Show Up! The Ballad of a Music NFT Queen
Sara Campbell
0xa139
May 10th, 2022

Crypto, Culture, & Society hosted breakthrough multimedia artists Latashá and Sirsu for a lively talk about Latashá’s pioneering approach to cultivating community, talent, and attention in the NFT space. This is a condensed and edited version of their conversation. 

Sirsu: Through the creative use of sound, film, and photography, Latashá has carved out a place for herself at the vanguard of the crypto art world. It’s remarkable for many reasons, not least of which is that she is, for all intents and purposes, the type of artist who is generally overlooked in mainstream spaces. 

One of the reasons I was excited to talk to her is because she is such a great example of someone who has built tremendous social capital and used it to help other people. If it weren’t for her, we would not be seeing the breadth and depth of musicians getting involved in NFTs that we’re seeing now. It’s a refreshing contrast from most mainstream artists, who don’t tend to have the attachment to the community Latashá has worked so hard to cultivate — and which has had such an impact on the kinds of artists who are building a catalog and getting attention in the space. Day after day, she is building a powerful case study that shows how community building can help produce, cultivate, and launch talent. 

Latashá: Thank you for such a beautiful intro! I’m excited to be here and share my story. I hope it will resonate and support anybody who needs it. Like you said, I have been a musician for some time and have found in the web3 space a real home for me to cultivate myself as a multidimensional artist.

I also always saw myself as a community leader. I have this idea that artists have always been community leaders. Some of our greatest artists have activated some of the biggest movements in the world. I think about Kendrick Lamar and Black Lives Matter and how connected they are. And I think about other artists as well and how music has always intertwined with community change. So it only made sense for me to move in that direction as well.

Sirsu: When did you realize you were meant to become an artist? Was there a catalyst or stroke of inspiration?

Latashá: I always wanted to be an artist, but I grew up in a Caribbean and Latino home, and being an artist was not an idea the family had for anybody. 

My mom says that when I was in her belly, they would be playing music and I would be wilding out in her stomach. 

And then when I was born, we would have karaoke nights and I would steal the mic from everybody. So I think there was always this seed of wanting to be a creative. But I grew up in Brooklyn and the walls are thin. You can't be singing out loud, or everybody's gonna hear you in the building. So I used to tap into my creativity through things like stationary and markers and drawing and things of that nature.

As I got older, my mother pushed me to move into a degree in law. So in college and even earlier, I was gonna become a lawyer. I was pushing a lot into different programs about law. I was head of the debate team at my high school. And I was also president of the class and mock trial leader and things like that. So a lot of my performance art might have lived in that world, but I also loved drama. I was a drama and theater kid at school. And then when I was 15, I started writing poetry and that became the catalyst to really express myself. I had a partner who was a rapper and he loved poetry, but unfortunately he was murdered. To heal, I used poetry to tell my story, but I kept that kind of silent until I went to college.

And when I went to Wesleyan, I studied hip hop. I studied performance art and African American studies. And that was the time where I really started shifting myself into this loud being that I am now (laughs) and allowing myself to be really open with my expression. I was writing plays at school and my thesis was about the embodiment of hip hop in black culture and in America. 

I thought I was gonna go to Broadway, but life just didn't work out that way. But I think I've always had these seeds in me. When I finally had the opportunity to break free from my family's values is when I realized that being an artist actually is a valuable way of living and being. So that's when I started to really dive in. 

Right out of school, I worked a nine-to-five at J.P. Morgan because I needed to pay the bills. I hated it big time. But at night I was still doing ciphers and poetry slams. Eventually, they just took off and started the trajectory of everything I’m doing now.

Sirsu: What were some of the challenges you faced along the way as you were trying to define your brand and your identity as an artist?

Latashá: One was family, obviously. As a woman of color, I often feel that our families project their fears onto us. They try to make us dream of something that seems more “practical.” That was a huge challenge for me. My mother and I went through a lot of hard times. I ended up feeling very alone in the process of becoming who I am. 

And then it was the industry, obviously. You've heard all the horror stories about women going into it. I've dealt with a few of my own — from sexual harassment to people telling me that I wasn't enough. I am now healing from body dysmorphia, which is something I'm in therapy for.

All this because I was dealing with an industry that wanted to morph me into something that I am not. I lost myself a lot of times through this whole process of my life and journey. And financially, I really had to figure out how to be independent. 

