Meet Emonee LaRussa, The Digital And Visual Artist Taking The NFT World By Storm
Emonee LaRussa started her career as a motion graphics artist, then made visuals for Kanye West, Ty Dolla $ign and the Internet. Today, her colorful, psychedelic animations are part of the GRAMMYS x OneOf NFT partnership.
Around the time of the GRAMMY Awards in 2021, Emonee LaRussa sold her first NFT. This took the 27-year-old digital artist from Sacramento, California, by surprise. Despite her popular motion graphics work for music and engaging personality on her fast-paced YouTube tutorials, LaRussa didn't think anyone would want to buy a NFT just for the sake of owning her digital art.
One year later, LaRussa was a natural choice as one of three digital artists to create the first NFTs as part of GRAMMYs and OneOf's NFT partnership. The partnership brings together cutting-edge digital artists to the Recording Academy to create NFTs to commemorate the 64th, 65th and 66th GRAMMY Awards. These NFTs are the first time the general public will be able to own a piece of the GRAMMY Awards.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a way to productize digital files by assigning them a certificate of title. Musicians usually collaborate with a digital visual artist to create a limited edition audio/visual digital object on which fans can bid. Depending on demand, the final bids can be quite high, making NFTs a potentially lucrative source of income.
LaRussa's distinctive animation style lends itself nicely to the GRAMMY x OneOf NFTs. Her characterful, exaggerated figures meld psychedelia with a classic cartoon aesthetic that's buoyed by bright, saturated colors.
Prior to exclusively creating NFTs, LaRussa made music visuals for Kanye West, Ty Dolla $ign, FKA Twigs, Jhene Aiko, and John Legend, among many others. LaRussa became a familiar face to young, potential digital artists of color who saw a possible future for themselves in her. LaRussa also founded Pamanama, an animation studio specializing in music visuals created by a diverse group of digital artists, specifically artists of color.
LaRussa spoke to GRAMMY.com about her trajectory in the digital art space, her nonprofit, JumpStart Designers, and the NFT she created for the 2022 GRAMMYs, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you get into motion graphics?
I initially went to film school for cinematography. But being a hyper-feminine person, wearing dresses and acrylic nails, I encountered so much discrimination. I was constantly being told that the way I looked was unprofessional. It wasn't my work ethic. Out of all the students, I was the only person who was getting straight As and who had a cinematography job. But, I can't be a cinematographer if no one wants to be on my set. It's a very team-reliant job.
I started focusing on motion graphics to add visual effects to my cinematography to boost it up. Motion graphics and visual effects allowed me to be behind the computer, to be someone no one could discriminate against. I honestly feel it was for the better because I love what I'm doing now.
You have won a couple of Emmys; what were those for?
It was when I was working at CBS here in Sacramento. When I first started, I didn't know you could win an Emmy working there. One of the Emmys was for a campaign for a story about these kids who kept getting cancer in Ripon, a county in the area, and how authorities were knowingly allowing chemicals to get in the water and it was killing people. The other one was for a campaign for "Good Day Sacramento" where we did a whole bunch of motion graphics.
How did you go from working in television to music?
I was making fan art while working 40 hours a week at CBS. Tyler, the Creator came out with an album; I'm a huge Tyler fan and I hopped on that instantly.
I made an animation. I … uploaded it literally when I was about to go to work. When I got there, I saw Columbia Records liked it on Twitter. I went out on a limb and was like, "Yo, if you like it so much, maybe you should hire me." I got a message from John Vincent Salcedo, who has worked with Beyoncé and all these big artists. That was a huge thing and I needed to quit my job. He gave me my first big opportunity with Lil Nas X. I made a lyric video for "Panini" and it spiraled from there.
That's all so recent.
I know. When I was working at CBS, the fan art I was making was for very small artists. My first big concert graphic was for the Internet. My heart is attached to them because I said I want to do concert graphics one day, and they said, “Maybe you could do our concert graphics.” This is my eighth or ninth year of doing animations, and I feel like I'm starting to finally see the light at the end of the tunnel.
How did you get into NFTs?
A close friend of mine started posting on SuperRare. I was like, "What is this? People are selling their digital art for crypto? That's so crazy." At this point, I was just making art for Instagram likes. Client work pays the bills, but it's not necessarily the most fun.
