I’ve reached the end of Monologue 1.0.
I started this blog a few years ago because I missed having a sanctuary for my thoughts, somewhere I could think out loud without having to share it with a bunch of half-interested critics on social media painting my words with their own inflated opinions, and without having to compete with selfies and memes in a stream of digital shit. In that sense, Monologue has been a wonderful escape and outlet for me. I’ve rarely promoted it. Most people still don’t know that I have an active blog, and if they did, nobody reads blogs anymore. This room has felt like my little secret for a very long time. Our little secret. I came here to write to nobody in particular, so if you caught any of it, thanks for giving me your time. The funny thing is the design and layout were never finished. Monologue still doesn’t work in some regions of the world. After a while, I stopped trying to fix it and just let it be. It was much better as this raw and imperfect thing.
I am starting a Substack on Tuesday, January 17, 2023. Please subscribe to the new MONOLOGUE on bobbyhundreds.substack.com and if you feel up for it, please opt for the paid version. A year’s subscription is like the price of one T-shirt. This is my final entry here on The Hundreds’ website, and maybe the last time I blog on thehundreds.com (wow). Thank you for reading the last few years as I’ve treaded through the death of streetwear, the pandemic, social warfare, and NFTs. I put a lot of work out there through The Hundreds, but I’ve always felt that my Monologue readers are the ones who see me clearly and vice versa.
Peace, Love, Empathy,
January 13, 2023
Typically, at the close of the year, I peer into the next and am excited about what’s to come. It’s my job to be curious about what’s around the bend and draw inspiration from what’s fomenting on the horizon. Cultural inertia is what keeps the world rotating on its axis, invigorating us with fresh stories, innovation, and faith in the future. Even in the pandemic years, there was hopefulness ahead with the expectations of a subdued virus, milder social climate, and continued economic growth. After all, it couldn’t possibly get worse, could it?
I don’t know if things got worse in 2022, but they certainly got stranger. BLM, antivaxxing, and political tribalism were eclipsed in the headlines by war and an untamed economy. Stimulus money was sapped, and we returned to school, jobs, and society, but the larger discussion brooded around what kind of economic landscape we’d be facing in 2023. The threat of recession and global financial collapse was aggravated by crypto fallout, unflagging supply-chain issues, and a universal ambivalence around work, identity, and purpose. For tech, the mass layoffs began earlier in the year with more than 91,000 workers in the US sector being cut. FinTech is one of the fastest-growing corners of finance, but projections are bleak for its start-ups in 2023, as many companies will be forced to shutter or sell. It goes without saying that NFTs are down bad. Estimates are all over the board, but trading volume on digital collectibles is down 90% year-over-year. Physical collectibles like cards and sports memorabilia have also slumped. Even social media is crumbling, with every platform losing steam, including TikTok, which is past-peak.
Zooming out, many industries like tech – that have historically been leaders – are stuttering, adjusting, or ending in this new environment. Hollywood is still struggling to get back to pre-COVID metrics, down 35% in box office ticket sales from 2019. In TV land, every streaming network has a negative operating cash flow and “the number of scripted series in the US aimed at adults that have been ordered has dropped 24% from the first half of the year… and 40% lower than 2019.” Citing advertising slowdown, BuzzFeed Inc. laid off 180 employees mostly affecting Complex Networks, just two weeks after ComplexCon. Fewer students are applying for college and the for-profit university system is one of the fastest declining industries, with biased admissions standards heavily under review and its affordability in question. Even cannabis is down because of a “weed glut.” In states like Colorado and Michigan, weed prices have dropped by 50-75%.
Inflation, the European energy crisis, war in Ukraine, and revised social marketing algorithms (which have interrupted the DTC boom), are all reasons why the fashion industry is expected to decline next year. Sportswear brands like Nike and adidas are reducing production by 30-40% in 2023. Visit any of your secondhand sneaker stores and you’ll see that resale values are crashing as well. Round Two Hollywood, one of the cornerstones of the decade-long reseller trend, recently closed its doors on Melrose. StockX went through its second round of mass layoffs in November. And pundits are declaring that streetwear is dead once again, but this time, nobody’s up in arms about it. There are no YouTube videos of middle-schoolers debating the topic, no Virgil to point a finger at. Whether streetwear’s lost its spirit because high fashion co-opted it (or was it the other way around?) or the general trend cycle has spit it back out for the millionth time, Business of Fashion declares that “After dominating fashion for the better part of the last decade, streetwear is finally falling out of style.”
So as I gaze into my crystal ball this time, it’s different. I don’t sense the same ebullient enthusiasm or electric urgency about the next twelve months. Having said that, contrary to the funereal headlines, I also don’t feel dread or hopelessness. In fact, I don’t know what to think. Like staring into a blank page with a bad case of writer’s block. When the teacher instructs the student to roam freely, the lack of boundaries and parameters are the most crippling for creativity. Freelancers can empathize – when given open direction, it’s harder to know where to start. There is no precedent to lean on, no reference to rip from, and no guardrails to guide the ball. In this post-pandemic world, we are being called to forge a future out of thin air. And this is why I believe we are on the precipice of a creative renaissance.
In many ways, we truly are beginning with a clean slate in 2023. For better or for worse, institutions are being challenged and toppled (Elon and Twitter, eating less meat, women-led protests in Iran). Antiquated customs are being canceled. Relationships are being re-examined and inherited systems are being dismantled. I was initially attracted to Web3 because of the shared premise that the traditional art world is corrupted, begging the need for a fundamentally different approach. Why can’t artists earn royalties for secondary sales? The same for the fashion industry – Why does sneaker design have to be limited by physics if collectors flaunt them primarily on digital platforms? Why is fashion still constrained to gendered lanes, why aren’t consumers rewarded for promoting the label, how can we more effectively address waste? The first step was admitting there’s a problem. Then, we could fantasize new solutions through radical design, a redefinition of fashion, and a more balanced exchange.
The creative renaissance is happening whether you want it or not. The people are leading the Web3 revolution, but when it comes to AI, the revolution is happening to them. Designing metaverse fashion and digital wearables gets even more interesting – and complicated – with the introduction of mainstream generative AI design programs like DALL-E and Midjourney. Ethics and ownership aside (a deep-dive for a different paper), creators are being pushed to adapt with, innovate around, and work alongside Artificial Intelligence assistants who will replace many of their skillsets and daily assignments. Whether you perceive this technological shift as alarming or inspiring, we are once again looking at bulldozing more rituals, patterns, and traditions. For writers, there was no greater upheaval than the Gutenberg press, then the typewriter, the computer, and now ChatGPT. But, does this mean that artists and writers become obsolete?
I don’t think so. Creators will not only persist, but flourish, although the systems around them will reshape. Their methodology, their industry infrastructure, and even their value and purpose may evolve. DSLRs, Lightroom, and Instagram didn’t kill the photographer. In fact, the technology produced more photographers. The competitive market, however, galvanized professional photographers to ideate new ways of making a living off their art (as musicians make money off T-shirt merch and concert admissions, not physical copies of music). Perhaps more profoundly, digital photography and social media reframed how the world considers and consumes photography in their environments. How – and why – we shoot photos has changed. Artists making art is a constant. Art, and what we make of it, is fluid.
