Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

IRLMarch 17, 2022

Meet the men behind Trillionaire Thugs, NZ’s most chaotic NFT project

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

They have Culture Kings merch, they throw parties in Dubai, and they pissed off T-Pain. For IRL, Josie Adams talks to the guys behind Trillionaire Thugs about what on earth they’re up to.

Futurists believe the world will soon have its first trillionaire. If the man known as Fortafy has his way, it could be him. Fortafy, real name Sam Ratumaitavuki, is a New Zealand-born rapper, mobile game entrepreneur, and former bodybuilding champ. He’s also one of Australasia’s biggest crypto influencers.

The latest project in Ratumaitavuki’s extensive portfolio is an NFT hustle called Trillionaire Thugs. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s because he doesn’t need you to. More than 4,000 people currently own a Trillionaire Thug NFT. You can buy a Trillionaire Thugs shirt from Culture Kings for $54.90. You can listen to half a dozen songs about Trillionaire Thugs. There are 140,000 people in the Trillionaire Thugs Discord server. They had launch parties in Dubai and Miami. 

Trillionaire Thugs is a collection of 7,777 thug-themed NFTs. Some are gold, some are samurais, some are vaping. The design is, to be blunt, mid. So who’s buying them, and why does this project seem so unstoppable?

Fortafy in fashionista mode. (Photo: Fortafy)

Ratumaitavuki is currently in Geneva, visiting Louis Vuitton’s watchmaking facilities. He’s been investing in cryptocurrency since 2015, and NFTs since 2017. Everything he takes an interest in becomes part of his portfolio; music, clothing, and mobile phone apps are just some of his projects. It was inevitable that he’d make his own NFTs one day. “Trillionaire Thugs was what we came up with,” he says. “‘Trillionaire’ is an aspirational word as no one individual has reached trillionaire status. Thugs we used as an abbreviation: True Hustlers Utilise Grind.”

The place they grind is the Trillionaire Thugs Discord server. This is the most official outlet for the project, where community leaders like Adam Burns use the voice chat to communicate live with the 140,000 members. 

“They call me the voice, aka the thug conductor,” Burns tells me. Online, he goes by “Adz”. He’s a full-time NFT entrepreneur, and when the Trillionaire Thug project emerged, he approached Ratumaitavuki asking if he could play a role. Raised in New Zealand and living in Sydney, he knows a thing or two about forming communities. “The key hat I wear is guiding our community towards supporting our socials, but also supporting their ideas and their creativity in regards to their investment – which is the [Trillionaire Thug] NFTs that they hold.”

Two Trillionaire Thugs, the left owned by Adam Burns, the right owned by DJ Sir-vere.

He calls the Discord voice chat the “school of schools”. “We combined and ordered 170,000 skills and put them into a [chat] room, and you talk about how you’ve learned and shared and gained from your experience or education and you pass that forward.” I’ve heard the TThugs discuss alkaline water, the weather, how shots of vinegar cure a cold, and yell at their kids. I’ve heard them hawking Quwiex, an Auckland-based “passive income” scheme that promises an annual return of $28,000 on a $10,000 deposit.

It’s one of the most outwardly respectful online communities I’ve ever seen. In retaliation to doubters, the TThugs post about the success they’ve had and their hopes for the future. They don’t rebut anything, they just bomb haters with positivity. The transcription service I used for my interview with Burns thought my name was Quinn because of how often he called me “queen”. When Ratumaitavuki posts in the Discord, he ends with the hashtag #StrongCommunityStrongProject. TThug adherents are kings and queens, relentlessly proselytising about how crypto, and TThugs in particular, is the key to financial freedom.

There is, of course, criticism of the project. In YouTube videos dissecting the TThug scheme, on Facebook, and on Reddit, plenty of observers have reservations: TThugs is “the Instant Finance of the NFT world”, it has “MLM vibes”, and it is, to some, a “new-age pyramid scheme”. TThugs adherents don’t get into arguments with these critics. 

On February 1, US rapper T-Pain found himself in the sights of the TThug missionaries. It was a regular Tuesday for the “I’m ‘n Luv (Wit a Stripper)” hitmaker, who was just trying to do a Twitch stream with his wife. Then they came. It began on Discord, like all of the TThugs’ moves. “We should raid one of T-Pain’s live streams, he’s so interactive with his stream!” said one user. It didn’t take long for the raid to begin, and for T-Pain to lose his shit on live.

A “raid” is the thugs’ main marketing tactic: it’s when the community piles into the comments of celebrities’ Twitch, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, demanding they check out the Trillionaire Thugs NFTs. A swathe of the Discord’s 140,000 users hit T-pain’s Twitch stream, begging him to notice their NFTs. Instead, he interrupted his regularly scheduled gaming and music-making to dedicate 10 minutes to a bollocking. He called the thugs’ comments “spam”, and said their marketing technique was off-putting. 

T-Pain appears to have deleted videos of the stream, and all tweets leading up to the Twitch raid. But yours truly watched it, and can confirm he didn’t appreciate the full might of the thug community spamming his comment section. The man’s just trying to play Call of Duty. In the immediate aftermath, the Thug Discord voice chat became a place to groupthink an apology. “It’s been a learning experience for us,” was the consensus.

