Kokayi Issa is a Grammy-nominated artist and a Grant for the Web Ambassador. He speaks with POWER PLAY's Ayden Férdeline about how Black creators can benefit from web monetization technologies like Coil and Cinnamon.
INTRO [00:00:07] You're listening to POWER PLAYS, the podcast hosting conversations between policymakers, engineers, business leaders and others who are influencing the Internet's infrastructure and institutions in ways that impact all of us today. Here's your host, Ayden Férdeline.
Ayden Férdeline [00:00:29] Welcome to POWER PLAYS, presented by Grant for the Web, I'm Ayden Férdeline. Today on the show, we have Kokayi Issa. Kokayi is a Grammy-nominated musician, a music emissary with the US State Department, and he is currently leading Beats and Beans, a discussion series on creativity, coffee culture, and the reimagining of creative spaces. He's also an ambassador for Grant for the Web. To be clear, we are both recipients of funding from Grant for the Web, but neither Coil Technologies nor the Interledger Foundation connected us, we found one another organically. Now that that is out of the way, Kokayi, welcome to POWER PLAYS. I am so glad we could connect today. Now a question that I always ask guests on this show is an icebreaker, and that is what is a contrarian thought that you have about business or culture that others might disagree with you on?
Kokayi Issa [00:01:20] That black American culture has influenced culture, globally. Yeah, I think that's the, the one. Am I muted?
Ayden Férdeline [00:01:27] You're not muted. I'm here. I'm a little surprised that's in question. But let's dive a little deeper. I think you're an army brat, right? You spend five years in Germany as a child and learning that intrigues me because, I live in Germany.
Kokayi Issa [00:01:43] Where?
Ayden Férdeline [00:01:44] I'm in Berlin.
Kokayi Issa [00:01:44] OK, nice.
Ayden Férdeline [00:01:45] However, it also made me wonder, how has that influenced your work? Perhaps you could walk me through your journey and some of the experiences that have shaped you.
Kokayi Issa [00:01:55] OK, I'm not actually not an army brat. My father worked for the Army, so he was a Marine, but he left the Marine Corps and then ended up working for the Army and their education system. My journey is different. I grew up in a city. DC has an indigenous form of music called Go-Go, which is the ruling and dominant music form here in DC. So jazz, a lot of jazz, a lot of R&B and Go-Go music has always been around since I was born and before I was born. And hip hop really didn't take root here early on. And so I felt like the amount of influences that I had from, so my dad is from Brooklyn, New York. So I grew up listening to from him. I heard Shorty Rogers and [inaudible] and all sorts of Afro Cuban stuff. From my sisters, it was all funk and Prince and Gap Band and things of that nature. And from our brother it was Cabaret, Voltaire, Blondie, Jimi Hendrix, all the postpunk, Kiss. Yes. So my brother was heavily into rock music. And so, you know, a lot of the stuff I heard growing up were just these different mixtures of music and genres. So I never felt, once I started working in hip hop, I never felt that I had to be held in place because I had all these other influences. And then I ended up going to school and then ended rapping with my elementary school friend. And we started a rap group and we ended up I mean, well, we made a record with a jazz musician, Steve Coleman, toured with him. And then we got a record deal offer from BMG France. And next thing you know, we were in France promoting records and touring and all sorts of stuff. So I've been touring globally for the last 20 years, 20 something years, and just everywhere, you know, I had the opportunity to go to Cuba with Steve. I went to Cuba and studied rhythms with Los Milquetoast and ended up being in Canada, working with the State Department, doing conflict resolution with the group Opus. I have been going to the Middle East, China, Vladivostok, Russia, ended up going as myself to Katmandu with the State Department and then winning two sister cities grants from DC to do exploratory series that my wife created, which does conversations and culture over coffee, right, conversations about creativity and culture over coffee. And we call it our series Beats and Beans, and we just go out and talk to people. We fortunately were able to go to Senegal and then Ethiopia and then locally, you know, so I had all these crazy, weird influences from all over the place which have informed my global view, right, of understanding people are where they are and understanding, like, the separation between the cultural understanding and ideas that happen when you're in America versus outside of America, because that's how I look at it, it's two, each place has its own viewpoint. Right. Berlin is very specific about its own viewpoint in terms of history and context and culture in relation to the rest of Europe, first in relation to Germans, then in relationship to the rest of Europe, then in relationship to the rest of the world. And then there's America, right. It's like, what's the contrasting thing? It's like these other things. And then there's America which is this whole other oddball thing and being able to experience other cultures, you start realizing that that's, it's a centering thing being from a country that is considered a world power and in a very odd experiment. Right. Without all the historical foundation. Right. Because this country is not old. It's not as old as other legacies and countries that have been around for millennia. So it's just very interesting to be able to see these viewpoints.