The word “renaissance” is defined as a period of birth or rebirth, renewed interest, and revival after a generation of cultural stagnation and downturn. The actual Renaissance followed the dark Middle Ages and the Plague. These times were mired in societal collapse, disease, and breakdown of moral order. Yet, the art that followed was some of the most groundbreaking and significant in world history, not just because of the hard reset on the rules around styles and substance, but because art was also appreciated anew: as science, as mathematics, as tools of power.
Music saw a renaissance of its own after the Great Depression, as did Hollywood and the film industry. Again, these creative booms were preceded by droughts. Entering 2023, you could sympathize that we’re sleepwalking through another dry spell, comfortable and complacent in our artistic grooves. The rawness of human ingenuity has been polished, perfected, and programmed. It’s debatable how long things have been this way. We can point to the redundant iPhone upgrades since Steve Jobs passed and the same, monotonous Big Tech that defined the Social Media Age. All holiday movie posters look alike, and speaking of cinema, after twenty years, the formulaic superhero blockbuster is fizzling. In 2011, Tyler Cowen published The Great Stagnation, arguing that American innovation has drastically abated since the mid-20th Century. From 1880 to 1940, we experienced transformative growth in science, transportation, and education. But, over the last half-century, our economy has decelerated because we’ve hit a technological plateau. Even in other sectors, we’ve heard similar complaints of derivativeness and inactivity. Much of the reason why Virgil Abloh claimed that streetwear was dead in 2020 was in asking, “How many more t-shirts can we own, how many more hoodies, how many sneakers?”
I can’t deny all this disruption and disorder, but I just don’t foresee the death of art or streetwear or any of these other embattled industries and cultures. I do believe, however, that the routines, patterns, and ideologies that reinforce them are being reimagined. Imagination being the key word. If there’s any hope to be gleaned, it’s that without the safety net of history or precedent, our future will be fashioned more and more by sheer, boundless imaginative power. And the good news is, according to a recent set of studies, when we are prompted to use our imaginations, we tend to think about how things could be better. I have spent my career making art, collaborating with other artists, and being humbled by the infinite wellspring of the creative spirit. I have an unshakable faith, a naïve and almost stupid conviction, that humans will figure it out. So maybe it’s not the end of everything, but it is the start of something. What that is, I can’t wait to see.
I will say that there are some things percolating in culture that have caught my attention this past year. I’m not necessarily hopeful about them in 2023, but I do believe they warrant attention.
– As mentioned previously, I’m monitoring generative AI (ChatGPT, DALL-E, Midjourney) and even more mindful of the controversy around it. There is a lot of hope and a great deal of fear with how capable this technology is and how fast it’s learning us. It’s abundantly clear now that some – if not many – human jobs will be replaced (or reorganized) by AI. There’s also evidence that AI will assist and expedite many of our practices like a Siri or Alexa who can create something new for you instead of recite what already exists. Here at The Hundreds, we’ve asked ChatGPT to suggest collaborative partners and worked with DALL-E to dream up camouflage patterns. I can see a future where we conceptualize and execute pieces faster the way that Adobe programs have sped up the design process or Google Images curates references for us in the blink of an eye.
– Speaking of a renaissance, the destigmatization and increasing legalization of magic mushrooms has led a repackaged conversation around psychedelics over the last several years, especially for treating anxiety and depression. With regards to recreational use, Gen Z is gravitating more towards psilocybin because of its therapeutic effects and low chance of overdose. “More than 10% of Gen Z adults report having used psilocybin in the past six months, versus 3.4% for the general population.” Popular podcast host, neuroscientist, and Stanford professor Andrew Huberman recently joined fellow Dr. Nolan Williams to further investigate psilocybin and its popularity. What I found most interesting about their episode is the parallel conversation around the toxicity of alcohol and how it may fall out of social norm in our lifetime.
– The decline of social media. This month, it’s Twitter and Elon Musk. Last month, it was about the banning of TikTok. Earlier this year it was about imploding Meta stock and Mark Zuckerberg’s stumbling around the metaverse. The reality is that all social networks are experiencing a downward trend in activity. Think about how much Internet time you used to spend on Instagram five years ago vs. how much of that attention is now broken up between groupchats, personal chats, WhatsApp, and Telegram? People haven’t stopped being social. They’re being more intentional and private about who they converse with. There’s overall fatigue around social media maintenance, a general distaste for algorithms, and an aversion to oversharing in the throes of cancel culture. The writer Thomas Chatterton Williams said that his greatest lesson this year was saying less on Twitter. “The more opinions and views and takes you blithely send out into the ether, the more you’re like a boxer—the more body you inevitably expose.” As consumers, we may treat TikTok as TV, but for the brands and creators, how will they connect with their communities? Discord, Substack, SMS marketing, and IRL interactions are some of the leading alternatives to classical social media. My opinion? Let’s return to emphasizing good art, let the work speak for itself, and have it shared through word-of-mouth amongst tightly-knit communities. 2023 should be about cultivating deeper relationships instead of conflating followers with friends and treating partners as consumers.
– Antidiabetic medications are the new weight-loss wonder drug. Intended for people battling diabetes, Semaglutide (brand names Ozempic, Wegovy) used to be Hollywood’s dirty secret for keeping its slim actors fuller for longer. Now the cheat codes are out, infiltrating American suburbs, Elon Musk’s on it, causing shortages for diabetics who rely on it to survive, and the topic even came up at the dinner table while I was in Southeast Asia. It might sound too good to be true but if Ozempic continues to go more mainstream and expands its supply for a broader base, how will this affect the weight-loss industry, food, fitness, and all the other arenas that capitalize on the diet business? Culturally and psychologically, how will this affect a society that is taught that good health is the reward for hard work and discipline? We may also be looking at longer life spans, a fountain of youth in a weekly shot, although its high price favors a higher class…
– Finally, the trend that continues to haunt me. Month after month, year after year, there’s an updated report about how we are lonelier than ever. The corrosion of social trust and loss of meaningful relationships has led to catastrophic suffering. The obvious solution is a renewed emphasis on community building. There are a lot of things to worry about in 2023 (climate change, wealth disparity, COVID resurgence) and a lot to look forward to, but right now – right this moment – your neighbor needs a hand. Let’s be kind and listen to each other this new year. Let’s be patient and slow to judgment. We’ve gotta give each other a chance if we want this world to have one.
photograph by Dave Krugman, Mexico City, November 2022
Have more than you show, speak less than you know
– King Lear, Shakespeare
You may have lost it in the chaos of FTX and midterm elections, but it was just over a week ago that the Creator Royalties discussion came to a head in the NFT space. On Saturday, November 5th, OpenSea announced that they were considering a future where artists and founders of existing NFTs would stop receiving royalties as their work traded on the marketplace. In response, the NFT community banded together and voiced their disapproval on social platforms, viral blog posts, petitions, Twitter Spaces, and even handwritten pleas.
OpenSea’s statement was in response to the sudden surge of trading on smaller marketplaces like Blur, LooksRare, and Magic Eden that have been adjusting the Creator Royalties model or eliminating it entirely. This trend is an existential threat to the NFT ecosystem because Creator Royalties are the cornerstone argument as to why Web3 is better than Web2. For generations, corporations and industries have cut artists out of their deserved share of sales. This time it was supposed to be different.
Who was to blame? The cutthroat marketplaces trying to survive in a crypto bear market? The clever collectors seeking out a cheaper deal on their favorite NFTs? When the ETH is flowing, it’s natural to WAGMI each other behind rose-colored glasses. But after several months of downturn in NFT and crypto momentum, it’s all about the IGMI in the shadowy corners of flips and trades.