I thought I would dabble in NFTs. I made a piece and it got a bid within 20 minutes. I didn't even know why people would want to buy my work. Over time, I started really diving into how huge this is, how big of an opportunity this is, not only for me, but for generational wealth.
What are your thoughts about NFTs as a source of income for artists?
I feel like for such a long time, the traditional art world was the only way to make income as an artist that allowed you to do your own passion projects and not rely on client work. Digital artists relied on big corporations to give them income.
What we've seen is an increase in how much people love digital art. The artistry of visual art is growing with the audience, who [are] seeing a lot of value in the artists. I remember my first art show: Everyone was selling actual art pieces while I was showing my work on a TV and no one could buy it. All you could do with mine was watch it and follow me on Instagram. I made that piece for free. It's so wild to think that's how it was for such a long time. But NTFs opened the door for all art mediums.
Have you found there's a learning curve with NFTs and potential consumers?
Yes, because people have a hard time wrapping their head around a non-physical object. But it's the same as spending $500 on a Fortnite skin, which is also a digital asset. It is definitely a conversation to have with people who are outside of the crypto space and NFT space, to help them understand there's a lot of value in things that aren't physical.
The NFT I did for the GRAMMYs is on the Tezos blockchain. What's cool about that is people can purchase it with a credit card or with crypto. To me, it bonds together everyday people and the NFT space. Right now, it's still pretty separate, but once NFTs become a thing you can purchase on an everyday basis, I can totally see the utility of it long-term.
Your NFT for the 64th GRAMMY Awards is your first commissioned work in a while.
I was really excited about it because it wasn't constrained to any limitations. When I'm given rules, I always feel like I'm not living up to expectations. It definitely took a lot of pressure off of me.
Mine is an eight- or nine-second looping animation with crazy camera movement. I created three different abstract environments, with the only objects being musical instruments with my colorful, psychedelic style. It's great that I have the cinematography background because I look at things through that lens. I'm really stoked with the way it came out.
Your own NFTs aren't tied to a musical artist, which makes the fact that they're selling solely on their artistic value even more amazing.
It's a big opportunity for me. I had been making income through my client work, and the fact that I was making additional income doing NFTs allowed me to do things that I thought would be later goals. It changed my entire life.
I had to find an equal balance between paying projects and rainbow [or passion] projects my entire career. I stopped doing client work entirely, and I'm only doing rainbow projects, which is such a crazy concept to me. One of those is my nonprofit, JumpStart Designers. I started looking into NFTs in January 2021, posted my first piece at the end of February going into March, and I started my nonprofit in June.
What are the goals for JumpStart Designers?
Black and Brown communities aren't really in the digital art space. I think a big part of that has to do with accessibility. One of the main things with JumpStart Designers is to create access for lower-income kids … between 11 and 18 [years old]. The biggest digital artists in the NFT space started when they were 12, 13 years old. It makes sense to provide access at that age. I started when I was 15, but I was making music videos on my dad's laptop when I was 10.
How can a burgeoning digital artist connect with Jumpstart Designers?
They would submit a 60-second video on what kind of art they want to create. That's our easy way of vetting them. Then, based on what type of art medium they want to do, we would provide them with the equipment specific to that. We would also provide curated playlists of YouTube tutorials. Our goal is to not only give them the access to equipment, but the education as well.
In the future, we want to build our own classes that would be completely free to them. It would be all of my artist friends that have blown up. Representation is so huge and it's a big part of why I wanted to do YouTube tutorials myself. When I was coming up, all I was seeing was the same people doing the same tutorials. I wanted to come in and be hyper-feminine and show my curly hair and my brown skin and say, "Look, you could do what I'm doing and I want to teach you everything."
Vicente Fernandez performs at the 2002 Latin GRAMMY Awards
Photo: M. Caulfield/WireImage
Vicente Fernández Posthumously Wins GRAMMY For Best Regional Mexican Music Album | 2022 GRAMMYs
The late Mexican legend, who died in December at 81, won the GRAMMY for Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano) for his 2020 album, 'A Mis 80's'
Nearly four months after his death, Vicente Fernández 's legacy lives on.
The Mexican icon’s album, A Mis 80's, won Best Regional Mexican Music Album (Including Tejano). The posthumous win marks Fernández 's fourth career GRAMMY.
