The name Martin Shkreli seems to ring wrong these days. As CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, the Brooklyn native’s controversial decision to raise the price of vital AIDS medication, Daraprim from $13.50 per pill to a staggering $750 each has incited vitriol from across the internet and the real world. So when it was announced last week that Shkreli was the buyer of Wu-Tang’s mystic Once Upon A Time In Shaolin—which was marketed as a pioneering work-of-art rather than an album—RZA went into damage control. “The sale was agreed upon in May,” he told Bloomberg Business Week, “…well before Martin Skhreli’s [sic] business practices came to light.”
To say the stiff-arm did not sit well with Shkreli is an understatement. “I felt insulted,” he tells HipHopDX in this exclusive conversation. “If I hand you $2 million, fucking show me some respect. At least have the decency to say nothing or ‘no comment.’”
But Shkreli didn’t simply purchase the most expensive album in history to have it chill next to his Picasso. Raised in Sheepshead Bay, the brash executive is an avid Hip Hop fan. He loves Eminem and DMX and describes in detail his hopes of becoming a part of the culture… or, at least, the industry. He grew up playing the guitar and piano and aspires to release his own rap album. But before that, his immediate plan is to bail-out jailed Brooklyn upstart, Bobby Shmurda.
“I’m a fan and I’m a business man,” he tells DX. “Look, the guy’s going to have to record for me if he comes out. I’ll just come out and say it… I’m not going to do this for free.
“To me, what I’m doing right now in the media,” Shkreli continues, “raising prices, all this shit, believe what you want, but it’s interesting. It gets people talking. At the end of the day, that’s what art is. I don’t know if I can translate the shit into rap or not, but I’ll try… In 500 years, they’re going to talk about rap the same way we talk about Shakespeare. I just want to throw my hat in the ring, that's all. I don’t want to make money.”
Bobby Shmurda & Action Bronson
Martin Shkreli: We’re actually in discussion to try to bail out Bobby Shmurda. Forget whether you think he’s guilty or not, the guy should not be sitting in jail right now. It’s insane. He’s from Brooklyn. I’m from Brooklyn. He deserves a fair trial. He deserves good lawyers. He doesn’t have good lawyers. His label is hanging him out to dry and so I have a conference call tomorrow morning with them (December 15). I’ll show up with $2 million bail money no fucking problem. He’s not going to flee the country. I’m not going to lose anything. I’m going to try to make that happen. That’s one thing I’m working on.
HipHopDX: Where did that come from? I’m sure you’re familiar with the story, but are you a fan?
Martin Shkreli: I’m a fan and I’m a business man. I’m not going to do this for free. [Laughs] He’s going to have to do something for me. I don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. He’s going to owe me one, obviously. I’d like to pay for his legal defense as well. I’m a big fan, but also, I’m an opportunist. You know that. I see an opportunity here. He’s a talented guy. Every concert I go to, people yell “Free Shmurda.” He reminds me of me, quite frankly. The guy’s totally irreverent. He doesn’t give a damn what people think. Totally irreverent. Totally I don’t give a fuck. I love him. I just love that style. He’s from not far from where I’m from in Brooklyn. I’d love to help him out. I wish someone would have helped me out when I needed help. He doesn’t have much money, I know that. He’s definitely hurting for money. He needs a bailout, basically. I’d like to help him out. No big promises, but I’ll see what I can do. Like I said, if I can post the $2 million, I’d do it tomorrow. I’m working on it and hopefully, we’ll see him free soon.
DX: You’re unabashedly an opportunist, you said it. Is part of this because it’s potentially a perceived olive branch to the Hip Hop community. Hip Hop isn’t really feeling you right now.