As far as the artists and founders, I’ve spoken with a lot of creators who’ve confessed that they’ve always known Web3’s dirty little secret – that there was nothing necessarily firm in place to uphold the Creator Royalties standard. It was always a charitable construct born of more romantic times. Some have been preparing accordingly, building their own marketplaces, or developing new systems to incentivize collectors to pay royalties to the artists. In the end, though, many reach the same conclusion: There’s not much we can do to solve the Creator Royalties issue on existing collections unless we can upgrade their smart contracts with a “blacklist” or “allowlist” tool to ensure trades happen on marketplaces that enforce royalties (most all are not equipped for this). Even with new collections that do have upgradable contracts, the tool could impair innovation, be a temporary band-aid, or be anticompetitive.
A few days later, OpenSea rescinded their tweet and officially declared that they’d abide to paying Creator Royalties on both existing and new projects. It was a major victory as it showed that the artists united could influence a company worth billions of dollars. It was also a symbolic milestone for the biggest NFT marketplace to hold staunchly to the Web3 ethos. Yet, I don’t know anyone who was out celebrating. If anything, OpenSea’s insinuation that they might abandon royalties was a sharp wake-up call to the artist community that after stopping the bleeding, we were devoid of a complete solution. The cold truth is that there is nothing stopping OpenSea from walking back their statement and severing Creator Royalties. Even if they don’t, the collectors can continue to edge out the creators of royalties themselves. The marketplaces will follow them (and vice versa) and cannibalize each other anyway.
Maybe it’s not a singular solve, but a combination of movements that will nudge marketplaces and collectors to maintain Creator Royalties. Overall, there needs to be more education about what royalties are and why they are critical to the health of the NFT ecosystem. OpenSea could brand themselves as the pro-artist platform, highlighting creators and articulating how royalties support burgeoning careers and inspire new art. PFP projects may even consider a path akin to subscription services or in-app purchases, whereby a collector pays royalties to access additional locked utility. Even better, if the NFT collection generates enough good will and value with its community, then a donation-based service could potentially raise enough money to propel the project.
I know that Web3’s brightest minds and most unshakable artists are trying to crack the code. From The Hundreds’ side, we postulate two potential answers for creators to survive and forge an enduring career. First, more mints. Most every traditional collectibles company – from sneakers to sports cards – builds robust brands by issuing more collectibles on a consistent basis. I address how we’ve gotten the NFT scarcity model wrong in the Badam Bomb Squad whitepaper, “NFTS are Forever.” While the items within drops should be limited, the drops themselves should be limitless.
Second, Collector Royalties.
With all the chatter around Creator Royalties, it’s worth exploring where the disconnect lies between the founders and their communities. In a perfect world, the collectors and marketplaces should be eager to honor the artists their share of the royalties in the Web3 spirit. The sobering reality, though, is that they are trying to make as much money as they can, just like the artists and founders. So, is there a path where everyone’s interests are aligned? Of course there is. We just have to find a way for the founders, the flippers, and the marketplaces to all make money on the same trade.
On Monday, November 21, 2022, The Hundreds will release our second major NFT collection in furtherance of Adam Bomb World. Badam Bomb Squad consists of 5,000 PFP-style digital collectibles rendered in 3-D art. The narrative is fitting for our polarized times as Badam Bomb is our unwitting villain, a misunderstood character that is socially judged by stigmas and stereotypes. One distinct piece of the project is that about 1,000 bombs in the original Adam Bomb Squad collection will be airdropped a bomb from the new Badam Bomb Squad for free. Here’s the kicker: those bombs are now virtually bound. Whenever the Badam Bomb Squad NFT trades hands in the marketplace, its Adam Bomb Squad anchor will receive royalties from that sale alongside The Hundreds.
Our 2021 whitepaper for Adam Bomb Squad (The Street Does Not Really Exist) proposed a brand where the consumer shares in the upside as the brand gains notoriety. They deserve this because – by wearing the identifiable marks – they are giving the company free advertising and propagating its awareness. The consumers are also contributing to the vitality and survival of the business. However, this reward shouldn’t just stop at physical clothing. NFT holders are some of the most ardent brand ambassadors of all. They use their NFTs as avatars, dress like them for Halloween, and adopt them as their identities. Doesn’t it make sense that they should benefit from the strengthening of that digital IP as well?
I’m not sure if Collector Royalties will be enough to save Creator Royalties. But, they are another pledge by The Hundreds to continue reshaping the brand-consumer relationship. And another signal flare of hope that there are plenty of answers out there. Way more than there are problems.
To read more about our next collection, Badam Bomb Squad, dropping on Monday, November 21, 2022, read the story and details HERE.
After our first NFT collection, Adam Bomb Squad, debuted in the Summer of 2021, I was faced with myriad responses from spectators. There were those who were quick to congratulate us, others who were eager to hate. More than anything, I was met with a lot of questions.
“I don’t really get the whole crypto thing, but seems like you guys pulled off something cool?”
Of all the comments, however, none was more amusing than friends and customers asking, “They sold out too fast! Can you give me a heads up on the next release?”
With The Hundreds, we’d conditioned our community to anticipate scheduled drops. Every season, we offer a new collection of clothing in stores. Every other week, we market another fun collaboration or special project. Once 25,000 Adam Bomb Squad NFTs sold out in 40 minutes, the sophisticated NFTers knew to flock to auction sites like OpenSea to buy a bomb from a reseller. But our non-NFT crowd wanted to purchase the collectible directly from us, the source, whether due to authentication, for the emotional experience, or to be the original owner (“I’ll just wait for the next one!”)
I had to explain to our community that when it comes to NFTs, the point is to keep re-selling and buying into the same collection. Reason being that the Web3 collectibles system is engineered so that most projects continue to promote – and profit off – their existing NFTs instead of consistently dropping new ones. NFT creators (of the “PFP” variety à la sportscards) generate money in two ways. First, they “mint out” of a collection, meaning they make a certain number of NFTs, price them accordingly, and sell them out online. Pretty straightforward.
The second way that artists and founders make money off their NFTs is by getting a cut of every resale forever. NFTs are designed to be scarce and sell out immediately and that drives energy towards the secondary market. This part is reminiscent of trading models you often see with streetwear, Pokémon cards, and blue-chip art, except in those cases, the creator doesn’t typically benefit from secondary sales of their pieces. In Web3, however, one of the paradigm’s fundamental promises is that every time an artist’s NFT changes hands in the marketplace, they still get a cut of that resale thanks to smart contracts. The objective is to keep the demand up around an NFT collection as traders shuffle around the same collectibles and the original creator is rewarded a percentage of every flip.
Although this model has proven to be effective with some prominent NFT collections, it can be limiting, not only for the brands but for the overall space. Imagine there being only one neighborhood in the world. In the beginning, fifty houses for fifty families would suffice. Over time, the demand for that short supply of homes would rise with population growth. There would come a point when those fifty houses would be out of reach for 99.9% of people. This might mean some jaw-dropping sales figures for those homes, but it would not do much for the “mass adoption” of houses. Those fortunate fifty residents would carry on the game amongst themselves, but the other 99.9% would lose interest and seek another venue that could accommodate them.
