Elsa Majimbo is a comedian and global phenomenon who rose to fame and won the world’s heart from the comfort of her home, in quarantine, during the pandemic.
Mohamed Kheir isn’t just Elsa Majimbo’s manager, he is also a two-time published author and award-winning multidisciplinary creator as well as a partner at creative strategy and investing agency Iroko Treehaus. Illustrator and 3D artist doesn’t even begin to describe the design talent and technical expertise Pepijn Temming brings to the table — he is apparently an ingenuous inventor as well — but more on that later; animator will suffice for now. Alone, each individual is a force to be reckoned with. Together, they spell success.
The Alphabet for kids & ADULTS
With all three members hailing from different continents, the creative trio has seen several projects to fruition — one of them being a comedic book titled “The Alphabet for kids & ADULTS.” Originally released with luxury fashion house Maison Valentino, the book marked the first collaboration between a comedian and a couture brand — also serving as Majimbo’s entrance into the high fashion industry. Now, with the establishment of The Alphabet Universe, the team is debuting their intellectual property in another new market: the NFT space. “The Alphabet: Part I” will be released at Crypto.com/NFT on Jan. 27 and will be the first of several drops in “The Alphabet Collection,” each including digitally animated letters inspired by Temming’s illustrations from the book.
Chess, Not Checkers: Elsa Majimbo’s Long Game
Before even meeting in person, with Majimbo based in Nairobi and Kheir in Los Angeles, the talent and manager duo began working together after the latter reached out to the budding star on Instagram — sharing a penchant for unorthodox business strategy and out-of-the-box creative thought, as well as a sharp sense of humor. A 15-time chess champion, Majimbo’s “long game” career plan has garnered the attention of global media from Forbes, Vogue and The New York Times to topping Bloomberg’s list of “Ones to Watch.”
“At the core of my approach is the understanding of the short and long game, planning many moves ahead and sometimes making short-term sacrifices that benefit me in the long term.”Elsa Majimbo, Creator of “The Alphabet: Part I”
The speed at which Majimbo accumulated international accolades is astonishing. Her trophy cabinet includes an E! People’s Choice Award and a YouTube Streamy, and she was also named “Entertainer of the Year” by both GQ South Africa and Forbes Woman Africa. The constant stream of press, industry recognition and unique projects organized by the pair have quickly expanded Majimbo’s global reach, catapulting her to icon-status almost overnight. In fact, Majimbo and Kheir’s shrewd business acumen was noted by Forbes as “proof that a dream team can exist, beyond the IRL.”
The Dream Team’s Ringer
For The Alphabet Universe, the dream team tapped another international ringer — the Dutch designer and 3D artist, Temming. In addition to the Valentino book and the upcoming NFT collection, Temming has collaborated with Kheir and Majimbo on multiple projects featured in his portfolio — including a music video for Majimbo’s Cautious Clay-produced ASMR song “Snack Queen” and a campaign to promote Kheir’s own comedic book, “Alien of Extraordinary Ability.”
“The Alphabet: Part I” drop on Jan. 27 will initiate the first phase in the project’s expansion into the metaverse, with future plans for community enrichment and engagement to be announced by The Alphabet Universe team. Crypto.com NFT spoke with the three creators about the evolution of the project, how they intend to build community around it as well as their interest in the NFT space, chess-like business strategy and plot for world domination, among other short-term goals.
“I just got my U.S. Visa; I’m now open to becoming president.”Elsa Majimbo, Creator of “The Alphabet: Part I”
Read the Q&A with Elsa Majimbo, Mohamed Kheir and Pepijn Temming below, and visit “The Alphabet: Part I” drop page for more information.
Elsa, folks have compared your business acumen to your chess strategy; in what ways do you think they are the same, and in what ways do they differ?
Majimbo: By folks you mean Forbes; let’s use their name, as that makes it clear that I am as smart as I am beautiful!
It makes sense to approach general business in the same way that I would approach a game of chess. At the core of my approach is the understanding of the short and long game, planning many moves ahead and sometimes making short-term sacrifices that benefit me in the long term, and so on.
Where chess and business differs is the result of a project. In chess, you either win, lose or tie. In business, as in life, the results sometimes live in the gray.
Did you begin creating social media content with the end goal of turning it into a multi-hyphenated entertainment career, or did it all happen completely organically?
Majimbo: It all happened completely organically. I just started making content that I felt was funny. I never expected people to like my humor. I did it for me.
Do you find there’s a different perception of people who become famous on social media as opposed to more traditional avenues?
