\u201cBlack creativity is the most popular form of creativity worldwide,\u201d says Akin Adebowale, cofounder of Blacktag, a global platform for Black creators, \u201cand we want to own our stuff. We understand the value of it.\u201d That concept\u2014that Black artists should be fairly (and richly) compensated for the art they make\u2014is the foundation that undergirds Blacktag, an ambitious project launched by Adebowale and Ousman Sahko Sow last fall. Both founders made their careers at the intersection of creativity and tech: Sow worked in advertising and content creation for Google, among other places, while Adebowale spent time in the music industry (for artists like Drake and Kanye West) and in fashion. The two were fluent in the language of digital creativity, and what they saw, over and over, was that producing content online was great for Black artists in terms of visibility, but it didn\u2019t reward them financially\u2014at least not in comparison to their non-Black counterparts. So they launched Blacktag to do nothing less than revolutionize the creator economy, with help from backers like Janelle Mon\u00e1e, Common, and Issa Rae. The original concept was a streaming platform, but it has now evolved into a technological \u201cecosystem\u201d that includes an NFT platform called Blacktag.xyz. (The brand has even developed its own cryptocurrency, Blackrose, or BRS.) Recently, Blacktag teamed up with Johnnie Walker to launch a creator grant program that will award five finalists $10,000 to create custom content. In other words, it\u2019s been quite a year. Sow and Adebowale say they haven\u2019t completely abandoned the idea of streaming, but they\u2019ve learned that it requires a bit more development and experimentation. Their priority has shifted from social capital to financial capital\u2014two concepts that don\u2019t always go hand in hand for Black creators. Most of the money made by creatives goes to media platforms, but Blacktag wants to be sure that capital goes into the creators\u2019 pockets, and it\u2019s looking to Web3 to correct the disparity. \u201cThese are people within our community who we believe shape and represent the future of content consumption at a mass scale,\u201d says Jasmine Cogdell, VP of marketing at Blacktag. \u201cThey influence the influencers. They are the drivers of global pop culture, but they continue to be gatekept because conventional channels don\u2019t know how to address them, don\u2019t know how to work with them, and frankly don\u2019t have a space for them at a mass scale. So for us, we wanted to be able to be a representation, at a larger scale, of the nuances of Blackness.\u201d Harper\u2019s Bazaar spoke to Sow and Adebowale about economic empowerment, tapping into blockchain, and the current state of Black creativity ahead of their summer rollout. What\u2019s it been like since you launched Blacktag last fall? Adebowale: Last year for us was mainly around cultivating this community of creators, no matter what sort of technology we served them\u2014whether it\u2019s a streaming app that we built and we served them in October of last year or whether it\u2019s blockchain, NFTs, or cryptocurrencies. It was about building that creator base and building that brand name, which is important. It\u2019s always tough getting out there as a differentiator. Also learning, which is a big part, you know? Putting something out. We did a closed beta with the streaming app and saw what creators were asking for, we saw what audiences were asking for, and we even saw what brands were asking for. And so we are constantly iterating to be able to serve that purpose more effectively. So, where we are today is taking that creative database and creator platform and serving them with Web3 and blockchain and this new technology that can amplify our mission and amplify our community. What did you learn from your experiment with streaming? Sow: We gleaned so much insight from creators and audiences alike: support systems they lacked, what they needed to succeed, what kind of content audiences enjoyed. But ultimately what we realized was that we needed to get to the foundational core of what was lacking, and that was technologies. We wanted to get at the root of how we were going to help creators advance their equity gaps, and that was through integrating blockchain and expanding our suite of products and services. Why blockchain? Adebowale: a new model for closing the economic gap for creators\u2014decentralized from oppressive institutions, primed for new revenue streams, centered on community. Leveraging blockchain tech to activate fans gives creators the ability to diversify their revenue. It lets them fund their artistry and connect directly with fans without the middleman and own their IP. What would you say to other entrepreneurs who ask, \u201cHow do you know when to pivot?\u201d Sow: Don\u2019t ever see change as a mistake. Learning in a business is critical. Gathering data, information, and market insights and pivoting is a sign of smart business leadership. Use those opportunities as learning moments. Blacktag has been described as a platform that addresses a space in the market that is often overlooked by brands: \u201calternative Black content.