NATIONAL NEWS

Fans can finally get a chance to listen to the Wu-Tang Clan’s one copy album… but there’s a catch

May 28, 2024, 9:04 PM | Updated: 9:05 pm

The Wu-Tang Clan originated as a group of rappers from Staten Island, New York in the 1990s....

The Wu-Tang Clan originated as a group of rappers from Staten Island, New York in the 1990s. (Bob Berg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

(Bob Berg/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

CNN — “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is as mysterious as its title. Recorded by legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan in secret over six years, only one physical copy of the album was ever made and just a handful of people have heard it in full.

Now a few lucky members of the public will be able to listen to it – if they can get to a museum next month on the Australian island of Tasmania.

The rare piece of hip-hop history is set to go on display at the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) from June 15 to 24, according to the museum.

The album will be part of an exhibit that lasts a little over a week with a limited number of free tickets available for curated private listening sessions.

It is part of the museum’s “Namedropping” exhibition which explores the rare objects which “possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances,” said Jarrod Rawlins, director of curatorial affairs at Mona.

“’Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ is more than just an album, so when I was thinking about status, and what a transcendent namedrop could be, I knew I had to get it into this exhibition,” Rawlins said in a statement.

The album itself is bound by a legal agreement which states it cannot be commercially exploited until 2103, although it can be played at private listening parties, according to the museum.

Wu-Tang Clan first announced in March 2014 that it would produce one copy of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” to be sold to the highest bidder. The album came in a hand-carved box with a leather-bound book of parchment paper containing lyrics and its backstory.

By releasing only one copy of the album, the group wanted to “put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music,” Wu-Tang member Robert “RZA” Diggs told Forbes in 2014. The album was also created in protest of the devaluation of music as an artform in the digital age, RZA said in the interview.

Since then, the album has had a history almost as unusual as its release.

In 2015, notorious “Pharma Bro” Martin Shkreli bagged the album for about $2 million – making it the world’s most expensive music album ever sold at the time.

But US federal authorities seized it from Shkreli, who was eventually convicted  of securities fraud and conspiracy in 2017 for defrauding investors out of more than $10 million between 2009 and 2014.

Before his conviction, which was related to his time as CEO of biotech company Retrophin, Shkreli was dubbed “the most hated man in America” in 2015 while serving as CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals after he increased the price of a drug used by AIDS patients from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

In 2021, the US Justice Department then sold the album without disclosing the buyer. At the time the DoJ said the money from the album’s sale would go toward the remaining balance owed on the approximately $7.4 million forfeiture order entered against Shkreli at his March 2018 sentencing.

Digital art collective PleasrDAO, who describe themselves as a “decentralized autonomous organization” and an early adopter of NFT digital art, later confirmed in a  video the same year that they bought the album using cryptocurrency.

While PleasrDAO did not disclose how much it spent to acquire the album, the The New York Times reported it exchanged hands for the equivalent of $4 million.


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Fans can finally get a chance to listen to the Wu-Tang Clan’s one copy album… but there’s a catch