The mistake that many have made in NFTs is misunderstanding the scarcity model. Oftentimes, founders and NFT creators aspire to be like luxury brands that limit the supply of a product to heighten its allure. They believe that to build a sought-after NFT brand, the number of NFTs should be restricted (and they justify this decision by the high prices some of those NFTs currently achieve at auction). Yet, there may be good reason in making more NFTs to build a bigger brand and a more expansive ecosystem. The New York skate brand Supreme didn’t just make one collection of clothing in the ‘90s and cash in their chips. While the specific pieces within seasonal drops are limited, the drops themselves are limitless. Supreme, as a brand, is perpetually printing shirts, stocking their online shop, hyping hot collaborations, and replenishing their customers’ closets. Supreme is infinite. They have become one of the most mainstream and notorious fashion brands in the world. And yet, they still maintain an exclusive aura and command an impressive resale value around individual clothing items.
With traditional collectibles, the goal is not only to keep the demand around the product up, but reinforce the brands dealing the limited goods, and above all, support the space itself. This is accomplished by converting more collectors, regularly issuing collectibles, and segmenting product for different markets. Pokémon didn’t stop with their first trading card game set in 1996. Today, they have nearly 100 editions in circulation with varying price points. And most artists don’t dedicate their entire career to promoting the same series of paintings to their buyers. They’d rather be prolific, constantly producing and adding texture to their legacy.
In 1985, Nike released the very first Air Jordan to the public for $65. They anticipated selling 100,000 pairs by year’s end but wound up selling 450,000 in the first month alone. The shoe was so surprisingly popular that Nike overshot production on the Jordan 1 and flooded the market. Prices plummeted. Sales racks were soon filled with Nike Air Jordans (in fact, the “1” was adopted as the first skate shoe in the ‘80s – not just for its agile design and ankle protection, but because the footwear was so affordable for skaters). Still, Nike followed up the Air Jordan 1 with the Air Jordan II the next November. Almost every year since, Nike’s released another new Jordan design, even long after its namesake Michael Jordan retired from basketball. The Air Jordan XXXVII recently unveiled and can be purchased on Nike’s website for $185, with some sizes of the popular colorways already sold out.
Nike wouldn’t have had the same meteoric rise in the ‘80s and ensuing decades if it weren’t for the Air Jordan. And sneaker collecting wouldn’t have become a $72 billion industry if it weren’t for Nike. Nike alone makes up $34 billion of that number and at 58-years-old, is regarded as one of the most valuable brands in the world. Imagine an alternate universe where Nike stopped shoe production after the first Jordan hit the clearance corner. Eventually, those Jordan 1s might have fetched a high resale value for a niche group of collectors trading amongst themselves. Over time, however, without the infrastructure of a global brand like Nike, an endless stream of fresh designs, a culture, and a broader audience, the mystique and enthusiasm around those sneakers would have crumbled like a decomposing midsole.
There’s another, more urgent reason why we need more NFTs to save NFTs.
As of this writing, we’re at a crossroads with NFTs whereby the default royalties model for secondary sales is being questioned, if not abolished. To stay competitive in a crypto slump, marketplaces like X2Y2, Magic Eden, and LooksRare have all recently chosen to abandon the required standard. Instead of marketplaces enforcing royalties for artists, they are leaving it to the collectors to decide if they’d prefer to pay the creators. While this about-face is antithetical to Web3’s ethos, many are surrendering to the sobering truth that this is the inevitable trajectory for NFTs. The royalties cut for creators and founders was always a charitable bonus versus a pinned stipulation.
If OpenSea, the biggest marketplace for NFTs, also pivots to zero-royalties, there could be dire ramifications for digital collectables. One worry is that project founders will desert their projects. Without any future revenue coming in from royalties, there is little incentive to continue pumping secondary sales of those NFTs. Not to mention once founders burn through all the original mint money, they won’t be able to sustain the business. If founders stop replenishing perks and utility for their holders, enthusiasm or hopefulness for those projects may wither.
In the late 1990s, professional musicians were faced with extinction once mp3s and Napster were invented, but they adjusted by making money off their art in other ways beyond CD and cassette sales. They leaned on touring, merch, and licensing deals. Today, the music industry is still very much alive and thriving, even though it looks different from generations past. Artists and founders in NFTs will also be pushed to adapt and rewrite the rules, just like they’ve done many times before. Perhaps project communities will find ways to aggregate their own funds to keep the energy up around the brand. Maybe NFT creators will restrict trading of their NFTs to their own personalized marketplaces, ensuring that they receive cuts of the secondary market.
An immediate solution for NFT creators trying to survive in the face of zero-royalties marketplaces is articulated in the paper above. While royalties may die, mints are here to stay. Historically, founders are expected to produce collections sparingly, far and few between. Maybe this is because of the CryptoPunks paradigm that most PFP-style NFTs are modeled after. LarvaLabs released the Punks in 2017 and never followed it up with a sequel (I’m not including Meebits). Instead of looking at mints as a one-and-done, however, what if a brand’s drops could be continuous and often, just like sneakers or cards or seasonal streetwear ranges or traditional art (or practically most consumer goods). This could even finally answer the unrelenting “Wen Utility?” question begged of NFT brands. Instead of pressuring founders to find limitless ways for their NFTs to dance, perhaps their purpose is in the central thesis: making NFTs. Keep in mind that the biggest collectibles companies (Topps, Great American Coin Company, Funko) serve to print collectibles. It’s counterintuitive, but their cards, coins, and toys become more special and in-demand the more they make.
All NFTs have intrinsic utility: to be collectable! What makes them valuable, however, has more to do with the theater, history, and reputation of the brand backing the collectable than any of its features or add-ons. For SoHo House patrons, the membership card is useful because it grants access to an elevator upstairs. The card is valuable because of the prestige encircling the SoHo House name. Oil brushed across canvas isn’t remarkable, but when it’s associated with the repertoire and life’s story of a Van Gogh, the painting becomes precious. And the more Marvel characters are added to the MCU, the more complex Iron Man becomes, and the more significant his franchise.
Consider a Preface to a book without a body or Epilogue. You need to write more chapters to not only tell a complete story, but to make the Preface make sense. The suggestion of adding more layers to an NFT brand isn’t just to weave a stronger brand narrative, though. It’s to also boost the value of the existing collections. Take Rolex, for example. Since they first introduced the popular Daytona in 1963, they’ve gone from collecting dust in shop windows to being one of the most sought-after retro watches in the world. Over the generations, as newer editions have hit the market with state-of-the-art mechanics and updated designs, the older, hand-wound Paul Newman 6239s with smaller 37mm cases have become romanticized. And scroll back to the bargain-bin Air Jordans. The culture needed Jordan Xs, XXs, and XXXs so that Jordan 1s, with their yellowing and cracked leather, could become idealized and sacred. The shoe’s scarcity and story are fundamental to its desirability, but its early position on the sneaker timeline has made it one of the most iconic collectables of all time. In 1985, the first Air Jordan was discounted for $25. Today, the average price for a pair is $25,000.
The critical ingredient across most every valuable collectable is nostalgia. Baseball cards were originally sturdy slabs of cardboard inserted into cigarette boxes to keep the cigarettes from breaking. It took decades for the sport to grow and baseball enthusiasts to develop fandom with their favorite players so that hoarding picture cards became a sentimental hobby. The retro Nike market obviously didn’t exist in the early 1980s. The Dunks and Air Maxes we have fond feelings for forty years later were cutting-edge designs at the time. Throughout our lives, the consistent reissues and remodels of those shoes have intersected with different emotional touchpoints, making the shoe much more than leather and laces bound to our feet.
