Nas Selling Rights To Two Songs Via Crypto Music Startup Royal
It’s the debut drop for Justin Blau’s Web 3 music platform, which Nas invested in last year. Nas Selling Rights To Two Songs Via Crypto Music Startup Royal
The rapper Nas plans to sell two of his recent tracks through Royal, the crypto-backed music service he invested in late last year.
The songs – “Ultra Black,” off Nas’ 2020 album “King’s Disease,” and “Rare,” from 2021′s “King’s Disease II” – will be available as “limited digital assets” [LDAs], which the company describes as an “extended version of an NFT.”
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Royal’s pitch has to do with selling ownership of individual songs via crypto; buy a token attached to a song, and you’ll receive royalties from its use down the line.
It’s led by Justin Blau, better known as the DJ 3LAU. The son of a hedge fund manager, Blau made a name for himself during the EDM wave of the early 2010s. As an investor and entrepreneur, he’s been heavily involved with crypto for the past few years.
Blau described LDAs as hybridizing smart contracts (which are not legal contracts, and guarantee no rights) with traditional contracts for owning music offline.
“We publish a document that says, this is the legal agreement that we’ve developed with a legal team that allows for these rights to travel with the current owner according to the blockchain,” explained Blau. The LDAs are built on Polygon, a low-fee, eco-friendly spinoff of the Ethereum network.
Nas’ LDAs will be available in three tiers – gold, platinum and diamond – each representing different ownership percentages in the songs. Blau said buyers will also get “additional utility” with each tier, though he declined to say what Nas has in store.
Crypto State Of Mind
Royal raised $55 million in Series A financing this past November in a round led by the venture capital powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), with contributions from Coinbase Ventures, Paradigm and musicians Kygo, Logic and The Chainsmokers. Nas, a longtime crypto investor himself (he won big on Coinbase’s direct listing last year), was also part of the round.
“Nas wanted to be first,” said Naithan Jones, who left a16z last fall to become Royal’s full-time head of growth. Nas was a connection from Jones’ venture capital days; he and his manager, Anthony Saleh, specifically asked to be the first to drop tokens via Royal when the platform went public.
“That really speaks to Nas as an innovator, as a leader, as someone who really sees that there’s an opportunity for artists and fans alike,” said Jones.
Nas also has the advantage of owning the masters for these two singles, which streamlines the process of selling legal ownership through Royal. (Jones said he hasn’t ruled out working with artists who don’t own 100% of their own music, but that it was easier to start with “the least encumbered IP.”)
Royal’s drops are still hand-curated, for now – Blau says he’s readying “an artist a week for the next two months, three months” – but the plan is to open the platform to the public, eventually.
Blau said he’s making a conscious effort to get all kinds of musicians on Royal, some of which might have smaller fan bases, or might not be at all familiar with crypto.
“We really want to show that the product works for everyone, not just the biggest artists,” he explained. “One of the biggest barriers to entry for musicians, as they think about entering the Web 3 ecosystem, is they just don’t know what to do – we’re trying to create a toolkit for artists of all types.”
Meet The Investor Who Spots Opportunities For The Rapper Nas
Anthony Saleh oversees a growing venture-capital fund at the former Hollywood chief’s WndrCo, after its Quibi video app collapsed. He also works with the rapper Nas.
When he was growing up in Los Angeles, Anthony Saleh said he found entrepreneurial inspiration in the VHS cassettes of Walt Disney Co. DIS -2.25% classics such as “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin.” After receiving the tapes for his birthday, he would rent them out to friends for 25 cents a night.
At the time, Mr. Saleh gave no thought to the company behind those movies, or the executive, Jeffrey Katzenberg, then largely responsible for their production throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
Yet more than 25 years later, it is Mr. Saleh whom Mr. Katzenberg is turning to for help plotting a course out of the rubble formed when his first post-Hollywood venture, Quibi, imploded.
