Mad Lads is the biggest thing in NFTs right now, as the Solana profile picture (PFP) project overcame alleged extortion threats and DDOS attacks to mint out last week—and has generated over $15 million worth of trading volume since.
It’s a bright spot for the Solana world after some rough months. Solana’s token and vibes were rocked by the collapse of exchange FTX and the downfall of close ally Sam Bankman-Fried in November. And then in December, the creator of Solana’s prominent NFT projects DeGods and y00ts announced that both would leave for other chains, which ultimately happened in March.
Armani Ferrante, a longtime Solana developer and co-founder and CEO of Mad Lads creator Coral, told Decrypt this week that the chain’s community had “been in this very dark, very crazy kind of place” since the FTX collapse, and that it “had its soul-forging moment” in that span.
“There was this void,” he explained, “where the heart and soul of the NFT space needed to kind of have a new heartbeat, basically.”
In that sense, he chalked part of the buzzy Mad Lads response to coincidental timing, as the project was ready to launch just weeks after those projects effectively departed Solana. But Ferrante also credited the reputation and community goodwill that he and fellow Coral co-founder Tristan Yver had built up in the space over the years.
“I think a lot of folks looked at us—and I’m just speculating here—as a credible team that can execute and that are good people, fundamentally, that care a lot about the ecosystem,” he said.
Mad Lads also marked the first big drop tied to Backpack, an all-in-one wallet app from Coral that’s built around its Solana xNFT, or “executable NFT,” standard. Essentially, rather than use NFTs as an access pass to token-gated content on other platforms or websites, they can contain experiences and exclusive content that’s accessible through Backpack.
The Mad Lads mint was the first big launch for Backpack, which was announced last June. For Mad Lads, Coral developed an in-app story experience that resembled “a collective boss battle” against the Mad King, almost like a raid in the hit online game World of Warcraft. It was part game, part social quest, and altogether a shared experience for NFT for holders.
“You don’t have to worry about creating new websites for your user experience,” Ferrante said of xNFTs. “You just use the NFT, and this is an incredible opportunity for creators to build new stories and create a new meta where the artwork is no longer just a piece of artwork.”
“It’s also a living, breathing piece of computer code that can do anything,” he added.
Beyond self-contained games and other types of token-gated experiences for holders, Ferrante also sees potential for NFT project creators to “get leverage with marketplaces,” for example, trading potentially valuable screen “real estate” within their apps and pointing collectors to certain trading platforms.
Backpack is available in a public beta on mobile and web right now, and while xNFTs are currently permissioned due to ongoing security audits, Ferrante said, the long-term goal is to open it up to the community for anyone to build on.
“The intention is: once we’re confident in the security,” he said, “we’ll take the permissioning off.”
Ferrante promised a wave of planned announcements ahead around Backpack, including Mad Lads-related content and experiences. And longer-term, Coral wants to go broadly multi-chain with it. Currently, Ethereum is supported through the Wormhole cross-chain bridge, but Ferrante wants to see community developers help add more protocols—including Bitcoin and Ordinals.
“One of the big ambitions for Backpack is to have every protocol and every blockchain inside of a single user interface,” he said.
In Ferrante’s view, Mad Lads’ ascent within not only the Solana NFT space, but also its dominance atop the market-wide sales charts over the past several days, points to a rebirth for the Solana community. It’s undoing the damage from the FTX associations and the narratives that formed as a result, in his view, along with the impact of DeGods and y00ts.
“It’s got a super organic NFT community that hasn’t gone anywhere. I think that DeGods and y00ts kind of sucked the life out of the NFT space, but I think it’s totally back now,” Ferrante said. “And it’s not going anywhere. It’s honestly more exciting than ever.”