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Jay-Z commissions Derrick Adams NFT to be Auctioned by Sotheby’s

Jay-Z commissions Derrick Adams NFT to be Auctioned by Sotheby’s

On June 25, 1996, JAY-Z unleashed his platinum-plus debut album Reasonable Doubt, the searing autobiographical opus of a young kingpin from Brooklyn’s Marcy Houses as he stands on the precipice of surviving and then rewriting the game; upping lyrical antes across generations and genres; applying hustle to building empires; and unveiling an explosive new blueprint for greatness for the hip-hop world and beyond. Full of brash bravado, scorching wit, and sober reflection, Reasonable Doubt is widely acknowledged not only as a stunning debut, but also as a powerful and influential document that continues to resonate 25 years after its release. (Main image courtesy of Sotheby’s ” Static-image-of-Heir-to-the-Throne-by-Derrick-Adams”)


To mark the occasion, Sotheby’s and Roc Nation celebrate the 25th anniversary of Reasonable Doubt with Heir to the Throne (2021), a distinctive original artwork commissioned by #JAYZ and created by renowned artist Derrick Adams, presented as a one-of-one NFT. With Heir to the Throne, Adams reinterprets and recontextualizes the Reasonable Doubt album cover. Metamorphosing this source material in his kaleidoscopic contemporary take, Adams registers the timeless influence of JAY-Z’s magnum opus that defined and redefined an era. 

Heir to the Throne (which was the original title for the Reasonable Doubt album)is the first-ever NFT that JAY-Z and Derrick Adams have respectively produced. A portion of the proceeds from the auction will benefit The Shawn Carter Foundation and support its mission to help individuals facing socio-economic hardships further their education at postsecondary institutions.


Heir to the Throne is the latest example of Adams’ persistent engagement with self-actualization as it relates to American iconography, art history, urban culture, and the Black experience. Throughout his decades-long career, Adams has probed the ways in which individuals are shaped by their environs (physical, societal, cultural, and historical). Working nimbly across mediums and forms, with various sophisticated techniques, the artist often portrays Black figures expressing themselves through autonomous acts of self-realization.

Indeed, Adams is recognized for his dynamic bodies of work that revel in camouflaging, costuming, masquerading, and fashioning. For example, his Style Variation series (begun in 2018) encompasses monumental mannequin heads donning prismatic hair and makeup styles, transporting viewers to the windows of wig shops, braiding salons, and hair boutiques in the artist’s Brooklyn neighborhood. Additionally, his We Came to Party and Plan series (begun in 2019 during a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency) shows festive figures in party hats that evoke Black joy. Adams meditates as much on people as on place, seeing context as inextricably linked to identity. For instance, in his Figure in the Urban Landscape series (begun in 2017), Adams collapses Black bodies with their surroundings—depicting city streets and cars as interrupting, framing, and colliding with the people that he illustrates.

After meeting several years ago, Adams and JAY-Z developed an artistic dialogue about their shared environmental muse: Brooklyn. JAY-Z was born in the New York borough where Adams has lived and maintained a studio for over 25 years. Both conjure Brooklyn in their practices, calling up the metropolitan landscape and its inhabitants. As Adams explains: “Over the years, JAY has collected and supported my work, and so this collaboration is particularly fulfilling. With this NFT project, we jointly embrace the opportunity to further the conversation about how artists of different mediums contribute to a more inclusive society. JAY’s album changed the game 25 years ago and continues to influence so many of us. It tells the story of someone from Brooklyn occupying the urban space—a place that is as central to my own work as it is to his. My portraits aim to capture the sensibility, optimism, and beauty of urban life, and in JAY’s work I’ve found tremendous kinship.”

This creative kinship inspired Adams to reimagine JAY-Z’s image as a 36 x 36-inch acrylic on wood panel. This painting was then photographed and digitally animated to make a non-fungible token entitled Heir to the Throne. In the virtual rendering of the physical portrait, red embers glow, jewelry shimmers, and fumes from JAY-Z’s iconic cigar emanate from beneath his wide brim. Adams recalls being struck by JAY-Z’s attire when seeing the Reasonable Doubt album for the first time: “He was dressed to go to the opera as if it were 1940, while his peers were in streetwear.” In his quintessential manner, Adams highlights JAY-Z’s classic hat in the present NFT, pointing to the impact of that sartorial detail on the album’s reception and on American culture at large. At the end of the animation, the wisps of gray smoke rise before forming the number “25” connoting the album’s 25th anniversary. The far-left figure wears a scarf that carries a unique autograph—JAY-Z’s only digital signature (embedded as a scarf monogram) in existence.