With regard to NFTs, the hard pill to swallow here is that nostalgia takes time and work, while many are here for a hot trade and to conveniently get rich quick. NFTs are still so close to our noses, that they’re not even fully defined. You see the Twitter Spaces and thinkpieces – We’re still in the exploratory and educational phase of a new technology. Unfortunately, that also means we don’t have enough distance from NFTs to indulge in longing or memory. That also means that if we want this to become anything of meaningful and sustainable value, we have to let it grow authentically, support and participate in the culture, and most of all, believe in it.
In other words, we’ve gotta be invested.
I couldn’t stop eating in Korea.
I slept only three hours a night, so I ate at least four meals a day, interspersed with salty snacks, desserts, and late-night (early morning?) treats from the convenience store. At the breakfast buffet, I encircled my hard-boiled eggs and sweet jellies with kimchi dumplings wrapped in the soft skin of chewy gluten and moist flour. In the afternoon, we devoured spoonfuls of creamy melon ice cream and handfuls of honey butter almonds. All I wanted was to fall asleep with my belly full of spicy ramen broth and marinated bulgogi and wake up to metal bowls of nourishing seollungtang, a milky beef bone soup. There was Korean BBQ of course, but my favorite dinner was at Todamgol. The best way to describe a traditional Korean dinner is: Everything. Everywhere. All at once. The perfect spread is a symphony of bonchon side dishes. Al dente ddukbokki rice cakes, eraser-sized mochi tubes smothered in bright red, spicy chili paste. Salted, grilled fish splayed open and harboring quills of splintery bones. Round bindaettok mung bean pancakes, light and crispy around the edges, nutty and hearty otherwise. The small, circular white bowls are arranged haphazardly into a mosaic and clatter like air hockey as the enthusiasm grows and inhibitions are lowered. Smooth, crystal clear soju dances back and forth between shot glasses. Chilled, golden beer collects in small reservoirs around the plates, and then eventually on us and the floor. Later tonight, I’ll enjoy a tray of cold watermelon slices and crescents of crunchy pears at the karaoke bar. In bed, as my 500-pound eyelids concede and the ambitious sun presses against my hotel curtains, I promise myself that I’ll find trendy Korean salt bread in the city tomorrow. I’ve missed this all – the people, the newness, the adventure.
And I can’t stop eating.
“A network state is a social network with a moral innovation, a sense of national consciousness, a recognized founder, a capacity for collective action, an in-person level of civility, an integrated cryptocurrency, a consensual government limited by a social smart contract, an archipelago of crowdfunded physical territories, a virtual capital, and an on-chain census that proves a large enough population, income, and real-estate footprint to attain a measure of diplomatic recognition.”
Lead with Love.
Protect your Peace.
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”
― Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander
Should Old Acquaintance be forgot,
and never thought upon;
The flames of Love extinguished,
and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold,
that loving Breast of thine;
That thou canst never once reflect
On old long syne.
Sometimes, the only way to solve a problem is another problem.
Everyone has a Virgil story, whether it’s a fun photo with him, an inspirational anecdote or sincere text. Just scroll through your feed tonight. The outpouring of love is on a loop. The same screen-grab of a DM, the spirited vote of confidence. But, to those who received his energy, those interactions felt tailored, unique, and ours. He was a masterful designer…
He spent an obscene amount of energy on making us all feel individually special, seen, and represented. From streetwear fans who aspired to be the fashion designer to personal friends who stood behind him at the DJ Booth. He featured us on the runway, he chimed in on a Clubhouse talk, he was persistent about including skate and streetwear pioneers in his programs.
“End goal always,” he wrote. “Make sure our scene gets remembered in the right way.”
When they talk about this cancer that stole Virgil Abloh, they call it “rare and aggressive.” Those are words to also describe the man. Rare. Aggressive. Cancer, however, takes more than it needs and Virgil was the opposite: He gave more than he could.
I once got into a fight with Virgil. He bailed on a project at the eleventh hour. He apologized; he’d taken on too many requests.
“Why did you even say Yes to begin with?,” I demanded. I was so self-righteously angry.
“I’m the type to be open to all ideas. Saying ‘no’ isn’t my thing.”
Virgil Abloh, the Louis Vuitton artistic director and Off-White co-founder, said Yes. To his work, to his legacy. And most of all, he said Yes to us.
“Different people are portals that help you unlock other parts of yourself that you didn’t have access to.”
Like I say in my book, it’s impossible to define a point in time when “streetwear” was born. No matter where you begin the streetwear story, you start in the middle. There was always an act of resistance that preceded it, an artistic defiance of a system. “Streetwear” is also understood as different things to different people by generation and geography. It can be the New York hip-hop brands of the ‘80s, it might mean Stüssy beach culture or Diamond skate luxury. Streetwear can be Nike or secondhand shops like Round Two. I’ve even seen athleisure brands co-opt the title. But, the larger mainstream now classifies streetwear as casual sportswear/workwear aligned with a scarcity mindset, elitist attitude, and “hype” marketing vis-à-vis Veblen goods. Much of the appeal comes by way of heightened social status. Streetwear is a subcultural badge, a coolguy co-sign, a blue-check on a lapel.
For the last decade, streetwear brands – most notably New York-based Supreme – set the tone for how a brand could stay culturally relevant, artistic and innovative, and still be a capitalist machine. The frenzied line-ups, the collaborations, and the celebrity endorsements galvanized an entire generation of entrepreneurs to be the Supremes of their own industry, whether it was fashion or food or farming. Business startups that were not only motivated by money, but by Cool and Clout, took pages out of the streetwear book: make the product in limited editions, do “drops” that immediately sell out to rouse froth and FOMO, and play into the resale market (without acknowledging it exists). Of course, streetwear learned much of this from high fashion and niche collectibles, but its twist was that it made it “cool,” youthful, and accessible on a street level. Like rap music, pop culture glommed onto streetwear and now, social hierarchy isn’t defined solely by money or class, but access to the underground and the validation of teenaged gatekeepers*.
*This probably has a lot to do with how social media corralled us all into the same room when it comes to the right music to listen to, the most up-to-date slang, and the right brands to endorse. Can you think of any other time in history when grown adults cared so much about keeping pace with a teenager?
In fact, crypto might be one of the most significant cultural trends of the last ten years that isn’t influenced by adolescents at all. NFTs appear to be of little interest to many teenagers. The stocks/trading features might be unappetizing (most young people live for the moment and aren’t champing at the bit to invest), the collectibles side of it can only be appreciated by men and women who are old enough to be nostalgic about hording something. But, there is the art and status element that has tractor-beamed a younger generation in. And so, it only follows that they’ll desire – if not expect – their favorite streetwear brands to follow.
The longer I play in crypto, it’s hard to ignore NFTs’ parallels with – if not direct inspiration from – streetwear on both the design and social fronts. Scott Sasso, pioneering founder of 10Deep, agrees. “It all looks and feels like 2005, 2006 streetwear. All these start-ups of dorky, cartoon-themed PFPs and building a community around those things.” As a status symbol, NFTs are metaverse fashion identifiers. OG sneakerhead Franalations says, “Early on, camping out and stuff, you’d see this box logo or this Neighborhood collab and that to me was a badge, showing you were there, at that place at that time, you knew about that release then. And that’s pretty much what NFTs are designed to do and show.” Steven Vasilev, co-founder of RTFKT, goes further, “NFTs are bigger than just streetwear. For the past 200 years, people have been buying physical items to show their status and now you can have a (Crypto)Punk which is a digital Lamborghini.”
