ANATII, South African hip-hop and NFTs: How can artists and fans meet each other halfway?

ANATII’s latest single ‘PUNISHER’ marks South African hip-hop’s venture into NFTs and Web3. Are South African fans ready? 

By Sabelo Mkhabela

ANATII’s new single ‘PUNISHER’ seems like it’s a slapper; it has the vigorous percussion, heavy bass and euphoric chants that light up your soul with glee, the same way his 2018 hit ‘Thixo Onofefe’ did. I could be wrong, though. All I’ve heard of the song is a snippet. ‘PUNISHER’ is not a song you can just go on Spotify and stream whenever you feel like it. You have to, uhm, mint it.

ANATII decided to release his first single in four years as an NFT. This was shortly after he removed all his albums from streaming platforms in June. He later tweeted, “time for creators to take control. sell art not your soul.” The point ANATII was making is what many proponents of artists selling NFTs have been saying, it’s not a new concept; the more middlemen you eliminate as an artist, the better. Financially, streaming doesn’t prioritise the artist. As a result, a reasonable number of artists have boycotted platforms like Spotify over the years. More about that here.


“You know, just being able to put your music out, all your art seamlessly, without having to wait on tons of developers, pay all these exorbitant costs. It’s just completely seamless and straight to the public and I love it,” ANATII explained his move in a space he hosted upon the release of ‘PUNISHER’, about a week since the removal of his catalogue from DSPs.

He told fans that, during his time away from the public eye, he was “building behind the scenes within the Web3 space”. He mentioned that some of the projects he’d been working on weren’t even related to music. “We been working on creating our own wallet just to serve the continent and the rest of the world that serves the needs of the everyday man, and you know, the different utilities that we need, from electricity to airtime, things like that and just solving real problems that are on the ground here on the continent,” he said.

“But on the creative side, working on music, working on film, photography, art… I’ve been creating in a whole new way, and being able to express myself through the NFTs has been the greatest platform because we are in control.”

He explained the main drawcard of Web3 for him: “Web3 is important for us right now because our anonymity, our privacy, our access to finance, and content, and all this, has been gate-kept by so many different people, whether it’s corporate, government, or any entity of that nature. So Web3 creates a new way for us to interact and engage with each other. I’m also big on creating a bridge between Web2 and Web3. So, we’re able to connect with each other and bridge the gap in terms of accessibility.” Nothing off-brand for THE ELECTRONIC BUSHMAN.

F*ck with your soul like Ether

By now, you should know what an NFT is, or at least what the acronym stands for: “non-fungible token” which is, as Forbes described it, a digital asset that represents real-world objects like art, music, in-game items and videos. They are bought and sold online, frequently with cryptocurrency, and they are generally encoded with the same underlying software as many cryptos.

Which means, to purchase an NFT, you need cryptocurrency; most NFTs, including ‘PUNISHER’, are sold in ETH (Ether), one of the many cryptocurrencies used in such transactions. One ETH is worth approximately US$1500 or R26k. Anatii’s ‘PUNISHER’ goes for 0.08 ETH (US$122.54 or R2054).

That may sound like an exorbitant amount to pay for a song. But, by buying an NFT, you aren’t just buying the music, you are also buying ownership, like collecting a piece of art. As much as those assets can be duplicated, the owner remains the owner and that ownership is registered in the blockchain. Think about it this way: you and your family own the copy of “The Last Supper” that hangs in your living room, but neither your mom nor dad own the artwork.

Only 816 NFTs of ‘PUNISHER’ are available on the platform where the song is sold. Essentially, that means there will come a time when the song is sold out (the same way CDs used to sell out at Musica and Look & Listen).

“When you go to a gallery, people don’t question the price of an art piece on display, and I’m like, why can’t we do that for music?” independent rapper and multimedia artist Latashá Alcindor was quoted by XXL as saying of NFTs. “Why can’t music be seen like a Basquiat or like Kara Walker? It needs to be seen in that same world because the energy that some artists are putting into their music is just as full.”

