What do rapper The Game, girl trio Bleached, and Swedish death metal band Carnage have in common?
To date, almost two dozen artists and bands — including Future, Fetty Wap, Pia Mia, Pop Evil, The Chainsmokers, and DJ Snake — have released customized emoji packs. (An emoji pack, for the record, is different from emoji apps. While Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose have individual apps created for their emojis, most emojis for musicians are downloaded to your keyboard through third-party apps, like Emoji Fame and Moji Keyboard.).
Oakland rapper G-Eazy has his own emoji pack available through Moji Keyboard — including images of him eating a slice of pepperoni pizza, black Chelsea boots, and a mouth with a gold grill — as does former San Francisco resident Lil Dicky (whose most memorable emoji is that of a hairy scrotum with a tattoo on the left nut).
Download Emoji Fame and you'll find another Bay Area legend with their own emoji pack: the eight man hip-hop crew Hieroglyphics. In December 2015, along with indie rappers Hopsin and Dizzy Wright, Hiero became one of the first musical acts to have custom emojis released through Emoji Fame.
They're also the oldest musical act to get its own emoji pack, but so what? Emoji-fying yourself (or your brand) is good for business, says Emoji Fame co-founder Gavin Rhodes. And, if anything, those who have been around the longest might benefit the most from it.
"It's really for artists who are iconic and have rabid fan bases," Rhodes says.
Another quality that made Hieroglyphics a worthy emoji candidate was their highly recognizable and easily emoji-fiable third eye logo. In fact, of the crew's 35 emojis, more than half of them are clever takes on the triple-eyed face created in the early '90s by Hieroglyphics founder Del The Funky Homosapien. (The other half includes a blunt, the West Coast hand symbol, turntables, "420," and the Raiders logo — but with the Hiero third eye.)
"Turning the Hiero face into an emoji was a no brainer," Hieroglyphics member Tajai says. "There's so much embedded meaning in the Hiero face and it's so easy to turn it into an emoji."
The idea for creating Emoji Fame came to founders Rhodes and Michelle McDevitt — who also work for the PR firm Audible Treats, of which Hieroglyphics is a client — while watching Katy Perry's infamous "Left Shark" performance at the 2015 Super Bowl halftime show. Because of their pre-existing relationship with Hieroglyphics, the hip-hop crew was one of the first groups that came to mind while brainstorming emoji subjects for the app. As it turned out, the Oakland group had been toying with the idea of an emoji pack, too.
"The idea had been floating around," Tajai says.
For those who think emojis are flippant and insignificant, think again. Before languages, images were a key means of communicating. And they still are. If you don't speak the same tongue, they can help you get your point across, and, if you're prone to verbosity, they can make life simpler.
"Language doesn't always convey everything we'd like to say," Tajai says. "If it did, people wouldn't use phrases like 'You know what I'm saying?' and 'You feel me?'"
In a fast-paced world such as ours, emojis can also come in handy when you're short for time or space.
"We're trying to talk in these short blurbs and a lot of times it's not possible to convey everything," he adds. "That's when the emoji comes in and adds a lot more information."
But there are 1,624 Unicode Consortium-approved emojis already pre-installed on our smartphones to help with communication. Why do we need more? Especially individualized, music-related ones?
Because emojis, like most everything else, are a form of branding.
Call it subliminal messaging if you will, but emojis are another means of infiltrating the public consciousness. Hiring a PR firm might get your name in an article, but creating an emoji pack will get your name (as well as face, butt, hairstyle, you name it) into people's text messages, making them more likely to remember you, talk about you, and buy things from you.
"Emojis can help take a band and turn it into a brand," says Thomas Ordahl, the chief strategy officer for the consulting firm Landor. "By creating a visual and verbal language, there's a sense of community and culture that can form around a band, its music, and its fan base."
Case in point: Even though it's been three years since Hieroglyphics' last album, the crew has found other ways to make money and stay relevant (through, for instance, merchandise and their annual Hiero Day festival). Their emoji pack, which has been downloaded more than 5,000 times from Emoji Fame, is only its latest stint at branding, and it works because, Tajai says, "emojis supersede the music."
Emojis are also another means of helping a band or an artist make money. Though each emoji pack costs around $0.99 to $1.99, those scanty sums can add up over time, and, as Rhodes points out, they're better than nothing.
"Emojis are a new revenue stream that just never existed before," he says. "Not just in the obvious way because you have to pay for them, but because they're also amazing engagement tools with your audience."
Granted, personalized, iconic imagery is not a new thing when it comes to music. Both The Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin figured this out long before the smartphone existed.
"Really successful bands throughout history have always built these kinds of cultural symbols that have unique meanings that if you're not part of that community you won't understand," Ordahl says. "In some ways, this is just the new, digital version of it."