Ayden Férdeline [00:05:59] That is a really fascinating trajectory that you've had and now you're an ambassador for Grant for the Web. How did that come about?
Kokayi Issa [00:06:07] It was crazy, so it was a friend of mine. His name was Steve Place and Steve does a lot of work in gaming and he worked with Obama's team and he just has his hands in a bunch of different pots as far as like policy and politics and the digital world, you know, anything related to computers and gaming and things of that nature. And he was like, man, there's this company, Coil? And, you know, they don't know any Black people. Pretty much. They need to know more black people. And I was like, you know, I'm Black. I know people. So we can link it up, you know? And we just like, we had conversations around what their idea was and what they were trying to do. And it was super timely because of everything that had been going on in the country. I was like, wow, somebody who's actually trying to put money towards equity and access and not just thinking about it in terms of, what scares tech companies is when you talk about diversity, inclusion and access, right, is that they believe that you're talking about money first. They're like, OK, people of color and money. When you say access, they're like, OK, money. You need some money. And they don't want to disappoint their shareholders. That's how I see it. But access is actually something quite different for me personally. I think access is the ability to leverage relationships and friendships that one party has historically been able to access and utilize those relationships and granting that agency to a whole different group of people. Right. So instead of you just giving me a check, tell me who writes your checks. No, I'm not trying to take your money or take your place, but some of these rooms are spaces that if I was in them, those individuals might be more amenable to being able to help other people, based on having a positive interaction with someone else. And I think that's the thing that I really like about it. And I like the idea of Interledger protocol, the decentralization of money, and web monetization, which is removing the, I don't need to necessarily have an ad blocker, if I'm, you know what I mean? Like, we all have grown up with this web and we know how it is and how the paywall is contrary to creativity sometimes and creation. And if if I don't have to view ads or I don't have to utilize because I really like what is what is Google AdSense? Basically it is telling me that I can post the ad or some sort of thing on my page or, you know, some source of advertising that I can monetize, right? Why am I going through you? Why couldn't I just do it myself? It's my intellectual property. It's my content. Why couldn't I just monetize my own content? And I think that's the freedom that this offers for anybody.
Ayden Férdeline [00:09:11] I am sure that is true. But I think the Coil is very sincere in their desire to make Grant for the Web, and the web monetization ecosystem, truly diverse. So what is it about the program design of funding pots like Grant for the Web that loses Black creatives? What are some of the barriers that need to be removed in order for more talented people to apply? Is it even as basic as lack of knowledge that resources are out there?
