If you’re trying to understand NFTs, you’re not alone. Even the most tech-savvy of people can’t comprehend their full potential. They’re all figuring it out in real time.
Essentially, an NFT (i.e. non-fungible token) is a digital asset – be it a piece of digital art, an essay, a meme, a Tweet, a parcel of land in a video game or a picture - that is fastened to code, ie a token, that can be minted on blockchain. I won’t get into the full definition and nuance here since it could take up another 2,000+ words — if you’re looking for a good overview, check out: “The market for non-fungible tokens is evolving” in The Economist.
NFTs were invented back in 2014, but they really started taking off this year as artists have entered the crypto space pulling in sometimes mind-numbing revenue. One of the most stunning moments was back in March when Christie’s, an auction house, sold an NFT of a work by digital artist Beeple for $69.3 million, the highest price paid for an NFT yet. Since then, countless artists and other creators have joined in the experiment. Recently, Jack Dorsey sold his first tweet for $2.9 million, and memes like Disaster Girl and viral YouTube videos like Charlie Bit My Finger have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The New York Times even got in on the action with its “Buy This Column on the Blockchain,” explaining the tech and then minting it as an NFT for $555,289.
More interesting than these major headlines, though, is everything else happening with NFTs without as much press attention. NFTs are being used to form digital communities, rethink streetwear culture, bridge the physical and digital world of art, music, and culture at large. This is all part of what futurists are calling Web 3 — the next era of the Internet where creators have more control rather than just big tech companies. It’s an incredibly fast-moving space, and NFTs uses are being experimented with and dreamt up daily.
In a quest to stay on top of the most interesting projects and creators going on right now, we’ve scoured and found the 10 most creative people in the NFT space right now. Here are the ones you’ll want to watch, learn, and perhaps buy from.
1. Bobby Hundreds, Rethinking Streetwear and Sneaker Culture
Bobby Hundreds, co-founder of streetwear empire The Hundreds, is using NFTs to shake up the fashion industry. Also known as Bobby Kim, he started the company with a law school friend and fellow founder, Ben Shenassafar (Ben Hundreds), back in 2003. It’s grown to become a pillar in the streetwear industry, partnering with brands from Adidas to Disney to Jackson Pollock and Back to the Future.
Aside from being a legendary streetwear founder, Bobby is a writer, photographer, designer — and now, he’s a leader in the NFT space, frequently penning essays about their potential impact. As a creator himself, he’s most excited about the idea that NFTs can allow artists and makers to make money off of what they create digitally, rather than just big tech companies repeating the rewards.
The Hundreds recently became the first clothing brand to mint NFTs against its spring line of T-shirt graphics with the launch of its sold-out Adam Bomb Squad NFT Collection, which consists of 25,000 unique combinations of bombs (the brand’s icon) and backgrounds that sold out in 40 minutes. Given that the Adam Bomb is one of the most well-known symbols by streetwear fans, the collection was a huge hit — just one month after launch, the tradeable volume was close to $31 Million (9200 ETH), according to OpenSea. Adam Bomb Squad holders get perks that extend beyond the digital realm, like free t-shirts, early access to The Hundreds drops, fast-lane privilege at warehouse sales and invites to exclusive events, showing the potential of bridging the physical and digital.
“I think what inspires me the most is that creators will finally be able to make the money they deserve from their hard work. Facebook is a half-a-trillion-dollar company while many young artists are struggling to make rent,” Bobby writes.
Bobby is also a huge collector of sneakers and sees the potential of NFTs to change sneakerhead culture forever. While sneaker collectors used to be in it for design or the community, the marketplace has transformed over the past decade with Ebay to be more about re-sale. NFTs, he believes, have the potential to bring back the fun and novelty of collecting without the environmental waste of actually producing sneakers.
2. Glam Beckett, creator of the first female-focused NFT collection
Like a lot of the tech world, the NFT space is largely male-dominated. That’s one of the reasons we love what independent Russian artist Glam Beckett is doing. She created the Sad Girls Bar, the first major female-focused NFT project, which is considered the gateway drug for getting shes and theys into NFTs.