Martin Shkreli: It’s a mix. Look, the guy’s going to have to record for me if he comes out. I’ll just come out and say it. If I’m gonna post his bail, pay for his trial, get him a “Not Guilty” verdict... With the right lawyer, it’s just a matter of money. I see opportunity. The guy’s going to be more popular when he’s out. The guy probably didn’t do shit. He was trying to turn to a new chapter in his life and the old shit is coming up and hurting him. He’s New York’s best chance for rap since 50 Cent. It’s not a lot of money for me. Spend a couple million on his defense, a couple million on bail and I’ll get the bail money back real quick. So a million or two for his defense, which is probably $4 million in total, I’m willing to put towards his defense. I don’t do olive branches. I’m doing something for him, the same way I felt I was doing something for the Wu-Tang Clan. And I’m doing something for me. If people benefit from that, listeners, then that’s great, but that’s not my primary concern. First is him. Second is me. Third is everyone else. Everyone wins. It’s a win-win-win. The only loser is the fucking FEDs that want to see a fucking kid sit in jail for no reason because his lawyers can’t fucking get his act together. That’s what’s going on with that.
DX: What else did you want to share?
Martin Shkreli: There’s a simmering [conflict] going on with the Wu-Tang Clan. It’s probably going to bubble. I don’t know if it’s going to lawsuits. I don’t know what’s going to happen, honestly. I wanted to talk about Action Bronson. You know he’s Albanian?
DX: I do.
Martin Shkreli: You know I’m Albanian?
DX: I know that, as well. Sheepshead Bay [Brooklyn].
Martin Shkreli: I’m the most successful Albanian to ever walk the face of this Earth. What happened to Bronson was [regarding Ghostface Killah]. I thought it was entertaining, watching him run his mouth on Youtube and talk about how he’s got shooters and shit like that. It was funny. I just didn’t like that. I thought we’d keep it as if it was fine. I bought the album. [There's a ] big fucking check in RZA and Cilvaringz’ pocket now, but if they’re starting to turn up on me… The Albanian community is a very weird community. We’re some of the most tight-knit kind-of kill for each other, die for each other motherfuckers there are. People say it’s one of the craziest ethnicities there is in terms of their loyalty and bloodlines and shit like that. This thing [Wu-Tang thing] is starting to get pretty tense. You probably see that increasingly. I’m getting pretty frustrated by it. I bought the most expensive album in the history of mankind and fucking RZA is talking shit behind my back and online in plain sight. I’m just getting pissed off. That’s not the way I do business. If I hand you $2 million, fucking show me some respect. At least have the decency to say nothing or “no comment.” The guy says “…before his business practices came to light.” What the fuck does that mean? I fucking make money. That’s what I do. That’s why I can fucking afford a fucking $2 million album. What do you think I do, make cookies? No, motherfucker. I sell drugs. [Laughs] I felt insulted.
DX: Throughout this entire process since the announcement, there have been people critical of the idea that they were going to try to sell an album like a work-of-art, a piece that truly was one-of-a-kind. You remember when Ol' Dirty Bastard said “Wu-Tang’s for the children.” Now babies can’t get healed unless they can afford $750 [per AIDS] pill. They definitely have brand concerns, right?
Martin Shkreli: I’m staring at a Picasso in my living room right now that’s no different from the Wu-Tang box except it’s about 20 times more expensive. It is what it is. If you sell me some shit, then sell me some shit. If you don’t want to sell it to me then don’t sell it to me. You’ve got to research Albanians, it’s the most hot tempered culture there is. I have a crazy temper myself. He’s from the streets. The guy hasn’t been in the hustle in 20 years. He doesn’t want to get me angry and I’m getting angry. Again, what Ghostface said to Bronson was 100 hundred times worse than me and RZA. This is starting to get into some weird Albanian shit. There are similarities, very similar. I’m just getting fed up. If he doesn’t think I have the resources to do something, he fucking doesn’t know me. If Ghostface can make people disappear, what the fuck do you think I can do? I’ll fucking snap the CD on fucking TV and not even listen to it if that’s what he fucking wants.
