NFT Watch: The Good, Great and Ugly
From Hitpiece to Indian hip-hop trading cards to graffiti artists, non-fungible tokens on the blockchain are quickly expanding in India
It’s been just over a year since non-fungible tokens (NFTs) became part of the global lexicon, beyond art and tech bubbles. Thanks to eyebrow-raising bids (in cryptocurrency) at NFT auctions and a bevy of high-profile musicians, celebrities and personalities jumping on the bandwagon, there’s been a proliferation that’s arguably changed the discourse on art and how we interact with it.
Artists in India haven’t been far behind, ranging from platforms like WazirX working with beatboxer Abhishek Bhaskar, producer Kohra and others, to Daler Mehndi’s “metaverse concert” on January 26th. With more projects appearing on the blockchain in recent times, we take a look at everything that’s good and questionable about NFTs by Indians.
Jay Kila and OTP India
Mumbai-based hip-hop artist Jay Kila (who has released music NFTs in the past), leans into the age-old addiction of trading cards. A new initiative titled OTP India (Official Trading Packs) is a collection of digital trading cards of 10 Indian hip-hop artists including Dee MC, Harjas Harjaayi, Pablo Dutta, Loka, Gravity and others. The slickly designed, swiveling cards are sold and traded on the blockchain with the funds generated being sent directly to the corresponding artist. Beyond the collectible and trade aspect, each NFT will also offer access to exclusive events and more. There are 500 cards available of each artist via Ngagen (priced at ₹2,000) up for grabs as part of the Genesis Deck.
For his first-ever NFT collection, Mumbai graffiti artist Zake has minted five spray-paint portraits of heavyweight rap icons Nas, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Notorious B.I.G. and 2 Pac. Dubbed “The Regulators” on OpenSea, the NFTs by Zake are available in three different formats—image, GIF and 3D animation—making a total of 16 collectibles. A press release mentions that the portraits were spray painted on a 8×10 feet canvas and immediately painted over, increasing their exclusive value.
Bengaluru folk-rock band Swarathma emerged with two NFT collections via Fantico last month, minting a merchandize and access-friendly collection for their recent single “Dus Minute Aur” as well as an “Essential Collection” which led to a demo recording, animated artwork and artist commentary being converted into NFTs. With the auction ending on February 11th, the collection item bids are currently starting at $399 (0.160 ETH) for the “Beta Sweater Pehno” demo, $150 (0.060 ETH) for that song’s artwork, $499 (0.202 ETH) for both, the “Mushkil Mein Jeena” artwork timelapse video and the “Pyaasi” NFT.
Uzair Merchant aka Uzi
Indian-origin, Dubai/Vancouver-based film production designer Uzair Merchant aka Uzi worked on a music project called “Stardust” starting in November last year, which led to a transnational hip-hop collaboration which is now getting a music video NFT. Uzi’s production house Kri8.Labs worked with Canadian artists Sian Flanagan and producer Aaro aka Aaron Drew, plus Dubai rapper Salim Dahman on the music and is now ready with a sci-fi inspired visual that draws from ideas of mortality and strife. Stardust music video will be minted as an NFT and, if approved, offered for fractional NFTs at Finhaven Private Markets.
Independent artists in India and all over the world have had a bone to pick with Hitpiece, which describes itself as an artist community platform as well as a music NFT marketplace. In truth, Hitpiece is the scammier, shadier side of the NFT world. They minted NFTs out of songs without the consent of artists and were openly trading them on the blockchain. While the website is now inactive and there’s been a non-apology from the platform, they managed to tick off the likes of Wolfgang Van Halen and bamboozle Indian artists like Black Letters and Chennai-based Someone Else, who found their music listed as NFTs on the platform. It just goes to show, within the rising, hype-driven wave, there are plenty of blind spots in the world of music NFTs.