In an NFT world fraught with frauds, few pauses to check for fakes: ‘The crypto mindset is they know it’s chaos and bullshit, and they don’t care.’
Snoop Dogg has rapped, “It’s hard being Snoop D-O-double-G”. But not that hard for a Snoop Dogg impersonator who was hired “last minute” by a crypto startup to grab attention at an NFT conference in New York – and ended up fooling just about everyone there. Thousands of investors and enthusiasts attended NFT.NYC this week to talk about buying and selling non-fungible tokens amid a market wipeout and urgent warnings for traders to stay vigilant against a proliferation of scams. But that skepticism wasn’t on the mind of the crypto fans who rushed to take pictures with the impostor as he walked around near Times Square.
Last year, endorsements from superstars including Snoop Dogg, Paris Hilton, and Floyd Mayweather helped fuel a frenzy in non-fungible tokens, which are receipts of ownership stored on the blockchain, an energy-intensive technology that aims to prevent digital duplication. At the peak of the fad, users paid eye-popping sums for avatars of “Bored Apes,” “flying war babies,” and even “CryptoDickButts.”
Many pro-crypto celebs have quietly retreated from view. The NFT market has plummeted by 92% since its peak last September, while investors have suffered multimillion-dollar thefts and constant scams. The largest NFT platform, OpenSea, estimated in January that 80% of the NFTs created through its tools were fraudulent.
But Snoop Dogg has doubled down. This week, the rapper, whose real name is Calvin Broadus, filed for two trademarks to sell “virtual cannabis goods” authenticated by NFTs. Earlier this month, he grabbed headlines after buying NFTs created by an ex-trader at Barclays. And Broadus’s record label, Death Row Records, just inked a partnership with an NFT company called MoonPay, which counts among its investors Justin Bieber and Gwyneth Paltrow. The idea to hire the Snoop impersonator was an 11th-hour decision by a small NFT platform called Fair.xyz to try to stand out in a market that was “getting pretty saturated” with similar startups, according to Isaac Kamlish, the company’s 25-year-old co-founder.
Jack Burke, 35, a marketing director for Fair.xyz, told the Guardian their initial idea was to get a Justin Bieber lookalike. Still, they decided Snoop Dogg would be a better choice because “Snoop is heavily involved in the NFT space, and so it’s very plausible that he would rock up to NFT.NYC.” The team didn’t ask Snoop Dogg for permission for the stunt. “To be honest with you, we went into it not knowing what the results would be like,” Burke said. They registered the impersonator for the conference as “Doop Snogg”. The hired actor, who only gave his name as “CP” to the startup, applied makeup, glued on a fake mustache, and stuffed paper in his shoes to appear taller, the NFT marketers said. One startup member posed as a security guard, and the co-founder acted as a paparazzo with a flash camera. They also rented a Cadillac Escalade SUV “to make it seem more believable.” Chaos erupted when Doop emerged with the entourage. “Literally within a minute, you’ve got 50 people near us, 100 people near us, plugging their project, throwing business cards after us. It was intense, and we just had to keep moving or else we would get swamped,” Burke said.
“People were chasing down the car, and it got quite philosophical at one stage. People were asking, is it the real Snoop? Is it not the real Snoop? People were pondering looking at him, like, maybe he’s too short, maybe he’s too tall.”
One of the crowd members who took a selfie with “Snoop Dogg” was Shweta Malik, an engineer and NFT investor from Portland, Oregon. Malik said she “sheepishly asked one of the security persons if it was him”, and the fake guard implied it was. Malik only learned about “Doop Snogg” from her friends later. She explained that she has lost money to NFT scams and works in an NFT community to protect other users. “So it was ironic that I learned later that this is not real,” she said. “I knew there was always a 50/50 chance.”
Kamlish said the stunt, which cost the startup around $2,000, was an effort to “invoke conversation” about the impostors in the NFT world. “Hopefully, it has a powerful message: be careful and always watch your back. I’ve lost countless amounts of money in the space from scams and fraud.” The co-founder claimed they weren’t trying to fool anyone. “We never at any point said it was Snoop, and his name badge even said Doop Snogg, and it was kind of up to the viewer’s interpretation.”
Even Doop Snogg’s appearance was “very emblematic of crypto culture more broadly,” in that it was about social signaling more than economic rationality; Van Dreunen told the Guardian. “He’s sort of like a clown that cracks us all up, and we have a good time, and part of it is that you can say you saw him, you were there, and you have a picture with him. It gives you some clout and accumulates status among virtual peers.” These signals, whether from a real or fake celebrity, can easily lead investors astray, Van Dreunen said. “Is that how you want to allocate your 401k resources? Would you take a Snoop Dogg NFT portfolio over something studied and curated by actual financial investors?” True believers would say yes.