After hosting a rooftop show in Altspace, one hip-hop artist/producer sees potential in VR live performances.
COVID-19 took its toll on the live concert industry with up to $9 Billion being lost in the U.S. alone. To keep live shows going, many artists were forced to embrace new forms of technology to connect with fans remotely. Over the last year, we’ve seen countless musicians/artists perform on social media through live streams, as well as bigger acts—such as Grammy-winning artist John Legend and veteran rock band Weezer—perform on virtual platforms such as WAVE and Fortnite. Outside of music, established stand-up comedians have found an outlet for their jokes in certain VR spaces, such as Chicken Waffle’s popular Failed to Render Comedy Club on the AltSpaceVR platform.
Despite the many options available to musicians, however, one genre of music has—for the most part—gone largly unnoticed within the remote live performance scene: hip-hop. To fill that void, NYC-based hip hop artist/producer Fokis created HipHopinVR, a series of live hip hop shows hosted in VR on platforms such as AltspaceVR, Sansar, and Rec Room, as well as live-streamed on Twitch. Part concert, part interview, each show featured a one-of-kind live performance that included special guests and much more.
“I saw a huge gap for hip hop in VR and it just came to me,” said Fokis during an interview with VRScout. “I decided to host a rooftop show in AltspaceVR to see what would happen. I’m an artist and I didn’t know what to expect. I just started planning it and everything started to come to me.”
The show—which consisted of a live video stream broadcasted in AltspaceVR’s rooftop venue—was filled to capacity (70 people) within minutes and was talked about for days around the Campfire, AltspaceVR’s main social hub.
Fokis, who has toured with hip hop legends such as Onyx, The Game, Gza, Ras Kass, Lords Of The Underground, Common, Busta Rhymes, M.O.P., The Beatnuts, and numerous other recognizable acts, explained how he was first introduced to VR, saying, “I was introduced to VR by a friend of mine, Doitall from the group Lords Of The Underground. During a conversation, he casually mentions to me how he hosted a rap battle event in VR and got paid for it,” Fokis adds, “He mentioned the Oculus Quest 2 and I literally ordered it on the spot from my phone. When it came in the mail, I put that headset on and my life literally has changed forever.”
Most events hosted by Fokis are free to attend, but he has organized a ticketed event in the past with hip hop/rap legends Ras Kass & Edo. G using Eventbrite. The system used for his VR concerts was fairly simple. Those who purchased a ticket were emailed a specific link granting them access to the event in AltspaceVR. His initial goal was simple: sell 50 tickets. In the end, Fokis ended up selling 71 tickets, 14 of which were sold “at the door.”
“That for me was the highlight,” added Fokis. “People tried to join the event in Altspace and realized it was a ticketed event. They then had to run out to get a ticket for the show. That gave me so much confidence in knowing I was on the right track.”
The next ticketed event he’s producing is scheduled for May 28th and features SADAT X (Brand Nubian) & NINE. These VR concerts, however, are only the beginning for Fokis. His Altspace series The Park Jam—which recreates an authentic NYC park jam—and VR radio station HHVR, have become more popular as of late, with each event attracting almost 400 attendees respectively. People from all over the world show up. Some to listen to jams, others to discuss new artists and learn what’s happening in the music industry.
Each event that Fokis creates in VR is meant to serve a different purpose, which means each world must have its own unique look. Unfortunately, Fokis isn’t a developer by trade. Instead, he sees himself as an architect or a designer that approaches developers with the blueprints of the world he envisions, who then use popular tools such as Blender and Unity to realize his vision.
Because they’re in VR, Fokis can dream big. “Overall I put events together, the same way I do in real life except better and easier because I have a global audience and no real limitations. I can go as far as my creativity allows me to go which is amazing,” said Fokis.
Since the launch of HipHopinVR, Fokis has seen the numbers improve with each new event he organizes. His shows offer music fans the chance to enjoy a genre they love in VR while getting up-close-and-personal with major acts from the world of hip-hop. Despite the heavy use of modern technology, however, Fokis’ events feel similar to how hip-hop started: in the park and on the streets.
As for the future of HipHopinVR, Fokis tells me there are some big announcements around the corner, but that he’s not ready to share new information with the public just yet. In the meantime, I asked for his opinion on the future of hip-hop (and the music industry as a whole) in relation to VR: “It’s only a matter of time, it’s like a collision that is unavoidable. You just wanna make sure you are on the train when it happens because when the smoke clears and the dust settles, those that were laying down the tracks, driving or riding the train will be the ones who will win, big.”
If you’d like to learn more about upcoming hip hop VR shows, check out HipHopinVR.com.
Feature Image Credit: HipHopinVR