Mr. Saleh, 35 years old, has been Mr. Katzenberg’s point of entry to the early-stage technology companies the mogul is evaluating far outside the Hollywood bubble, both men said. After managing music and investments for rapper Nas for more than a decade, Mr. Saleh is overseeing early-seed investing at Mr. Katzenberg’s WndrCo, plugging the company into a lucrative but crowded venture-capital field following its high-profile failure with Quibi, the mobile-video app that shut after less than a year.
“Jeffrey can open any door, but he’s never done tech investing,” said Sujay Jaswa, a managing partner at WndrCo who met Mr. Saleh when he and Nas invested in Dropbox Inc., DBX -0.08% where Mr. Jaswa was chief financial officer.
Mr. Saleh’s investments provide a road map for where WndrCo is focused after Quibi’s demise, and so far have included Dapper Labs, the creator of NBA Top Shot, the digital collectibles company that has successfully ridden the cryptocurrency wave this past year. Mr. Saleh’s initial $150,000 investment on behalf of WndrCo is now valued at roughly $11 million.
Mr. Saleh says his background in music, where he had to manage fans and their expectations, has helped him guide tech firms that want a similar relationship with users.
“I apply my understanding to other industries, because for technology to be adopted by the masses, these companies need to understand how consumers think,” said Mr. Saleh.
After an initial $15 million investing portfolio, Mr. Saleh has started raising money for a new fund worth $100 million, according to a WndrCo filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year.
‘I had a supercalifragilistic down.’
— Jeffrey Katzenberg, describing his reaction to Quibi’s failure
Mr. Saleh’s investments also function as a farm system for WndrCo at large, which can take larger stakes or potentially acquire the companies down the road, said WndrCo leadership. Quibi’s failure was one reason Mr. Saleh has dropped the pursuit of media investments, he said.
“I had a supercalifragilistic down,” is how Mr. Katzenberg, 71 years old, put the experience of Quibi’s failure.
The short-form video app premiered in April 2020 to much fanfare, having raised nearly $2 billion and recruited stars such as Liam Hemsworth and Reese Witherspoon to contribute to shows for the service.
But subscriptions never caught on, and the entire venture folded after eight months.
Mr. Katzenberg’s work with Mr. Saleh in tech firms follows the trajectory of other one-time leaders in Hollywood, from Disney Chief Executive Michael Eisner to former Paramount and Twentieth Century Fox head Barry Diller, who have traded the backlot for venture-capital and broader investing.
For entertainers, venture-capital investing is hardly a stable Plan B, as some bets never pay off and years can go by without a return on investment.
Yet Mr. Saleh and his team are capitalizing on a surge of interest in early-stage investments globally, in part spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has boosted sectors that benefit from lockdowns and an increased reliance on technology.
In 2021, global venture investment hit a new high with $643 billion, nearly double the $335 billion seen in 2020, according to financial-data provider Crunchbase Inc. Funding for early-stage companies nearly doubled to $201 billion, with seed funding up 56% to $29.4 billion, the Crunchbase data show.
The two men acknowledge they aren’t the likeliest pairing. Mr. Saleh started working for Mr. Katzenberg after meeting him through his son, David, who had invited him over to his dad’s house for Sunday afternoon football watching. The elder Mr. Katzenberg and Mr. Saleh bonded over junk food in the kitchen.
Months later, Mr. Katzenberg asked Mr. Saleh for some guidance on whom he should meet with as he figured out what to do with WndrCo, the men recalled. Soon after another meeting at his son’s wedding in Italy, in 2016—conducted minutes before the men were expected at the ceremony—Mr. Katzenberg offered him a job.
Colleagues describe Mr. Saleh as WndrCo’s barometer of what is catching on in the broader culture.
Last year, Mr. Saleh pushed one of WndrCo’s high-profile investments, the cybersecurity company Aura, toward an endorsement deal with an organization not immediately obvious as a partner: the National Basketball Association team the Minnesota Timberwolves, which put the Aura company name on the team jerseys.