Beckett dropped 10,000 hand-drawn, monochrome and stylish sketches of “sad girls” sitting at bars back in August. The collection of ladies — adorned with chokers, sassy tanks and, of course, drinks, sold out completely this month, with the total tradeable volume on OpenSea reaching 1200 ETH or almost $5.1 million. The highest individual sale of one NFT went for 25 ETH, or $105,738. The girls in the collection feature 350+ traits, like piercings, different hairstyles, and holding things from a cocktail to pizza. Instead of traditional advertising on billboards, Glam got the word out by social media and having bars around the world hang posters with some of the art along with QR codes.
As one NFT holder puts it, “They’re drinking a martini, having a rich internal dialogue, and can’t be bothered to text you back. You’re lucky you even have their number in the first place.”
The Moscow-based artist says her focus is dark art centered on themes of love and death, melancholy and loneliness, dark romance and witchy vibes. “I find inspiration for my art in noir films, dark erotic, punk and BDSM aesthetics,” she says on her website. Once the NFTs reached 50% sold, holders got a chance to own merch, and at 100 percent sold, the team committed to transfer 10 ETH to support Women Side by Side, a peer support program for women by Mind and Agenda, an alliance for at-risk women and girls. The overall message behind the project: being sad is OK, but if you have thoughts of self-harm, you should seek support.
After the success of Sad Girls, Glam went on to launch a Skeletongue collection of skeleton art. If you’re a holder of a Sad Girl, you get a Skeletongue for free.
“NFT space really benefits the artists. But you not only get a financial resource to be a full time artist, but also an opportunity to make a deeper connection with the audience, to build a community,” Beckett told Worklife.
3. ThankYouX, traditional artist crossing over to NFTs
Muralist and mixed media artist ThankYouX (Ryan Wilson) is an exciting example of a traditional artist embracing the digital world.
He got his start spray painting stencils on the streets of LA in homage to Andy Warhol, eventually switching to more modern abstract designs in his street art, catching the attention of the art world and eventually securing exhibits in London, LA, Miami, New York and Hong Kong. His street art has morphed into geometric mixed media cube paintings and other large-scale works. He’s worked with Snapchat to paint their LA office, partnered with Soho House and Samsung to create an immersive experience for Art Basel and held a solo show in NYC.
Now, ThankYouX has had several hugely successful NFT sales, the most recent of which was a piece auctioned through Sotheby’s London, ‘As Good As You,’ which is about “embracing each of our layers while having the freedom to add many more as we grow.” The 48x60” physical artwork has a built-in screen by Infinite Objects that displays this NF. It sold for nearly $400,000. The sale was part of the Contemporary Art Day Auction, which ThankYouX helped curate, bringing in fellow physical-and-crypto artists FEWOCiOUS, Victor Mosquera, and Cory Van Lew.
Previously he worked on an NFT project with award-winning composer Hans Zimmer on a collection of NFTs sold through Phillips Auction. ‘Sound of Color,’ composed of three NFTs, sold back in July for $485,000. An original score by Hans Zimmer accompanies each of the three visuals from ThankYouX.
“I told my team… ‘I think the only music collaboration I would ever do [would be with] Hans Zimmer. And that will never happen, so I’m never gonna do a music collaboration,’” ThankYouX said. That obviously changed.
ThankYouX’s very first NFT was a collaboration with Generative Artist Michael Kozlowski and the With Foundation (a place to create, explore, and collect digital art NFTs.) The project illustrated both artists’ disparate origins merging into parallel paths: a traditional artist pushing the virtual, a digital artist manipulating the physical.
4. Trevor McFedries, founder of Friends With Benefits
The hottest Discord community to join this year has arguably been Friends with Benefits, a private, crypto-backed chatroom co-founded by Trevor McFedries that describes itself as “the ultimate cultural membership power by a community of our Web 3 artists, operators, and thinkers bound together by shared values and shared incentives.”