Although streetwear can learn much from the decentralization and technological capabilities afforded by NFTs, this essay is to suggest that NFTs can learn from the success and travails that streetwear’s experienced along its journey. The overarching message is that Culture and Community must outweigh the transactional aspects of the game. Although quick flips and trading are essential to collectibles culture, they cannot become the only thing that drives a project. Once that happens – and there are signals that this is already a rampant attitude in the NFT space – the players will move on to the next soulless gadget. Sneakers, art, watches, BMWs and vintage T-shirts, I get it. In 2021, everyone is now an investor. But, do we want all things fun, creative, and tradeable to feel and emote as stocks? In their current iteration, NFTs can only hold the world’s attention for so long before they’re distracted by the next shiny object. That is, unless, the NFT is grounded in something irreplicable and irreplaceable: long-standing rewards and enduring benefits that are human and meaningful. Much more than a generic financial gain.
One of my concerns (of a few!) with NFTs is that even before they’ve gone mainstream, many newcomers are already looking to them as investment pieces first and art pieces or cultural artifacts second (community membership third?). When thousands of ordinary people are becoming overnight millionaires by selling cartoon jpegs, spun through the amplification and acceleration of social media, it’s no surprise that the dollar signs in eyeballs obstruct the deeper intent and purpose of blockchain art.
Streetwear, conversely, had a good decade of runway to build the artistic appreciation and cultural foundation before re-selling stole the narrative. In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, a sneaker messageboard called Niketalk was the precursor to the crypto Discords of today (the difference would now be that every Niketalk member can set up their own Niketalks for their personalized audiences. This is as overwhelming as it sounds!). Although flipping sneakers was an active and vital part of the culture, we didn’t have the infrastructure to facilitate the volume of transactions you see in 2021. eBay, Craigslist, and Yahoo Japan were the only online marketplaces to buy and sell other people’s shoes, but most collectors were wary of scams and sharing their identity and credit card information over the Internet (sound familiar, NFTers?). Niketalk, therefore, was a forum to share news on releases at concrete retailers, discuss the art and product design, and socialize with other likeminded collectors. In fact, most of the action took place in the General Forum, which barely touched on the topics of sneakers at all. The rare Nike retros brought the people together, but their real lives intertwined around more mundane conversations. And instead of only focusing on re-selling, it was habit for Niketalk members to don and crease their shoes in the “What Did You Wear Today?” thread. The status came not in the money profited off the item, but that you were informed about – and could locate and access – the sneakers in the first place. If you had done the homework to find the right retailer, waited in line, and ponied up the retail price for the Nikes, stomping around in SB Dunks or Wovens were as good as a fancy PFP today.
Because we had this window of time to lay the roots of sneaker culture, even as it’s become a billion-dollar industry boosted by re-sellers and secondary marketplaces like StockX, the shoe game sustains because it is moored to a legitimate history and lore. Even if you never break the box open before you ship shoes out to the next flipper, it’s taught that Tinker Hatfield or Hiroshi Fujiwara left their mark on the leather, and that their opinions and repertoire offer meaning to sneakers as art. What happens when the brands fail to tout the value of artist-led design and cultural energy? This morning, Complex reported that a Nike internal meeting worried that their core customers were leaving for smaller, independent brands because of a lack of emotional connection. “We’re gonna shape the marketplace to reflect the community we serve… so that we actually show and we actually give equity and inclusion to the communities that have been gentrified out and alienated by the resale market.” Nike acknowledges the critical function of culture in upholding sales and growth. “High heat, hype is ‘killing the culture’.” Vasilev of RTFKT emphasizes this point as a driving reason for their NFTs’ success: “One of the key points is culture. That’s why everything we do, we introduce new artists.” Earlier this year, RTFKT collaborated with NFT wunderkind FEWOCiOUS on a $3 million drop, selling out their virtual sneaker editions at $3,000, $5,000, and $10,000.
Speaking of which, the most glaring void in NFTs is the lack of collaborations. Meanwhile, streetwear understands all too well that collaborations not only fuel hype but lend cohesion to a stable marketplace. The reason being that collaborations build trust. And brand-building is all about cultivating faith with the customers*. Streetwear, in its early days, was devoid of any type of fraternity outside of its neighborhood cells, and so, the good secret stayed relatively secret. Okay, fine, streetwear was much cooler before outsiders could access it, let alone learn about it. But, once brands reached across the Internet to find each other (think The Hundreds meets Mighty Healthy and Married to the Mob over cold emails) and work together, we built a taller stage to perform. Collaborations not only served our wallets, but it bridged our worlds and unified our customers. Most importantly, it dispelled suspicion and forged trust with curious shoppers. “If these two names believe in each other/streetwear, then I believe in them/it too.”
*Brand-building is also about cultivating faith between the customers. It’s a social contract where everyone miraculously agrees that a made-up brand is, like, an actual, valuable thing now.
NFTs are still in the dark ages, quite figuratively. Crypto anonymity adds a thicker layer of apprehension and anxiety. With higher stakes at play, the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) is very real. Like early streetwear, many NFT collectors and leaders hide behind pseudonyms (on Niketalk: Dirtylicious, Swoshmn) and most NFT artists and brands are isolated in tribes (one of streetwear’s first brands was Tribal from San Diego). The New York Times columnist David Brooks defines tribalism as the antithesis of community and in the case of NFTs, this is accurate if you look at the space between Discords and the gaps within crypto society. That is why many collectors get so excited when celebrities, brands, and even institutions thumbs-up NFTs. These are warm, entrusted, and recognizable faces that say, “It’s okay. I’m here in the dark with you.” I’m not saying founders need to reveal their identities (it was several years before Ben and I published a photograph of ourselves. Some streetwear designers like Zac FTP still hide their faces), but the NFT world must continue to work on building trust not only with their own communities, but between. Collaborations between brands, projects, and designers can be the tissue that binds.
In November of 2017, ComplexCon hosted its second annual streetwear convention in Long Beach, California. The year prior, ComplexCon was an undeniable success, inviting thousands of young people from around the world to experience their favorite brands in their environments. But, ComplexCon 2 leaned too far into the re-selling side of sneakers and streetwear. Instead of a skate ramp or a gallery, eBay was the centerpiece of the arena as a main sponsor. There was more marketing emphasis placed on exclusive Nike shoe drops than around the designers and artists who made them. And as a result, the attendees were motivated by flipping more than participating in – or supporting – the culture of streetwear. Resellers got into fights, booths were shut down over violence. And the following year, ComplexCon corrected back to a more measured balance between transactional and experiential. Today, streetwear and sneakers are bigger than ever and ComplexCon continues to be the leading world’s fair for all things street culture (in fact, the next show returns November 6-7. Buy your tickets today!).