Kokayi Issa [00:09:40] So that's the part, right? When you talk about access, it's not that - the application is fairly easy to use. The information is out there. But if you're not scouring the web and know where to look. Right. So there's this book Freakonomics talks about how we look at things. That one cause is not necessarily... the cause that we believe is the cause is not necessarily the cause that's having the effect. Right. It could be something very different. And one example they gave was they say that, you know, at a certain point in time, the crime rate in New York went down when they started stop and frisk. Right. So they were like, we started stop and frisk and now the crime rate has gone down. And the people in Freakonomics posited that, no, there was a drug epidemic. You locked up a lot of people unlawfully, you know, for bad drug charges. Those people aren't home, those people can't make kids. So there's less criminals, there's less people available to arrest. Crime didn't go down, you just you know, you locked up innocent people that were then not able to have families. And so you have a decrease in population in areas that normally would breed crime. So no, stop and frisk is still horrible. No, it didn't make the crime rate go down. The things that you did two generations before me made the crime rate go down. Right. And that's what I look at when I see, you know, when we start talking about access to grants or Black folks being in these spaces, is that historically, if you shut down the programs in my school, if you defund Head Start programs, if you defund computer learning programs, if you defund music programs in school, all of these things will lead, especially when you talk about Black folks and urban economies. When you talk about city centers and you take certain things out of the school, you take away pipelines to other things. As a musician, if I had a music program, let's just say I had, there was a music program in my school, that music program teaches me how to play an instrument, but also teaches me about electronic assistance and playing my instrument. So I'm introduced to computers. I'm introduced to computer learning. I'm introduced to music software. I'm introduced to music notation software. I'm introduced to systems. Right. Writing subroutines, writing code. All of these things happen through a music program. You're not thinking about it like that, but you're introducing kids to computing and computer language at an early space with a music program. Any after school programs that utilize computers, any if they're talking about surfing the web, building a website that's HTML, you talk about Rasberry Pi, like there's so many things that happen. It's not that the community isn't available or ready for it. It's just you remove some programs, you remove programs, you cut programs out of a budget based on your political agenda or whatever you were doing. And ergo, you have created this lesser field of individuals that will get into the technology. Then you take those same mores and folkways and those same isms. The fascisms, the racisms, the economicisms, you know, those things, and then add that into the computing space. Right. So I go to school at Stanford and people believe that I'm there because I'm Black, not because I got straight As, not because I killed SAT, not because, you know, I was valedictorian at my school. I only got into Stanford because I'm Black. Right. And then you have professors that hold these same issues. So less PhDs, less Master's program. So it's other things that permeate the space. If you go to Silicon Valley, a lot of the startups, the IPO, anything that you look at, you see a large majority of white folks. That's what you see, it's young white men, old white men, all running the space. So if that's the only thing that you see, of course, it's not the barrier of the grant, it's the barrier of the system. The system is there to perpetuate things that have already been perpetuated in society overall. And so I think that when you have a Grant for the Web, that's intentional, right, because these are the people that I'm interacting with, they're being intentional about breaking down those gateways. They're being intentional about finding Black creatives and Black creators and those persons of color that can come in and say, OK, I want to disrupt this all-white page. I want to add some color to this page. I want to use all the crayons in the box. Right. I don't want to just use the white crayon and the Black crayons. I want to use all the crowds in the box. And we want to do that equally. Right. And so when you have a program that's intentional, I think that's when you find that you have far better successes because people have, they're saying this is what I'm going to do. And I'm going to put money behind it. I just read a statistic during Black Lives Matter protests, the music industry responded, there were a number of music industries and record labels that responded that they were going to up their diversity and inclusion. You know, everybody, we're going to put money in this. They're not doing it. One place had zero percent. They did nothing. They said they would do it. Then they did nothing. And they just waited for a verdict to come out. And once the verdict came out, they figured that people will forget. And that's what people do. Right. But the one thing I will say about Grant for the Web is that they have stayed the course and they're still trying to make sure that this, their DEI efforts, the efforts are all being adhered to, and they want to be able to get into other communities, and they want to be able to disrupt communities, and they know that there are Black creators and creators of color out here that are able to work in this space that have all the same information and knowledge.
Ayden Férdeline [00:15:42] I'm not speaking about Grant for the Web here. And hey, if I were, I'd say so. But I think they are very sincere in their attempts to diversify the recipients of their awards and I'm thinking - in my remarks now - more about some of the other tech companies that I've worked with, where at least the message from senior leadership has been that diversity and inclusion is important, but it's someone else's job to do. And so it has always been my impression that at least in those organizations that do really well at improving their diversity, it's because there is one or two people, usually people of color, that take it upon themselves and do this in addition to their regular work. And so this is not something that they are directly remunerated to do. It's just something that they do because they individually prioritize it. And as a result, diversity and inclusion happens. It doesn't always feel fair to me though, because it's unremunerated work that you're doing in addition to your full time job. I'm curious what you think about this topic, even in programs that are intentional about wanting to diversify, who are the real beneficiaries of that effort? Is this burden equally shared by everyone? Does everyone come together to try to ensure that the ground pool is diverse? Or is it just a few people that have to really make that concerted effort to make a program a little bit more equitable?