\u201d How does that differ from \u201cmainstream Black content\u201d? Adebowale: We have a lot of dialogue in our 14-person office in regard to this! Because \u201calternative\u201d sometimes isn\u2019t as well-received by artists as \u201cmainstream\u201d is, I think the key word is \u201cprogressive\u201d all around. This idea of, like, progressive content, progressive art, things that represent not only how unique something looks or sounds but also what it\u2019s doing or where it\u2019s from. This idea of building a platform that\u2019s international, not just domestic. Or building a platform that sees the beauty in all age ranges, not just in a certain generation. Content and art that have a voice, and artists that have voices for change\u2014all of this, collectively, to us is progressive. In your experience in working and creating in this space, how would you describe some of the challenges Black creators face, as opposed to non-Black creators? Adebowale: I mean, it\u2019s everywhere, right? I would describe it as a reflection of what\u2019s going on in the general population. The gap between the annual income of Black families versus non-Black families is atrocious. I don\u2019t even want to get started on the technological barriers and the idea of Black people being the lead adopters of new tech, new multibillion- and even sometimes trillion-dollar products, but never being the creators and the builders of that. We\u2019re not really benefiting from that. We make Black Twitter, but we didn\u2019t create Twitter. Sow: That also translates to the executives at studios who may not understand the stories that are being told. So how can they see deals and try to find artists to support those stories? It\u2019s important to have a place that can celebrate creators and give them the opportunities to have their stories be told. We\u2019re really just making sure we\u2019re pushing forward the culture. And who\u2019s behind it is essentially Black folks. What do you see as the future when it comes to Black creatives and the creative economy? Adebowale: Our hope is that Black creators are being paid the same as their white counterparts. That they\u2019re able to create without worrying about whether their work will be stolen or undervalued. That there\u2019s so much information publicly available to them that no one can take advantage of them. That Black contributions to society are valued as they are. Culture shifting. How would you describe the current state of Black creativity? Adebowale: The current state of Black creativity is still beautiful and thriving. It\u2019s still fresh, and it\u2019s still leading the way around the world, but with an added sense of ownership and economic empowerment. Sow: I think creators have become more able to carry their equity as sort of a walking brand. I think Black creators have more leverage to state what it is that they actually want. If a brand, platform, or company wants to partner with them, they actually hold the power. That\u2019s what we\u2019re trying to inform our creators of. It\u2019s not just about cutting a check; it\u2019s about ownership. Black creators are viscerally aware of the brands that just want them to be a partner versus the brands who really care about their growth as a creator. I think the creators that come to us understand that we\u2019re much more than just a check; we\u2019re here to actually fill the gap and help them achieve sustainable cash flows. What did it mean for Blacktag to be backed by such a massive investment? Adebowale: To be backed by all of our investors was really an honor. A lot of our peers have been backed with a lot more for doing a lot less, or somewhat the same. It goes back to that conversation around disparity. It\u2019s Black people having to do something 10 times better than our peers to gain the same thing. And mind you, we\u2019re very grateful and very appreciative of the ones who are taking chances on us, but we still understand the disparity. And we understand that in order to build what we need to build, we need to raise and do beyond what our peers are doing for the general market. And so that\u2019s a constant fight all the time. A great fact to know is that less than 2 percent of venture capital goes to Black-founded start-ups. Sow: And that is up from 1 percent over 2020 because of the George Floyd era, which is still not even a drop in the bucket in terms of Black founders being able to build Black technology. What advice can you give to the burgeoning class of Black creators? Sow: The first deal is probably not the best! Make a counteroffer. Adebowale: Know your value; it\u2019s usually a lot more than what you\u2019re presented. Be free to express yourself and be yourself, because that genuine self is what has created massive wealth for the world and drives culture. Understanding yourself has value. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. It has also been updated since publication to clarify that the Johnnie Walker grant project offered $10,000 per creator, not $1,000, and that Janelle Mon\u00e1e, Common, and Issa Rae are the company's financial backers, not contributors. This story was created as part of Future Rising in partnership with Lexus. Future Rising is a series running across Hearst Magazines to celebrate the profound impact of Black culture on American life, and to spotlight some of the most dynamic voices of our time. Go to oprahdaily.com/futurerising for the complete portfolio.