The year is 2010 and Cash Money Records has just released Thank Me Later and Pink Friday, two albums from artists who would turn out to be the superstars of their generation. But as profitable as Nicki Minaj and Drake were becoming, Cash Money founder and CEO Birdman claimed the business venture that was truly fattening his pockets had nothing to do with music and everything to do with black gold.
I heard the tattoo on your head represents an oil rig. Is it true you’re an aspiring oil tycoon?
I’ve been in the oil business about four or five years now. That’s something me and my brother decided to do outside of music. I read about oil a lot and I was able to get in business. [My company] is called Browner Oil, and I’m making good money off that; that’s something for my kids and my kids’ kids. They can live off that money forever.
Not to get in your pockets too much, but I heard you’ve made over $100 million off oil.
I did a few different deals. That was just one of them. When you’re dealing with oil, you buy in different areas. Right now I’m active; I got pumps and shit that are getting money monthly. I like that oil shit. I’m gonna put some more time into it. - Prefix
In some ways it felt too good to be true, but also like the next step in the evolution of a hip-hop mogul who had become less of a label exec and more of a superhero, a mythical figure seemingly untethered to the rules the rest of us mere mortals were bound by. Birdman was swimming in oil money? Of course, Birdman was swimming in oil money.
Although the company’s site is now down, thanks to the wonder of the internet we were able to recover images of it, and on the surface, it certainly looks like an impressive endeavor.
The Company is initially focused on exploration and development properties in Osage County, Oklahoma, as well as in Texas and Louisiana in the United States and in Central America. Bronald’s long-term strategy is to grow through development and via the acquisition of prospective acreage that complements its existing assets and exploits the abilities of the Company’s technical resources.
While the general hip-hop populace, and media, didn’t know much more about the oil trade than the price they were paying at the pump, those more in the know saw some red flags. Bloomberg investigated Birdman’s alleged cash cow and found some serious gaps and inconsistencies in the company’s story, including:
- Numbers listed in records for residences in New Orleans and Florida linked to Bronald didn’t take incoming calls.
- The address listed for Bronald with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is a beachfront condominium in Florida, while a New Orleans residence was listed for Bronald with the Louisiana Secretary of State. The Williams brothers are listed as Bronald’s officers in those filings, but regulators that handle oil and gas permits and operator licenses in Texas and Louisiana didn’t have records of Bronald’s existence at all.
- Oklahoma City-based Chaparral Energy Inc. operated about 40 percent of the area's wells, but Jim Miller, the company’s senior vice president for operations and a man who knew the region’s oil landscape better than anyone, said he’d never heard of Bronald.
Whether the timing was sheer coincidence or a direct result of Bloomberg's reporting, Bronaldoil.com was taken down soon after their story was published and talk of the venture faded into rap internet lore, a splashy headline quickly drowned beneath the next wave of splashy headlines. Even the only visible evidence of the business’ existence, a pumpjack tattoo on Birdman's head, was covered up.
How could a seemingly successful oil company, one Birdman claimed had made him $100 million dollars, be seemingly shut down and wiped from the face of the Earth in a matter of weeks? Suspicions burned, but without more fuel to add to the fire, they were eventually extinguished and largely forgotten.
The Resurrection: Bronald Oil & Gas
The year is 2013 and Cash Money is one of the biggest labels on the planet. Drake is preparing to drop Nothing Was The Same, Nicki is coming off the massive success of Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded, and down in Miami, a man named Raymond Jean-Phillipe registers Bronald Oil & Gas as an LLC. Birdman and Slim’s days as oil tycoons are back once again, but this time there’s no flashy unveiling, no press, not even a single tweet from the company’s founders. By 2014, the newly christened Bronald Oil & Gas is back online and quietly humming away, not hidden, exactly, but far outside the public’s view.
And then a late night tour through some of the deeper recesses of Reddit put the site back on our radar, and once we began looking, we fell into a hole so deep it could easily have been coated in oil.
A Trillion Dollar Energy Oasis
“We are investing in further and deeper oil and gas exploration beneath the seas. From the Atlantic coasts of several continents, Bronald oil & gas is setting oil rigs and deep sea platforms in search of new deposits of oil and gas.”
