Ja Rule & The Fyre Festival Scam

We’re about to get Fyre Festival 2.0, so it’s a good time to reflect on the concert that never was—and why Ja Rule was tangled in.

BYOlivia Monahan
Ja Rule & The Fyre Festival Scam

It would be angering to pay thousands of dollars to go to a luxurious private island full of one's favorite musicians, artists, and celebrities—only to find out that the only activities they would be taking part in are the bare act of survival. This is precisely what happened to hundreds of attendees who arrived on the first day of the Fyre Festival in the Caribbean. This festival came together, or rather, fell apart, under the watchful eyes of founders Billy McFarland and Ja Rule.

It’s been a few years since the Fyre Festival dominated the headlines. In that time, quite a bit has happened. McFarland, who was initially sentenced to six years in federal prison, served four years. This reportedly included two periods spent in solitary confinement. On the other hand, Ja Rule was eventually cleared of any wrongdoing in connection to the event. This may have surprised many, considering how much he touted his involvement. But how did he get involved? Was any of the responsibility his? And the big question—where are both of them now?

Before Fyre, There Was Magnises

Billy McFarland was known in certain circles for being a whiz kid regarding his salesmanship. Young, energetic, and completely charming, he managed to find a variety of investors for a wide swath of projects throughout his career. The first one to become something “big” was NY-based credit card company Magnises. This company catered to a new wave of millennials recently moving to New York City—a group with expendable income but no community to invest money into. Through the services McFarland created through Magnises, he created the illusion of an exclusive world available only to members. There was a clubhouse accessible to the “elite” members, along with membership-only exclusive offers.

Through Magnises, McFarland met Ja Rule, who he booked as an artist to perform. McFarland's difficulty attempting to book Ja Rule in the first place birthed their relationship. McFarland recounted in later testimony that the amount of hoops he had to jump through to get through to Ja inspired him to come up with the idea for Fyre— and to bring Ja in on the ground level. The beginning of the Fyre festival came as Magnises was coming to an end.

The Charade Of Billy McFarland

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 7: Andy King and Billy McFarland attend the Magnises Dinner Party at 22 Greenwich Ave on August 7, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

Magnises was a company that seemed too good to be true. They offered exclusive tickets to shows that were consistently difficult to access at a fraction of the cost. They also provided a full-on playhouse for their NY-based clients. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true because it was. The basis of the company was a 'rob Peter to pay Paul' situation. McFarland and his partners would announce they sold tickets to high-price events months in advance. However, this was done to bolster funds to pay off their previous promises to clients. This kept them consistently one-half-step ahead of the “exclusive” offers they provided. As if that wasn’t enough to cast a dark cloud over Magnises’ reputation, their lack of financial security was only the first shoe to drop.

Customers began complaining about the service Magnises provided. Their exclusive ticket offers began to be less and less reliable. Reservations promised to customers would be canceled hours before they were scheduled. At the same time, the clubhouse McFarland was leasing for Magnises members was taken away after the owner found the place trashed. As all this became public, an even bigger scandal presented itself. This time, connected to Magnises’ leading investor, Aubrey McClendon.

The Feds announced several indictments against McClendon, including antitrust and conspiracy charges. Less than 24 hours after the indictment, McClendon was found dead in a “mysterious, fiery car crash” that killed him instantly. McFarland, who heavily relied on McClendon to keep Magnises afloat, began to scramble to figure out his next move. Enter Ja Rule.

Ja Rule Fyre Fest: The Beginning

Although Magnises was falling apart, McFarland had already begun creating a new version of his business. This time he was bringing Ja Rule along with him. After their initial meetings, McFarland gave Ja Rule a title (in name only) at Magnises. In essence, Ja acted as the public persona that drew in other celebrities and artists to participate in events McFarland threw with Magnises. A glorified brand spokesman may not have been on Ja's original career path, but it spiraled into something bigger.