The raiding is part of a wider, influencer-centred marketing campaign. Local artists like Melodownz and DJ Sir-vere have spread the word, as have athletes like Manu Vatuvei and Richie Mo’unga. International celebs are part of it, too: “Rockstar” producer Tank God has some Thug NFTs, and there’s a video of legendary wrestler Ric Flair very organically spruiking the project.

Influencers hawking the TThugs across Australia and New Zealand seem to largely be part of the Pasifika and Māori communities. The 4,000 holders are largely anonymous, but those visible on social media also seem mostly Polynesian. Was the project specifically targeting this market? “No, it wasn’t my intention at all,” says Ratumaitavuki. “It just came naturally with me marketing, as I have a lot of people from my community who I’m connected with.”

Burns considers the vast Polynesian audience a good thing. “The Polynesian community is not as represented at the highest levels [in crypto] as some cultures are,” says Burns. “People like The Rock, and our founder Sam, are people that are leaning that way.” To him, Trillionaire Thugs is a chance for those left behind to join the cryptosphere. “I felt like this was a massive opportunity for our people to break a cycle and years of history, of conditioning that really didn’t give us the headstart that we may have needed or required.”

That is, for many holders, the point of Trillionaire Thugs. It’s not about the NFT art collection. Fortafy, the man and the entity, is a symbol of financial freedom. “Trillionaire” may be an aspiration for him, but “millionaire” would suffice for many of his followers.

Phillip Bell – also known as DJ Sir-Vere, ONZM – was drawn into TThugs because of Ratumaitavuki’s involvement. “I was immediately engaged because of my relationship with him directly, but also as a fan of his business journey to date,” says Bell. “He is very savvy, extremely clever and well-versed in this space.”

Bell says it’s obvious Ratumaitavuki is holding large amounts of crypto. “It’s no secret,” he continues. “He shows it on his Instagram stories all the time. With my knowledge of how real that is, and him launching an NFT, getting involved was a no-brainer.” He’s currently holding three NFTs, which he doesn’t plan on selling for five to 10 years.

The focus for TThug community leaders is often convincing people not to sell. The longevity of the project requires dedication to the cause. But despite the strength of the community they’ve built, sales will happen. Whether it’s the temptation of a quick buck or a bit of what the kids call FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Despair), TThug NFTs have been changing hands since the minute they were first released.

The floor price has been pretty consistently sinking over the past month: it peaked at just under $10,000 around the time of the first reveal. It’s now about $1,000. That’s just a bit under what the Trillionaire Thugs initially sold them for, and if all 7,777 sold out, that amounts to just over $9 million for Ratumaitavuki and his team.

Despite the sinking floor price, the project is making money for its creators. “I’m not focused on sales or floor price as much as delivering on the roadmap,” says Ratumaitavuki. The biggest financial success for Trillionaire Thugs so far is the sale of one NFT for $45,000. It was previously sold for less than half that, and at time of writing it’s sitting at roughly $550. The current owner is a young man from Melbourne who appears to have opened an account just a week before taking that very expensive plunge.

 

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A post shared by Sam Ratumaitavuki (@samratumaitavuki)

“It wasn’t out of the blue, in my opinion,” says Burns. “That, to me, was a FOMO buy.” Because it was so soon after the NFT’s reveal, he believes the buyer panicked. “But also what I would add to that is that’s a paper hands thing and they sold way too cheap,” he says. The next most expensive TThug sold for half the price.

Burns has more than 10 of the NFTs, none of which he’s listed for sale. His favourite TThugs are the ones with samurai helmets. There are only 97 of them in the 7,777-strong collection. “I resonate with the Japanese history because I like a lot of Japanese things,” he explains. “Japanese imported cars, being from New Zealand – because we do get into our Jap imports. And anime which is just something I’ve taken from being a child that just carried on.”

More broadly, he says, the art and the money are both important. “I appreciate it from the art perspective,” he says. “I think you have to understand that art is kind of the first touchpoint. Why? Because it’s a picture. Or it’s an image of some sort. And then the rest is really tied into what we call utilities based on a roadmap.”

The NFTs’ utilities, based on the roadmap, are inclusion in a play-to-earn game and invites to a bunch of international parties.

The parties, the tunes and the trillionaire aspirations are all typical of the crypto world. It’s like a gold rush out there: every man and his computer thinks they can become the next bitcoin billionaire by buying into NFTs early and selling at the peak. The difference here is that Trillionaire Thugs have formed a community that insists on longevity. “I have Trillionaire Thugs tattooed on me,” says Ratumaitavuki. “It’ll always be a part of me no matter what.”

While the floor price has plummeted, those who remain loyal to the Trillionaire Thugs dream are focused on the promised roadmap. “I don’t think Trillionaire Thugs will ever fade,” says Burns. “I think it will only grow.”

Do you have a wild story about cryptocurrency or NFT investment? Got a weird internet job? Are you embroiled in community Facebook page drama? IRL is keen to tell your story: contact irl@thespinoff.co.nz. 

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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