Notorious “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli is testing the credo that Wu-Tang Clan ain’t nothing to … mess with.
The business executive and former hedge fund manager took to eBay on Tuesday to sell the legendary rap collective’s sole copy of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.”
Bidding for the two-disc album, which will end September 15, started at $1. By Thursday morning it had topped $1 million.
Why would Shkreli, 34, give up this piece of hip-hop history? A piece for which he paid $2 million at auction?
He says it’s about respect, which he failed to receive from the Wu or the world.
“I decided to purchase this album as a gift to the Wu-Tang Clan for their tremendous musical output. Instead I received scorn from at least one of their (least-intelligent) members, and the world at large failed to see my purpose of putting a serious value behind music,” he said Tuesday on eBay.
That’s no doubt a reference to Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah, who engaged in a public and often hilarious war of words with Shkreli over his business reputation.
Shkreli was pilloried in 2015 for raising the price on a drug used by AIDS and cancer patients from $13.50 to $750 per pill after his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, bought the drug’s rights. More recently, Shkreli was convicted last month of securities fraud and conspiracy. He awaits sentencing.
An hour after his verdict he posted a livestream on YouTube in which he predicted receiving a sentence of “close to nil” or serving a stint in Club Fed, where he will “play basketball and tennis and Xbox” for a couple of months.
The feud between Ghostface Killah and Shkreli began with name-calling and memes but soon escalated. Referencing the price-gouging scandal, the rapper called Shkreli “a real killer, but you’re a soft killer,” and introduced his “goons” — his sister and mother — to give Shekreli a sharp dressing down.
Shkreli responded by calling Ghostface “son” and saying he’d smack him. He also threatened to erase the rhymesmith’s verses from the “Shaolin” album.
The cachet of ‘Shaolin’
Wu-Tang producer RZA announced the release of “Shaolin” in March 2014, promising in a Forbes interview to “sell an album like nobody else sold it before” and likening the record to a piece of art or the “scepter of an Egyptian king.”
The sole copy of the 31-track album would come in a hand-carved box with a 174-page leather-bound book of parchment paper containing lyrics and a backstory. It would be sold to the highest bidder.
RZA had initially wanted to forbid the buyer from publicly releasing the album for 88 years but eventually loosened the terms to ensure that it was never sold commercially.
“Shaolin” drew interest from “private collectors, trophy hunters, millionaires, billionaires, unknown folks, publicly known folks, businesses, companies with commercial intent, young, old,” RZA boasted.
An ill-fated Kickstarter campaign set up by Wu-Tang fans could only scrape together $15,406 of its $5 million goal.
It was 21 months before Bloomberg Businessweek announced Shkreli had submitted the high bid of $2 million. The news came beneath a graphic calling the young CEO “young dirty bastard,” a reference to deceased Wu-Tang member Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Shkreli, already in the running for most-hated man in America, immediately faced a new onslaught of derision. Even RZA seemed to distance himself from the young mogul.
“The sale of ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ was agreed upon in May, well before Martin Skhreli’s business practices came to light. We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity,” RZA wrote in an email to Bloomberg Businessweek.
Unfazed, Shkreli tweeted, “If there is a curious gap in your favorite artist’s discography, well, now you know why.” (He has since been kicked off Twitter for making unwanted advances to a magazine editor.)
Sale could be called off
In his eBay post, Shkreli said he would donate half of the sale proceeds to medical research.
“I am not selling to raise cash — my companies and I have record amounts of cash on hand. I hope someone with a bigger heart for music can be found for this one-of-a-kind piece and makes it available for the world to hear,” he wrote.
He promised to destroy any copies of the album he owns and pay the buyer’s legal fees up to $25,000.
But be forewarned: Shkreli also said, “At any time I may cancel this sale and I may even break this album in frustration.”
In an online question-and-answer section accompanying the auction post, Shkreli fended off numerous trolls, discussed his legal snafus and boasted of owning rapper Lil Wayne’s much-anticipated “Tha Carter V.”
“Does Cash Rule Everything Around You?” asked one commenter on the eBay Q&A.
Shkreli replied, “most things.”