- Rapper Ja Rule and Herb Rice created The Painted House to help put Black NFT artists center stage.
- Their first project is called “Black is Beautiful” and features art by Nick Davis.
- They reject criticism of NFT marketplaces, arguing they have pros and cons “like any other industry”.
On a brownstone stoop in Harlem nestled between New York’s Fifth and Madison Avenues, 54 jazz musicians assembled in 1958 for a photograph that would inspire homages for decades to come.
In 1998, nearly 200 hip hop artists crowded onto the very same stoop for a photograph. And in June, 64 years after the original image was taken, dozens of Black NFT (non-fungible token) artists gathered there to do so again.
At the front left stood rapper Ja Rule, who had hits with songs including “Always on Time” to “Mesmerize” in the early 2000s. He’s now aiming to put Black NFT artists center stage with The Painted House, a platform he and his business partner Herb Rice set up after realizing they were often the only Black people at NFT events.
Partnering with NFT launchpad platform House of Firsts, The Painted House released its first project in June. “Black is Beautiful” is a collection of more than 1,000 NFTs by artist Nick Davis depicting the everyday life of Black Americans.
“It captivated me,” Rice told Insider. “Growing up, I was very insecure about my dark skin complexion, so when I saw [Davis’] art, it took me back to a place in time when my family used to tell me how beautiful my Black skin was.”
Others have the same sentiment about Davis’ art, the duo said.
“This represents me,” said Ja Rule, recalling people’s response to the art. “I don’t see too many images with my Black skin on them.”
‘Ahead of the curve’
Ja Rule is far from the only celebrity to jump on the NFT bandwagon, given figures from Mark Cuban to Lindsay Lohan have all done so.
He says “smart rappers” are into NFTs because they “like to be ahead of the curve on things – we can keep our ears to the streets.”
Ja Rule says he got into NFTs without even realizing he was collecting them, through NBA Top Shot, an NFT marketplace where basketball video clips can be traded.
“I’m a big card collector, and I thought this was the natural progression to trading cards, a digital form of trading cards,” he explains.
Before The Painted House, Ja Rule and Rice set up an investment group called Brotherhood Dow to educate their close network about NFTs, cryptocurrency and blockchains.
Their latest venture plans to launch collections by new artists, as well as fashion and apparel projects.
The pair reject criticisms of NFT marketplaces, arguing they have pros and cons “like any other industry” and instead want to focus on its community-building aspect.
Buyers of art from Black is Beautifu will get new music from Ja Rule, as well as other exclusive content, for example.
“Those are things that we get to do in the NFT community that you don’t get to do in any other business entity,” the rapper says.
They plan to give some proceeds to historically Black colleges and universities with a $25,000 donation to five institutions. ICONN Media, Ja Rule’s live-streaming entertainment marketplace, will match that sum.
Ja Rule hopes historically Black colleges and universities will eventually be as prestigious as Ivy League schools. “We want people in our community to be proud when they go to an HBCU like if you go to a Cornell, or Duke, or Penn State, or Harvard.”