Kokayi Issa [00:17:03] I think if you look at programs and systems and institutions as a microcosm of society, right, so depending on the society that you're in, you're going to see different faces in different rooms, right? Racism is a very different thing in America than in Germany. It's a very different thing in France. It's a very different thing in Africa. Right. So these isms that exist are very different and specific to the group of people that are leading it. I think what happens is people work with who they feel comfortable with. Right. And that comfort is, or rather the discomfort of having to work with somebody else, when you're in a position where you don't have to be uncomfortable, you would rather be comfortable. So you do it. Right. Not I'm going to do it because I feel uncomfortable. I don't I don't know any Black people. I don't know any, you know, because what starts to happen is the excuses. When there's nobody qualified, we haven't found any qualified people. And it's like, well, there's pools and pools of qualified individuals. I think, so what you what you have is you have institutions and companies that say, yeah, we want to do it, but we're not comfortable enough knowing any need people to go do it. Right. So I think the way it's solved is you have to have people that say, yes, we want to do it, and yes, we want to empower you to go do it. And yes, we're going to pay you to do it. Right. We're going to give you some extra money to go do it. But I think the onus for anybody that exists in a space where it's just them and they've been granted some sort of agency without remuneration to go and make sure that the workplace looks a little more comfortable for them. They're going to do it. I mean, that's what I would do, you know what I mean? If somebody said, here's eight million dollars, you know, create the company that you want to create, I would be like, oh, this is all my folks. This is who this is. And it's going to look very different. It's going to look like, it's not going to look like just me, it's going to look like my regular friends that I have now. So I have friends in different spaces. I'm going to be looking at the friends in different spaces, that best fill the role. But I'm also going to be conscious about what, if if I'm talking about fairness, then I got to make sure especially so I'm look at, I'll talk about it in terms of music, as a music producer and an artist, if I'm going in on a major budget project, then I'm looking, I'm saying, all right, well, that's a lot of dudes in here. That's my first thought. If I walk in a room and it's mad dudes, I'm like, there's a lot of dudes. I'm quite sure one of these dudes could be a woman. I'm quite sure one of these dudes could be a different color. I'm quite sure one of these dudes could not have could be a they, could not have any gender roles, doesn't have to be a cis-gendered male. Right. It could be somebody else. So if I'm conscientious, if I'm conscious of that, and I have the power to make sure that the room looks like I feel like I should look, I'm going to look for the best people that look like that, because I know that the best people exist. And I think what happens in any industry is that people act like the best people don't exist and they just go with what's comfortable. So if I'm comfortable with another white person around, I'm just going to hire the most qualified white person that doesn't make me feel uncomfortable, right, because what sort of jokes do I make at the expense of other people that I would feel uncomfortable making? You see what I mean? So then they feel like they can't be them true selves. We have to look at all of these individuals as human beings. No matter what the company ethos is, they'll say what the ethos is. But the human being may never have grown up around any black people, any transgender people, any gay people, any non whatever they are people in their life. They may not have grown up around anybody poor. Right. So they have their own idea, understanding of what poverty equals and what poverty means and what being poor looks like, what ghetto is like, all of these buzzwords and stereotypes that float around, but nobody acknowledges and sits back and says, you know what, I don't know what that is. And so instead of not knowing and feeling like I wouldn't be comfortable around it, maybe I should just go ahead and dive in and lean into it and see what that is. Because once I find out, then I'm like, OK, I understand. You know what I mean, there's differences, everybody is going to have these differences, but it's the ability to lean into those differences to make yourself a little more uncomfortable so that you understand, that's going to move anything forward. It doesn't matter the industry. It just got to lean into what you don't understand.
Ayden Férdeline [00:21:36] Say we lean in and we get more people from different backgrounds applying for and receiving grants. Is that enough? I'm curious as to what is the support that you think musicians in particular require from something like Grant for the Web? Is it just financial support or is it also mentorship? Is it community, or is it something else altogether? What do people need to thrive in order to be able to maximize the use of a grant, provided, that is, we get them applying in the first place?