DX: The Bloomberg story talked about a lunch that you and RZA had prior to the finalizing of the sale. With what you’re saying now, I find it hard to believe that there weren’t covenants to the agreement that kept [each side] from criticizing the sale should it go either way. Everything else seems super confidential.
Martin Shkreli: I’ll have to look back at the agreement. I appreciate you asking that. I met the guy at the SOHO House. The place doesn’t impress me. The guy sits down. We talk for a half an hour. We didn’t really get to know each other in any way, shape or form. That’s why I said that we didn’t have much in common because we talked for maybe an hour. I’ve had meetings where I was supposed to be talking to someone for an hour and we end up talking for six hours because we’re so interested in what we have to say. We’ve all been there. That’s not what happened. Motherfucker came in. He was late. We sat down for maybe 45 minutes at most. He left and was like, “Man, this is the man that needs to buy this album.” I’ve been behind a lot of deals. I know when I’m being bullshitted. You don’t have to fucking fake it. But I still wanted the album. We definitely didn’t have much in common. The guy is fucking full of himself, talking about how his shit is the best ever, how fucking Bobby Digital was the best shit ever. I wasn’t feeling him at all. I figured it was another arrogant rapper. How many of them do you need to meet?
I’m trying to get somewhere in this industry. I’m not sure it’s about olive branches or not. I’m a musician. I’ve played guitar and piano since I was a little kid. I might try to do my own shit.
Martin Shkreli's Rap Plan Of Attack
DX: You play guitar and piano? Do you write songs as well?
Martin Shkreli: Oh yeah. I told RZA and I told Bloomberg that Shakespeare is my shit. Binding couplets are no fucking different than [GZA]. GZA is literally a genius. Not everyone loves his flow. I can do something like that, I guarantee it. I’ve reached out to a few producers and a few feature artists just to test the waters. I would never put anything out unless it was just golden. I don’t need to embarrass myself. I’m doing fine in pharma. I don’t need another career, but I love creativity. I write music. I was in a lot of bands in high school and college. I love rap, obviously. I think I could express myself through it. There’s never been an [incredibly wealthy] rapper. All these guys rap about is money and I have a lot to say.
DX: Most people think Dr. Dre made it to that level.
Martin Shkreli: He’s close enough, right? [Laughs] He’s the first, so God bless him. He’s obviously an inspiration to everyone, quite frankly. That’s kind of on the horizon for me. I’m testing it out, but in no means or way saying that I can do it. Just kind of test it out to see if it goes well. It could be total shit. It could be great. Who knows? Probably it’s not going to be good. Very few people make it. How many people want to rap? Everyone. How many people can rap? Very limited quantities. I’m even talking to some ghost writers. If Drake can do it, I can do it. [Laughs]
DX: Your music aspirations seem more individualistic than creating a label. The opportunities you've talked about so far have been bailing out Bobby Shmurda and, pardon my paraphrase, riding for Action Bronson. Are you thinking about selling music away from your own stuff? Or is this a hobby that could turn into a revenue stream?
Martin Shkreli: I’m not trying to make money. That's number one. I don’t need to make money. The arts for me is about art. Hip Hop for me is a lot of things. You get so many things with Hip Hop. You get tremendous art. Look at Talib Kweli or [Mos Def] or any of these tremendously gifted intellectual artists. Even Jay Z. When I met him, he gave me this big hug. I told him that all of my success, he inspired it. This is two years ago. You get the extremely good art and then you get this new medium. In 500 years, they’re going to talk about rap the same way we talk about Shakespeare. I just want to throw my hat in the ring, that's all. I don’t want to make money. There’s not a lot of money to be made, regardless. As much as people say Birdman this or Dre that, this isn’t a big industry. Maybe it will be. It’s not like you can make $10 billion in Hip Hop. It’s not going to happen. It’s unrealistic. For me, it’s more about art and helping bring this art to more people. I’m a drug CEO. You know Ben Horowitz. This is an art that’s growing and growing. To be involved peripherally or centrally, sometimes both, I just love it. I’m at the point in my life where I can do it. I’m still young.
