The Original Money Mouth Smiley from UTB • 🔥 Featured Drop
when you see the image above, what ideas does it inspire? perhaps motivation, ambition, greed, or good fortune? you associate it with whenever someone's gettin' money, thinkin' about gettin' money, or otherwise eyes fixed on securing the prize of life.
you'll no doubt recognize the image as an emoji; a universal digital symbol that articulates your biggest dreams, greatest joys, and darkest fears in one keystroke. The 🤑 emoji holds particular relevance in the crypto world, as we naturally use the internet language for money to express our experience of internet money made language. nfts bring the promise of embracing the cultural milestones that emerged from this technological revolution, and honoring their creators.
you may or may not recognize the original image that directly preceded the 🤑 emoji: the Money Mouth Smiley© design, copyrighted by pioneering Black-founded lifestyle brand Under the Bottom (UTB) as their logo in 2007, a full 8 years before, without attribution to or authorization by UTB, the 🤑 emoji entered the unicode.
UTB made the Money Mouth Smiley© as their logo before emojis existed!
since the 1990s, unicode has acted as the standardizing organization for digital communication. but only starting in 2010, capitulating under corporate pressure, did they consider it a "priority" to add emojis to their standard.
when emojis first debuted on iphone 5 in 2011, one needed to import a special keyboard to use them. by then, UTB had already established themselves as more than a clothing line, but a marketing agency, A&R company, and accomplished lifestyle brand in their own right. Tyga, Diddy, and Mac Miller had appeared on camera wearing UTB gear. UTB threw Wiz Khalifa's first show in southern california, leading the future rap megastar to enlist UTB to brand his entire Taylor Gang merch empire, and heavily feature the UTB smiley in his video for "Taylor Gang", one of the most streamed independently released singles of all time.
more on that later, but even today, when you pull up on UTB in person at the inland empire creative studio they operate out of, you bear witness to their influence in the flesh: an interconnected legion of rappers, producers, designers and creators in every medium all rockin' UTB gear, be it a lanyard adorned in a UTB smiley collage design; jackets with subtle UTB smiley print pocket lining; denim with the money mouth insignia spraypainted on the legs; or the UTB smiley not on any fabric at all but tattooed on a supporter’s skin. you would think you had crashed an officially scheduled UTB photo shoot, but this is their every day (though you’d likely see UTB-affiliated photographers snapping photos as well). the same way punk or bored ape nfts signify belonging to a cryptoart community, UTB built an irl community of socal art hustlers, for whom the UTB logo signifies their vision for more and their undying drive to manifest it.
(left to right) UTB co-founder Dre Skywalker, UTB recording artist Jae Harp and others rocking UTB gear, with a “1,000,000” UTB trademark, Taylor Gang collab, and “#BetAMill” UTB hashtag on full display.
Thursday, August 5th, 2021, on the 14th anniversary of their inception, UTB will auction the original copyrighted files for their now ubiquitous Money Mouth Smiley© design as a 1/1 nfts, on the KnownOrigin nft gallery marketplace and curated by future modern. we offer you cultural alpha captured through nfts - an iconic image made word without language barrier, made artistic asset whose ubiquity can now become its value. to properly weigh the significance of this nft drop, we must understand UTB's story and why nfts make so much sense as their next chapter.
utb nft origins
in the summer of 2007, founders Dre Skywalker and Treem Heff incepted UTB and its time-honored Money Mouth Smiley© logo in their respective Cal Baptist and Arizona State dorm rooms over sidekicks and tmail. Dre had just finished up the first year of his basketball scholarship and, as a broke college athlete, set his mind on two summer goals: get money and get better, which meant a job and somewhere to stay near an la fitness.
but with gas hitting $4 a gallon for the first time ever, he needed to hatch a plot to do both while on pre-covid lockdown from a combo of global oil markets and the southwest's notorious lack of sufficient public transportation. When Dre reached out for support, his childhood friend Treem reached back, so Dre confided in Treem his vision for a brand that would establish the roots of a money tree from "under the bottom, never ova the top", with a logo that loudly announced that mission: a straightforward depiction of that "money vision" that anyone with eyes on a prize in life can get behind. it clicked immediately for Treem, and they got to work coming up with the logo that speaks this language forming in their minds.