Of all the similarities between NFTs and streetwear, there are just as many differences. One of the biggest being that the cycles and timelines are expedited by technology and crypto’s volatile nature. Fashion operates on a hyperactive schedule of hills and valleys, but trends can often subsist for years. Meanwhile, NFTs have survived a couple market dips just in the last six months alone and the outfacing trends have thrived and died on the vine. As Scott Sasso referenced earlier, sometimes I look around at all these cartoon profile-picture NFT projects and am struck by the memory of streetwear designs in the early 2000s. In that era, every designer and brand followed each other down the path of colorful characters and illustrated graphics. Once the market had its fill, it only took a few settlers to upset the trend by banding together and responding to the status quo with a contrary aesthetic. The next chapter of streetwear went dark and minimal with graphic designs. If there were pictures on T-shirts and hoodies, they were photography-based, typography driven, and starkly literal. The Americana trend of men’s fashion and then streetwear’s first turns on the Paris runway expunged the graphics entirely. Fifteen years later, cartoony T-shirts have returned to streetwear but only because the audience has expanded so wide, every style and genre can be accommodated. And now, those Adjective Animals as I like to call them (A Bathing Ape, Pink Dolphin, Rare Panther) have reincarnated as NFT collectibles (Bored Apes, Cool Cats, Pudgy Penguins). It makes sense when you remember that the people designing these NFTs also grew up wearing the early streetwear labels.
In my opinion, NFTs in their current aesthetic – not in their utility or purpose – won’t last as the predominant artistic representation of collectibles. I don’t exactly know what this means for existing NFTs when these tokens are burned onto the blockchain forever, but I can foresee a next chapter where the visual assets have to adapt and update to match a contemporary trend in the space. Or maybe they will be used to unlock a 2.0. What we do know already is that photography NFTs (see Dave Krugman, John Knopf) are already gaining traction. And that some projects are experimenting with more video and motion. If we’ve learned anything from NFTs this year, it’s to not be married to the present state and understanding of technology. On October 11, 2021, NFTs are cute Adjective Animal trading cards that are weighed against each other by a third party’s rarity ranking score. They offer very little real-world utility or purpose outside of the potential for trading gains, social identity, and access to a community. But on October 12, 2021? That can all be easily disrupted by new settlers, by an artist waiting in the wings with a brave, opposing idea, or a turn in the technology that allows for futures unimagined.
With our project, Adam Bomb Squad, we’d rather prepare for maps with no roads than a roadmap. Streetwear taught us about the power of community and culture. Streetwear revealed the secret of collaborations. But, the greatest thing we learned from streetwear – that we are applying to our NFTs – is that nothing lasts forever and tomorrow is uncharted. Trends will rock this market. Ethereum will go in and out. The survivors are the ones who improvise through the droughts. The winners know to adapt to the terrain. And the last brands standing are founded on a rock solid core, rich with history and relationships. Fashion and NFTs go out of style, but people never do.
“It’s still cash-grab season, but cash-grab season is gonna end. And people are gonna have to provide the substance,” Scott says in the final minutes of our call. “People think it’s all the same thing, but it’s not gonna be. And the paths forward are gonna be very different.”
Contrary to popular belief, NFTs aren’t just expensive JPEGs. Have you seen The Matrix? You know how Neo enters a virtual world of exploding subway stations and serene martial arts dojos, but behind the façade is a green scaffolding of 1’s and 0s? NFTs are kinda like that. The digital asset – whether it’s a colorful photograph, a piece of writing, or a virtual parcel of land in a video game – is fastened to a boring string of letters and numbers. That code, that data – that token minted on a universal contract called the blockchain – is the NFT.
[I’m gonna skip ahead a few steps here and assume your head is partially wrapped around the concept of NFTs. If not, you can read my essay from February on The Next Internet.]
Although NFTs have been around for years, it wasn’t until 2021 that they became topical. There are countless theories as to why this is happening and I’m fascinated by the social psychology around this movement. Sometimes, I think NFTs and the metaverse are filling the cultural void that the Trump presidency left behind. Twitter is evidence of that. This time last year, the social app was a deluge of the former President’s tweets and the polarized reactions around them. Today, Twitter is an NFT workshop, where crypto whales, budding artists, and tech bros are working on the puzzle together. I used to wonder how much productivity was lost because of the distractions of disinformation and the ensuing chaos. Witnessing rapid NFT innovation over mere months and how disruptive the technology has been to institutions and industries, I cringe at how far we were set behind by trash news.
There’s a larger essay here for another day, but I also think there’s a religious fervor around NFTs that is not unlike cult behavior. The world feels unstable and unpredictable and humans are searching for solid ground. There is a pursuit of singular Truth amidst distrust in the media and the state, the mystery of social algorithms, and even in the sense that your own friends have become brands, marketing deceit. In the metaverse – the spiritual realm – the blockchain would perhaps be represented as the Truth – the God figure. Twenty years ago, the rebuttal to God was, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” Today, nobody actually sees the physical money they own, whether fiat in a bank or crypto on Coinbase. The pandemic awakened us to the fact that much of our relationships and understanding of the world is virtual. I mean, we’ve all spent the last year and a half fighting a war against a wraithlike virus. NFTs made it very easy to assign value to invisible things.
People collect NFTs for various reasons because NFTs exist for various reasons.
At the start of the year, 1-of-1 original art was very popular with NFT collectors. This makes sense. Part of the artist’s role has always been to make complicated ideas digestible for the layman to understand. They take abstract notions of the world and distill them down to beautiful visuals. Artists see movements before they happen (This is also why they’re adept at gentrifying neighborhoods!). NFT artists helped to onboard large swaths of art collectors – from blue-chip auction buyers to casual shoppers looking to support the independent scene.
The most famous NFT artist in this genre is Beeple, but other talent quickly rose to the top of the leaderboard. Names like ThankYouX, Fewocious, Pak, and FVCKRENDER. Emerging artists like Sean Williams, Nicole Ruggiero, Latasha and Sophie Sturdevant. Photographers like Dave Krugman, Jeff Nicholas, and J.N. Silva. And the new NFT venues like Super Rare, Foundation, and Zora were there to act as galleries of sorts.
Currently, much of the NFT froth has shifted to collectibles (also known as avatar or PFP projects) and subsequently, secondary, re-sale marketplaces like OpenSea. CryptoPunks by LarvaLabs were not only the first NFTs in 2017, but the first collectibles. The creators uploaded 10,000 unique combinations of 8-bit-style punk rock faces. These are tiny, pixelated characters that carry traits like purple hats or red noses. LarvaLabs doled these images of Punks out for free while retaining a percentage of future sales. For the first few years, nobody cared much and traded them like sports cards. And then the point tipped with NFTs. Millions of people around the world are now trying to claim one of these 10,000 punks. Trying to get into the hottest nightclub in town. This is classic supply-and-demand, like any limited-edition release of a sneaker, toaster oven, or house in a neighborhood with a good school. As of this essay, the cheapest CryptoPunk for sale (of all 10,000) is $369,901 USD. The most expensive CryptoPunk sold in March for $ $7.58M.
At the beginning of the summer, as the hype around the 1-of-1 NFT art market cooled down alongside crypto, inciting much of “NFTs are dead” talk online, a collectibles project called Bored Ape Yacht Club released to the metaverse. There have been a bajillion collectible sets derived from the Punks – every adjective-animal you can imagine. 10,000, computer generated cats, koalas, geckos, even poops (A recent favorite of mine is called 0n1 Force – anime styled profiles). But, BAYC did a great job with the art, storytelling, community, and especially their roadmap. Their NFTs of bored apes blew out at launch for a few hundred bucks each. Today, the cheapest Ape on the secondary market could garner $166k. The most expensive Ape for sale just flipped for $1,681,370.74. In a matter of months, much of the Apes community has experienced transformative wealth (This past weekend, BAYC dropped Mutant Apes, making $90M in an hour).