It was through their relationship that the two brainstormed the concept of Fyre. Contrary to what it may seem based on the festival itself, Fyre started as an app that would act as a booking tool for the public. Something that would allow anyone with the funds available to place an offer to a celebrity for an appearance. The app had the potential to be something significant. McFarland and Ja Rule both seemed to believe in the vision. So much so, that they were ready to put their full efforts into the marketing and advertising of Fyre. Their overzealous desire to make people aware of Fyre the app birthed Fyre the festival.

From An App To A Festival

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 14: Wale and Billy McFarland attend Wale performs at Magnises Holiday Party at Magnises House Soho on December 14, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Jonathon Ziegler/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The McFarland financial foundations had taken a major hit when McClendon’s empire fell. McClendon had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into Magnises, and now those funds were not only frozen but were tied up amid a federal indictment. Around that time, McFarland met Carola Jain, the wife of a hedge fund manager and investor. She became McFarland’s biggest supporter through encouragement and her seemingly unending bank account. Jain was the biggest financial investor in Fyre—not the app, though. The festival.

The festival itself was touted as one of the most exclusive, lavish, never-before-seen experiences the world had ever encountered. It all started with a bright orange square that spread across social media. Copying the effective tool of political organizers on social media, Fyre Festival created an initial buzz around by simply simul-posting a neon orange square on social media platforms.

Influencer Culture

Anchored by some of the biggest supermodels and influencers in the world, McFarland and Ja created a total onslaught of marketing. Photos and social media posts were launched by a carefully selected group of some of the most influential, powerful, and highest-paid supermodels in the world. McFarland and his team frontloaded hundreds of thousands of dollars in the budget at the pinnacle of influencer marketing. Throughout the festival promotion, Ja Rule was at the forefront. The rap icon threw his co-founder title wherever possible as his social media flooded with Fyre-related activity. While McFarland oozed charm and was the perfect salesman to make him the man behind the money, Ja Rule was the man in front of the camera.

Springboarding off his celebrity status and built-in influencer status, McFarland’s relationship with Ja was a part of the initial buy-in. It lent some form of credibility—however little—and allowed people to feel that the project may have a layer of legitimacy. The entire premise of the festival was impossible. Physically, financially, and time-wise, no matter what layer you looked at. McFarland and Ja's wishlist was impossible to fulfill, but the false promises kept being made.

The Unraveling

Ultimately, the three-day festival that was supposed to be of legend was more of a fable. A far-fetched dream so desperately removed from reality that it could have only existed in someone’s mind. Hundreds of ticket holders showed up at a “private island” initially claimed to be owned by Pablo Escobar. They found out that they were being housed in a veritable parking lot of the Sandal’s resort in the area. Purchasers who had rented luxury villas or mansions instead fought for air mattresses and geo-tents left over from FEMA disaster relief. The gourmet food promised to all festival-goers was presented with styrofoam containers filled with cheese sandwiches and wilted salad greens. No artists that were initially scheduled to perform showed up. Many said they had never been paid or weren't booked in the first place.

There were no lights on the island, and as the sun began to set on the festival's first day, the atmosphere descended into Lord of the Flies. The survival of the fittest warzone where people were fighting for spaces, blankets, and mattresses. They were burning tents around them to keep other people from being able to camp close to them. With a surplus of alcohol and a lack of food, the chaos that continued through the night caused many to fear for their safety. It was a complete and utter failure, an ad-hoc fraud that never had a chance.

Where Are Billy & Ja Now?

McFarland served four years of a six-year sentence and was released in late March 2022. Since that time, McFarland has launched (and recently was hiring for) his new tech start-up company called PYRT. He called it a virtual immersive decentralized reality. He also shared the news that Fyre Festival II was coming, which was met with shock.

Ja Rule is still Ja Rule. While he became the butt of many jokes, Fyre Failure hasn’t had much of an impact. He was legally released of all wrong-doing in regards to Fyre Festival and wants to put it all behind him. However, we don't believe he'll be involved in the second go 'round.

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