Aida Cuevas' Antología De La Musica Ranchera, Vol. 2, Mon Laferte's Seis, Natalia Lafourcade's Un Canto Por México, Vol. II and Christian Nodal's *Ayayay! (Súper Deluxe)* were the other albums nominated in the category.
Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2022 GRAMMYs.
GRAMMY trophies at the 59th GRAMMY Awards in 2017
Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images
The Recording Academy Announces Major Changes For The 2022 GRAMMY Awards Show
Process amendments include the elimination of nominations review committees and the addition of two new GRAMMY Award categories, including Best Global Music Performance and Best Música Urbana Album
Editor's Note: The 2022 GRAMMYs Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, has been rescheduled to Sunday, April 3, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. The below article was updated on Tuesday, Jan. 18, to reflect the new show date and location.
The Recording Academy announced today that it has made significant changes to its Awards process that reflect its ongoing commitment to evolve with the musical landscape and to ensure that the GRAMMY Awards rules and guidelines are transparent and equitable. Among the changes are the elimination of Nominations Review Committees, a reduction in the number of categories in which voters may vote, two GRAMMY Award category additions, and more. These updates are a result of extensive discussions and collaboration over the course of the last year among a special subcommittee of Recording Academy members and elected leaders, and were voted on by the Academy's Board of Trustees. These changes go into effect immediately for the 2022 GRAMMY Awards show, officially known as the 64th GRAMMY Awards, taking place Sunday, April 3. The eligibility period for the 64th GRAMMY Awards is Sept. 1, 2020, through Sept. 30, 2021.
Additional rule amendment proposals will be discussed and voted on at an upcoming Recording Academy meeting and the full rulebook for the 64th GRAMMY Awards will be released in May.
"It's been a year of unprecedented, transformational change for the Recording Academy, and I'm immensely proud to be able to continue our journey of growth with these latest updates to our Awards process," Harvey Mason jr., Chair & Interim President/CEO of the Recording Academy, said. "This is a new Academy, one that is driven to action and that has doubled down on the commitment to meeting the needs of the music community. While change and progress are key drivers of our actions, one thing will always remain — the GRAMMY Award is the only peer-driven and peer-voted recognition in music. We are honored to work alongside the music community year-round to further refine and protect the integrity of the Awards process."
APPROVED RULE AMENDMENTS INCLUDE:
Voting Process Changes
Elimination Of Nominations Review Committees In General And Genre Fields
- Nominations in all of the GRAMMY Award general and genre fields will now be determined by a majority, peer-to-peer vote of voting members of the Recording Academy. Previously, many of the categories within these fields utilized 15-30 highly skilled music peers who represented and voted within their genre communities for the final selection of nominees. With this change, the results of GRAMMY nominations and winners are placed back in the hands of the entire voting membership body, giving further validation to the peer-recognized process. To further support this amendment, the Academy has confirmed that more than 90 percent of its members will have gone through the requalification process by the end of this year, ensuring that the voting body is actively engaged in music creation. Craft committees remain in place (see below for craft category realignment.)
Reduction In Number Of Categories Voter May Vote
- To ensure music creators are voting in the categories in which they are most knowledgeable and qualified, the number of specific genre field categories in which GRAMMY Award Voters may vote has been reduced from 15 to 10. Additionally, those 10 categories must be within no more than three fields. All voters are permitted to vote in the four General Field categories (Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year, Song Of The Year, and Best New Artist). Proposed by a special voting Task Force who brought forth the recommendation, this change serves as an additional safeguard against bloc voting and helps to uphold the GRAMMY Award as a celebration of excellence in music, with specific genre field categories being voted on by the most qualified peers.
Craft Category Realignment
To better reflect the overlapping peer groups within the voter membership body, six existing craft fields will be consolidated into two fields: Presentation Field and Production Field. In either newly consolidated field, voters would have the ability to choose how many categories they feel qualified to vote in, respecting category vote limits, without being excessively limited by the three-field restriction. This benefits the integrity of these Awards by embracing and utilizing the specializations of the voters, without restricting their choice or contributions due to the field limits imposed by the recent reduction of the number of categories voters may vote in. Field updates are as follows:
Package Field, Notes Field and Historical Field renamed and consolidated to Presentation Field
Production, Non-Classical Field; Production, Immersive Audio Field; and Production, Classical Field renamed and consolidated to Production Field
New Categories Added
Two new categories have been added, bringing the total number of GRAMMY Award categories to 86:
Best Global Music Performance (Global Music Field)
Best Música Urbana Album (Latin Music Field)
"The latest changes to the GRAMMY Awards process are prime examples of the Recording Academy's commitment to authentically represent all music creators and ensure our practices are in lock-step with the ever-changing musical environment," said Ruby Marchand, Chief Industry Officer at the Recording Academy. "As we continue to build a more active and vibrant membership community, we are confident in the expertise of our voting members to recognize excellence in music each year."
