Exotic musical festivals that spawn two separate tell-all documentaries rarely have a happy ending. This is where rapper Ja Rule would draw controversy out of the Bahamas in April of 2017, deciding to partner up with dubious figure Billy McFarland for the worst executed festival in the 21st century. For an artist who sold over 30 million albums globally and acted as the face of the Murder Inc. Records label, the artist’s net worth and public reputation has taken a major hit over this single investment decision.
The genesis for Fyre Festival and Ja Rule’s partnership would be the desire to push and promote the Fyre app. Founder and CEO of Fyre Media Inc. McFarland would design a specialized app with the intention of allowing users to book music talent for their own events. It would only take 48 hours for the 5,000 ticket allocation to be sold out.
While the concept seemed appealing on paper, the festival still required a location to take place. This is where McFarland and Ja Rule would identify space on an island in the Bahamas, a patch that would previously be owned by notorious Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar of all people.
Ja Rule was used as a major marketing tool for the event, leveraging his financial backing and notoriety to draw people in. What he explains at a later date is that he was unaware that the accommodation setup, the catering, event managers and other celebrity attendees were all covered financially. None of this would be true, leaving overseas travelers stranded without appropriate shelter, electricity access and scant resources for food and water.
For any event that would use Ja Rule as a figure to promote the festival, they would also lean on models on Instagram to build the profile and sell tickets for this “luxury” opportunity. What would turn out to be a major asset for building public momentum would soon turn out to be their greatest detriment, with attendees posting shoddy pictures of poor quality catering, cheap accommodation huts that were inundated with water and a logistical infrastructure that failed on all counts.
One of the great controversies that would tarnish this horror Ja Rule investment story was the size and scope of the unpaid labor from local Bahaman community members. Local restaurateur MaryAnn Rolle would be left $50,000 out of pocket for catering services. Hundreds of others would not be paid for their work to build the accommodation infrastructure, creating a situation where tensions rose between them and Fyre Festival staff.
Ja Rule’s shocking investment decision would see him become the subject of Internet memes and online jokes for years to come, but the substantial damage caused to the local people and the attendees who paid thousands for the privilege remain the focus of Fyre Festival.
The silver lining for the Queens rapper would be the dismissal of his involvement in a $100 million class-action lawsuit that was filed by attendees of the Fyre Festival. Although there is the potential for future legal action to take place in the years to follow, it would be a decision from a New York City southern district judge that allowed the identify to escape bankruptcy given a reported net worth of $8 million.
Fyre Festival would be the ultimate cautionary tale of an investment gone bad, leveraging a famous face for a project that never had any substantial support from the outset before people’s greatest fears were realized. Fyre Media CEO McFarland would pay for his criminality, being the subject of a $25 million fine and a 6 year prison sentence.