In a recent New York Times article, the publication’s critic-at-large, Amanda Hess, offered a thoughtful dose of perspective to help contextualize the recent surge of the scammer industrial complex.
“The math behind the American dream—a nobody, combined with pure grit, transforms into a somebody—is already a reach. The [scammer] just stretches the concept a little further.”
In other words, if the American dream—the supposedly perfect meritocracy we’ve been promised to keep us from rising up against wealth inequality—is arguably a scam in itself, then how surprising is it that so many people elect to carry out smaller scams within the context of this larger one?
It’s a bit like hearing that a person stole a ski mask en route to a bank robbery. It’s not like the former act is the exemplary behavior of an upstanding citizen, but when you look at it within the context of the larger overall objective, it seems almost like a logical step along the journey. Supposing the perpetrator of this robbery was to be brought to justice at some point, I imagine you’d think it was heavy-handed for a judge to dole out much if any additional sentencing time strictly on account of the snatched ski mask.
On the subject of the American dream, it’s worth noting there are very few cultural phenomena that place as much emphasis on rags to riches narratives as hip-hop music. It’s hard to overstate just how much of the genre’s output is informed, at least spiritually, by the pursuit and/or celebration of upward economic mobility in a system built to prevent it; in this regard, there is some overlap between scammers and rappers.
Most rappers don’t scam, and most scammers concoct schemes that have nothing to do with rhymes, but at the center of this Venn diagram are a group of people—more opportunistic than evil—who have tasted the American dream, know how impossible it is to achieve, and will do anything in their power to keep from relinquishing it. Or they’re just greedy. Either way, here is a list of 10 artists who sit at the intersection of these two titles.
Admittedly the driving inspiration behind this entire article, Ja Rule’s role in the ill-fated Fyre Festival has been covered extensively. If, by some odd turn of events, you’ve somehow managed to miss the story, however, here’s what happened: Ja Rule, along with his business partner—and guy who looks like he always wears his sunglasses at the back of his head—Billy McFarland sold approximately 5,000 tickets to a purported luxury music festival in the Bahamas, failed spectacularly to deliver the experience they’d marketed, stiffed the vendors they’d contracted to work the event, and are now embroiled in at least eight different lawsuits stemming from its fallout.
In other words, it went exactly as you’d imagine an administratively intensive international event planned by Ja Rule might go.
For his part, Ja Rule has sought to defend himself on Twitter, claiming he was just as much a victim of the scam as the attendees and vendors, writing: “I too was hustled, scammed, bamboozled, hoodwinked, lead astray!!!” Whether this is true or not remains to be seen, but it’s worth noting that the emcee’s track record isn’t really on his side here.
Here is an online review from a former customer of Ja Rule’s now-defunct clothing line, ErvinGeoffrey, presented without comment:
“I think it’s terrible how ErvinGeoffrey is scamming customers for their money. You don’t just take an order and not send customers anything. Secondly, you don’t send that customer whatever is just laying around in the office instead of what was ordered. Karma is something else though, and I think ErvinGeoffrey is having to learn everything the hard way. Their founder, Ervin Lorenzo was arrested on other charges, and I think this clothing line is being ran by the same type of shady people. If they keep running business like this, I’m sure their clothing line’s owner will be facing charges on illegal internet activities as well in the long run.”
In 2011, an anarchic group of people, overcome with anger stemming from their extremely belated realization that capitalism is unfair, flooded the streets en masse to raise awareness about this injustice, calling this protest the “Occupy Wall Street Movement.” Dishearteningly, the protesters quickly ran out of steam when they realized that pretty much everyone knew about this inequality already. “We are the 99 percent!” they shouted, lamenting how much of America’s wealth was concentrated amongst its wealthiest one-percent.
“Yeah, this isn’t a bombshell secret or anything,” said most of society in return.
Enter JAY-Z, a member of the aforementioned one-percent, who could not have misread this situation any further. Inexplicably choosing to interpret this palpable outrage as a fertile marketing opportunity, Hov decided to start hocking merchandise embroidered with the slogan “Occupy All Streets” on it, effectively creating the “all lives matter” equivalent of the “Occupy” movement.
Adding insult to injury, it was later revealed that none of the profits JAY made from selling this merchandise had been donated to the movement itself. Understandably, protesters were infuriated by the idea of a near-billionaire co-opting the rhetoric of a movement lambasting the extremely wealthy to further pad his pockets. To draw a rough comparison, I imagine it’s how Che Guevara would have felt if he were to have been resuscitated in the mid-aughts, knowing that he’d died a communist martyr, only to see his face emblazoned on millions of T-shirts in sweatshops decades later.
Whereas scams have grown increasingly elaborate in recent years, taking on an almost impressive level of grandiosity at times, it’s worth noting that sometimes you simply can’t improve on a classic. Part of me wonders if this was running through Fat Joe’s mind when, in 2014, he decided to become the celebrity spokesperson for a pyramid scheme so transparently bullshit that its marketing campaign would have made Bernie Madoff himself blush.