Kokayi Issa [00:22:06] Well, I think that's the other piece. Right. So that's the part when I said at the onset that when people talk about access and inclusion, right. They think money first. They don't think I feel like I don't necessarily. Your money is great. Money helps all the time. Thank you. But can you give me a mentor that I normally would never be able to get? Like, can you give me a Fortune 500 billionaire mentor that will come through and be like, hey, and then can you help me pay for their time? So that's that's, when I first became an ambassador, those were the questions that I asked. And they were very open to everything. I said, look, giving people money is great. Can I pay for a mentor? Can you all give me some funds, discretionary funds that I could pay for a mentor's time, because this person would never be able to afford an hour with this other person. So if I could just underwrite that hour, that person has to then take advantage of the full hour that is being paid for. Because as the mentor, I don't want you to feel like you're just donating your time, like you're giving it away for free, because everybody comes to you to give away something for free. Right. That's what happens. And I think that's what makes the relationship between all of these parties not so palatable is because you have people asking for assistance without understanding what it took for that person to get there. Pay for people's time. Don't tell anybody you want to pick their brain. To me, that's carying. That's carying talk. A vulture picks brains, right? People ask for advice. People ask questions. They need assistance. They need mentorship. I don't want you to pick my brain. I want you to ask me some questions and and hopefully get some responses. And then if if you can afford it, pay for my time, because my time isn't free. Anybody's time is are free. So if we can underwrite people's time, that's great. If we can form community, if we can check in on folks, so that's what I ask too, like not just grant people money but also, can we do some follow up? Right. Let's see. Not to pad their pockets, not to see what they did with the money, but to be like, yo, do you have any additional questions? What about additional funding? Right. Is there additional funding beyond the grant cycle? Can we do some follow up if this is a really great idea, starts to gain some traction, is there a way that we can support? Right. Who else do we connect them with? Is there another company out there that we can connect them with? Is there a group of kids that we can connect them with so they can have some sort of corporate responsibility give back? Right. You just got a grant for X amount of dollars. Are there any kids that could benefit from you talking to them? So we really can create community, because that's the whole thing. Let's not drop these buzz words and not do the work right. Let's not say, oh, we want to create an ecosystem and then there's no ecosystem, is it? You know, it's what we you call, that is a symbiotic relationship of, you know, what is it? What is the fish, the Remora fish that swims under the shark. Right. Is just sitting there eating the tidbits. That's not an ecosystem. That's just, you know, it's a leech. Right. That's not because what is the, the Remora might remove everything every now and again, but sometimes it's just sitting there like I'm catching, I'm just catching your tidbits, bro. I'm not helping you out. I'm not warning you about other. So I'm not telling you that there's a disease there, you know what I mean? And I think that's what you get when you have a great ecosystem, is you have people pouring into one another, you know, people helping one another with contacts and information and people being respectful enough to pay for other people's time. That's the one thing you can't give back. Anything else, you can get back. Time, you can't.
Ayden Férdeline [00:25:55] Yes, I entirely agree, especially with paying people for their time, because it changes the power relationship entirely when you don't feel like you're just some sort of charity case dependent on someone's generosity for a few minutes out of their day. When they're remunerated, expectations are higher and it feels to me, at least, more like a professional relationship. But I also feel strongly that one-off grants are ineffective. In my opinion, many foundations have this rinse and repeat cycle of bringing in new people. Giving them a pocket of funding. And hoping they create something great with it, but there's not really an intentional decision to connect different cohorts to see what synergies might exist or to understand how to make the funded activities sustainable in the long term. And sustainability isn't just about giving money. It could be as basic as ensuring your grantees have healthcare while they're applying for other grants and entering a pandemic. Or it can be capacity development to learn other skills. And if you have any thoughts on my rambling.