JAY-Z’s posture and style are reminiscent of the Jazz Age and Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and ‘30s that artists Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence depicted in their work. The composition of Heir to the Throne also nods to other legendary Black portraitists such as Beauford Delaney and Barkley L. Hendricks. A particular touchstone is the “limited-palette” group from the 1970s in which Hendricks painted subjects dressed only in white. Hendricks created one such masterpiece, What’s Going On (1974), three years after Marvin Gaye released his album of the same name. In the present NFT, Adams samples and mixes these moments of art historical and musical significance.


With Heir to the Throne, Adams riffs as much on Reasonable Doubt’s cover as on its contents. In fact, his artistic process by nature aligns with JAY-Z’s sonic methodology. The record is stylistically layered with samples from diverse genres and decades. Showcasing the achievements of Black composers and performers, JAY-Z’s album altered the course of music production while championing Black excellence and entertainment. In a similar vein, Adams reconceives past motifs and techniques in his multi-media practice. His output is radical in its expression of Black normalcy and joy, which disrupts the canon’s historic neglect and repression of Black makers, figures, and narratives. The present NFT represents the coalescence of these aural and aesthetic visions. The outcome of an ongoing conversation between two titanic talents, Heir to the Throne pays tribute to JAY-Z’s revolutionary album while demonstrating Adams’ transformative approach to portraiture.


Derrick Adams (b. 1970, Baltimore, MD) is a Brooklyn, New York-based artist whose critically admired work spans painting, collage, sculpture, performance, video, and sound installations. His multidisciplinary practice engages the ways in which individuals’ ideals, aspirations, and personae become attached to specific objects, colors, textures, symbols, and ideologies. His work probes the influence of popular culture on the formation of self-image, and the relationship between man and monument as they coexist and embody one another. Adams is also deeply immersed in questions of how Black experiences intersect with art history, American iconography, and consumerism. Most notably in his Floater series, he portrays Black people at leisure, positing that respite itself is a political act when embraced by Black communities. The radicality of this position has materialized in Adams’ work across his Deconstruction WorkerFigure in the Urban Landscape, and Beauty World series.

In formal terms, Adams’ practice is rooted in Deconstructivist philosophies related to the fragmentation and manipulation of structure and surface, and the marriage of complex and improbable forms. His tendency to layer, hybridize, and collage not only images and materials, but also different types of sensory experiences, link the artist to an estimable lineage of pioneers ranging from Hannah Höch and Henri Matisse, to William H. Johnson and Romare Bearden. In Adams’ art, the process can also be understood as an analog: “Everything that we are is based on a specific construction,” he once remarked.

Adams received his MFA from Columbia University and BFA from Pratt Institute. He is an alumnus of the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and the Marie Walsh Sharpe Art Foundation Space Program and was the recipient of a Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Residency, a Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship, a Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize, and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.

Adams has been the subject of solo exhibitions at institutions such as the Cleveland Art Museum (2021–2022); The Momentary, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville (2021); SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, Savannah (2020–2021); Hudson River Museum, Yonkers (2020); Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg (2020); The Gallery in Baltimore City Hall (2019); and the Museum of Arts and Design, New York (2018). The artist has mounted public installations commissioned through MTA Arts & Design at the Nostrand Avenue LIRR Station, Brooklyn (2020–ongoing); and RxART at NYC Health + Hospitals/Harlem (2019–ongoing). His work has been featured in notable group exhibitions, including Textures: The History and Art of Black Hair, Kent State University Museum (2021–2022); Jacob Lawrence: The American Struggle, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem (2020), now at the Seattle Art Museum (2021); Men of Change: Power. Triumph. Truth., a Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition (2019–2020); and Performa, New York (2015, 2013, 2005). His art resides in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Studio Museum in Harlem; the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond; and the Birmingham Museum of Art, among many others. He recently established The Last Resort, an artist program and residency in his hometown of Baltimore.

Current bid: 26.06. 2021 09:23am GMT

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(33 bids, reserve met)

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July 2, 03:01 PM (BST

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