Being an independent artist is expensive! You don't have any loans coming in through a label or anything. And to me, a label is just a big bank out of which you're getting a loan. I had to really figure it out on my own. 

So, I navigated all types of work and gigs. I was performing like five times a week in the beginning to pay my bills. And, you know, New York rent is very expensive, so I had to do a lot of shows.

I became a graphic designer as well, so that I could make my own flyers and not have to pay anybody to do it for me. Then I started doing that for other people. I learned how to mix my own music and I mixed other people's albums and projects too. I also became an artist in residence at National Sawdust and The Shed, teaching and offering experiences through my art.I had to learn many trades to take off as an independent artist fully, but in time I found more of a team and was able to give more of the work away. 

Sirsu: How did you get into crypto, and what was that process like? Was there a moment when you realized you had a body of work that you could translate into this environment?

Latashá: I was playing around with the ideas of Bitcoin and Doge and other things from around 2018 to 2020. Jahmel, my partner, lost his job during the pandemic. And I was doing a publishing deal that I hated at the time. And we were like, what are we gonna do? How are we gonna make income directly? 

We moved to Los Angeles two years ago, right before the pandemic hit. LA is a different world and I didn't have a nine-to-five or anything. I was figuring it out as I went and writing music for commercials and things like that.

But those checks can take years to come. So I was living off unemployment and whatever money was coming in. Jahmel was on Instagram and he found our friend, Lyonna, who retweeted or reposted something that Sirsu said about crypto art. And I was like, oh, what's that? So we discovered this opportunity to put our art into a non-fungible token and sell it. 

I was very skeptical about the space for a long time, but then started studying what Sirsu was doing. He was Jahmel’s first pathway into understanding more of it. And then Jahmel taught me. And when I finally understood, I was like, “This is dope." And the community was so giving and open, people were just offering information and sharing links and telling us what to get into. 

One of the things that really triggered it was Jahmel’s transformation. He paid his rent four months in a row with no struggle at all. He was taking care of his bills with no job. And I was like, “OK, there's something going on here!”

But what clicked for me personally was finding Connie Digital, a hip hop pioneer in web3. Up until then all I was seeing was JPEGs. I thought, OK, that's interesting. And then I saw Sirsu putting up memory videos and clips of sounds and things like that on Zora. And I loved Zora. Zora to me is the digital Downtown 81. I was really excited to see all these different kinds of artwork living in one space.

I had tons of art living on hard drives that just were sitting there, so I figured I would try putting something up. In February of 2021 I put up my first piece, which became one of the first music videos on blockchain. It sold in three minutes and was bought by Jacob, the CEO of Zora. I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is crazy.” 

So I just kept running with it. I put up everything from performances to poetry to performance art pieces to photos. Just a bunch of different things. And then came back to music videos in the summer.

Sirsu: I love the fact that there were multiple touch points. Something that happens with a lot of artists is that they feel the pressure to dive in immediately. But I like how you tried different things here and there. It paints this larger picture of you saying well, OK, I’m starting to understand the context for how this could be used. 

It’s great to hear stories about how folks get into crypto. Sometimes it's very straightforward, sometimes it's roundabout. I'll talk to people in rooms and they'll be like, Latashá just got into the space like it was nothing. Like she just walked in and figured it out. And I'm like, no, all of us are going through the same process of saying, “Hmm, I don't know…”

You've been at the vanguard of the NFT space since you got in. How is your outlook different from when you started? 

Latashá: When I started this, I thought I was just gonna use NFTs as a way to invest back in my web2 world. I was like, I'm gonna sell these and then get a marketing team to push everything through web2, and blow up that way. I initially did this solely for monetary gain. But then when I started getting deeper into it, I found community. I met real dope people that were really there for me. I found newer forms of creativity that I didn't even think I had. I feel like being a community leader is a creative to a great extent as well. And that changed my whole outlook on web3. I realized that this was actually an evolution of the internet. 

One: it's an evolution of what we will become as artists. I'm really excited for that more than anything web2 now (laughs). I do want to hit mainstream, and I will, but I think I'm more excited about what we’re doing here because it's new soil. We're really planting the seeds of a garden that's gonna prosper. I think it's gonna take time and a lot of effort for us to make sure the right leaders are in the space, etc. So I put a lot of attention into it. I'm always thinking about who's here, and how we can support each other. How can we make sure people feel safe, protected, and not afraid of this tech we’re building. How do we make sure that as more and more people get into web3, they're not coming into the same nonsense as in web2. 

