It is not quite like sharing your love of The Beatles with Charles Manson but Wu-Tang Clan fans will feel like their band is trolling them with this news. Martin Shkreli, called the most hated man in America for his price-gouging pharmaceutical moves, has bought the one-of-a-kind secret Wu-Tang Clan album for US$2 million. This will not improve his reputation and paints the rap collective in an unkind light.
[UPDATE 1] The New York Times and Bloomberg are reporting December 17 that Shkreli has been arrested for securities fraud, based on allegations from his time as a hedge fund manager. We have yet to hear if the authorities are seizing his assets, which will include the Wu-Tang Clan album. We remain hopeful.
[UPDATE 2] The Guardian reports that a homeless charity will return a $15,000 donation made by Shkreli’s foundation amid speculation that other such donations made by Shkreli may come under scrutiny by the authorities. Shkreli continues to assert his innocence in the ongoing fraud case. He resigned as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals December 18. Still no word on the ultimate fate of the Wu-Tang Clan album.
The New York-based Wu-Tang Clan revealed last year that it had recorded only one copy of a 31-track double-album entitled Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, kept in a vault in a handcrafted box with a leather-bound 174-page lyric book waiting for a buyer. At US$2 million, it might well be the most expensive music album ever released.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek revealed December 10 that Shkreli has bragging rights to the album, not that he needs an excuse to brag.
The 32-year-old executive immediately teased Wu-Tang Clan fans, writing on Twitter that he “may play something special.” This is already turning into what some are calling a contender for “weirdest news story of the year.” Honestly, we are calling this the most interesting intersection between luxury and commercial music in 2015. For more on that, and how Bill Murray fits into this (he does, only not really) read the Vox story linked above. Following Shkreli’s arrest, the saga will only get stranger.
Bloomberg reports that the sale agreement forbade Shkreli from reselling Once Upon a Time in Shaolin but gave him the right to stream it for free online. Sadly this means no one can liberate the album (the heist rumor is a stunt), unless Shkreli goes bankrupt; the likelihood of him doing anything for free is, well, don’t hold your breath.
The entrepreneur is best known to the public after his company, Turing Pharmaceuticals, in September decided to raise the price of Daraprim, a drug used to treat HIV-positive people, from $13.50 to $750.
The move earned him the moniker in the media as the “most hated man in America.”
“No one — including Martin Shkreli — should have the power to price-gouge American families,” Democratic presidential frontrunner Hillary Clinton said at the time, with Republican candidate and fellow tycoon Donald Trump calling Shkreli “a spoiled brat.” Yes, even “the world’s most hated man” cannot stand him.
One of Shkreli’s favorite ways of self-expression is a livestream of himself on YouTube, in which he speaks about chemical molecules or surfs dating sites.
“It’s good because people get to see what I’m like, and most people are like, ‘Oh, you’re not as bad as I thought’,” he said in November. This begs the question, how bad do people think he is to discover that he really isn’t.
The Wu-Tang Clan — which has fashioned itself as socially conscious, despite frequent feuds with other rappers — found itself on the defensive after Shkreli was revealed as the buyer. Honestly, what did the rappers think would happen but then again, shutting out all their fans to serve one exclusive patron was never going to be popular…
“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,” RZA, generally seen as the leader of the ensemble, said in a statement. “We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity.”