Last week the auction ended on a sale on NFTs of the Tupac photo collection.
About 30 years ago, I had the privilege to photograph one of the greatest rap artists of all time: Tupac Shakur. In the early 90s, I couldn’t have conceived of anything like the non-fungible token (NFT) market and the adventure I’m embarking on today with these photos being auctioned on OpenSea.
Let me start at the beginning: on April 11, 1992, I was hitting the Hollywood streets promoting my rap ‘zine. Not a blog, not a Tik Tok. My ‘zine – an independently produced paper magazine. There was no internet to speak of. For underground subcultures, ‘zines were the internet back then.
I ran into Tupac at the Pig & Whistle on Hollywood Boulevard, and recognized him right away; he was embarking on his career as a rap artist after being a backup dancer for the Oakland-based rap group Digital Underground. His record release party for his legendary album 2Pacalypse Now was that night. He bought one of my magazines and invited me to the party.
I immediately went to a Thriftys drugstore and bought a disposable 35mm camera and went to the party at Glam Slam West, a night club owned by the musical artist Prince. There weren’t many people there, mostly record industry execs, and me with my disposable camera.
My intent with the developed pics was to give them to Tupac himself, in return for supporting me as a journalist by buying a magazine. I had no idea that he was going to become a superstar someday. I only saw him in person twice after that, and neither time did I have the pictures with me. So, I held onto them as a keepsake from my journalism career during the Golden Era of Hip-Hop.
In the 21st century, the analog world slowly gave way to the digital. As the Internet gradually phased out print publication’s popularity, my time as a journalist culminated, but Tupac’s influence and legend endured and even grew after his tragic death. All too often, we appreciate people more when they’re gone.
The power of blockchain technology now gives value to virtual assets. It took a couple of decades to link real world assets to digital ones, but now that day has arrived. When I heard about non-fungible tokens (NFTs) a few months ago, I was perplexed. How could a digital object be given such a high value? I read any article that I could find on NFTs and blockchain, and I concluded that the best way to get the value that these rare pictures truly deserve was to put them on the Ethereum blockchain.
From my novice perspective of blockchain, I see it is a verifier of authenticity. I think the closest analogies are trading cards, comic books or any other rare collectible. People can counterfeit rare items, and it takes an expert to distinguish the difference. Blockchain verifies an object’s originality and authenticity digitally and in a public domain, so the owner’s assets are protected. Backed by a blockchain currency, the value of the asset can be justified because of its rarity or its complexity, and the connection to the notoriety or story of the creator or NFT creation itself.
This is how the infamous Beeple piece became regarded as one of the highest valued NFTs in existence, after selling for a value of $69.3 million. I believe the convergence of analog and digital is upon us. Facebook is calling itself Meta to reflect this changing paradigm. We are blending virtual and traditional realities. Both worlds have been travelling side-by-side for a few decades now, crossing paths in the occasional augmented reality Pokemon Go or early experiments like Second Life. But there was never really a time when the digital and analog met at the digital divide the way we’re seeing with blockchain and NFTs.
The metaverse is doing what the Internet did long ago: dismantling the last vestiges of a purely analog society. Being able to interact online through social media and web pages is becoming passé. Augmented and virtual reality allow us to seamlessly interact with each other online in a new and robust manner.
And for me, who started this journey hustling magazines on Hollywood Boulevard, there is value here. As a creator, this is a new and powerful outlet. Previously, these photos sat in an album. When I was a substitute teacher, I used to reward middle school students for finishing their assignments by giving them a peek at this album. But otherwise the power of these photos stayed locked away.
Tupac once said he would spark the brain that would change the world. Putting these photos, this piece of hip hop history into the metaverse on OpenSea, is another pathway to make that dream come to fruition.
This article originally appeared on Fortune.com.