Riding for Action Bronson? I’m riding for myself. There’s parallels or a subplot. There’s sort of a subtext. He’s Albanian. I’m Albanian. He’s from New York. I’m from New York. He’s squaring off against Ghost. I’m squaring off against RZA. Their beef is probably dead (with Ghost), but that dude is crazy on top of all of it. I doubt a label is in my future. If there was an artist that was great and needed cash, I would fund him and not ask for anything in return. I would just throw the check down and say, “Go do your thing, don't forget who I am.” If you need $50,000 or $100,000 to go do your shit, go on tour for the first time… I make bets on people, bets on artists all the time and I’m happy to do that totally free and just be there as a go-to for the right folks. All I want in return is a little recognition and just friendship. I trusted you early, you make sure I’m backstage when you’re fucking selling out [Madison Square Garden] and just access. That’s the kind of stuff I’m looking for.
I love the art. It’s fucking fantastic. All of my CEO friends and investors think it’s fucking noise and garbage. I think the more people like me to get into the scene [could be helpful]. Ben Horowitz is fucking quoting Nas in everything he writes. It’s like, “Okay, maybe you should take this a little bit more seriously." I think that's a beautiful thing. Why not help the scene? Why not help the community? If people don’t get what I’m doing with this Wu-Tang thing, it is what it is. I don’t think I’m going to snap the fucking CD. [Laughs] Again, my temper can definitely run wild. Did you see that thing where I threatened that dude and his fucking kids, right?
DX: I did.
Martin Shkreli: That was over $3 million, I want to say. He had to call the police, that guy. There’s a little “Shmurda” in me, too. [Laughs] People that know me know that there’s a little Bobby-equivalent in my blood, too. That comes from growing up on the edge of the hood, I would say. I’ve had guns pointed at me. I’ve had tons of that shit happen. I know that world. Not knee deep, but know it enough to know what it is. I’m definitely the real fucking deal. This is not a fucking act. I threatened that fucking guy and his fucking kids because he fucking took $3 million from me and he ended up paying me back. He called my bluff. He said, “You’re not fucking going to go after me.” [I said] “Yes I motherfucking will.” I had two guys parked outside of his house for six months watching his every fucking move. I can get down. I don’t think RZA knows that. I think he thinks I’m some powder puff white guy CEO that’s got too much money. No. No, no, no. I definitely don't spend $2 million for nothing. That’s a lot of money, even if you’re Carl Icahn. I’d encourage him to shut the fuck up before he goes a little too far. We'll see what happens. I think he’s a smart man. He definitely acts like his shit doesn’t stink and he invented rap. This concept of selling one album, this shit’s backfiring for him now...
DX: That seems like a pretty resolute opinion on someone you spoke to for 45 minutes.
Martin Shkreli: Look, I don’t know. He’s an enigma. A lot of these rap dudes are enigmas. Fucking Jay Z, you fucking sit-down with the guy for two hours, the guy fucking says three sentences. That’s how Jay is. He’s just quiet. All these guys are quiet. They keep to themselves. They don’t say shit. I don’t wanna say it’s resolute. His music speaks for itself. The guy created one of the most iconic groups ever. But he’s not God. He’s not the greatest there ever was or that ever will be and he acts like it. That pisses me off sometimes. I did him a favor. I don’t think there was another fucking buyer for this fucking thing. I’ve been in a lot of deals. You know when you’re bidding against yourself. I’m not fucking stupid. I know I could’ve gotten away with half the bid and still got it. What’s the difference? What’s another $500,000, $750,000, another $1 million? What am I gonna do, save money on this? Who cares? I just did it. I did him a fucking favor and I expected him to go out there and say, “Well, Mr. Shkreli, he’s not such a bad guy. He’s being misunderstood” as opposed to, “We didn’t know this before his business practices came to light.” What the fuck does that mean? Fucking defend me. I didn’t pay you $2 million to talk shit about me.