Kokayi Issa [00:27:00] I think all of that is, absolutely, you're dead on, right. That's how you really form community. Community isn't just I want you to use my products or go home and talk about my products. Right. That's you know, we can do advertising. That's advertising. Advertising is get a bunch of people to say your product is great and then keep walking. Right. And then you want to feel better about yourself. Aww, you gave your money to some poor people, aww? Like, that's not community. That's just you making yourself feel better. But if you you know, we can't, my thought process is you can't throw words out there without, words mean a lot to me as an emcee, as a rapper, words are, that's how I make my living, words. So words are, you know, something that you have to respect. And if you say that we're having a community and you say that we're creating an ecosystem, then you need to be able to underwrite or reinforce or assist in areas that are outside of the scope of a transactional relationship. I think that's what it is. Right. We want to stay away from a grant process being a transactional relationship, especially if we're saying we're building a community. So, yes, there's a transaction that happens, but that's not the nature of our relationship. Our relationships should extend beyond the granting period. So I believe yeah, I'm absolutely with you 100 percent on that if you need healthcare then we should have a hotline. Mental health is a killer, too, right? That's the other piece. Is like, what sort of mental health support are we providing for people who just went through the stresses of having to do this grant or whether they won it or not? Or didn't get it or not, right? What is the financial help? What's the financial literacy help that happens too? so now you wrote a budget, but was your budget really the budget like? Do you know about hidden costs? Like, are you thinking about that in terms of whatever, you know? And I love it. I think the follow up thing, I think that's what's so important about the Ambassador role is the ability to follow up with those that you walk through the grant cycle. So everybody that I have been able to walk through the grant cycle, they have my phone number. Right. They don't just have my email. They have my phone number. Call me, call me. Tell me what's going on. You need me to help walk you through something. Alright you applied, oK while you received the grant, what's going on? You good? Like how are you, are you taking care of yourself? How's everything going? I don't need to know exactly what you're doing with the money. I don't care what you're doing with the money, but I want to know how you are as a person. Did the funding help? Like, you know, can I can I pull up? Like can I pull up in South Africa and say what's up and meet the team in person? Like, I think that's what's necessary. If you really want to talk about community. Is show up, show up where people are at. Don't just throw some money. There's a commercial in America where if you send two cents a day, you feed a kid in Africa-type thing. And I think that's what happens with institutions a lot of times is they feel like it's way over there. I gave my three cents, so the little kids in Africa could eat, I gave my four cents so people of color could actually strive. But, you know, four cents aren't actually doing nothing. Right. You know that one hundred thousand dollars to somebody working on a project that needs about 20 million dollars in funding is cool, but it's one hundred thousand dollars. It's not the 20 million. You're one of, you know, you're one of the other 40 grants that have to go together, to cobble together, to create this full funding situation. Right. Let's be cognizant of that. Let's not act like we're out here giving away the whole thing, like we just helped you out of the muck and the mire with our fifty thousand, like, it's cool. It's thank you. Right. But fifty thousand of the 50 million that I need is like. You know, can you give me the 50 million? Can you hook me up with the people that can give me 50 million? Like that's the part, right? So we shouldn't as institutions and as granters, we shouldn't act like, you know. You know, yes, people should be thankful. Yes, it's great to give money, but let's put it in context of what we really did. And I think that's why the community thing is so necessary, is because I know I gave you a little bit and I know I helped you out along the way. How else can I help you? I may not be able to save more money, but can I, why don't I want to introduce you to these people over here that might have another two million like on your way to your situation?
Ayden Férdeline [00:31:26] I love that. I fully agree. Kokai, you and I both know how to apply for grants, we're scrappy and resourceful, but not everyone is. And I imagine, you know, as I do, many talented creatives who love making music but haven't been able to find a way financially to sustain their passion. And as a result, they drift away from the industry altogether. I'm not a musician, just to be clear, so the creatives, I'm referring to are more visual artists, but there are parallels. Anyway, what is your perspective here? Are we losing a lot of Black musical talent? And if we are, how can we help more Black artists to find a way to make a livelihood through music?
