Rapper Latashá, 33, who goes by her first name for privacy, started her career on a high note. The Brooklyn, New York, native studied hip hop at Wesleyan University and eventually started rapping with others who'd post their work on YouTube. "Before I knew it, I was opening [live shows] for, like, Kanye and Q-Tip," she says.
The problem was, despite booking gigs, Latashá wasn't getting paid. "I started in 2011," she says, and her first paycheck wasn't until about 2013. As with many artists, figuring out how to earn a sustainable living from her work took Latashá years.
In 2021, the rapper discovered NFTs and the financial opportunities they present. NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, are one-of-a-kind pieces of digital media like drawings, photos, and videos that can't be replicated. They live on the blockchain, a digital database that tracks who the original source was.
"I put my first music video up [as an NFT] in February 2021," she says, and "it sold in like three minutes. And it was, like, $1,000. And I freaked out."
Latashá, who's now based in L.A., has since sold NFTs for as much as $30,000, and sees herself becoming "a millionaire" through them, she says. "I actually feel it happening very soon."
Over the years, Latashá worked to build up her various income streams and make enough to cover living expenses. Paychecks for live shows varied. Sometimes she would get "$700, sometimes $500, sometimes $100," she says, adding that, "I was gigging three times a week to just make ends meet."
She picked up various hustles like graphic designing "flyers and posters" for $50 each or did temp jobs as a front desk girl. Eventually, she got hired to do bigger, more well-paid work.
Residencies at places like performance space The Shed paid $20,000. "Writing the jingles" that played in commercials for brands like Maybelline brought in tens of thousands of dollars. And writing music for TV and movies with the help of a site called Sync Songwriter brought in tens of thousands of dollars as well. By 2019, she was making "around $70,000" per year from her various ventures.
"But then 2020 hit with the pandemic," she says, "And I did none of that." That year much of her TV and movie money dried up, and she had to piece a living together through savings ― she had about $20,000 set aside ― unemployment, stimulus money, and a small publishing deal.
During the pandemic, "My partner and I were trying to figure out how to make other forms of income," she says. Then her partner, Jahmel Reynolds, discovered NFTs. Reynolds is a "2D, 3D artist and filmmaker," she says, and he started minting NFTs of his 2D art and selling them. "It wasn't crazy bank when he was starting. It was like $300 a piece," she says, but it was enough to convince Latashá there was opportunity in the space.
There are various platforms on which to mint and sell NFTs these days, the most popular of which is OpenSea. "I didn't love OpenSea because it felt crowded," she says. Another popular platform is Foundation, "but foundation took 15% as a commission," she says.
Latashá did some digging and discovered a platform called ZORA, which took no commission, didn't feel as crowded, and allowed for large file sizes like music videos. "I always saw ZORA as like a downtown '81 community, like [Jean-Michel Basquiat] and Keith Haring and all those kinds of cats are just roaming. I felt like their spirits engaged ZORA a lot."
After putting her first music video on ZORA in February 2021, Latashá minted a variety of work: "doodles," as she calls them, photographs, and eventually other videos. She put up a video in March called "MAKDA VERSE," which sold for $12,000, then a video in October called "Glow Up Remix," which sold for $30,000, and another the same month, "Who I Am," which sold for $20,000.
Buyers have been "people becoming fans via Web 3.0," she says, or an iteration of the internet that includes the blockchain. "I was like, 'OK, there's something special happening with music video here,'" she says.
Most NFTs live on the Ethereum blockchain, and so are bought and sold for ether, its cryptocurrency. The figures Latashá sold her NFTs for represent how much that ether was worth at the time of that purchase. As the cyber coin rises in value, so does the value of her NFTs. "Glow Up," for instance, was sold for 10.3 Eth, which at the time of this writing is worth $40,078, according to Coinbase, a platform for buying and selling cryptocurrency.
Her NFTs have begun selling on the secondary market ― meaning the original buyer is now reselling. "MAKDA VERSE" is currently on the secondary market for 1,111 Eth, worth $4,323,045 at the time of this writing. Her royalty rate for the secondary market is 30%, meaning when it sells, Latashá could very well become a millionaire.
The market for buying and selling NFTs is quickly growing. "In 2020, a little over $200 million in NFTs changed hands," according to a spokesperson from Coinbase. In August 2021 alone, that number jumped to $4 billion.
"People are inherently creative," says Sanchan Saxena, VP of product at Coinbase, adding that "there's never been a universal way for creators to own, control, and benefit from their creations, particularly in the digital world. Until now." NFTs give creators a more "equitable" way to earn money from their work, according to the spokesperson.
Latashá plans to continue minting NFTs. She's also been hired by ZORA full time as their head of community programing leading "IRL events and virtual events," she says, and runs a free class about the NFT space for artists and collectors curious to learn more.
"I think a lot of artists, for years, like me have had to gig, had to figure this thing out," says Latashá. "And now, I feel a lot of artists could find wellness in this space." They'd still have to work, she says, "but it's working on their own terms and choices."
"I'm just really excited for that," she says.
This article has been updated to reflect how much money Latashá made on her first music video NFT.
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