Wu-Tang Clan's $2M album nearly got Martin Shkreli killed

Multi-millionaire Martin Shkreli — while reveling in his role as America’s most hated man — remained unaware that he was marked for gangsta revenge.

The FBI may have saved the Pharma Bro’s life by taking the weasel into custody at his Midtown apartment on securities fraud charges in the early hours of Dec. 17, 2015.

Shkreli had just unleashed a vicious dis of RZA, leader of the iconic hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan. A gang war was in the offing.

“There had to be retaliation for this … maybe even bullets from a Staten Island crew who wouldn’t let the Clan get dissed by this f—,” claims the author of a bombshell new book.

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“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” by Cyrus Bozorgmehr, tells the inside story of the making and selling of the infamous record of the same name — famously snared at auction by Shkreli for $ 2 million.

Bozorgmehr was part of the tribunal wielding final authority over the deal. He was representing the money man, identified only as Mr. S., who funded the album through six years of development.

The notorious project was the brainchild of Tarik (Cilvaringz) Azzougarh, who managed events and tours for Clan members. Wu-Tang member Robert (RZA) Diggs was the third man.

“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” was a musical throwback to the years when the Wu dominated East Coast rap. Their first record, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” revolutionized hip-hop in 1993.

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Shkreli went off-script, lashing out at de facto Wu-Tang point man RZA in an interview — and they nearly brought the pain in response.

(Ken Hively/LA Times via Getty Images)

Fans were outraged when it was announced the record would be not only a single-album sale to the highest bidder — but that buyer was also barred from commercially releasing it for 88 years.

“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” was not music for the people, even though the Wu-Tang had once been all about the people. Six of the nine original crew came from the Staten Island projects.

The record was shamelessly marketed as music for the one percent. But Cilvaringz, and the others, claimed noble purpose.

The crassly obscene sale would sound a warning knell. If music streaming made it impossible for musicians to make a living, artists would be forced to follow the money.

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Shkreli may only be living in the world today because the FBI intervened to arrest him.

Shkreli may only be living in the world today because the FBI intervened to arrest him.

(Michael Graae/For New York Daily News)

Along with everything else, the rich would have all the music, too.

From the get-go, Cilvaringz kept a failsafe fraud in place in the event there were no bidders. He’d fake a sale.

Act one: A heroic (and bogus) buyer would emerge, throw down his millions and successfully challenge the restrictive sales clause.

Rather than exercise his right to give the music away for free, the hero would put 36,000 copies on sale at jacked-up prices. The moneyman and the Clan would reap the returns.

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Robert (RZA) Diggs.

Robert (RZA) Diggs.

(Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)

Tarik (Cilvaringz) Azzougarh.

Tarik (Cilvaringz) Azzougarh.

(Paul Bergen/Redferns)

Wu-Tang founder Robert (RZA) Diggs and Clan affiliate Tarik (Cilvaringz) Azzougarh negotiated the album’s sale.

Act two: A subsequent dramatic reveal of the “greatest trick ever pulled in the history of music.”

It was a complicated ruse, but simple compared to the one Cilvaringz came up with after they sold the record to the Public Enemy No. 1 Shkreli, with his estimated net worth of $ 50 million.

Only days after Shkreli’s bid was accepted, the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals jacked the price of a life-saving AIDS drug by more than $ 700 a pill.

“Suddenly evil had a face, and we were standing next to it,” Bozorgmehr writes. “We’d sold him the f—ing album.”

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Die-hard fans demand more, but the Wu only produced one copy of "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin."

Die-hard fans demand more, but the Wu only produced one copy of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.”

(Scluzay/ Warren Wesley Patterson)

The tribunal couldn’t bring itself to walk away from the cash. And RZA could fairly claim they were unaware of Shkreli’s reputation during negotiations.

When the triumvirate first met Shkreli at the closing, they found him to be a likeable guy. He even offered to start a phony beef with RZA so the Clan could vilify him while cashing the check.

Cilvaringz thrilled to Shkreli’s appetite for fraud. Even better, once news broke that Pharma Bro was the buyer, Cilvaringz was handed the framework for his most Machiavellian scheme yet.

In the uproar, a fake news story went viral claiming there was a clause in the contract under which the Clan could steal back the record.

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"Once Upon a Time in Shaolin" by Cyrus Bozorgmehr.

“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” by Cyrus Bozorgmehr.

The Clan, or comedian Bill Murray, had the one-time right to pull off a heist with no legal repercussions.

Even RZA had to laugh. “We’re really feeling to urge to call Bill Murray,” he tweeted.

But Cilvaringz saw CREAM — the acronym the crew famously coined for Cash Rules Everything Around Me, the title of one of their early singles.

His bizarre plan: Cilvaringz, Murray, RZA and bandmates GZA, Raekwon and Ghostface Killah would burst in on Shkreli, drug him unconscious and then toss the office.

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But the six masked men would emerge empty-handed. The failed heist would be live-streamed.

Shkreli would respond with an offer. If the Clan was willing to go to those lengths to get the record back, and the Wu fans hated him that much, he’d put 36,000 copies on sale for $ 100 each.

Once the target had been reached, he would release the album “and accept it belongs to the world.”

If it didn’t break the 36,000 mark, Shkreli threatened to destroy the sole copy live online. Snap the CD clean in half.

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Shkreli, who seemed eager for America to hate him even more, was thrilled to join the plot. Cilvaringz was unbothered about popularizing Public Enemy No. 1.

It would be great hip-hop theater. Except …

The play called for Shkreli to publicly sign an amendment allowing the masked crew to stage the heist. Cilvaringz planned on slyly inserting legally enforceable language assigning rights to the record to the Clan.

Farce or fraud? A little of both.

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Shkreli all but levitated with excitement when Cilvaringz invited him into the conspiracy. Within hours, he went off-script by giving an interview to the powerhouse website, HipHopDX.

And then he totally trashed RZA.

“This guy is f—ing full of himself, talking about how his s— is the best ever, how f—ing Bobby Digital (RZA’s persona as a solo artist) was the best s— ever.

“I’d encourage him to shut the f— 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 s— doesn’t stink and he invented rap.”

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Bozorgmehr was appalled: “No one has ever dissed RZA, or the Clan like that. Ever … He had moved us into something bloodcurdlingly sinister whether any of us liked it or not.

“Wu-Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthing ta F— Wit,” he continued, invoking another of the band’s songs. “And there’s an awful lot of gangsta motherf—ers who’d be delighted to step to Martin first — no matter what anyone said. Man’s going down.”

But Shkreli caught a break instead of a bullet. The next morning at 6 a.m., the feds moved in to arrest him.

Cilvaringz called Shkreli two days later after he was released on bail. He couldn’t penetrate Shkreli’s insanity to make the wealthy young outcast realize that real danger was imminent.

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In fact, Shkreli bragged that he’d rounded up a posse, armed them with fake AK-47s and was about to post a video threatening the lives of the other Clan members.

His even shared his chilling first words for the clip: “A message to (late Wu-Tang member) ODB. Make some room in heaven, because your brothers are about to join you.”

“That would have been tantamount to inciting a gang war,” Bozorgmehr claims.

Except Shkreli didn’t have a gang. He’d be outmanned and outgunned. And a divided America would have come together to champion the gangstas.

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Shkreli promised to release “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” if Donald Trump was elected President. The day after election, he delivered with the intro and partials of two songs.

Now he’s standing trial in federal court on securities fraud. Still, Shkreli’s a lucky guy. He lived to see the day.

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martin shkreli
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