after a month of brainstorming over tmail and AOL instant messenger correspondences, Dre visited Treem in Arizona to settle on a logo design out of Treem's sketches. they watched Pharrell's Ice Cream Skate Video during that visit, which inspired them to drive their own brand through multiple logos. a month later, by August 2007, they were trappin’ merch samples out of the IE and Arizona, and UTB was born.
in october of that year, UTB mailed a CD (y’all remember those?) with roughly 15 of these designs to the patent office and secured their copyright. subsequently, UTB didn't abandon the designs in some dank basement filing cabinet, only for some lucky opportunist to stumble across them, dust them off and do the real work to raise the iconography to its current stature. instead, from the jump of their 2008 Season 1 release, UTB cultivated a momentous grassroots creative movement expanding beyond the industrial outskirts of los angeles to achieve global reach while still maintaining its local, community-based roots. these relationships formed the basis for "creator economies" before everyone talked about creator economies: multidisciplinary coalitions of friends putting on and building infrastructure for each other because the powers that be would not do any such thing for them.
note the parallels with crypto's core value propositions here. in fact, much of UTB's business ethos would reflect those principles that crypto and nft brought to bear before the technologies had caught up. these include:
💎 scarcity UTB has always dropped heavily curated, limited run collections, selling items in as few as 15 editions, even one of one sample, then never producing them again. Treem, a fine artist and painter along with a designer, held the instagram handle @rareartgoon before nfts, so there's that.
🎁 living media when UTB went on tour with musical acts they branded, they would recognize and pick high-volume customers out of a crowd to come backstage at shows. they combed through their sales records to track down their biggest supporters to give exclusive perks and added value over time, making the UTB experience ever expanding and evolving.
🥚 metaverses as early as 2013, UTB conceived of a music video that would display a 2-frame QR code unlocking a gang of exclusive content when scanned. they long embraced the idea of hidden easter eggs in their offerings that unlocked augmented experiences.
UTB always moved like they would get on and stay on by empowering and reinvesting in themselves and their supporters, rather than resorting to fast food style consumerist fashion geared to everyone but reaching no one. similarly, crypto ultimately represents investment, trust, and belief in oneself and one's community rather than external powers. even UTB's frequent replacement of Ss with dollar signs ($) throughout their typography, for instance in their slogan, "Have a nice life$tyle" or their tagline, "you ever put a $tick of butta in the crockpot?", continues on this theme of self investment: bringing to mind stock or cryptocurrency tickers, it says, "treat our art as an asset, not a disposable". and not just for a quick flip either: heating butter takes longer in the crockpot than the microwave, but bears a better return; basically, hodl on for dear life. "to the moon", the phrase which captures the hopes of these ideals within crypto culture, does not just speak to the price of cryptocurrency, but a mindset of achieving freedom and new heights. this parallels accordingly with the equally syllabled UTB hashtag #BetAMill, which does not literally mean bet a specific dollar amount, but emphasizes taking the ultimate leap of faith on yourself, especially in defiance of detractors.
along their journey, UTB would inspire and work with some of today biggest cultural icons, many times propelling those careers to new stratospheres before they became household names. case in point: UTB's partnership with Wiz Khalifa. UTB low key innovated "influencer marketing" before the days of social media, first connecting to Wiz through myspace. in twitter's infancy, when celebrities would still share personal info with fans, Wiz tweeted UTB his email, which launched a legendary partnership...but not without a turbulent takeoff.
at a moment's notice, the opportunity presented itself to sell merch on Wiz's 2010 tour, and UTB needed inventory fast. they didn't have the capital to fund the venture but knew they had the demand, so they took a chance on themselves. Dre and Treem hopped in a sprinter van and pulled up on their local print shop, explaining to them that UTB needed $20k worth of merch fronted they would pay back in a few days. taken aback at first, the shop agreed due to their rapport with UTB, and UTB drove straight from the print shop to Phoenix, AZ to meet Taylor Gang...only to miss that first show of the tour. they would trek on to tour dates in new mexico, houston, texas, and dallas, texas, selling out all the shirts, paying the print shop back, and putting in another order by that third show. the print shop shipped the reorder to a Florida hotel they stayed at later in the tour.
the tour overall sold so much merch, that Wiz could pitch himself as a not only a recording artist but a commercializable brand, leading to the same label that had just dropped him from a $1M deal to resign him to a $10M deal. the rest, as they say, is history.
the design for the 🤑 emoji originates from the logo for UTB’s lifestyle brand, which, before emojis, pushed forward hip hop and streetwear culture at the onset of those movement’s takeover of music and fashion culture more broadly. this nft drop aims to reclaim, preserve, and properly value for its rightful owners a cultural heritage swept up in the "explosion of the internet". let’s talk (briefly) about the 🤑 emoji itself, in the context of internet (modern) culture, the emoji’s progenitor Money Mouth smiley©, and its upcoming nft release.