How do we make sure there aren't the same gate-keeping aspects? And if we are curating, what does curation look like in this space? I want it to be prosperous. And I want to do the ‘Age of Aquarius’ thing and have us all evolve, but I can't lie. The space is still really scary. We're dealing with all walks of life here. 

I just read an article where someone said you could live an extra 120 years if you just get rid of your physical body and put it into AR/VR form. And I was like, no, thank you. I want humans to be in this space. That's really important to me. I love AI technology. I think it's really cool, but I think what's even cooler is human to human technology. How we create together. I'm always pushing for that.

Sirsu: What are some approaches you've found to be useful for helping people drop their baggage from web2? Especially when it comes to notions of decentralization vs. hierarchical structures, it seems like we constantly have to be dropping old assumptions.

Latashá: This may sound crazy, but I use a lot of the metaphysical studies I’ve done to help me navigate the space. For whatever reason, I feel like metaphysics and web3 work very well in tandem. I think a lot about energy work, and how people interact with this space. I'm always questioning and paying attention to different vibrations. 

So as for centralization, I think there are pros and cons to centralization in the space. At the root, we’re centralized beings. We are not decentralized. So we’re never going to get around that. The question is, what are we centering on?

Are we centering on income? Are we centering on race? Are we centering on these kinds of concepts that mess us over? Like, when you make a rule, what is that rule really doing to the community? Is it capping the broader community? Is this continuing marginalization? What is the rule really creating? And that's when I think people start to see something different every time. 

When we created Zoratopia, for example, I wanted it to be open. I wanted anybody who needed to understand web3 to be able to come in. But then when we did the IRL events, I really made it a rule that the artists we highlight were BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, etc. because I wanted to make sure that we are showing a different front of what web3 is and can be. 

Oftentimes when we see web3 it's the white crypto bro. And I have some admiration for a lot of white crypto bros, but I also want to make sure that we tell another side of this story. So it's really important for me to set rules that are gonna just make betterments for this space (if we have to set a rule). 

I feel like decentralization is still just a concept and we aren't fully there yet. We're still working towards it, and it will be a long journey.

Sirsu: I feel like instead of waiting for changes to this space, you are making those changes. Zoratopia is one of those really incredible examples of you making the changes you want to see. Can you give folks a primer on this project, and what your mission is for it, especially as it relates to the intersection of music and culture? 

Latashá: Sure. Zoratopia started because so many artists were DMing me and asking me web3 questions. Every day about a hundred artists were hitting me up. And so I was like, you know what, I'm just gonna create a space where we're all gonna link up. I don't want it to feel like school, but we're just gonna learn about this web3 thing together. 

So now I've onboarded over five hundred artists into web3, just through these Zoom calls. And there I help them get their wallet. I teach them about the different platforms available to them. I teach them about the minting process and then I sometimes have a special guest come in from different services. So PartyBid will come in or Metamask will come in and talk about their tools in depth. 

It was really beautiful to witness all of these amazing artists find this new channel for success. A lot of them were struggling in the web2 space—unable to pay bills and such. Sometimes we have these really deep conversations during Zoratopia where artists are like, “Yo, I really pray that this works for me because I am struggling.” And people will end up paying each other's gas fees and all these things through Zoratopia. It became this dope community happening just through these Zoom calls. So we just kept doing them and then they started creating group chats for each other so that they could continue to connect. And then inside of the group chats, they would throw out ideas about tools and other such things.

One day an artist named Dae Yunique hit me up and was like Latashá, I would love to have a connection with everybody in real life. So we threw an event at Art Basel and it was amazing. We had a panel in the morning that was about the future of web3. We had a space where artists got to meditate with a sound bath. Then after that we had an NFT fam photo shoot. So everybody got pictures taken. And then at night we had this really dope party where everybody got to connect and hear performances from web3-focused artists.

The event ended up getting huge shout outs from Art Basel. And then we did one at South by Southwest and the same thing happened. The whole concept to me is to create as safe as possible spaces for web3 artists to showcase their art, to be their fullest selves, and to really connect with each other. 

Sirsu: The cool thing about this is that you were given agency to flourish as an artist, and you poured it back into the community. You said, “Hey, let's collectively celebrate our wins together, our losses together. Let's combine as a family.” I think that poses an interesting opportunity for the space moving forward.  


Audience Q&A

Q: A lot of people deal with imposter syndrome. How did you handle feeling like you weren't good enough, or the fear of failure? 