Majimbo: Yes. Part of the reason I’ve done well and expanded beyond the box that social media puts you in is because it was clear to me that nothing good can come from being categorized in a box.
There is this perception that people that become famous from social media don’t work hard and aren’t top tier. Influencers, for example, do not usually get high fashion collaborations.
At what point did you realize the path to where you are now, and where you’re headed?
Majimbo: Once my platform started growing quickly, I knew I had to start thinking ahead in order to create something that could last a lifetime. Working with Mo and getting to expand the things I was doing helped to get things to where they needed to be.
What was it about Mo that convinced you to trust him with your career, when he first reached out? I’m sure you get tons of DMs; how did he stand out and get your attention?
Majimbo: He saw my career and potential in the same way that I did. We also get along; he is somewhat funny — not as funny as me — but we make a great team.
How did you come up with the idea for The Alphabet Universe — the book and beyond?
Kheir: I’d been wanting to do a kids book for a couple of years and suggested the book concept to Elsa, who loved it and began dotting down hilarious letter captions. I simultaneously connected with Pepijn to discuss how we could bring these letters to life. We worked on the art direction together first and, once we had a good system down, Pepijn led the design execution.
Mo, “The Alphabet” wasn’t your first book; tell us about “Alien of Extraordinary Ability.”
Kheir: [Laughs.] A fine piece of literature indeed. The book is quite silly; it’s a sarcastic, comedic look at the art world. It was a fun pandemic project, and served as the first step to bringing “The Alphabet” book to life.
I understand you also released it with the prestigious global department store Dover Street Market; what is it about books that made you think fashion, or vice versa?
Kheir: DSM is one of the most iconic department stores in the world. I’d always dreamt of having something presented there, so this was a dream come true. The book, published by Paradigm Publishing, was right up their alley.
How did the Valentino collab come about?
Majimbo: Yigit and I are good friends and he, along with the team at Maison Valentino, really love and adore me! They decided that they wanted to do a global campaign, so our teams got on a call and it was clear that we all wanted to do something special — more exciting than just a visual campaign. We came up with the idea of having Valentino present the first edition of “The Alphabet for kids & ADULTS,” along with a visual campaign shot in Johannesburg.
How important was it for you to maintain ownership of the IP?
Kheir: I’ll put it this way: if we didn’t own our IP, we wouldn’t be doing this interview. Maintaining 100% ownership of our collaboration project IP was absolutely necessary, as it allowed us to have maneuverability in leveraging the IP in any way we liked — including the creation of NFTs.
The reason we spent so much time and energy creating these detailed letter models and illustrations is so that they could be more than just pages in a book. These letters can be NFTs or large scale art sculptures.
I read that you planned to re-release “The Alphabet” book for sale; is that still in the works?
Majimbo: Absolutely! It will be released this year and will technically be the second edition, but the first official global release of the book.
What can you tell us about the TV projects you have in development?
Majimbo: I don’t think I’m able to say anything at this stage. Announcements soon!
Can you tell us about any aspirations beyond entertainment?
Kheir: I’m a partner at a creative strategy and investing agency which has a growing talent development division. My hope is to continue growing the business and adding new verticals as opportunities arise.
Majimbo: I just got my U.S. Visa; I’m now open to becoming president, as long as I don’t have to do too much work.
How long were you all working together before meeting in person, for those of you who have; what was the first time you hung out in person like?
Kheir: I worked with Elsa for over a year before I finally met her. I picked her up at the airport in New York. We then rushed to get her ready for the Met Gala 2021.
Pepijn I am yet to meet in person, even though we have been working together for over a year now. We talk almost everyday via FaceTime, audio notes, texts… In fact, we will probably meet in the metaverse before IRL, at this point!
You posted “I better not have visa or immigration issues in the metaverse” on Instagram; do you think the metaverse, as a concept, has the potential to further democratize business globally?
Kheir: Absolutely, but it will be a corporate playground as well — with medium to large-scale businesses leveraging the new frontier in all ways possible.
I try to remember that there are those who join the gold rush, and those who build the shovels.
I’d love to hear more about your and Pepijn’s creative evolutions.
Kheir: I first got my masters in architecture in New Zealand, before transitioning into a focus on brand development.
I try to use the skills that I garnered during my architectural studies when approaching other creative industries. Whether it’s developing brands or talent, the same underlying principles seem to apply.
