On Thursday, Universal Music Group (UMG) announced it had signed Kingship – not a musician, but a collection of four anthropomorphic non-fungible tokens (NFT).
Billed as a “metaverse group,” Kingship is a partnership between UMG and the NFT investor Jimmy McNelis, who owns the four tokens in question. Conceptually, it’s a little like Gorillaz, the “virtual band” created by rock musician Damon Albarn in the late 1990s. Each image comes along with its own fabricated backstory.
The difference is that where Gorillaz was the brainchild of a musician, Kingship is mostly just a brand partnership. Even if you didn’t care about the schtick (the detailed lore, the Gorillaz-branded online games), you could at least assess the music on its own terms. So far, Kingship appears to be all schtick.
Three of Kingship’s tokens (members?) come from Bored Ape Yacht Club, one of today’s priciest NFT collections. The tokens start at around $150,000, but some have sold for figures in the millions. The fourth – a grotesque, zombified take on a cartoon ape – comes from a spin-off collection called Mutant Ape Yacht Club. All four are still banked in one of McNelis’ personal Ethereum wallets, as opposed to with UMG.
The UMG subdivision behind this endeavor is 10:22 PM, which characterizes itself as a “next-gen Web 3 label.” Founded in 2018, the label was initially meant as a home for influencers (other signees include Chantal Jeffries and former Vine star Lele Pons). Kingship marks its first foray into crypto.
“There’s a reason why the individual apes and mutants were picked,” said 10:22 PM founder Celine Joshua. “You’re going to see the personalities, the characters, they’re going to come to life as 3D. It’ll be almost like the way Marvel looks at [its] vault and IP [intellectual property] and starts to storytell.”
That storytelling process doesn’t actually involve music, for now. Joshua explained that while Kingship is, in fact, an official UMG signee, the plan is to give audiences a taste of the IP first – the stories and world-building behind the four characters – before any music comes into play.
“Before you even hear a single note, you’re gonna know what they eat for breakfast,” she said.
And if you’re among the lucky few who actually own a Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT, you’ll get “early access to everything [Kingship does].” That could include the music itself, but also potential NFT drops and metaverse concert experiences.
A common critique of crypto is that it exacerbates wealth inequality – holders of specific tokens might be granted early or exclusive access to derivative NFT projects. In this context, a valuable NFT can essentially be a license to print more money. Mutant Apes, the cheapest of which now goes for about $20,000, were a free gift to Bored Ape owners.
Still, Joshua insists Kingship isn’t about promoting exclusivity: “When Bored Ape Yacht Club started, they just minted it. The community and the value of it of course increased the floor price. This is the same thing here, we’re not going to do anything different. It’s going to be about the masses, and making sure that anyone who is a fan could have one.”
But speculating on NFTs isn’t about the masses, really – at least not yet. Fees (especially on the Ethereum blockchain) can be prohibitively expensive, and the bro culture around NFTs can be alienating for newcomers.
In an inversion of the traditional major label A&R model, Joshua and McNelis are betting on reaching a wider audience through world-building alone. The closest analog is probably “Jenkins the Valet” – a brand built around an invented persona for one of the Bored Apes – which proved there’s a market for this sort of thing. “Jenkins” has released its own spin-off NFT collection, and recently signed with Creative Artists Agency.
Kingship could represent another role in the expanded universe of Bored Ape content. Why shouldn’t a world with an ape valet also accommodate an ape band?
Joshua added: “We’re going to be speaking to audiences where this will be their first entry into NFTs, because we know that music bridges the learning curve involved with tech and format changes in our business.”
Maybe. Whether Kingship’s niche attempt at world-building can accomplish that is another question.