you buy enough copies and can make your way down to Nashville. It all looks legit, so if you have a few bucks to spare go cop some of that too:
There are only so many times I can listen to Infamous in a day, though, so hearing that Prodigy's one-time mentee Flee Lord had put out a tribute to him ("In the Name of Prodigy") featuring beats from Havoc was about as good a Christmas gift as I could have asked for. It's got features from Raekwon, Busta, Prodigy's daughter, and a handful of other rappers that should be familiar to anyone who is still keeping up with that ol' NY sound. It's a quick ten tracks, all of them are easy listening, and well worth your time if you at all a fan of Mobb Deep. You can check out the full thing on Spotify.
And while I'm still in a NY State of Mind today, here's an older clip from one of Flee Lord's affiliates Eto:
So maybe this is due to the fact that I am just not checking for hip hop blogs these days (no shots, y'all are great, it's just that the five minutes during the day that I get between work and preventing a one year old child from deliberately concussing himself are spent reclaiming the remnants of my sanity), but I completely missed one of the best rap-related movies of recent memory and I'm surprised I haven't heard more about it. Hell, the fact that the soundtrack includes a song with Ghost, Nas and Styles P on it would have been enough to bring down Wordpress' servers back in the day. And while I'm sure that someone can point me to dozens of articles about Radha Blank'sThe Forty Year Old Version, my only exposure to it prior to sitting down and watching it was the Netflix blurb that didn't really do the movie justice.
If Netflix had described The Forty Year Old Version as a movie about a Brooklynite from the "Golden Age" generation trying to start a music career, they'd have gotten my view from day one. That likely would have turned off some of its targeted audience, but hey, you gotta make some sacrifices to catch my attention. Rather than try to write some sort of review of the movie, I'll just throw up the trailer to it:
Throughout the pandemic, hip hop has really been leading the way in finding new ways to deliver music to its fans. Almost from day one of the quarantine, D Nice turned IG Live into a respectable online venue for djs and Verzuz battles survived a few early technical difficulties to solidify itself as a platform that I'd imagine will be used well after COVID becomes a thing of the past. One area that hip hop has lagged behind other genres, though, is in delivering an actual concert. Prior to Culture Shock, which I'm going to get to in a minute, I had seen several EDM-style online music festivals and concerts, but hadn't seen anything that featured any form of hip hop.
All of that gets us to the point of this post, which is to promote the fact that my day one homie Chachi has organized an online music festival that is taking place next Monday, 12/21/2020 @ 7PM EST on Youtube. The driving force behind this concert is to raise money for his hometown, Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and to do so he gathered a bunch of artists from the state to perform. Headlining the show is Flawless Real Talk, who you likely have seen before as one of the finalists from Netflix's Rhythm + Flow.
To quote the online magazine Motif, who put together a nice writeup on Culture Shock, "Performances will be live recorded sessions with acts such as Flawless Real Talk, Nova One, Joe Bruce, Temperamento, Brooxana, Jabubu, Kelce, Shokanti and Storm Ford. Culture Shock also will include interviews with the artists. Culture Shock has a wide selection of artists and genres every year, and this year it is expected to include an eclectic mix of sounds from Latin hip-hop to rap to '60s vintage rock to singer-songwriter to silky soul and R&B."
Give me ten more beats like this one from Chillon Davis, some more verses like the opening bars from PR The Great, and a summer release date, and I'll give you the closest approximation of a Rick Ross album you're likely to get from an independent label. Boat Shoes is the first single off of Insubordinate Records' new release Nation GVNG, a collaborative effort from PR, Jihad Scorsese, Griff, and Bigspitgame.
If you're looking for some last minute holiday gifts with a side benefit of supporting deserving musicians, go cop something from their online store. At a minimum, you'll be impressed with the branded bags they ship their stuff in.
Here's one more track off of the Nation GVNG album, this one produced by the homie Griff: