Spotlight #1: LETHAL
Since our inception in 2013, Lyrical Lemonade has been a pioneer in discovering and sharing the newest talent in hip hop. As the years have gone on we’ve been able to share some of our favorite artists with the rest of the world through blogs, videos, and live performances. The team at L3MON decided that there’s no better time than the present to take the same approach with the world of Web 3. Our new Spotlight series is our way of highlighting some of our favorite creators in this new age of the internet and sharing with the world. Our first-ever interview is with LETHAL; an artist whose work we’ve admired for quite some time now. We’re excited to share this new series with you all and watch it grow & develop.
I’ve known you personally for a while now through our previous conversations and all the mutual friends that we have. Let’s start off with some background information on you; What’s your origin story?
I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma without much to do. There weren’t any real programs for the creative arts at my school and on top of that I was a shit student. There wasn’t a lot of hope for me to amount to much and I didn’t have any real direction on what I was going to do with my life. That started to change when I decided to pick up a camera. It started off as a fun hobby but quickly turned into an addiction. I was basically a personal photographer for all of my friends at first and found a basic foundation through that. As time went on, I became more experimental with my work and found a real frequency in the process of turning my traditional photography work into something entirely new. It was like a psychedelic drug, entering a flow state while exploring all of these different pathways to end up finding a finished product. I would do photoshoots for free with as many people as I could to just have the assets to keep exploring. Most of the time I wouldn’t even share it, it just came from a pure place of needing to get lost in another world that I was creating.
When did you make the decision to fully pursue work in the arts?
I had family in Chicago and they were telling me about this art school that seemed promising for someone in my academic situation. I felt like getting to a big city and going to art school was my only true shot at having a fulfilling career. I figured if I could get through school and network my ass off, I’ll “make it.” I wound up going to this school for music business. I was still consistently working on my art but at the time I couldn’t fathom having a career solely based on my art.
I started an indie music label with some friends I met through class. That was fun for a while but everything came to a stop when Covid hit. Ultimately, I ended up dropping out of school and the business plans with my friends fell apart. At that point I really had nowhere else to turn besides the artwork I’d been making for years on the side. I told myself “Now’s a good time to go and find an audience.” So, I started to use Twitter as a tool to blast my portfolio out to the masses. My work was initially met with some praise and I started to gain followers. I felt welcomed into this online art community and I started to learn more about that whole segment of the internet. It didn’t take long for me to start seeing the term “crypto art” pop up on my timeline.
What was your first exposure to crypto?
My first exposure to the concept was interesting to me; I had learned in the past about crypto around 2013 because my “wannabe-hacker” friends had introduced me to this new concept. They were showing me a website on the dark web like Silk Road and I remember how insane the entire concept was to me. I thought “How are they transacting on all this stuff?” and that’s when my friends showed me a page that you could buy Bitcoin on. I remember the landing page very distinctly; It had a bright blue landing page and a bright orange Bitcoin logo with the live price. At first I was so confused by all of it and quite frankly I was kind of scared by all of it.
Fast forward a few years and my uncle is explaining the concept of a blockchain to me. He was really into crypto early on and had made some good investments. I had a better idea at that point in time what it all meant but I still couldn’t really get a grasp on the greater meaning of blockchain tech and what it has the power to accomplish. I trusted my uncle that crypto would be big in the future but I still didn’t see a direct application for myself. So, at that time I just put whatever little money I had to spare into Bitcoin and Ethereum and sat on it for a bit. This was in 2016.
Fast forward back to Covid times, I had already had some limited exposure to crypto so when I saw the term “crypto art” pop up it really fascinated me. Within five minutes of doing more research it felt like “Oh, shit, this is exactly what I dropped out of school for.” From that moment forward I was spending 24/7 in Clubhouse rooms meeting other artists and getting on stage trying to learn as much as I could.
Upon being exposed to Crypto art & other Web 3 concepts, what was most appealing to you?
The thing that was extremely attractive to me was the sort of counterculture going against the powers that be in all creative industries. In my studies of music business, I quickly learned how most artists in all industries rarely own their own work and the middle men control most of the process. Seeing the power go back into the artist’s hands was really appealing to me.
At the same time, I didn’t really have anything else to do so I wanted to get ahead and build my platform prior to the mass adoption wave. I figured if I can get in a position to establish myself in the present moment, I’d be better suited down the road. As I said, I didn’t really know anything besides crypto and art at that point in time so it felt like a perfect marriage.
That first wave of exposure to Web 3 can produce this euphoric feeling where you just want to keep going 24/7 because of the fear you’ll miss out on something. I think we’ve all experienced burnout to some extent in our primary exposure to the space. Did you experience any type of burnout or fatigue after your initial euphoric phase?
Absolutely. In the beginning I was very energized. It felt like I was in a full sprint and the entire world around me was really excited. Web 3 was all I could talk about to anybody around me. It took me a few months to experience my first real burnout. This was around the time that everybody had just minted a Bored Ape. I was offline for about a month and then when I got back, boom, everyone was rich.
The apes were almost the exact opposite of what I enjoyed about the space. I thought Cryptopunks were interesting but I felt as though nobody else should touch that concept. I stand corrected now because of the success that PFPs have had thus far and the personal benefits I’ve received from having an Ape. I view it all as a marathon; you have your moments of charging through and putting in work and then you also have your reset periods where you log off and gain some peace. You have to treat it as such to stay on top of your work in this ever- changing industry.
Now that the craze/euphoria in Web 3 has settled a bit and we’re seeing only the most dedicated companies continue to work amidst falling prices and engagement, do you see this time period as a moment for growth?
Yes, I definitely do. I think these bear markets are healthy for the NFT space because they weed out grifters and people just trying to make a quick buck. In times like this, people who double down get a chance to establish themselves and in time you’ll see some of these people mentioned in the same breath as XCOPY, Beeple, and the many others who have paved the roads we’re working on.
Outside of your own work and the work of your close friends, is there anybody that you constantly look towards for inspiration? This space is new and dynamic but is there anybody whose work & decisions you look at and think “He/she has got it figured out”?
Yes, there’s two people in particular that I believe have done a great job establishing themselves; Jake the Degen & Gunnar Magnus. They’re both incredible artists who I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. I always find myself viewing their work and opinions on the space and trying to adopt their methods as my own. I feel like they have a great grasp on what it means to be an artist in this space. They don’t get lost in the sauce of the hype and expectations that people and collectors place on you. Love those guys.
Punks or Apes?
Man, that’s a tough question. I will say Bored Apes because I ended up buying at a certain point when I realized they were definitely going to be number one in the space. Buying an Ape honestly changed my life so I have to give credit to their project. I do feel that Punks will always be a historical grail and personally I’ve always preferred the aesthetic of the Punks over Apes.
In previous bull cycles in crypto and NFTs we’ve seen many attempts from existing companies and celebrities try to promote and/or launch their own projects. Obviously we only really see headlines about company & celebrity involvement when things go south; who do you think has done a solid job in their step into the world of Web 3?
Well, a couple people come to mind. Obviously, I think you guys (L3MON) have done a great job. I was very happy with how you guys stepped into the space. You could have easily dropped a crazy amount of NFTs and pulled in a crazy sum of money. But instead, you kept it organic and true to the brand and are delivering a high-quality experience to a tighter knit group of people who are real fans of the brand.
Another person that I feel like has done a great job is Banks. He’s been very careful to try and not lead his followers down a bad path. He’s put his money where his mouth is whenever he’s investing and I’m interested to see what he will be doing in this space in the next 5 years with Faze and NFT gaming. I feel like he could very well be the face of NFT gaming at a certain point.
As we point our focus towards the future, one of the pressing topics in NFTs today is the Creator Royalty conversation. Given your role as a creator in this space, what is your take on this?
One of the main things that got me excited about NFTs was this ability to create my own world on-chain and have royalties allow me to potentially live off of my work that I’ve been making for years. In reality, the artists aren’t the ones commanding this market; it’s the liquidity that’s in control. That’s what these marketplaces are going to adhere to in order to stay in business. In my mind a potential solution is creating marketplaces geared more towards collecting art and less about hyped up buying and selling; something different from a traders market. I’d like to see something with a more sophisticated approach in regards to artwork that also upholds creator royalties no matter what.
Have you ever considered looking at building your own marketplace in the future where collectors can come to one central marketplace to browse and purchase all of your work?
Yes, that’s certainly an idea that fascinates me and if we keep going in this direction, I think it’ll evolve into each artist having their own website/marketplace. An artist operating here should have their own platform at the end of day, and it’s best that anyone trying to build an art career here knows that.
In the past few years you’ve acquired some unique experience in the sense that you’re a creator in this new industry but you also have a solid understanding of the trading/financial aspect of this industry. That mixture of creative mind with business mind is quite rare and I believe it gives you a unique lens to view this industry through. In your eyes, what do you think will drive the next mass adoption wave of Crypto and NFTs?
I feel that wave coming through gaming. If I was going to place money into anything, I’d be researching the hell out of NFT gaming and any companies getting into that realm. I feel they’ll be able to expand this industry more than anybody at this point. You just had Mongraal, a pro gamer, make more money ($1.6 million) from a key that came out of a monkey’s ass than he’s made in years of being a pro gamer. If something like that doesn’t excite you then I don’t know. I feel like if you’re someone who’s interested in gaming as a career then you should definitely be looking into the intersection of blockchain and gaming.
Besides the aspects of NFTs we’ve already discussed, what else do you enjoy about this space?
I like the idea that people can coexist here. We’re not NFT artists; we’re just artists. There is no male artist, female artist, etc. We’re all just artists here who like our work to be interpreted for what it is. I like to be judged solely on my work. If you make good shit you know you’ll be rewarded regardless of who you are, what you are, and where you’re from.
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This concludes our first edition of the L3MON Spotlight series with LETHAL. I’m thankful for him taking the time to sit down and give us his story and his views on where Web 3 is at right now and where he sees it going in the future. We’re super excited at L3MON/Lyrical to keep growing this Spotlight series and giving artists a chance to tell their stories and share them with our audience.