This profile is part of our Culture Shifters series, which highlights the people who are changing the way we think about the world around us. Check out film archivist Maya Cade and internet star Keyon Elkins.
Self-sovereignty is a priority for Latashá Alcindor. It’s what guides her as she creates her music and provides resources to develop and sustain her career. And thanks to her success, she also helps other independent artists to find their way.
For the Los Angeles-based rapper, whose stage name is Latashá, that was always the plan. But she never would have guessed that she would be able to do this in a digital world.
The 34-year-old is creating freedom in her music career through cryptocurrency and non-fungible tokens – essentially unique digital assets (usually art), transmitted on a cryptocurrency blockchain, most popularly Ethereum . These NFTs are housed in the ever-evolving metaverse, a term the New York Times describes as a convergence of virtual reality and a digital second life.
After years of dealing with an industry that undervalues musicians, Latashá decided to become one of the first artists to post her music videos on the blockchain as NFTs that others could buy. As a result, she has enjoyed more success over the past year than she imagined possible.
She told HuffPost that she wants to share this knowledge with artists who are often in need.
“I really believe that being the artist that I am right now, and in crypto, I find myself a home,” Latashá said. “I push female rappers to find space in crypto because I think they’re really going to earn more here than they ever have. And I know for so many female rappers, they’ve had to face lawsuits. I don’t want to see that for artists anymore. I just want to see people in their well-being.
Her boyfriend and fellow artist, Jahmel Reynolds, introduced her to NFTs in 2021. Latashá was initially skeptical, but thought she would try a new way to make money as she was unable to perform. at the start of the pandemic.
She saw Web3 (another name for the metaverse) as an opportunity to “let go of the middleman.” This has allowed him to define the value of his music in a way that other Web2 platforms (the Internet as we know it now, which includes social media, streaming services, etc.) do not. don’t. She said the transparency behind every transaction in the blockchain is unmatched.
“It’s not like in the music industry, where I don’t know where my money comes from or who gives me money,” she said. “It’s not really like any other job source where we’re not sure. And so I really got into it because it spoke to my philosophy of sovereignty. I wanted to be independent. I wanted to figure out how I could make this bread without someone in my ear telling me anything about who I am or what my worth is.
In February 2021, she hit her first NFT for her 2017 song “I like this..The video was filmed by Reynolds on a platform called Zora, which allows media to be shared across cryptocurrency networks. Soon after, Zora recruited her to help build his platform. with more diverse communities in mind. Later that year, she premiered her music video for “Gogo Wyne”, currently worth around $44,000.As her NFTs continue to sell in the market , Latashá gets 30% of each sale.
“Artists have never had this opportunity before to choose their copyrights. And so with this space, we could say what our royalty is in Zora,” she explained. “For a lot of black artists , it’s a money bargain we find. And I can’t say anything else, but if you don’t want to try it, don’t try.
A year after hitting his first NFT, Latashá’s core hustle largely goes hand in hand with his music. She currently juggles her role as community programming manager at Zora with her own artistic talent. For the platform, she created an educational program called Zoratopia, where she hosts events and conversations to give people better access and resources on how the metaverse can benefit them. She makes the case to artists that this is an avenue for them to become their own CEO.
The breadth of her music was actually a reason other players in the industry tried to hold her back, she said. Her songs often explore identity, femininity, empowerment and spirituality. Since 2014, she has released four independent projects and several other singles, and she has over 54,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
Latashá’s sound mixes hip-hop with some of the most eclectic influences she was raised on. “Sometimes it would be like La India, Ana Gabriele, Gloria Estefan, Selena. And then other times it will be like Chaba and Patra and Denim,” she noted. The Afro-Latina musician secretly listened some artists she knew her family didn’t want her to listen to, including Biggie, Tupac, and DMX.In the same way she watched her mother navigate life, Latashá used music and lyricism through songs and poetry to find healing, landing her in the rap game at age 23.
At first, she didn’t know much about how the industry worked, and she certainly didn’t know how to make her music profitable.
“For the first five years of my career, I just figured it out and hated it,” the “Who I Am” artist said. “I was like, this music industry is really trying to lock me down. I feel like I have to turn into someone I don’t want to be. Women rappers take care of it.
Anxiety and depression hit her hard. She took time off. In 2015, she received $10,000 from a black poet – whose name she did not reveal – who had heard her music and wanted her to continue. So she did. Latashá quit his bank and temporary jobs and started doing odd jobs to pay his bills.
“I hated that trip, but it was better than what I was facing trying to get signed. So I was independent and promised myself to be a handyman and really understand this stuff.
This set the stage for her to get some major looks. She began making music for Maybelline and Ulta commercials and became the first resident hip-hop artist to collaborate with two major New York performance spaces, National Sawdust and The Shed. Being able to better control her work in this way gave her the entrepreneurial spirit she needed to support herself through her music.
Latashá isn’t the only musician to have used a virtual marketplace to distribute and make a living from his work. Artists as big as Snoop Dogg and Nas and as niche as Iman Europe and Devin Tracy have performed gigs in the metaverse, using NFTs to generate revenue from their songs. And unlike traditional streaming, the artist dictates how much they think their work is worth and continues to earn royalties with every sale.
Latashá notes that the metaverse is flawed. And while there are many factors tainted with human bias, that shouldn’t stop people from learning about them.
“The internet was built by people, (and) people need some kind of income to build the internet,” she said. “It’s about historical content that you collect if you decide to collect anything from the blockchain. It’s just marked historical moments that we’re building here. It’s like collecting vinyl.
Even though the current crypto crash has presented a huge red flag for those who might have considered investing, Latashá said she hopes others see the bigger picture, even through the peaks and valleys that come with the creation of a new Internet.
“The underlying reasons for web3 are to shift the paradigm and take back our power,” she said. “There will always be ebbs and flows in every market and everything in life. So in times like these, it’s a reminder to come back to your intentions, refocus your energy and your values. It is a reminder that creation should be a constant state at all times. It’s a reminder that what we do here is with and beyond money. We create a world built from community consciousness. So I ask people, what do you want to happen because it’s about us. It’s about you.”
As Latashá continues her work with Zora, she will be releasing music throughout the year that documents her multi-faceted talent, including a project, “Joyride”, which will be available on Sound.xyz. She plans to become a star in the NFT space and use her platform to continue helping other artists. His dream is to build residences for artists to secure the resources they need without a label.
“I really dream of creating new plans for more artists to see success in a different light,” she said. “I don’t want artists to feel like they have to be trapped by a label or trapped in a system to be successful. I want you to feel like you can be your full self and move in the direction of your dreams hopefully through Web3.