Unlike the company’s first foray, the new and improved Bronald, which comes complete with a new and improved site, seemed to be doing no physical digging for oil but instead were operating a sprawling, massive, international energy business with services that ranged from “Hydraulic Fracturing” of natural gas to the international transportation of oil by their “fleet of Tankers, Trucks” to deep sea rigs far out into the Atlantic and much more. And in a more homely touch, for those of us without thousands of barrels of oil in need of trans-Atlantic transportation, in the product section of their site Bronald claims to sell everything from personal space heaters to stoves, fireplaces and, impressively considering they're not available for commercial purchase anywhere else, solar cars.
Despite page after page explaining the company’s vision and services, it's exceedingly difficult to get any tangible grasp on Bronald’s actual operations, if any. Much of the site’s text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors and appears to have been lifted from Wikipedia, industry reports and other books, and it was hard to imagine that any one company, particularly one as new and low profile as Bronald, could even remotely have the infrastructure and capacity to carry out any of what they claimed.
Fracking has vociferous critics and fervent defenders, but the debate between these camps has obscured the actual story: Fracking has become a fixture of the American landscape and the global economy. - Fracking – Igniting the American Energy Revolution, Bronald.com
Fracking has vociferous critics and fervent defenders, but the debate between these camps has obscured the actual story: Fracking has become a fixture of the American landscape and the global economy. - How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution, Russell Gold
The site’s lone video, and the lone video on Bronald Oil & Gas' YouTube channel - which on an almost impossibly hilarious note currently only subscribes to The Breakfast Club, Birdman and Rick Ross' channels - was a bizarre mash-up of speeches from actual oil billionaire T. Boone Pickens, President Obama, and the same man who had registered the company in 2013, Raymond Jean-Phillipe.
Bronald Oil and Gas is, indeed, a must see.
John Doe, John Doe, John Doe, John Doe, John Doe
Since Brondald's site had raised far more questions than answers, we realized that we'd need to speak to actual human beings to get any real sense of the company's operations, but perhaps unsurprisingly, were once again met with a brick wall of confusion. Click on the site's "Our Team" section and this is what you'll currently find:
John Doe is either one of the most qualified businessmen on the planet, simultaneously holding down five positions at an oil company - he’s listed as Bronald's Chief Financial, Operating, Administrative, Information, and Marketing Officer - or he doesn’t exist. In the name of thoroughness we investigated on the off chance that there was, in fact, an actual person named John Doe with a background in business - there is not. So if John Doe was fake, why go through the time and effort of listing him at all, but not at least giving him a more believable name? The math didn't add up, but even with the people we're certain are real, the truth is still stranger than any fiction we could have dreamed up.
When we first saw this page our first step was to try each email address listed and they all bounced back. But in a bizarre repeat of Bronald's first inception after Bloomberg published its piece, whether it was mere coincidence or the result of our efforts to contact them, shortly after we began attempting to connect with someone at Bronald, including calling every phone number linked to the company but never getting any further than leaving repeated voicemails, the Our Team page changed.
Now Birdman and Slim's names, along with each person's picture, had been removed and, oddly, they were now only referred to as "B" [Birdman] and "R" [Ronald] on the new Meet the Founding Visionaries page. (Although you'll notice in the picture above that while they removed the Williams brothers names and images the email addresses listed for John Doe are still firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.)
Raymond Jean-Philippe, International Man of Mystery
The only person who seemed to both actually exist and we had the best chance of speaking with - attempts to contact Birdman through those affiliated with Cash Money proved unsuccessful - was Raymond Jean-Philippe. As the age old saying goes, if you've got a LinkedIn profile, you've got to be real.
As mentioned earlier, Raymond Jean-Phillippe is the one who registered Bronald as a Miami-based company, he’s the one in the video above, and he’s also listed as the Chief Operating Officer of Bronald Oil, although going through his records, Bronald is not his only business venture. In addition to filing for Bronald LLC, he’s filed papers for over 10 other companies, all based out of Miami, but it’s only the African - Union Petroleum & Energy Corp (AUPEC) that has connections to Bronald.
AUPEC’s mission is to supply environmentally sustainable fuels for the energy needs of the Americas. AUPEC is to purchase its own twelve truck fleet which will aid in servicing all customers’ needs in a timely manner, in addition to supplying our energy centers throughout the Sunshine State and South East region.
That at least sounds more legitimate than Bronald's description of its business, but the more we looked, the more we realized AUPEC and Bronald weren’t so different, and in some cases were the exact same.
