The man unaffectionately known as “Pharma bro” is becoming a bona fide comic book villain.
Martin Shkreli — the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals who raised the price of a drug used to fight parasitic infections in patients with HIV/AIDS from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet — has been called “Big Pharma’s Biggest A–hole” and “a new icon of corporate greed.” But his latest publicity-generating stunt has nothing to do with those monikers, nor with the fact that he was recently arrested for securities fraud. Instead, it’s centered around a bizarre, somewhat unsettling video in which he threatens a famous rapper.
The name Ghostface Killah might sound like something from a horror film, but many hip-hop fans consider him one of rap’s greatest artists. He was a founding member of the multi-platinum, Grammy Award-nominated Wu-Tang Clan — a group that, alongside Public Enemy, Biggie Smalls, N.W.A. and Tupac Shakur, helped popularize the genre in the early 90s.
Thursday Shkreli released a two-minute, 18 second video through TMZ in which he demanded a handwritten apology from Ghostface Killah for making insulting remarks about his nose.
In a video last week, the rapper compared the millionaire’s nose to Michael Jackson’s. He also called Shkreli an unpublishable eight-letter name beginning with the letters “sh” and ending with the letter “d.”
At this point, Shkreli should be used to name-calling. His former spokesman Allan Ripp told The Washington Post: “If you could see the emails and phone calls I got, being associated with Turing — they’re vicious, hateful, in bucketfuls.” Many Twitter users are not particularly fond of Shkreli, either.
The whole Martin Shkreli thing is pretty entertaining. Trying to be a real life Lex Luthor
— FLYLO (@flyinglotus) January 28, 2016
Still, he seems to have taken the rapper’s insults to heart. In Shkreli’s video, he’s surrounded by three people wearing hoods and masks. One appears to wear a balaclava. Throughout the video, Shkreli calls Ghostface by his “government name” Dennis, rather than his rap pseudonym.
“Most people don’t ever try to beef with me,” said Shkreli, who the BBC once called the “most hated man in America.”
The argument isn’t a complete shock, as he and the rapper have something in common: a $2 million Wu-Tang Clan album. In the video, Shkreli threatened to erase Ghostface Killah’s verses from it if he doesn’t receive an apology. The record is titled “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” and only one copy of it exists. In 2014, it was auctioned off to the highest bidder, the way a Degas or Picasso would be.
“The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” Wu-Tang Clan member RZA told Forbes preceding the album’s release. “And yet it doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.”
In some ways, the album’s uniqueness was meant as commentary on the shifting record industry.
“We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music,” said RZA. “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” Shkreli was the highest bidder, purchasing the album for $2 million only two months after raising the price of the drug Daraprim by 4,000 percent and one week before being arrested by the FBI.
The whole ordeal became an Internet sensation, even sparking a hoax that claimed “the seller may legally plan and attempt to execute one (1) heist or caper to steal back Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” so long as “said heist or caper can only be undertaken by currently active members of the Wu-Tang Clan and/or actor Bill Murray.” Still, Shkreli refused to release the album to the public, though he’s allowed to, which led to Ghostface Killah’s insults. Naturally, Twitter exploded.
This Martin Shkreli vs Ghostface Killah beef is ridiculous. Is this real life??!? — heezy (@Borheezy) January 29, 2016
Wait. Martin Shkreli was literally born on April 1st? That could not be more perfect. — Matt LoJacono (@ChowYunMatt) January 29, 2016
Martin Shkreli would totally steal the moon — J (@justizin) January 29, 2016
I don’t know if I hate Martin Shkreli or Donald Trump more. — Nicholas Guy (@bobjohanna) January 29, 2016
None of this appears to have fazed Shkreli, who also tweeted his request for the rapper.
Travis M. Andrews is a New Orleans based writer and editor.