Emojis are everywhere today, and while they may be ubiquitous now, this was not always the case. UTB is a hip-hop lifestyle brand founded by Dre Skywalker and Treem Heff in the summer of 2007. The Money Mouth Smiley, as they call it, was copyrighted in the fall of the same year, long before Unicode would include the copycat image in 2015. At this point, the crew at UTB had already surpassed a mere clothing line and had grown into a marketing agency, A&R company, and accomplished lifestyle brand. They had become adept at squashing copyright infringement by that time, but the behemoth that is Apple and its legal team created a situation where it was essentially impossible to retain lawyers or do much of anything at all.
Many find it hard to wrap their heads around the way that crypto art communities have rallied around their avatars as the representation of their membership in exclusive underground networks like the Crypto Punks or the Bored Ape Yacht Club. Similar to the way the Wu-tang logo or the No Limit tank became ubiquitous and lucrative in the 1990s, the late Aughts ushered in acts like Wiz Khalifa and his Taylor Gang movement.
Wiz and UTB formed a partnership in the early stages for all parties involved and helped to change more than just hip-hop culture with their innovative approaches to merchandise and the way they choose to market Whiz as a brand instead of a name as most independent artists do.
Long before NFT’s were a thing, Co-founder Treem, a fine artist and designer, was curating limited-run collections with as few as 15 editions. Many including a one of one sample that was never reproduced. So they are familiar with the scarcity model which has become one of the core concepts of the NFT space. Another facet of the history of UTB I found to be similar to the current practice of airdrops to holders of Tokens was the habit of finding high volume customers in the crowd and bringing them backstage at events and combing through their sales records to track down their biggest supporters to ship exclusive perks to. This fostered a culture of added value achieved by hodling their merchandise. This is the type of growth that is organic and dependant on community building that is a trademark of not only Independent Hip-hop but the burgeoning NFT/Cryptocurrency scene.
Curated by Future Modern on the KnownOrigin NFT Gallery Marketplace on Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, they will be conducting an auction of a one-of-one NFT consisting of the original copyrighted file for the infamous Money Mouth Smiley. They once again are pushing the envelope with a unique drop structure and a compelling narrative for a community of creatives who are sick of not getting credit for their creations. The story is not only interesting but important for those of us on the blockchain obsessed with hip-hop culture and the provenance of artistic creations.
The drop will offer 3 NFTs in increasing order of rarity centered around the Original Money Mouth Smiley, the original colour UTB smiley designs, the original vector designs, and the original sketch design. The first of which can be found at this link. https://bit.ly/3fzlktR
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