Kokayi Issa [00:32:11] Yeah, that's a rough one, right, because music is a whole other ... It's entertainment, right, so being in the entertainment field for twenty six years. Tenacity. OK, here's the thing. I have a family, I have a wife, I have two kids. I've been doing music for twenty six years. Not all of it has been without a job. So I had a job when I needed to get a job because the job was necessary. My love and passion for music never left, right. I needed to understand the music business. That's the part that took me through being a musician. Being a professional musician, I had to understand the music business, the idea of the music business, because what happens is because I love music, I will sing and rap and make, create all day. But when you get into the idea of the music business, then you have to watch out for business decisions. It's with anything. When you are an artist and you create, you make this lovely art, that's very different than being in the business of art. Making film, being in the movie industry, you know, gaming, being a professional gamer or owning a company that's getting ready to go public, very different than when you're sitting in your basement or in your garage or at school creating programs and coming up with great ideas. Very different because what you start to see is the business things that happen. People stealing intellectual property, you know, your good friends stealing your work, all the nos that you're going to receive, funding getting snatched from beneath your feet, like all of those things that happen in corporate America, happen in the music industry, the industry of music. So the creators for musicians and for creatives, that's a very internal struggle. It's not a system struggle. It's internal struggle because you have to be tenacious and not give up. The reason why there's people just like there's people that make games, there's people that make apps, as soon as people were like, oh, I can make an app, you know, because there's you know, as soon as you know how to make an app came on the Internet, people were like, oh, I can make an app. Look, I've got a game. It's hangman three thousand. Like, whatever they're doing. Right. They're just making them. They're making them and making them. So now, instead of one or two great apps, you got 50 gazillion apps out here and you're like, man, I don't know which app is the best. You go to weather app, there's forty million weather apps. I don't know which one is the best one. Same thing with music. There are people put out music every day, all day. And as soon as you add a disruption between, you know, you don't have to go to a record label anymore. Right. It's all been decentralized. You got a DSP. You can upload your music for 40 bucks. You're in the same pool as Jay-Z or Beyonce or whomever. Right. You're there. Now you're there. But what is the difference, aside from the industry, what is the difference between you as an independent artist, as somebody else, somebody else, because they have family, because they're going to quit? They're going to quit. They may choose that. You know what, this thing is unfulfilling. It's not paying. I got to quit. For me, I'm like, that's when you go get a job. I'm not going to stop doing music. I'm just going go get a job. Music aren't paying? Go get a job that's paying. Because the job that's paying is going to help you understand one or two things, A, I really hate working for other people, I really need to hustle and get this thing together, B, I really like this check. Maybe this music thing is cool, but I like this check. I'll do it when I can do it. And all of those things are OK. Right. The tenacity thing is the thing that pulls you through into being a long-term musician and not a hobbyist or anything like that. It is a perspective of understanding the music business. There are always going to be systemic things that keep you from. There's A, especially when you talk about like rock music versus hip hop, I don't know any over fifty-five rappers. I know over fifty-five rockers, I know over fifty-five DJs and b boys and you know, alt, you know, alt whatever kind of music, right. You're allowed to age in certain genres and not in others. Black music, they give you a time stamp, right? Unless you sing R&B and a specific type of R&B as soon as you get to 40, they are like yeah, we need somebody younger. But that's a system thing. I think that was put into place because there's power plays that exist. So music trends younger, you know, it's the same as in Hollywood when you're a certain age as an actress versus an actor. Actors are distinguished. Actresses are old. That's what happens, and that's, within those industries, so those ceilings are there, but it's on you to like continue to push to break through those ceilings. And it's also to understand the idea of what success is for you. So for me, as a person who's been doing music for twenty six years, I got nominated for a Grammy. I've been putting out records ever since. Success for me is I don't work at a regular job anymore. That success is not a Bentley. It's not 20 houses. It's not people kissing my feet. That's not success to me. Success is I can wake up and I can do something or not. And I'm OK, my kids are good, everybody is eating, we can go on vacation, people can go to school, yay, right. For me. But other people have a whole other idea of success. And I think in any industry, if you don't understand that, if you don't forge that and find that out for yourself, then you'll always be chasing the carrot. And anybody can use that to manipulate you.
Ayden Férdeline [00:38:02] I want to go back to a comment that you mentioned a few minutes ago about one of the things that you love about being an Ambassador for Grant for the Web is that you're able to raise awareness about the program and you're with people every step of the way from thinking about applying through to receiving a decision. Are there any Black creatives experimenting with Cinnamon, with Coil, other parts of the web monetization ecosystem who inspire you and that you'd like to shine a spotlight on?