Latashá is one of the many US hip-hop artists and creators who are deep down the NFT rabbit hole, where inside are fine artists, digital artists, collectors and venture capitalists. Rappers who have cashed in on NFTs include Soulja Boy who, last year, sold his tweets (one was sold for US$1,288, another for US$200) and Nas, who allowed fans to buy portions of the streaming rights for his songs ‘Rare’ and ‘Ultra Black’ which can be bought at different tiers, giving owners between 0.0113% and 2.14% of the rights of both songs, respectively. Before the release of his latest album, Drill Music In Zion, Lupe Fiasco released an NFT range which he called LFT. Benefits of purchasing the LFT included participating in the “meta-narrative” surrounding the new album and gaining access to a Drill Music in Zion private listening party.

Opportunity for early investors

South African artists who’ve released NFTs include Major League DJz, DJ Sbu, The Kiffness, and recently, ANATII, who’s one of the first in hip-hop. But they certainly won’t be the only ones. For instance, in the last interview he did with HYPE, Nasty C revealed he would be dropping an NFT project soon.

There haven’t been any reports about how well (or not) Major League’s stunning digital art piece portraying the twins or DJ Sbu’s levitating figure have done.

According to the findings of Music In Africa’s “Revenue Streams for Music Creators in South Africa 2022” report, NFTs are already contributing an average monthly income of R22,520 for early investors in the South African music industry.

Are South Africans ready?

But, thus far, the attitude towards NFTs in South African music has been lukewarm as the craze hasn’t quite caught on in the South African music industry the way it has in the US and other parts of the world over the last two years. It makes sense. We are already behind when it comes to streaming and many other technologies, so an artist asking us to get into cryptocurrency to buy their music feels a bit exclusionary and makes them appear a tad bit out of touch.

“I don’t wanna make it tough for the listeners to get access to me,” said Pretoria rapper Tyson Sybateli during the African Music Business Update Twitter space held in July by Sounds of the South. “Already most of the dudes locally ain’t streaming, they downloading off Fakaza. I went double platinum on Fakaza this year, I know it.”

Music journalist and music business junky Mayuyuka Kaunda, who was co-hosting the space, earned himself Tyson’s respect when he told the rapper that he doesn’t necessarily have to sell his actual music as NFTs. “It can be anything attached to the music,” Mayuyuka said. “You shouldn’t think of Web3 as the music living on there. You can have a visual world that you can explore. You don’t have to make the track an NFT. It can be anything attached to the music like a no-face piece of art or something. NFTs shouldn’t be looked at as the music itself living there. It’s all these other options, something like Lupe’s artworks. It becomes another form of art. But it can live in a totally separate world. The fact that you already have a visual way of communicating (whether it’s the snake emoji or the [blurred out] face), that might help you exist in worlds like that.”

Meet us halfway

You’re thinking what I’m thinking too? ANATII’s music could have remained on streaming platforms and he could have asked us to mint the artwork perhaps or any other visual piece of art. Because, as it stands, how many people will be singing along to ‘PUNISHER’ at shows? I know my old-fashioned ass with my Spotify and Apple Music subscriptions won’t.

One of the representatives of noted during the space that, perhaps, to ease South Africans into this new terrain, they could have enabled rand payments. Which is what Momint, South Africa’s first NFT-based marketplace for content creators did when it launched in May 2021.

Perhaps, when Africans adopt western mediums, an effort must be made to meet the people halfway by keeping in mind how we move down here. A localised approach to Web3 and all it comes with could go a long way. Even KFC added a pap option to their signature Streetwise meals.

For now, I’m just crossing my fingers that the upcoming Nasty C mixtape won’t be released as an NFT. Because I know I speak for most fans when I say I ain’t minting sh*t in Ether. The assumption here, of course, is that South African fans are still part of our artists’ target market. And assumptions can be wrong.

This article appears in issue 22 of the monthly HYPE ezine available for purchase here.

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