Temming: I was into early Japanese streetwear culture in high school and people used to laugh at me for being obsessed with sneakers. After high school, I started studying industrial design and really wanted to start a brand. This led me to explore graphic design. I wanted to learn how to draw shadows, but was kind of too lazy to put the effort in — so I started using 3D software as a graphic design tool, which naturally led to 3D animation.
The brand still has to make its debut, so you could say graphic design and 3D art is just one giant rabbit hole for me. Right now, I’ve worked across multiple industries — from rebranding companies to making album art, to working with high fashion couture houses.
How did you get involved in The Alphabet Universe?
Temming: Mo and I had been talking about random design projects and art, and wanted to work together on a project for a while. At some point, he mentioned that he wanted to create this comedic book and he wanted to partner on the letter creation. Our idea was to make the letters the foundation of something greater, to design and detail them in such a way that they could take on a life of their own. It was a really enjoyable ideation and execution process for me.
From ideation to creation, can you speak to the process of making the letter animations?
Temming: First, I make sure my quantum computer drives are online — then, after hacking the mainframe subnet server, I actualize my twelve 768-Core 6000TB VRAM Graphical Processing Unit SLI setup. Once all this is done, I can finally start my ideation phase.
I actually don’t think of any ideas myself; in past years, I have trained several neural networks to generate ideas for me. After this, it’s really very simple: utilizing the Banach-Tarski paradox, I create an exact mathematical copy of the output files after which they are physically printed. A Rube Goldberg machine fills in the remaining variables and then I let a gerbil pick the final idea. No gerbils are harmed in the idea-picking; I treat them super well.
For the creation process, my artificial intelligence simply generates the animation. This is probably the easiest phase: I just clap my hands twice and say, “AI, generate animation,” and it renders it all using blender and mails me the MP4. I honestly wish other stuff in life was as easy as creating these animations.
[Laughs.] Seriously, though: how did you approach creating the NFTs as opposed to designing the static images for the book? I noticed some key differences our audience might appreciate.
Temming: Of course, we changed the “E” to reference the Ethereum logo and the way the blockchain works. Next to this, the transition of the letters to a digital medium has meant that, on a basic level, the letters have to function in multiple new contexts — whether that be [for] the game or, for example, as emojis on our Discord. In a digital space, the graphics require different affordances — so that naturally shapes the evolution and design process. We really want these letters and their animations to be as universal as possible, and to communicate clearly across multiple mediums.
What attracted you to the NFT space, in general and for this project specifically? Were any of you into crypto or blockchain technology prior?
Temming: First of all, we are very excited about the evolution of digital ownership — and retaining IP [laughs]. NFTs make it possible for consumers and creators to have real ownership over their digital possessions and reap the benefits of their value.
For this project, we saw the opportunity to create something unique: the launch of play-to-earn word games in which the community has equity and holds actual value in the game they play. We believe NFTs are definitely part of the future of gaming and have great power to create and empower communities.
Can you speak more to the “evolution of digital ownership” and its implications on your work?
Temming: People have owned digital objects and have had a digital self since the dawn of the personal computer and the internet. Whether it be your music collection, your profile picture on social or your pictures on your Facebook profile, NFTs allow for people to have real value connected to these assets — and have the potential to create self-sustaining online communities. All this is amazing; as someone who grew up on the internet, and as a 3D artist, I definitely feel the need to contribute to this space in a meaningful way and help it grow.
How do you plan to build a community around “The Alphabet Collection?”
Temming: While we do plan on pushing on personal and brand socials, our core central communication node will be our Discord. The Discord is branded towards The Alphabet Universe with A-Z ranking systems based on community involvement. We [will] also have in-Discord word games, giveaways, community events and more. We want our Discord to be a space where our community can express themselves, hangout and interact with the creators and wider team.
If you could change or improve anything about the NFT space, what would it be?
Temming: We aim to bring an engaging user experience first, in our case word games, and then use NFTs to create value for the community second. In a sense, it’s more about creating this word game space for us than creating NFTs. We deliberately chose this approach since we feel a lot of NFT projects right now have unclear use cases. We would like to see the mainstream adoption of NFTs expand, and believe this is one of the things holding it back.
What are your plans for the future, in the NFT space or otherwise?
Majimbo: Check out our roadmap for more details! [Laughs.]
But world domination covers it.
Browse “The Alphabet: Part I” collection by Elsa Majimbo and The Alphabet Universe.
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Editor’s Note (Sept. 1, 2022): an earlier version of this article was originally published on the Crypto.com NFT Medium blog on Jan. 20, 2022 and has since been edited and/or updated to republish.