Latashá: I always have this voice in the back of my head when I'm ready to quit telling me that I can't quit. Even now when there's days where I'm like, I'm done, I'm running away from NFTs. Like, girl, you gotta keep going. So I try to listen to that voice as much as possible. One of my favorite quotes is “if you're doing what you fear, you're doing it right.” So I always think about when I'm terrified or scared that I need to jump even further into the thing that is right. So I live off of that. And as for failure, you gotta be okay with failing. I think that's just a part of it.

I've “failed” so many times, but I don't think anything is a failure. I think everything is just a blessing and a lesson. We learn from everything that we do, and each step takes us closer to something that we're dreaming of. 

I just think we're all just on a journey to creating our greatest selves. So even if a moment comes with this idea of failure, you're still on the right track, no matter what. Every time I feel like something is just not right or I’m going in the wrong direction, I try to ease back and just get centered and aligned with myself.

I believe that as a creative, we're all vessels for some other purpose that is going to transform the world. I just live off that idea and if I don't make art or if I don't create, I don't feel like I'm my best self, spiritually. 

Q: So when niches become mainstream, that's when corporations become engaged and active. What do you think could be our responsive and proactive approach to ensure that, say, Warner Music doesn't buy Sound.xyz?

Latashá: I can’t speak for  Sound.xyz, but I know that at Zora we have concrete manifestos and ideas of what we want web3  to be. And we're staying true to them. It's about us at the root. We have to collectively say that we don't want these folks to come and take over everything we’ve built and miss the fact that this is for art to get back to its essence.

Crypto is a collective consciousness happening in real time to me. And it's about us saying, “Word, this is not it.” And when they do come — and they will come with their bags, I've seen it happen — you have to make the decision to stay with your root intention. 

Q: I have a bunch of friends that are artists and I'm trying to help them navigate web3. Do you have any ideas on how artists can cut out the middleman and get in front of people to build awareness of their brand?

Latashá: I always tell artists, before you get into web3, find a therapist. I know that sounds funny, but please get a therapist because this is a real transformative journey! You're gonna start seeing a lot of money come in and out, and you're gonna see a lot of artists get a lot of money. It's gonna do a lot to the mind and to the spirit. So you might want to get a therapist or make sure you have some sort of ritual work to keep you aligned and grounded. So that's one thing. 

I also tell every artist to connect with every artist in the space that resonates with you. When I first started, I hit up everybody! Followed everyone who looked like me or spoke about the things I was thinking about. Like I researched Sirsu before I became his homie. So that was one aspect of community building. The beauty of the web3 community is that everybody's learning at the same time. We're all trying to figure this thing out, right?

There are a few leaders in this space that really know it and get it. But everybody's willing to support in some capacity, right? So connecting with people and sharing and retweeting other artists, and doing it in an authentic way, those are great ways to build community.

The next part is, know what you want to tell people out there. I knew my story, because I've been telling it for a long time. So it's kind of ingrained in me at this point. But as a new artist, you want to know your story and be able to share that via Twitter, via interviews, via connecting with people in real life, etc. And you want to tell it in a clear way so that people get to know your personality.

That story is what people are buying into. You know, music is everywhere. Tons of artists have music, but what people really get attached to is their connection and to your story and hard work. So I always tell people to know their story, know their work, and know the intention behind everything they’re doing, as much as possible. So once you start telling that story via Twitter, via every project that you're releasing, that's when people will start connecting with you and supporting you. 

I'm not the biggest Discord person, but Discord servers have a lot of prominent people that can support you as well. Start connecting on Discord and telling stories there.

I think one of the coolest things is showing up. And showing up can come in two forms, right? There’s showing up for yourself, and then there’s showing up for others and amplifying them. So in a way, when you show up for others, when they look at you and see how you're a force within your own work, it only makes their bond with you stronger. ‘Cause they're like, this person is just as dedicated and driven and devoted to what I'm doing as they are with their own work. 

I feel like showing up is a mantra, a motive, and an action that captures the spirit of web3. 

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Crypto, Culture, & Society (CCS) is a learning DAO focused on building liberal arts for crypto. Founded in 2020, CCS has grown into a full-stack educational initiative hosting workshops, electives, and other programming for its members. The CCS community includes technologists, creators, community builders, educators, and lifelong learners. You can keep up with CCS on Twitter, Substack, and via the Society Journal.

Special thanks to Miru for the art and Tasha Kim for the graph design that accompanies this post. And to Tom White for editorial support.

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