DX: Have you spoken to him since that statement was released?
Martin Shkreli: No. I don’t think it would be a good conversation.
DX: Have you spoken to Cilvaringz?
Martin Shkreli: I have spoken to Ringz. He’s RZA’s fucking lapdog. I don’t have much to say to him or about him. It is what it is. He doesn’t have anything. This is all Bobby. All my emails with him, the guy fucking types in ALL CAPS like he’s never used a fucking computer. [Laughs]
Martin Shkreli: "I'll Fucking Buy Cash Money"
DX: The last thing that I expected you to say today was that you have music aspirations. You talk about the swag that rappers have. I think your reputation is similar for better and worse. From what I’ve read about how you’ve been characterized and from what I’ve seen from the public forums I’ve watched where you’re speaking, it takes a shit ton of swag to be a 32-year-old CEO of a pharmaceutical company. It takes swag to handle the backlash for, as you’ve described it, meeting your fiduciary responsibility. I don’t think that’s as off base as what other people might think.
Martin Shkreli: I appreciate that. I had written off rap for a long time. Then I put on Eminem’s album [Marshall Mathers LP]. I listened to that first track where he explains how he’s gonna kill the listener [“Kill You”] in like 18 different ways. I’m just sitting there thinking, “What the fuck am I listening to?” I’ve heard all types of music and I’m listening to this man explain how he’s going to dismember me with a chainsaw, fuck his own mother and my brain is exploding. The rest of the album is fantastic. It makes you wonder what art is. To me, what I’m doing right now in the media, raising prices, all this shit, believe what you want, but it’s interesting. It gets people talking. At the end of the day, that’s what art is. I don’t know if I can translate the shit into rap or not, but I’ll try. I’ll try in my own studios and with my own friends helping me out. If it comes out okay, I’ll put the shit out. I’ve written lots of good songs before. I can definitely do it. Business is better for me just because music is a hard life, as you know. But if I can do it, I’ll do it. The budget for the album can be fucking $5 million. I’ll pay fucking Drake. I’ll pay fucking Lil Wayne. I’ll pay Timbaland to make a beat. I don’t care. I just don’t wanna put out low-quality stuff. I don’t want it to turn into Detox where nothing is good enough; where it always needs to be better. I don’t want that to happen either. We’ll see.
I’ve written some rhymes. They’re alright. Teams or not, it still has to come from the [artist]. I think I’m a creative guy. I’ve got a pretty deep knowledge of Hip Hop. I’ve got a good vocabulary, a decent sense of humor and enough material to last a fucking lifetime. I’ve got enough material to write five autobiographies. At 32 years old, I’ve seen and done more shit than just about anyone. That should help. Sometimes it’s just that magic that makes one of these guys different from another. I’m not counting on that, that’s for sure. I’m counting on how I have a lot of money. Can I be the next Suge Knight or Puff Daddy or whatever in this game? Probably. Birdman? Probably. What does Birdman do? He fucking rubs his hands and fucking every now and then maybe he’ll say something. But he’ll try hard to look cool and bullshit.
DX: There’s still a question of authenticity. Nothing in rap really works without it. Everyone who’s had some fame and didn’t have authenticity becomes a joke. You don’t want to be Vanilla Ice.
Martin Shkreli: Exactly. I don’t wanna be Vanilla Ice, but I’m a fucking real dude. I’m the guy. I’ve got fucking Presidents talking about me. [Laughs]
DX: But even away from the street life that’s often associated with Hip Hop. Authenticity within the culture.
