Ja Rule and Herb Rice, longtime friends and business partners, have co-founded The Painted House and launched its inaugural NFT collection, Black Is Beautiful, with a charitable component directly benefiting historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
“The Painted House is a passion of Ja and I,” Rice tells Billboard of the new venture in collaboration with NFT launchpad platform, House of First. “We entered the Web3 NFT space a year ago after attending the annual NFT NYC for the first time. It was warm and social, but there were no people of color. We wanted to bring more people of color into the space — so we created an investment group called the Brotherhood Dow, for people that wanted to start buying and selling NFTs, in a comfortable setting of family and friends investing and learning about Web3 and cryptocurrency… we wanted to dovetail that with getting more Black creatives into the Web3 space.”
Rice says after reconnecting with House of First founder Zeev Klein, he and Billboard Hot 100 chart-topper Ja Rule “agreed it was an amazing idea, and launched The Painted House.”
Among the emerging Black artists that make up The Painted House is Nick Davis, who created the debut collection, Black Is Beautiful — which contains 1,000 one-of-one collectible NFTs that showcase depth of emotion, faith, style and resilience while embracing pop culture in some works. Having already sold “80 percent of the collection,” per Ja Rule, The Painted House will donate 10 percent of primary sales of the inaugural collection to five HBCUs: Jackson State University, Morgan State University, Hampton University, Spelman College and Morehouse College.
“We want this brand new venture to educate people of color on NFTs, cryptocurrency, blockchain and the whole space,” Ja Rule tells Billboard. “The Painted House is like our baby, and our way of introducing artists of color into the NFT realm. It’s not easy to create generative art like NFTs because you have to explain why one might be more rare than the other by having a specific trait — like lasers, which is unique to NFTs — whereas creating [traditional] art is often a feeling or passion you have.”
And speaking specifically on Black Is Beautiful, he details, “What we did with Nick’s project is next level. It’s kind of rare for artists to do one-of-ones, so we took on that challenge. This is what our Painted House is about, and where we’re gonna hang our hat on engaging, representing and furthering our culture and community.”
“I see myself in this art,” Ja Rule explains, “Like the Black Stewie, because I’m always gonna be a child at heart with a fun-loving, free-flowing spirit with a brilliance.”
For Rice, there’s a deeply personal connection to the Black Is Beautiful collection, stemming back to his childhood. “One afternoon Ja sent me a text and said, ‘What do you think about this guy?’” he recalls. “It was Nick’s Instagram page. For the next hour and a half, I looked at every single picture that he posted. What captivated me about Nick, was that it was Black, unapologetic art.
“Growing up, I was always teased about my complexion, so I wasn’t secure and comfortable until one day in the fourth or fifth grade when I came home crying and my grandma saw me,” he continues. “She put her hands on my cheeks and said, ‘You are beautiful and handsome. That Black skin of yours is beautiful. You can be whatever you want.’ That touched me in a way you cannot imagine, and I became confident in my skin… When I saw Nick’s art, it immediately made me think of that time as a child and I was like, ‘I need the world to be able to see this.’ It became my passion to bring this to life.”
Ja Rule says the artwork shows “joy, struggle and passion. It’s our emotions. And for kids who haven’t found their strength yet, it lets people know your Black skin should be your superpower and you should lead with it.”
And the proud dad, whose daughter attended HBCU Hampton University, is happy The Painted House is donating funding to higher education for Black students. “Education is the No. 1 solution for some of the issues within our community,” Rule tells Billboard. “The other is funding, and with those two things we can help our community grow abundantly. We want to be a spark for our children to attend HBCUs. Let’s have our young Black men, who are 80 percent of the NFL and NBA, attend HBCUs — so these will be your alma maters that you send money back to, and kids and scouts will follow your footsteps.”
As part of The Painted House launch, Ja Rule and Rice orchestrated a group of Black NFT artists to recreate the iconic “A Great Day in Harlem” photo that jazz greats including Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie appeared in at the famous New York brownstone on E. 126th Street in Harlem in 1958.
“Physical art you can touch, music as an art form, touches you,” Ja Rule says before explaining the significance of recreating the photo, which he credits Manouschka Guerrier for organizing. “When you look at the original photo and what it meant, these were young pioneers rebelliously blazing a trail and showing the world, ‘We’re here and this is something to pay attention to.’ Fast forward to us re-creating the photo for the hip-hop community [in 1998], of a rebellious new art form of music that everybody counted out, and now we’re the No. 1 genre. It was the same energy then. And now fast forward to the great day in Web3. We’re saying, ‘You’re gonna see art through our eyes and vision and you won’t be able to control it.’ That’s a special moment in art, Web3, hip-hop and jazz.”
Up next, Ja Rule reveals, “Upon us selling out this NFT, which we’re cruising to, I’m releasing new songs and everyone that holds a Black Is Beautiful NFT will exclusively get the new music. It’s fun. The beauty of The Painted House is you also get perks.”