Martin Shkreli has done it again. Dubbed “the most hated man in America” by the BBC after price gouging AIDS patients and kids with kidney disease, the hedge fund manager-turned-comic book villain for the 1 percent is today’s public enemy No. 1 for rap fans.
On Wednesday, Bloomberg Businessweek reported that it was Shkreli who had purchased the only copy in existence of Wu-Tang Clan’s album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for a reported $2 million. The concept behind the album was for the Clan to make just one copy of the record and sell it to the highest bidder. That bidder ended up being a man who became famous in September for his business practices of increasing prices on life-saving medications by egregious amounts.
To add to the troll factor, Shkreli went on his personal live YouTube stream on Wednesday to compile an alphabetized excel list of other artists he might try to buy an exclusive album from. “Yeah, I’ll keep Black Star’s album from coming out—it’ll be fun,” he quipped. “Who hasn’t made an album in a long time, that everyone wants a new album from? That’s the one I want to buy.”
The Clan’s initial plan was to ban the buyer from releasing the album for 88 years, but eventually the group decided to allow that person to determine the album’s fate. “Aside from [de facto Wu-Tang leader] RZA and his co-producer, Tarik ‘Cilvaringz’ Azzougarh, nobody had heard the entire record,” Bloomberg Businessweek reported. “It was stored in a vault in the Royal Mansour Marrakech hotel in Morocco and any duplicates had been destroyed.”
Based on the YouTube stream, it appears that Shkreli has no intention of releasing the album publicly anytime soon. “No, I’m not going to release the album,” he said. “Why would I pay millions of dollars to have everyone listen to it for free?"
According to Bloomberg Businessweek, Shkreli had initially been concerned that the negative publicity around his business deals, which drew criticism from Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton among others, would scuttle the deal after the fact.
“I was a little worried that they were going to walk out of the deal,” he said. “But by then we’d closed. The whole kind of thing since then has been just kind of ‘Well, do we want to announce it’s him? Do we not want to announce it’s him?’ I think they were trying to cover their butts a little bit.”
RZA had initially billed the album as “a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music.” He clearly has had second thoughts, though. “The sale of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was agreed upon in May, well before Martin Skhreli’s [sic] business practices came to light,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek. “We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity.”
Shkreli, who hadn’t yet listened to Once Upon a Time in Shaolin as of the interview, told Bloomberg Businessweek that he wanted to purchase more private albums.
While artists have every right to do whatever they want with their work, including sell it privately to an apparent moral blank, musicians should maybe think more carefully the next time they do a Wu-Tang style single album sale about the type of plutocrat who might make such a purchase and whether or not they want their names associated with such a person. Either that, or put a confidentiality clause into the deal.