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EXCLUSIVE: Nifty Gateway & ARTZ - The Art And Soul Of NFTs

·11 min read

Interview with the founders of Nifty Gateway and NFT and Hip-Hop Artist ARTZ.

Since its launch in 2020, Nifty Gateway has made a mark as an NFT marketplace. Focusing on highly promoted drops often featuring popular brands and notable people, the marketplace has grown to take its place among the top 10 marketplaces.

Nifty Gateway recently announced that they are opening their curated platform to NFTs that do not originate on the platform but are “Nifty verified”. One of the Co-Founders, Griffin Foster, recently posted a statement on Medium that reads in part:

“Our community is everything to us, and over the past few months, we’ve heard your requests — for us to host outside projects — loud and clear. There are amazing NFT projects launching across the ecosystem and we want to bring them to you, our collectors.

In the very near future, you will start to see both the curated drops you know and love, as well as projects that originated outside of Nifty — “verified” NFT projects — offered on our platform.”

We had the chance to speak with twin brothers and co-founders Duncan and Griffin Cock Foster right before they announced new upgrades to the user interface on the marketplace a few weeks ago.

Duncan (left) and Griffin Cock Foster (right), Co-Founders of Nifty Gateway

What distinguishes Nifty Gateway among NFT marketplaces?

“Nifty Gateway has had over 350 unique artists release collections, with several artists releasing multiple drops. We’ve collaborated with a range of artists and brands from Beeple and Daniel Arsham to Eminem and Paris Hilton., Nifty Gateway has seen tremendous growth since the marketplace launched more than a year ago and continues to maintain a dominant share of sales volume in the NFT art market to date.”

What makes Nifty unique?

“Nifty Gateway is a unique marketplace for digital art and collectibles. We curate the work that goes on the platform to make sure we’re presenting the highest quality NFTs to our customers. We also provide a seamless and easy-to-use platform-- our collectors don’t need to be experts in blockchain technology or cryptocurrency to purchase NFTs on Nifty Gateway. We accept credit cards as well as ETH, and the art is priced in USD. Most other NFT marketplaces require you to download, install, and configure an Ethereum blockchain wallet like MetaMask in order to buy and store NFTs. We offer a simpler system where you sign in with your username and password, and we manage and store your NFTs using Gemini’s trusted custody technology.

Nifty Gateway strives to provide the best support to artists and collectors. We have a full-time collector services team, support team, and a dedicated staff of producers to guide artists through the process of launching an NFT.”

What direction do you see art and collectibles taking? Will more data/records-driven applications become the more important use cases?

“Art and collectibles will end up having far fewer barriers to entry and ease of access, which will attract more passionate and engaged communities, as well as the realization of more personalized entertainment/collectibles. Art will continue to evolve as more artists incorporate blockchain into their pieces. Certainly, as NFT assets are natively digital and inherently tracked via the blockchain on which they reside, there is an opportunity for data to play a substantial role in informing creators, consumers, and businesses.”

What advice do you have for NFT creators?
“NFTs are a new medium for art and more. It’s not just a way to sell art online. Take the time to understand what makes NFTs special and interesting and explore the bounds of the medium. If you do so, you’ll get a better reception in the collector community, and the value of your pieces may be stronger.”

How do NFTs help creators reach their audiences?

“NFTs allow creators to more directly access their audience, and similarly allow an efficient path to funding their favorite creators' work. In the future, creators on platforms like YouTube and Spotify may not have to fight the suggestion algorithms and express themselves in a way that conforms to what will pay their bills. With NFT tech, creators can more easily/openly express themselves and allow for a more direct connection to their audience.”

By April 2021, Nifty Gateway had already amassed $255 million in sales and was reporting a 50% growth per month on average.

But as big NFT platforms like Nifty Gateway scale for a continued rocket trajectory of growth, the actual working artists are building on a whole other scale, refining their craft and their relationship to their audiences.

Portrait of an Independent NFT Artist

The hip-hop and NFT artist known as ARTZ, is breaking down barriers in a different way with his work. As an entrepreneur, artist, and relentless promoter ARTZ has built his following independently over the past 6 months. Now he is making history, with his work appearing through major fine-arts auction house Phi Auctions. His audio NFTs are included in the collection “I See Future”, which according to the web site is “a tribute to innovation in art. In this auction, we examine works by artists who instrumentally changed our definition and perception of art. From Alex Katz, Warhol, and Banksy to NFT art.”

ARTZ

How long have you been rapping?

“I've been rapping since I was 15 years old. So it's been 16 years now. I just turned 31. So I've been recording and doing performances at clubs since I was about 15. And around the age of 19, that's when I really started to get acquainted with the business and started producing and trying to take the industry by storm,” ARTZ said.

When did you get into NFTs?