Nearly 2,000 people operating in crypto, NFT, and other tech / cultural circles are part of the group. To join, you need to submit a member application, join the Discord server, and buy at least 75 $FWB cryptocurrency tokens that you can buy on Uniswap and other decentralized exchanges. But FWB also recently rolled out FWB local, which is only $FWB and get you access to happenings in your city and your FWB neighbors. In addiitonm, FWB offers fellowships and scholarships and opportunities to contribute to earn $FWB.
Andressen Horowitz has invested $5 million and Li Jin has put in $10 million into the DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) which is essentially a block-chain based co-op, meaning it doesn’t have a central leadership and is self-governing. The idea is that crypto tokens, in this case, $FWB, can reward participation and accumulate value. Community members can earn tokens by being active in Discord, attending community calls, hosting recurring events and overseeing collaborative programs.
FWB members inspire each other and promote each other’s work. For example, recently, designer Eric Hu (former head of global design at Nike) released Monarchs, a collection of NFTS, walking away with $2.5 million. Hu had been part of Friends with Benefits for 8 months and as a thank you, gave members first dibs on the Monarchs pre-sale.
Overall, FWB has become one of the most influential spaces in the NFT market — and one to keep watching (and trying to be part of.)
5. LATASHÁ, disrupting the music industry
The headlines around NFTs have largely been focused on art — but what about music? There’s actually a lot going on in the Web3 space that is poised to disrupt the music industry. The leading artist to watch in this space is Latashá Alcindor, an independent R&B and hip-hop artist based in L.A., who has made tens of thousands of dollars by making her music videos NFTs and captured the imagination of fellow musicians of what could be possible in the metaverse.
She first became enamored by the potential of Web3 when she dropped her first NFT back in February on Zora, and it sold out in three minutes. Her biggest splash came in November during NFT NYC week where she dropped one of the first music videos on blockchain, “MAKDA VERSE” now on the secondary market for 111 ETH ($4,983,893) giving people to own part of music history. This set-up still allows her to own copyright of the music videos.
Latashá has been making music for about eight years as a rapper, relying on commercial work for financial stability, such as writing songs for brands, and placing her music in ads, TV shows, and movies. She would also earn money by playing shows, but that stopped during the pandemic. Often, she struggled to pay the bills. "This is allowing me to live well," she told VICE. "Being a woman of color creative who didn't come up with a lot of money or privilege to create, this is allowing that space for me."
“A lot of it felt like the music industry was a really hard institution for women of color to really thrive in without feeling like they’re breaking their integrity,” she said to BeinCrypto. “I really tell everybody that I had believed that I manifested NFTs with all of my homies because we all were just trying to figure out how to do this.”
6. Austin Robey, bringing NFTS to foodies
Another cultural space ripe for the NFT picking is the world of food. We’ve seen Web3 sneaking its way in the industry recently, from mainstream drops like the Burger King promotion featuring Nelly to smaller projects like chef Marcus Samuelsson turning his chicken recipe into an NFT for a charity auction with the opportunity to eat at the chef’s restaurant. We’ve also seen member-only restaurants based in DAO’s pop-up.
But one of the coolest ideas, and the most exciting we’ve found in the space, is the Dinner Dao, founded by Brooklyn-based artist and designer Austin Robey. After spending most of the last year and a half not visiting restaurant’s dining rooms, a lot of us are craving the experience of group dining, and many are predicting the return of supper clubs to satisfy this craving.
Dinner Dao is rooted in the idea of meeting up with internet friends to break bread. Robey started the idea in New York under a few DAO guidelines: members join a chapter by buying a season pass NFT, funds are pooled in a shared treasury (dinnerdao.eth); members get access to the private discord, and members vote on dinner proposal via Snapshot.org, a decentralized voting site popular with the crypto crowd.
Dinner DAO uses Ethereum minted using Unlock.
The NYC chapter was the first iteration; it sold out and the group had dinner at modern Mediterranean restaurant Shoo Shoo Nolita in Little Italy. Portland is the next chapter and has also has already sold out experience. Robey plans to expand to cities around the world.
“I have just have been interested in collective ownership within tech and collective governance within tech,” said Robey to The Spoon. “Which is part of the reason why I’ve been excited about digging into things that Unlock can do in the web three in crypto space to enable these new forms of human and corporate organization.”
