The songs – “Ultra Black,” off Nas’ 2020 album King’s Disease, and “Rare,” from 2021′s King’s Disease II – will be available as “limited digital assets” [LDAs], which the company describes as an “extended version of an NFT.”
Royal’s pitch has to do with selling ownership of individual songs via crypto; buy a token attached to a song, and you’ll receive royalties from its use down the line.
It’s led by Justin Blau, better known as the DJ 3LAU. The son of a hedge fund manager, Blau made a name for himself during the EDM wave of the early 2010s. As an investor and entrepreneur, he’s been heavily involved with crypto for the past few years.
Blau described LDAs as hybridizing smart contracts (which are not legal contracts, and guarantee no rights) with traditional contracts for owning music offline.
“We publish a document that says, this is the legal agreement that we’ve developed with a legal team that allows for these rights to travel with the current owner according to the blockchain,” explained Blau. The LDAs are built on Polygon, a low-fee, eco-friendly spinoff of the Ethereum network.
Nas’ LDAs will be available in three tiers – gold, platinum and diamond – each representing different ownership percentages in the songs. Blau said buyers will also get “additional utility” with each tier, though he declined to say what Nas has in store.
Crypto state of mind
Royal raised $55 million in Series A financing this past November in a round led by the venture capital powerhouse Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), with contributions from Coinbase Ventures, Paradigm and musicians Kygo, Logic and The Chainsmokers; Nas, a longtime crypto investor himself (he won big on Coinbase’s direct listing last year), was also part of the round.
“Nas wanted to be first,” said Naithan Jones, who left a16z last fall to become Royal’s full-time head of growth. Nas was a connection from Jones’ venture capital days; he and his manager, Anthony Saleh, specifically asked to be the first to drop tokens via Royal when the platform went public.
“That really speaks to Nas as an innovator, as a leader, as someone who really sees that there’s an opportunity for artists and fans alike,” said Jones.
Nas also has the advantage of owning the masters for these two singles, which streamlines the process of selling legal ownership through Royal. (Jones said he hasn’t ruled out working with artists who don’t own 100% of their own music, but that it was easier to start with “the least encumbered IP.”)
Royal’s drops are still hand-curated, for now – Blau says he’s readying “an artist a week for the next two months, three months” – but the plan is to open the platform to the public, eventually.
Blau said he’s making a conscious effort to get all kinds of musicians on Royal, some of which might have smaller fanbases, or might not be at all familiar with crypto.
“We really want to show that the product works for everyone, not just the biggest artists,” he explained. “One of the biggest barriers to entry for musicians, as they think about entering the Web 3 ecosystem, is they just don’t know what to do – we’re trying to create a toolkit for artists of all types.”