The reason why NFT collectibles are called avatar projects is because the people who buy them like to feature their unique NFT as their profile picture. As much as the current NFT trend is spurred by flipping and making a quick buck, there is also a tribal aspect to this that is lightly reminiscent of political and social affiliations from the past several years. This time, however, the tribes are gathering and bonding in Discord servers, with the undercurrent of the conversation churning around their NFTs’ market value. You may recall something like this during the stonks uprising that played out simultaneously with the storming of the Capitol in January. While insurrectionists were waving American flags and Don’t Tread on Me snakes, stonks millionaires were doing their best to claim GameStop and AMC as their online clans. You can see why, through NFTs, it’s a lot easier to rally behind an icon of a of a pizza-eating monkey or a trippy duck over a corporate mall chain logo. In fact, NFTs are essentially fun stocks that you can see, trade, and identify with.
There are also people like me who collect NFTs because we are big believers in the metaverse. I won’t repeat points made in my last essay, but if our realities are going increasingly digital, then it makes sense to have ownership of more digital goods. These assets not only make our life’s experiences better, but buying them also supports emerging artists and brands in ways that weren’t possible before due to gatekeepers, lopsided systems, and lack of access.
Last week, we deployed 25,000 NFTs called Adam Bomb Squad. Adam Bomb Squad (ABS) consists of combinations of different Adam, Badam, and Madam Bombs and backgrounds of custom patterns we’ve designed over 18 years. First and foremost, the NFTs act as membership cards to the most exclusive wing of The Hundreds. Perks include early access to popular clothing releases and special drops just for ABS holders. There will be events – both virtual and physical – for the Squad. Our future roadmap points to finding new ways to change the relationship between brands and consumers, where – through the utility of NFTs – the clothing wearers in the physical world can share in the upside of the brand’s success.
Secondarily, ABS is a history lesson in the brand. We have almost two decades of stories to share, of thoughtfulness and talent invested into these works of art. Therefore, we are offering something different with our collectibles. The artwork depicted in each ABS NFT was not rendered by a computer. This is not a generative project where the same character is layered with Mr. Potato Head decorations. Illustrations were hand-drawn, watercolors were painted, patterns were assembled by human designers making unique bombs. Furthermore, all 25,000 NFTs were curated and considered by both Ben and I (Founders of The Hundreds) as well as our core team. This being our first NFT project of this magnitude, we wanted our fingerprint on these and I hope that translates in the overall feel of the project.
Most NFT collectibles like ABS automatically end up on OpenSea (an eBay or Craigslist for NFTs), whether you list it for re-sale or not. If you own one, you may notice that you’re getting buyers bidding on your bombs already. Currently, the floor (meaning the cheapest one for sale) is about 4 or 5 times the original price that we set the bomb for. So, quick flippers can unload their ABS NFTs to catch a nice profit. The majority of our holders, however, are sitting tight. After buying them blind and waiting for them to hatch, everyone is anticipating the “reveal” of their bombs to see which ones they got and more importantly, how rare they are.
Resale has always powered collectibles markets. When I was a kid, I read Beckett magazine, a pricing guide for baseball cards. These rookie and error cards rose up and down the pages like stocks, depending on how few were out there in the marketplace. When I got into sneakers and streetwear as a teenager, the same framework applied. There were only so many vintage Jordans and Dunks on store shelves – especially before Nike started retro’ing them – and as more enthusiasts piled into the culture, the prices rose. The brands eventually capitalized on these dynamics and categorized product as “limited edition,” leaning into the rarity level of a piece. NFT collectibles follow the same train of thought. What makes certain NFTs more expensive than others is how “special” they are according to the attributes. Those CryptoPunks wearing purple hats I mentioned earlier? There aren’t as many of them, so they re-sell for about $100,000 more than an average Punk.
Adam Bomb Squad is also loaded with rarities and scored by infrequent attributes. This was by design, but also inherent in the artwork. Again, ABS is a history lesson. The Hundreds and our generation of streetwear mastered the game of limited distribution and Veblen goods, marrying the mindset of luxury with street collectibles. Therefore, rarities are relatively affixed to how prevalent the bombs and backgrounds were over the brand’s timeline. There’ve been seasons where The Hundreds was confined to tighter sales channels and those bombs will respond accordingly. There was a time before functional e-commerce, before DTC opened up the brand to a wider audience. There have also been years as of recent where we clamped down harder on Adam Bomb iterations as the brand took a different creative direction. Plus, there are so many brand guidelines that any time that Adam, Madam, or Badam broke a rule in the past, it’s come back to haunt us in the NFTs as a scarce trait. For example, the bombs are always meant to face to the right. So, imagine what happens if you get Adam turned the wrong way?
When NFTs reveal, it’s a big day because not only do you get to see which designs you bought, but how rare your NFT is according to the metadata listing the traits. The secondary marketplaces like OpenSea immediately publish the characteristics alongside your NFT and sites like Rarity Tools calibrate how special your purchase is. Immediately, the trades, the dumps, and the wins begin as buyers come in to scoop NFTs with higher point value, sellers cash out, and investors hold for the long run.
We aren’t going to do that.
Yes, upon reveal, you’ll get what you paid for: your Adam Bomb Squad NFT. This is your membership card, but highest of all, it’s a piece of art. We want you to appreciate the drawing and gauge how you feel about the combination you received. For just a brief window of time, we want to encourage the community to mind the creative part of all of this. This is bound to annoy some flippers and opportunists who are here to turn and burn NFTs. And it also foils some of the savvier buyers who take advantage of less sophisticated participants, prying a valuable bomb from their hands without proper understanding of the game. If nobody knows how rare their bomb is according to an algorithm, they’ll either a) hold tight and wait, b) sell them off out of frustration, or c) buy and sell according to which ABS bombs speak to them. We’re praying for more of the latter, especially as this project has onboarded so many new collectors into crypto. For much of our camp, this is their first NFT and we want to continue educating and protecting them. Plus, our community is attracted to certain bombs because of personal memories. I guarantee you there’ll be someone out there collecting Watermelon Adams, whether they’re rated floor or ceiling.
In a few days, we will post everyone’s metadata. I’ve written exhaustive stories for every bomb and every background that we’ve been leaking in our Discord. There are attributes specified from artistic styles down to whether Adam’s spark is lit. And if you follow our Discord, you already know the Black Adam is the rarest of them all, tracing back to our legendary Black Adam T-shirt, the most exclusive physical item from The Hundreds. We are all about re-selling NFTs and the investment side of all of this. That is part of the thrill and theater. We just don’t want people to forsake the cultural and artistic facets of the movement and this is our celebration of what’s most meaningful.
If you couldn’t already tell, we are in this for the long haul (and by “we,” I don’t mean The Hundreds, but our community). I’m excited for short-term wins and if people make gains off this in the near future, more power to them. Branding, however, is about pairing that love with longevity. I call it, “Passion and Patience.” I literally wrote the book on building brands around community. We are now taking all those principles, all those hard-won lessons, and applying them to Adam Bomb Squad. At the end of the day, everybody wants something limited, but if you hold an ABS NFT, you’re only 1 in 6,500+ unique members to this clubhouse (as of this writing). There are 8 billion people in the world and in the next month, in the next year, and in the next decade, we believe hundreds of millions of new people will come knocking on that door.
Meanwhile, you’re here with us, already inside the green 1s and 0s. Let’s party.