7. Haleek Maul, revolutionizing music for the metaverse
Malik Hall, better known by his stage name Haleek Maul, is multi-disciplinary artist, rapper and record producer crushing the Web3 game. He was born in America and went to Barbados when he was three years old. He’s made music since 2007 and put out his first debut project in 2012. He has collaborated with Deniro Farrar, Shady Blaze, Hot Sugar, Saul Williams, and other artists.
In the past year or two, he has drifted solidly into the Web3 space. In 2020, he left his record label to create Holdersland, “a digital extension of my artistic project—a way of creating change in the world around me,” he tells Urbit.org. Essentially, Holdersland is a way to connect artists in the Caribbean with Web3 opportunities.
“I felt like music institutions was archaic and didn’t feed into my other artistic practices. I wanted to create an institution that captured the full creative practice—all the way from creating to selling. Most importantly, I wanted to get artists from Barbados and the Caribbean involved in global conversations around art and technology,” he said.
Maul has dropped songs on Catalog, which is revolutionizing music for the metaverse. He sold one of his records, “Burden” for 10 ETH, roughly $40,000. He also recently launched a new token, $INNER, with four forthcoming songs via Mirror.
8. Krista Kim, creator of the first NFT house
So we’ve discussed art, music, and food NFTs. But how about architecture? This year, the world’s first NFT home sold for nearly half a million dollars. You heard that right. The person behind the project: Toronto-based, contemporary artist Krista Kim.
Described as, “the new digital Rothko” by Forbes, Kim created the “Mars House,” as a space that embodied her philosophy of meditative design online. The home features a modern open plan design, glass walls, ethereal coloring and overlooks a mountain range. She worked with an architect to render the house using Unreal Engine, a software commonly used in video game design. You can experience the house via VR and AR. It sold on NFT Marketplace SuperRare for 288 Ether, ($512,000) marking a milestone in the world of contemporary art and architecture.
The fact that the Mars House sold for over half a million dollars signal a clear interest and path forward for the future of virtual design, and our bet is that it’s a good bet to keep your eyes on what Kim is doing.
9. Andre O’Shea, futurist and artist
The work of Atlanta-based 3D generalist and animator Andre O’Shea embodies the future of the metaverse. His futuristic vibe has been taking the NFT world by storm as of late, and he’s definitely a creator to watch.
O’Shea has worked with Adult Swim, Snapchat, Vogue, Netflix, Tidal, and John Legend in the past. Before getting into NFTs, he was primarily doing commissioned-based projects and feels that Web 3 has given him new space to be creative and work on what he wants to work on. “Generating sales without having to provide a service has created a safe space for my art,” O’Shea said. “What I tell people is, learning the ETH economy is like learning another language. Once you start to understand the basics, it opens up your mind to how other languages are used – it even highlights the flaws of your initial language.”
O’Shea describes his work as “art for people who wanna escape reality and build the future.” With four shows locked in with Art Basel and regular NFT drops, make sure you give him a follow.
10. Yam Karkai, advocating for women in NFTs
Self-described as a digital illustrator and concept artist “obsessed with color,” Yam Karkai is the mastermind behind the successful World of Women NFT collection with the mission of inspiring and lifting up women in the NFT space and beyond. The collection is made up of 10,000 women, randomly generated digital collectibles drawn by hand from sketch to finish on Adobe Illustrator.
“The intention of this project is to create vector pieces where the female form is in the spotlight, with a subtle retro touch and soft shapes. As this is a cross-platform project, this is where you will find each woman,” the website read.
The all-time average price of World of Women is 1.384 ETH ($6,491). The collection has sold out.
“I want to make a wish that this NFT world will become a place where everyone has the same chance to succeed regardless of who they are, their gender, ethnicity and social background. I really want to see more women and minorities amongst the top earners. Gonna let this manifest,” she recently wrote on Twitter.
Karkai is continuing to create art and find ways to lift women up in the space, catching the attention of those in tech and even celebrities. Recently, she had art featured in the profile picture of Reese Witherspoon, who has become vocal in support of a shift to Web3.