Compounding to the absurdity of the white-hot NFT market, rapper Ja Rule is auctioning off artwork he commissioned as a cofounder of the misbegotten Fyre Festival.
The 48-inch-by-60-inch, oil-paint portrait of the fest’s corporate logo has hung in his New Jersey mansion since the company’s Manhattan headquarters closed several years ago. “I just wanted that energy out,” says Ja Rule, considering the bad juju he feels the picture has been throwing off inside his home.
It’ll be sold on a new NFT exchange, Flipkick, focusing on selling NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, that are part digital, part physical objects. Most NFTs are purely digital—often virtual artwork and its accompanying blockchain ownership record. But many of the ones sold on Flipkick, including Ja Rule’s, will feature a digital ledger entry for a real-life item. Bidding for his Fyre Festival portrait begins Tuesday at noon with a reserve price set at $600,000, meaning, it won’t trade hands for anything less than that. (Among the item notes for this auction lot, Ja Rule writes: “F—k this painting.”) Upon request, he will autograph it, too.
In exchange for selling the Fyre Festival picture on this new platform, Ja Rule is now a part owner of Flipkick and, officially, its head of artists and repertoire, a term borrowed from the music industry where a record label’s A&R department scouts for talent. For Flipkick, Ja Rule will probably try to convince his celebrity friends to sell their own NFTs. Like much of the rest of the world, “I heard about NFTs [first] maybe like, a couple of weeks ago,” admits Ja Rule. “I wasn’t too educated on them, and I’m still learning a lot about it….I think people got a little bit tired of the regular stocks-and-bonds way of investing.”
The portrait’s sale amounts to something like a meta comment on manias. When the Fyre Festival started its initial marketing, it attracted a frenzy of eager attendees, lured by the promise of a Caribbean bacchanal with luxury accommodations and top-notch musical performances. Through a wild cycle of hype and mismanagement, it turned out to be nothing so extravagant. In fact, the whole thing was enough of a disaster to land one of its cofounders, Billy McFarland, in prison, sentenced to six years in 2018 over a $26 million fraud. Ja Rule, who helped promote the festival on his social media, walked away from the experience unscathed—cleared by a judge in 2019 of any legal wrongdoing.
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When they first began planning the carnival, Ja Rule commissioned an artist he found off Instagram to commemorate the occasion, paying the aptly named @Tripp_Art, a.k.a. South Carolina-based Tripp Derick Barnes, around $2,000 to splash rainbow paint across the festival’s logo. Before a friend suggested turning it into an NFT, he considered simply listing it on eBay.
With undiminished brio, Ja Rule now hopes to rid himself of the ill-fated emblem of a previous mania in the latest mania. NFTs have exploded in popularity in 2021, accounting for $209 million in transactions, more than 50% of all the volume in the category’s four-year history. Where the Fyre Festival once sold $100,000 ticket packages, there are now CryptoKitties—feline cartoons sold via the Ethereum blockchain—fetching the same price. The market hit a new height last week, when an anonymously run investment fund in Singapore paid $69.3 million for a massive JPEG at a Christie’s auction; the sale of Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5,000 Days” was the most ever paid for a NFT and the third most ever paid for a living artist’s work.
For his part, Ja Rule is, somewhat at least, in on the joke. “It really feels like the new Roaring ’20s,” he says, booming out a laugh. “You know, for me, it’s like, ‘Out with the old,’ you know?”
Right. And then in with the new.