On stage at this conference run by MarketAmerica, Fat Joe yells rhetorical questions at the seemingly gigantic crowd, drumming up excitement with meaningless rallying cries of, “Are you ready to board the invisible train to success?” and “How many people love residual income?” Watching this video feels a bit like watching one of those automatically generated internet comments that says “Do you want make $5,000/day working from home?” come to life. In a sense, I’m glad I saw it. I’ve always wondered what it would feel like to be recruited to Scientology.
Having built his initial following by mislabelling his songs on P2P file-sharing networks, effectively tricking people into downloading them by uploading them under more recognizable names, Soulja Boy has always had an enterprising spirit. Never has this been more evident, however, than in December 2018, when he began selling a video game console he branded “SouljaGame,” a generic brand emulator that was preloaded with stolen intellectual property, and already available for sale online.
Reading this, I get why you’d be tempted to think Soulja Boy contributed very few original business ideas during the process of bringing this console to market, but I assure you this assessment couldn’t be further off-base. Soulja Boy, enterprising as ever, had the brilliant idea to markup the price of this console dramatically, despite adding no tangible value to the product whatsoever. Whereas the generic brand console was on sale online for $105.99, Soulja Boy’s version was sold for $149.99, carrying an additional premium of $44 dollars for the privilege to bear Soulja’s name.
Soulja Boy was eventually threatened with legal action by Nintendo, and forced to remove the product from his website. As it stands currently, there are numerous reports on the internet from people still looking to obtain refunds for consoles they’d ordered which never arrived, simultaneously annoyed and amused by the unresponsive email address they’ve been told to contact for customer support: “firstname.lastname@example.org”
After sending out a series of tweets claiming his 2016 album, The Life of Pablo, would remain a TIDAL exclusive in perpetuity, Kanye West eventually reneged on this claim two weeks later, angering a great number of people who’d signed up for TIDAL as a direct response to Kanye’s claim.
A part owner of TIDAL at the time, there was a lingering suspicion among his fans that he’d made this false claim strategically, in an attempt to inject his company with an unethical shot in the arm of cash flow. He was even forced to settle a lawsuit stemming from this accusation earlier this year.
All things considered, these claims are probably a bit overblown. A notoriously fickle artist who hasn’t demonstrated the slightest capacity for long-term premeditation in almost five years now, it’s unlikely Kanye was thinking this far ahead. This is the same thing I say to people who are still desperately clinging on to hope that Kanye’s past few years of offensive antics have been some sort of extended performance art piece. We’re talking about the guy who shot the cover art for his latest album on his iPhone, five minutes before debuting it.
To the extent that this was a scam, it was—as is so on brand for Kanye these days—an entirely unintentional one.
Towards the end of 2018, DJ Khaled was charged with fraud for failing to disclose that he’d been paid $50,000 to promote the initial coin opening of a new cryptocurrency that he’d posted about on social media.
Although I’m otherwise categorically against the act of victim blaming, I hope you'll forgive me for making an exception in this particular instance. If you are making decisions about which cryptocurrencies to invest in based on posts on DJ Khaled’s Instagram page, you deserve to be scammed. I believe this is actually the specific circumstance Darwin was referring to when he first coined the term “survival of the fittest.”
Here’s a question: what the fuck is Vitamin Water? One thing is for sure: it’s not water.
Despite being marketed as a healthy alternative to artificial soft drinks, it is evidently just as sugary and damaging to your health. It has even been sued by something called the “Center for Science in the Public Interest” for its deceptive claims. Logically speaking, if a beverage can be sued by an organization that advocates for public interest, then by extension, it must be against public interest. Thus, 50 Cent made a reported sum of between $60 million and $100 million for selling something that was apparently against the best interests of everyone who consumed it.
If that’s not a scam, I’m not sure what is.
Late last year, T.I. came under fire for allegedly defrauding investors in a cryptocurrency scheme, making outlandish promises about the coin’s growth rate, which underperformed drastically, before crashing completely.
Obviously, I can’t speak to the specifics of the actual claims T.I. made to his investors, but you know what the bigger scam is in all of this? THE ENTIRE CONCEPT OF CRYPTOCURRENCY. Did you know that it takes so much computing power to mine cryptocurrencies that the process of doing so is actually accelerating the rate of climate change?
Not only did T.I. scam his investors, he also scammed every sucker out there currently driving an electric car, thinking that they can reduce their carbon footprint and “make a difference.”
If I’m being honest here, I don’t know much about Selfmade Kash as an artist. From what I can gather, he’s a bit like a less charismatic version of Blueface, except he’s from Detroit instead of Los Angeles. With that said, that he’s earned a spot on this list is a testament to how absolutely perfect the recent headlines involving him have been.
Take, for example, this particular headline, run by Genius just two weeks ago: “A Detroit Rapper Who Made Songs About Credit Card Fraud Has Been Charged With Credit Card Fraud.”
In lieu of trying to write any jokes that will top this, I will defer instead to the following MF DOOM lyric:
“Rap snitches, telling all their business / Sit in the court and be their own star witness / Do you see the perpetrator? Yeah, I'm right here / Fuck around, get the whole label sent up for years”
Look, I don’t know about you guys, but I’m just not buying this idea that PARTYNEXTDOOR, Majid Jordan, Roy Woods, PLAZA, and dvsn are all different acts. Why are we letting Drake continue to get away with this OVO Sound thing?!