“Can astronauts be Black?” A question from Micah Johnson’s 4-year-old nephew inspired the artist to paint a picture of a young Black boy wearing an oversized astronaut helmet. This would become the first iteration of Aku, the character at the center of its own Akuverse.
Before becoming an artist, Johnson was a professional baseball athlete, drafted by the Chicago White Sox in 2012 and making his MLB debut in 2015. During spring training with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Dave Roberts, the team manager, asked Johnson what he liked to do besides baseball. Having recently attended a paint-and-sip class, Johnson replied with painting. This led to Roberts asking Johnson to paint a picture of Dodgers legend Maury Wills, who was one of the spring training instructors at the time. Johnson worked on the painting all spring training and presented it to the team. Though Johnson thought his painting was terrible, his teammates said otherwise. This was when Johnson discovered his passion for making art.
Micah Johnson would soon leave baseball to focus on his art. Johnson would find some success in this new endeavor, establishing himself in the art world with exhibitions at galleries such as Art Angels in Los Angeles. However, Johnson wanted to reach a wider audience, which led him to exploring NFTs.
Like many of Johnson’s works, Aku’s underlying themes include youth empowerment, racial equality, and chasing your dreams without limits. Many have already resonated with Aku, and an online community has been formed around the Akuverse. A 10-chapter Aku video NFT series was released between February 2021 and February 2022 and has generated over $24 million in sales to date. The Aku team is now following up that series with Akutars, a collection of 15,000 unique 3D avatars on the Ethereum blockchain.
On the Aku team is Pusha T and Upscale Vandal, both acting as advisors and founding creative council members. Working closely alongside Johnson and the rest of the team, Pusha T and Upscale Vandal curated an all-star lineup of luxury fashion, sportswear, and streetwear brands to join the Akuverse as part of this first Akutar collection.
The lineup includes Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM, Roc Nation’s Paper Planes, PUMA, Upscale Vandal, and WHO DECIDES WAR. Each have created a one-of-one Akutar design within the collection, and elements from those designs will also randomly appear throughout the collection of Akutars. You may have caught a glimpse at WHO DECIDES WAR’s contributions to the Akuverse at the tail-end of the brand’s FW22 runway show.
A project has a due date.
A movement last forever.
— Aku 👨🏾🚀 Akutars (@AkuDreams) April 12, 2022
“Aku is the first and only one making art and building a community at the highest level of fashion and culture,” says Pusha T. “The first Akutar lineup is a family affair of Black creatives coming together to take the Akuverse to the next level.”
“These brands all speak to very different communities and demographics, but they’re all derived from the dreamer mindset,” says Mike Camargo, better known as Upscale Vandal. “If you look at all of the brands independently and you look at their mottos or ethos — Planes is ‘Greatness is a Process,’ PUMA is ‘Forever Faster,’ the entire WHO DECIDES WAR mantra is about believing in a higher power, BBC’s ‘Wealth is of the Heart and Mind, not the Pocket’ — it’s all about mind expansion and dreaming and thinking bigger, thinking forward.”
“We’re thrilled to partner with Aku on this exciting project, which is not only pushing both fashion and streetwear culture forward, but is also deeply tied to community and diverse representation – something that is extremely important to our brand,” says Adam Petrick, Chief Brand Officer of PUMA.
Those who have collected all ten of the Aku chapters are known by the Akuverse community as Moon Gods. These collectors were rewarded with Mint Passes for free Akutars: one with a Mega OG Trait, two with an OG Trait, and two more random Akutars. Those who have collected at least four unique chapters received a Mint Pass for one Akutar with an OG Trait, as well as a random Akutar. Those who owned at least one chapter during the snapshot window also received a Mint Pass for a free random Akutar.
“Moon Gods is a group of people now that I really call them family,” says Micah Johnson. “The Moon God trait is a whole nother helmet, it’s not even close to the Aku helmet. There’s different variations on it, different textures. You got a matte black one with the gold trim, you got the all-white with the gold trim.”
“For the OG Trait, we took the chapter backgrounds, went inside the virtual scenes, and reshot the backgrounds for these Akutars,” Johnson continues. “And then of course you have the random Akutars, which could be anything. And they’re all bananas. Everyone’s like ‘what’s gonna be the rarest one?’ I don’t know. You have the partner traits that people might just go bananas over, or the Moon God helmets that people go nuts over. I don’t know.”
Akutar owners will join the ever-expanding Akuverse and gain access to exclusive products, experiences, and games. Each of the Akutars will be placed into one of five teams of 3,000, designated by the color of the light that shines underneath the helmet.
“We’re building an ecosystem where you’re rewarded on collaborating, where there are games and competitions between teams. We believe that this will build this kind of camaraderie,” says Johnson. “Everybody’s trying to build out play-to-earn games that take hundreds of millions of dollars and years to make. I believe that with our team we can build a really fun gaming ecosystem without the constraints of all this technology, just social games and things like that.”
There are big plans in motion for Akutars and the Akuverse as a whole, one of those being a full-length animated feature film that’s currently in development with Pusha T featured on the soundtrack. What does a Pusha T children’s movie song sound like? “Pusha is a father now and him and Nigel are super close,” explains Upscale Vandal. “The album [It’s Almost Dry] has some dad bars that are astronomical. There’s a bar where he says ‘I should wear a cape here, we don’t make mistakes here, my son is like a work of art, his father’s like Shakespeare.’ So I’m envisioning those types of bars.”
Grab a look at some of the Akutar designs below. The public launch of the first Akutar collection takes place on April 22nd on aku.world.