Mr. Saleh knows he isn’t what some expect when they hear they are meeting with an associate of Mr. Katzenberg’s. They might expect someone older—and whiter, Mr. Saleh said. When he grew his hair long during the pandemic and braided it, he wondered, “Are people looking at me like I’m a gangster?”
He asked Mr. Katzenberg if he should shave. Mr. Katzenberg made it clear—with the help of an expletive—that he didn’t care.
“He understands consumer behavior not by reading market research,” said Mr. Jaswa of Mr. Saleh. “He’s just in it.” Dapper Labs Chief Executive Roham Gharegozlou added that entrepreneurs today often want to be in touch with their audiences on a more cultural level, as opposed to “just software developers who don’t want to meet their customers.”
It is a shift in tech thinking that mirrors the entertainment industry’s embrace of fandom, said Mr. Gharegozlou.
Mr. Saleh knows something about fans. He started investing through his relationship with the musician Nas, a bestselling rapper since his 1994 debut “Illmatic.” Mr. Saleh met Nas in college, and soon started managing his career—booking him overseas gigs to expand his international reach, and getting him to show up on time for shows.
Several years into their working relationship, Mr. Saleh and Nas joined a multitude of entertainers parlaying their wealth and influence into investing, a trend that continues today and includes everything from Ryan Reynolds’s investment in telecom company Mint Mobile to Gal Gadot’s backing of Goodles, a plant-based macaroni-and-cheese startup. It soon became a significant part of the duo’s work.
“8 a.m. meetings—that changed my world,” said Nas.
While working with Nas several years ago, Mr. Saleh cold-emailed Ben Horowitz, the co-founder of the venture-capital firm Andreessen Horowitz to discuss ideas, Mr. Horowitz said.
The two men got to know one another, and in 2013, Mr. Saleh called Mr. Horowitz to say he and Nas were interested in bitcoin after seeing how many “unbanked” people in the world had no checking account but did have a cellphone—a dynamic he said could decentralize finance.
When Mr. Horowitz later heard about Coinbase, the cryptocurrency exchange platform, he brought the duo into the investment.
Last year, Coinbase Global Inc. was one of six investments in Mr. Saleh’s personal portfolio that ended in a public offering.
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North America’s Largest Solar Bitcoin Mining Farm Coming To California (#GotBitcoin?)
Bitcoin On Track For Best Second Quarter Price Gain On Record (#GotBitcoin?)
Bitcoin Hash Rate Climbs To New Record High Boosting Network Security (#GotBitcoin?)
Bitcoin Exceeds 1Million Active Addresses While Coinbase Custodies $1.3B In Assets
Why Bitcoin’s Price Suddenly Surged Back $5K (#GotBitcoin?)
Zebpay Becomes First Exchange To Add Lightning Payments For All Users (#GotBitcoin?)
Coinbase’s New Customer Incentive: Interest Payments, With A Crypto Twist (#GotBitcoin?)
The Best Bitcoin Debit (Cashback) Cards Of 2019 (#GotBitcoin?)
Real Estate Brokerages Now Accepting Bitcoin (#GotBitcoin?)
Ernst & Young Introduces Tax Tool For Reporting Cryptocurrencies (#GotBitcoin?)
Recession Is Looming, or Not. Here’s How To Know (#GotBitcoin?)
How Will Bitcoin Behave During A Recession? (#GotBitcoin?)
Many U.S. Financial Officers Think a Recession Will Hit Next Year (#GotBitcoin?)
Definite Signs of An Imminent Recession (#GotBitcoin?)
What A Recession Could Mean for Women’s Unemployment (#GotBitcoin?)
Investors Run Out of Options As Bitcoin, Stocks, Bonds, Oil Cave To Recession Fears (#GotBitcoin?)
Goldman Is Looking To Reduce “Marcus” Lending Goal On Credit (Recession) Caution (#GotBitcoin?)
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