Martin Shkreli: For sure. But if Ace Hood can stand next to me in a music video and be like, “I fucks with this dude. This is my bankroll guy and I’ve got fucking suitcases of money." That’s my real life. I fucking travel around [Las Vegas] with fucking $2 million or $3 million in cash like Floyd Mayweather. It’s real. Whether you think I’m a herb or whatever, fine. But I’m the dude. I’m the guy. I’m not made up. Take it for what it’s worth. If you think that’s not going to do anything... 80 guys have tried to turn DMX’s career around. It’s never gonna happen, but I love that dude.
The point is, I am what I am. I’ve seen people call me a fucking savage. I’m the fucking biggest plug there is. The guys on Worldstar say that. There're guys that are like I’m just a white boy or whatever. OK. But if Hip Hop’s gonna evolve and be something big… You’ve got guys like Ben Horowitz, myself. You know Ben bid on this shit. Ben bid on the album. I’m here. Use it or lose it, I don’t care. But I’m here and I love this shit. If I’m not welcome then I’m not welcome. That’s OK. I’m still gonna be fucking shit up. [Laughs] You can’t stop me from that. I’ll fucking buy Cash Money, dude. You can’t stop that. The money is just the money. It’s green. C’est la vie.
I was at the Tupac auction buying all of Tupac’s manuscripts. It is what it is. If I’m an outsider, I’m an outsider. Dudes will still come up to me and need money for the records. I’ll still be here. I hope I’m accepted, for sure. Like you said, you need swag to pull off the shit I pulled off. To even have Trump call you a spoiled brat. Donald-fucking-Trump called me a spoiled brat. That takes someone special, I think.
DX: I’ve been reading a lot of message boards and people have been quoting some of the things you’ve said around the album. When you said “the fans could’ve bought the last Wu-Tang album or the one before that and they didn’t and all they had to do was pay $10.” People in the message boards were really upset. In my view, it was largely because that's a hard point to debate.
Martin Shkreli: By the way, I got that from RZA himself. He threw his own fans under the fucking bus. I didn’t make that shit up. That was RZA talking. It’s true. I’ve got the money. If DMX wanted to put out an album right now, I’d pay $100,000 or $200,000 or $500,000. Trust me, he’d make more selling to me than he’d make selling out elsewhere. The guy’s got so much fucking child support, so many fucking bills. For him to write something for me would be a no-brainer. I don’t know. We’ll see how it all goes.
DX: This is the second time you’ve mentioned DMX. This something you’re thinking about.
Martin Shkreli: Oh, for sure. If Kanye West would trade me some unreleased shit, I would make him a copy of Wu-Tang. But we’d both agree to keep each other’s shit secret. I’m trying to cut some shit like that. Maybe do a remix or something with Drake. He’s a big fan. They all have brands and shit, though. For Drake to fuck with me would be a problem for Drake. He probably wouldn’t do it. I don’t know. I want to see where it takes me. I think I bought a seat at the table with this album. If I can get Shmurda out of jail, that would be some shit. [Laughs] I’m a creative guy. If you talk to anyone in pharma—maybe I don’t have the same resources as Pfizer, I may not have the same experience as Merck—but I’m crafty as fuck. Anytime there’s some shit to do in rap, you know I’m going to be there. I asked DJ Khaled if I can help expand his fucking restaurant. We’re talking about it. We’ll see what happens. I’m throwing my hat in the game. I'm here, I want to have fun. It fits me perfectly. It’s this mix of bravado, money music, attitude. This is just me. Nothing in my life fits better than Hip Hop. It was meant to be. We’ll see how it plays out. I’m going to be around. Shmurda, this emerging war with RZA, if it emerges—I am pretty pissed off. I want an apology, for sure. We’ll see what he does. I’ve been known to calm down, too.
DX: Have you thought about sharing the album?
Martin Shkreli: I’m not going to play it for no reason. If Taylor Swift wants to come over and suck my dick, I’ll play it for her. [Laughs]
Update: Martin Shkreli was arrested by federal agents on December 17. Read he full story.