Money Mouth Smiley©, artistic assets and modern culture
art is a conversation, and the UTB smiley hands down harbingered how we would communicate in the future modern digital age.
when UTB first spawned, people would press them with questions like, "how y'all gonna make money off t-shirts?", and "how you gonna make your brand a smiley? that's corny; smileys aren't relevant anymore". imagine then what the UTB community felt when, after weathering hundred-strong hoards of haters to come together as a thriving creative economy rallied around this emblem embodying their "money vision", they were forced to see their coat of arms appropriated on every Apple device keyboard, for every bleacher report betting alert, in every cnbc report on Elon Musk's or Jeff Bezos' newest notch of egregious wealth, on debut cash app cards, and generally anytime any company, publication, or anything or anyone that touches money wants to seem hip or relatable to the youth. many close to UTB’s situation outright boycotted usage of the 🤑 at first. while UTB held a far from fatalist outlook on their predicament, there proved little way to regain the upper hand with the tools available to them at the time.
you see, UTB successfully defended their Money Mouth smiley© copyright on multiples occasions before the 🤑 emoji came out on iphone in 2015, cease and desisting and collecting damages from many a bootlegger. neither copying UTB's idea nor proving their authorship of the idea started with the emoji. but apple presents a different beast than a copycat clothing company, and lily-livered lawyers would either not take UTB's case at all or not represent them in good faith.
but with the support of the nft community, UTB can turn the tables on the typical story of big tech, mass media and archaic intellectual property law exploiting smaller and marginalized artists, reclaiming the ubiquity of their symbol from value lost into value captured, for them and everyone who rides with them.
UTB may have forefathered the field of "retroafrofuturism": the linking of past, present and future pop culture through the lens of Black experience. they invented a "language of the future" steeped in cultural context by evolving on the happy face smiley concept that entered popular consciousness in the 50s. by the mid noughties when UTB got started, one most likely saw the happy face smiley on a take out box or baggie, along with the phrase "Have a Nice Day", ironically the same slogan the Spain Brothers used in the 70s to rip the most recognizable smiley face design from Harvey Ross Ball and copyright it. by adapting the Spain brothers slogan to "Have a Nice Life$tyle", UTB added a slick edge to the valediction while stamping themselves as culture developers beyond simply selling clothes before everyone called themselves a lifestyle brand.
emojis originated on japanese mobile phones in the late 1990s, but did not reach global popularity until their adoption by the Unicode standard and inclusion on mobile phone operating systems starting in 2010. Unicode did not adopt the money mouth smiley until 2015, the same year oxford dictionary selected the crying laughing emoji as word of the year.
in this way, UTB does not claim to have invented all smileys or emojis, but proved the future modern use case for emojis with the first smiley to natively represent a novel lexical unit or abstract concept, not simply replace already existing text-based language. they innovated the use of smileys to express complex mindsets, beyond simplified emotions. you can only express emotion facially with your eyebrows, eyes, and mouth; the UTB smiley engages all three. if these claims seem contrived, go read the UTB blog post archived since 2008 breaking down the function of each facial feature of the design in communicating its overall expression. in fact, there's no reason a "greedy" or "rich" emoji would need its tongue sticking out; that clearly comes from their design and implies a deeper or at least more relatable meaning than straight avarice. Michael Jordan inspired UTB to make the smiley's tongue stick out, which sheds light on that deeper meaning: the mindset to push oneself to greatness, have fun, and swag out while one’s at it.
now that we got that philosophical artsy fartsy theory talk out of the way, let's talk numbers. we can appraise the value of this nft based on the sale price of other offerings that share a comparable space of cultural impact and meaning.
we appraise the Money Mouth Smiley© as among the most provenant, culturally relevant modern heritage artworks attributable to a specific author. we revel in presenting this opportunity to collect this universal symbol at the confluence of tech, art, language, money, and mindset, and invest in the future of free culture at its source.
stay in contact and follow the UTB nft roadmap at utbnft.com