“I got into NFTs about six months ago. But what was really interesting is I have kind of been doing NFTs in the real world for about the last eight years. With all of my music releases in the last decade or so, I had physical assets attached to them. So comic books, paintings, claymation, sculptures, clocks -- and every time I released a song or an album, I partner with visual artists in my community. I curate these mixed Media Gallery events and performances, where I will showcase myself and my new music. But I also showcased these assets or these paintings that came with the music in actual real-life experience. My name, ARTZ, derives from that -- me being up the arts in general and utilizing my platform, my voice, and my music as a way to showcase my homies at home girls that I think are superheroes and amazing talents in their own right.

One day we were doing a Clubhouse (broadcast), and somebody came in and said, have you heard of NFTs and the audience started going crazy. The next day I got into it. I thought, wow, this was meant for me because this is what I was doing.

I was mixing music. I was mixing different mediums of art and merging all of those mediums. A couple of years ago, I had an endorsement situation where I was getting free distribution. I set up a meeting with them, where I was kind of telling them we don't want to sell music. We actually want to give music for free. But we want to do almost a gift boxing experience to anybody who downloads our music. So they might receive a box of these comic books, this T-shirt, but all items that point back to the actual music,” ARTZ said.

How has being an independent artist helped you as a maker of NFTs?

“Being an independent artist over the last decade, I've toured independently, I direct and edit videos, we do our own in-house design.. So over the years, as I continue to be a dreamer, what I did is instead of hiring somebody else, because I didn't have that much money at the time to sit down and outsource, I was doing things DIY... I'm a workaholic. I'm the first one to be in the gym and the last to leave... When NFTs came into play, I thought, wow, this allows me to do everything that I was doing already, but in a digital aspect...

So I sat down and applied the same thing I was doing in the physical world into NFTs... I engulfed myself in the clubhouse community and the Twitter community. I built relationships with new artists... I said let me build with the community here and kind of help elevate these artists,

I've seen a lot of talent. A lot of emerging artists, some people of color and women, weren't necessarily their own best promoters. So with the Clubhouse I do every Monday night, I utilize that as a vehicle to bring more people into the forefront of what I was doing, mixing music and mixing art. And then we started shaking some stuff up, just putting out a bunch of NFTs. I'm at over 30 collaborations...

At this point, I've sold 30-second snippets of my music for over $3,000 just for one copy... now some of the same people that were meeting me at the labels are calling me on the phone asking me, how am I doing this? And it's really not because of the work I've been doing for six months, but it's the work I've been doing for the last eight years in the art and music space,” ARTZ said.

You have had to be your own producer and your own hype man. How do you make and build the hype around your NFTs?

“Using mainly Clubhouse, Twitter, and Instagram as promotion vehicles. But it's pretty strange, because a lot of my collectors, I still don't know. NFTs are becoming so widespread that the minute I post something on Twitter, if 20 people retweet it it can get discovered by somebody that doesn't even follow me. And they might just go purchase it because, at the end of the day, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

I think what we're doing, mixing music and art, is innovative. And I think people are seeing that...

Most recently, I got accepted into the PHI Auction house, one of the few fine-art auction houses in the world to actually sell NFTs... We're selling 11 of my collaborations in the same lot right now as Rembrandt, Andy Warhol, and Keith Haring... And this is actually the first time in history that a recording artist is selling NFTs at a premier auction house in a lot that consists of audio and visual art,” ARTZ said.

Is the currency of NFTs authenticity?

“Yeah, I think that is a true statement too but there is a wild west to the NFT game too because I would say maybe 50% of my collectors I've never spoken to. But the community of people that support me, whether they purchase or have not purchased, are there because of my innovation as an artist, but more so, my sincerity and authenticity of who I am. And I think that goes for anything nowadays. The music doesn't sell itself, it's the person they're buying into,” ARTZ said.

What advice do you have for people just entering as creators in the NFT space?

“I would say hit the ground running, experience is the best teacher. I always tell people to tell your story and your purpose... And the art is going to march along, especially if you put in those 10,000 hours+ into your craft. If you really work on it, and you're consistent, you'll find an audience for it...

My whole brand is built on being a reject... a lot of people that I grew up around, ended up dead or in jail or just working regular jobs. In a lot of ways, I’m like the people who follow me beyond just even my art and music. They follow me, mainly because I'm a believer in vision and I manifest and people have been motivated through that. I couldn't tell you 10 years ago, my name would be next to Andy Warhol’s. That's f***ing ridiculous. Right? I can't draw a stick figure but somehow that's been manifested,” ARTZ said.

Summary

Since the pandemic, there seems to be more hunger than ever for a constant stream of new content. To track the movements and direction of the NFT market and its buyers, you can’t get the whole picture from examining just the big marketplaces. NFTs have allowed the small artist to scale, to monetize, and reach their audience in new ways, but the need for new and innovative ideas is still what drives the market.

As NFT platforms make enormous volumes of sales, the efforts still rely on the creative acumen of artists like ARTZ and his collaborators and their ability to reach and build relationships with their audiences.

*Cover art: JJ Weinberg & ARTZ - Earth Q Woke

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