"As an Academy, we have reaffirmed our commitment to continue to meet the needs of music creators everywhere, and this year's changes are a timely and positive step forward in the evolution of our voting process," said Bill Freimuth, Chief Awards Officer at the Recording Academy. "We rely on the music community to help us to continue to evolve, and we’re grateful for their collaboration and leadership."
The Recording Academy accepts proposals from members of the music community throughout the year. The Awards & Nominations Committee, comprised of Academy Voting Members of diverse genres and backgrounds, meets annually to review proposals to update Award categories, procedures and eligibility guidelines. The above rule amendments were voted on and passed at a Recording Academy Board of Trustees meeting held on April 30, 2021. For information on the Awards process, visit our GRAMMY Voting Process FAQ page.
The Recording Academy will present the 2022 GRAMMY Awards show on Sunday, April 3, live from the *MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, on the CBS Television Network and stream live and on demand on Paramount+ from 8–11:30 p.m. ET / 5–8:30 p.m. PT. Prior to the telecast, the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony will be streamed live on GRAMMY.com and the Recording Academy's YouTube channel. Additional details about the dates and locations of other official GRAMMY Week events, including the GRAMMY Awards Premiere Ceremony, MusiCares' Person of the Year, and the Pre-GRAMMY Gala, are available here.*
Graphic by the Recording Academy
Announcement: 2022 GRAMMYs Postponed
After careful consideration and analysis with city and state officials, health and safety experts, the artist community and our many partners, the Recording Academy and CBS have postponed the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards Show
The following is a Joint Statement from the Recording Academy and CBS:
“After careful consideration and analysis with city and state officials, health and safety experts, the artist community and our many partners, the Recording Academy and CBS have postponed the 64th Annual GRAMMY Awards Show. The health and safety of those in our music community, the live audience, and the hundreds of people who work tirelessly to produce our show remains our top priority. Given the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant, holding the show on January 31st simply contains too many risks. We look forward to celebrating Music’s Biggest Night on a future date, which will be announced soon.”
Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Lady Gaga Pays Homage To Tony Bennett With Heartfelt "Love for Sale” & “Do I Love You" Performance | 2022 GRAMMYs
Dressed to the nines in a seafoam green ball gown, Lady Gaga performed "Love for Sale” and “Do I Love You" — two tracks from her GRAMMY-winning collaboration album with Tony Bennett, 'Love for Sale'
Lady Gaga transformed the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas into her own personal jazz lounge, as she performed Love for Sale highlights "Love for Sale” & “Do I Love You" at the 2022 GRAMMY Awards. It came easy to the pop icon, as she’s no stranger to the Sin City stage (her Lady Gaga Enigma + Jazz & Piano residency at MGM Park Theater began in 2018).
The performance served as a tribute to Gaga’s Love for Sale (and longtime) collaborator Tony Bennett, who announced his retirement last year as the 95-year-old is currently battling Alzheimer’s disease. Though he couldn’t be in attendance, the jazz legend opted to virtually introduce his latest partner-in-music.
First channeling her inner Judy Garland, Gaga performed a glitzy rendition of the album’s title track. The performance then got more somber as the singer paid tribute to Bennett with “Do I Love You," as clips of the pair recording and performing together played onscreen. It was a naturally touching performance, with Gaga getting choked up when looking at the 95-year-old’s hand before hitting her final note.
Gaga was already a winner before she stepped on stage: Love For Sale won awards for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical at the Premiere Ceremony earlier in the evening. The album’s single “I Get A Kick Out Of You” also earned nominations for Record Of The Year, Best Pop Duo/Group Performance and Best Music Video. The album itself also scored nods for Album Of The Year and Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.
Check out the complete list of winners and nominees at the 2022 GRAMMYs.