Kokayi Issa [00:38:30] Oh, man, there's so many. Crown magazine, there's [inaudible] there are people who are applying for grants that have been experimenting with Coil that have been doing all sorts of things. There's a bunch of creators on the Coil website. There's Snake Nation down in South Africa. There's a bunch of grantees that are just like killing it out here. I think the other thing, too, is the monetization digital wallet ecosystem needs to get a little more robust, to say the least, so we just can't have a Cinnamon and a Coil, right. We've got to have other wallets and other things that are created by other people just because that's what the market should have. You know, that's what it is. And the thing that is as great is that Grant for the Web and Coil actually are intentional about creating their own competitor. They would love to have a Black competitor doing exactly what they do. This was told to me explicitly and I was like, oh, what company does that. Says, compete with me, let's go. And I got some open source technology. Here you go. If you want to go created yourself, let's get it. I can't be mad at that. It's on whoever now to go make it, you know, and they'll support them and they'll post it on their partner page, which is crazy. Who tells you to compete with me and then advertises free? That's great for me. I think that's ambitious.
Ayden Férdeline [00:39:53] That's something I find very interesting as well. When I look at what Coil is trying to do, which is essentially seeking to monetize every single piece of content that we consume on the Internet in order to ensure that the content creator is properly remunerated. A big differentiator that I see between, say, something like Substack or Patreon, where you must intentionally choose a creator and support them, is people only really pay money to the people they like. What I like about the Coil model instead is you're giving money to all of the content that you consume, all of those creators, even if you're not willing to go out of your way to intentionally give a few dollars to someone?
Kokayi Issa [00:40:33] Right. I really love that. I love that part about it is because it's you know, I think and the thing, too, is that it's not a replacement. Right. So it's not a replacement for Patreon. But imagine if you could monetize your Patreon page beyond just having patrons like any visitor. Imagine if you could monetize your Bandcamp page. Imagine if you could monetize some other pages, right, that exist that are not, you're not trying to usurp or take over anything from Bandcamp. You're just saying I got other content. Come on. You know, hit it up. Let's go. And I think you do it in concert with as opposed to into competition with.
Ayden Férdeline [00:41:12] Just one more question and I'll let you go.
Kokayi Issa [00:41:15] No worries.
Ayden Férdeline [00:41:15] What's next? What's after Grant for the Web?
Kokayi Issa [00:41:18] I have a book coming out called You Are Ketchup and it's a Globe Pequot, Backbeat. I was ready to say label. It's not a label, it's a publisher. But the book is coming out in March of 2022 and it's about music industry. And making it in creative industries. It's partially stories from my life and stories from my time as a musician. But I think it's a positive message and a book that will help you get through not only the understanding of the business of creating, but also the mental side of it, the mental health portion of it that is necessary to be able to continue to work in these spaces where you feel like you're alone a lot of times. Because it's a solo sport, right. Like tennis music and programing and all of this other stuff, you know, you have a team, but when it comes time to execute, it's just you, right. And so being able to mentally work with that, I'm still putting on records. I want to record with Melvin Gibbs currently who put it out for the anniversary of George Floyd. I'm on Nate Smith. He's a drummer. His record is coming out in November. I'm on his new record. I'm putting out two. I got some remixes coming out. One should be dropping on the 18th of a project that I had called Distant Waves. I make a lot of stuff. Let's just say that. I stay busy. I'm making a couple of, I'm in the process of making two records right now under two different like both of them under my name, but two different styles of music. And then just continuing to proselytize a little bit about this program and these grants and making sure that everybody I know, you know, continues to follow along on the path and work towards some sort of semblance of autonomy through web monetization and Interledger protocol.
Ayden Férdeline [00:43:07] Wow, that's great. And so impressive. Kokayi, thank you very much.
Kokayi Issa [00:43:13] Thank you. Thank you.
Ayden Férdeline [00:43:14] I'm Ayden Férdeline and this has been POWER PLAYS. Thanks for joining us today. Next time on POWER PLAYS, we're speaking with the executive director of the Interledger Foundation, Briana Marbury, about the future of web monetization.
Outro [00:43:29] This has been POWER PLAYS. POWER PLAYS is a production of ETUNU. The guests on this program speak only for themselves and the views expressed do not necessarily align with those of ETUNU. Copyright 2021 ETUNU Corporation. All rights reserved.
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