It doesn’t seem to be a secret the two are linked. According to the “Our Retailer” section, “(AUPEC) is now selling Energy related products for Bronald Oil & Gas, LLC,” and both Bronald and AUPEC list the same phone number and address, and Jean-Phillippe is listed as owning the domain to both websites.
Websites and addresses aren't the only similarities. AUPEC's contents are just as suspicious as Bronald's. All the pictures of their products - gas stations “energy depots” cars, trucks, air fresheners - are clearly stock images with their logo Photoshopped on them.
Do they actually have products? Were either of these companies real in any sense beyond a website? Who are their stockholders, and who is this man at the helm of multiple, likely fake oil companies with apparent connections to Birdman? Jean-Phillipe is clearly the only one capable of answering all these connections but unfortunately, despite our best efforts, he currently remains no more tangible to us than a phantom fleet of Bronald oil trucks.
Energy City, USA
Every international business needs an office, a headquarters, somewhere oil tycoons and John Does can gather and coordinate their empire's plans. Perhaps if we could just see where Bronald operates it would give some legitimacy to a suspiciously nebulous enterprise. After all, seeing is believing, but even given the sometimes surreal nature of what we'd already found, it's hard to believe what came up next.
When we uncovered the LLC filing of Bronald from 2013, we hoped it was the key. There's no document more official than a government filing, so surely the address listed must also be Bronald's offices, or at the very least someone who works for Bronald.
But a quick Google Maps search of registered address (50 NE 213 STREET MIAMI GARDENS, FL 33179) reveals what hardly looks like at headquarters of an oil company worth over 100 million dollars, or one of its backers.
The address filed on the LLC paperwork isn’t necessarily the operating address of the company though, and that’s the case for Bronald. Although the address listed as Bronald's official place of business is indeed different than the one above, another Google Maps search yielded similar results. This hardly looks like a oil company headquarters, more like a check cashing store.
After failing to truly figure out the "who" behind Bronald, determining the "where" was proving to be just as difficult. Each website and document we uncovered provided a different address, but none of them looked like a real business, and they certainly didn't look like Bronald's own vision for its headquarters, “Energy City USA.”
What is Energy City, USA? In typical Bronald form, the company's ambitions for its proposed new headquarters far exceeds reason, which in a strange way makes sense. A company this massive doesn't need a building, it needs its own city.
“Energy City, USA” is a groundbreaking development centered in Miami Gardens, Florida. Only minutes away from two international airports...the energy hub will redirect the influx of travelers and have constant international exposure. “Energy City, USA” will also be accountable for generating hundreds of construction jobs and permanent jobs.
More details on the project were scarce, but some fractured, strange pieces of evidence did emerge. An incomplete Powerpoint presentation provided us with another vague description of what Energy City, USA could be, describing the Obiang Pavilion (named after Minister of Energy for Republic of Equitorial Guinea, H.E. Gabriel Mbaga Obiang Lima?) as “a place to foster creativity research, application, development, execution, networking, and trade,” and then backing those vague terms with what appear to be several stock photos of a building with crudely Photoshopped logos of Bronald.
When we first began looking into Bronald Oil & Gas we expected to find a small but at least tangible company, but instead at every turn we've only been met with a series of revelations that defy any sense of grounding in the real world.
While it's tempting to speculate about why Bronald Oil & Gas would go to such extraordinary, yet bizarre, lengths to appear to be a hugely successful company, that's beyond our reach here. Crucially, especially once the site was scrubbed of more overt references to Birdman and Slim after our investigation started, we can't even absolutely and definitively link Bronald Oil & Gas to the Williams' brothers; which is, likely, the point of Mr. Jean-Phillipe's name alone appearing on all official documents related to the company.
While it defies all common sense to think that all of this is solely the work of Mr. Jean-Phillipe, operating without any direction from Birdman, nothing about the world we've found ourselves lost in these past few months - not John Doe, not Energy City, not AUPEC - makes any real sense. There are simply far more questions left than we have the capacity to answer, but if history is any indication, Bronald Oil & Gas will soon disappear too, and then five years from now, we can't even begin to imagine what it will re-emerge as. The truth really is stranger than fiction, especially when there doesn't seem to be any truth at all.
Original illustration by Joshua Hayden aka JHAY. Follow him on Instagram.