Last spring the world got a brief preview of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, the secret Wu-Tang Clan album that will be released in a limited edition of 1 and auctioned off to the highest bidder. That might be all most of us hear from the project for the rest of our lives. Forbes notes that an auction site has gone live through Paddle8, an upstart auction site that has sold works by Damien Hirst, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons. The site contains a Q&A with key contributors, and among the revelations is that the eventual buyer won’t be allowed to publicly release the album for 88 years according to copyright law. He or she can tour the album around the world and host listening sessions, but they aren’t allowed to reproduce it for sale. RZA explains it all:
When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it. Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you’re the sole owner of a unique original. And that’s what Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is. It’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album.
Adds producer Cilvaringz:
We felt that retail commercialization and mass replication would dilute the status of the album as a one-off work of art and compromise the integrity of our statement.
Once Upon A Time In Shaolin contains 31 tracks and was recorded over six years. The final tracklisting will only be revealed to the buyer. As of now the sole copy of the album is being stored in a silver-and-nickel-plated box and jewel case at the Royal Mansour hotel in Marrakech. All backup copies have been destroyed. Forbes notes that the buyer will also receive deluxe liner notes in the form of a 174-page book wrapped in leather by a master bookbinder plus one more special touch from artist Yahya.
After all this effort at ceremony and secrecy, let’s hope whoever shells out millions of dollars to own this album finds it more rewarding than A Better Tomorrow.