Their debut album Enter the Wu-Tang is considered one of the most important hip hop albums in history. They’ve been ranked as the “No. 1 greatest hip hop artist of all time,” they’ve won numerous Grammy Awards, produced hip hop classic after hip hop classic and gathered a hardcore cult-following.
Wu-Tang ain’t just for the children. Wu-Tang is for any- and everybody who has an appreciation for hip-hop, music and generally fine-ass art.
And they’ve got a 110-minute double-album out there that’s never been circulated publicly. The only copy ever made was released in 2015 and it probably won’t see the light of day until at least the year 2103 (and perhaps never)…
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is, without question, the rarest hip-hop album ever released and the most expensive and valuable album in all of music history. Inspired by a Renaissance-style approach to art, the infamous rap group decided that they were going to return value to music by creating something priceless: a single, uncopied, ultra-exclusive album. It took them almost 6 years to complete, recorded mostly in Marrakech, Morocco, where it was locked away in a vault in its jewel encrusted, Wu-Tang imprinted case for almost a year before it was auctioned off in 2015.
Wu-Tang's once Upon a Time in Shaolin, before it was auctioned off.
From the Wu-Tang Clan website:
“The music industry is in crisis. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero. Contemporary art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity … By adopting a 400-year-old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale … we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music.”
Much like Michelangelo’s David or Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the value of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is driven almost entirely by its singularity and exclusivity — with only one copy in existence and legal contracts forbidding its commercial exploitation until the year 2103, this album is a precious piece of rare art; something worthy of a museum.
But it’s not in a museum. It’s not even in a private collection at this point. After it was auctioned off (to one of the biggest douche-bags in the world) for $2 million it fell straight off the face of the planet. Where is it now? No one knows for sure. But the last person to own it is now rotting behind bars.
Yes, Martin Shkreli (aka Pharma-Bro), the asshole famous for price gouging the aids-fighting, life-saving drug Daraprim, from $12.50 to $750 per pill, bought Once Upon a Time in Shaolin in an act of pure trollish villainy.
“I don’t buy fancy things,” he said in an interview. “I donated $2 million to Wu-Tang. I got a mixtape in return. It was a wonderful investment.”
Not only did this millionaire-troll tell the world that he’s never even bothered listening to the album, but in a video (embedded above) he states that he wavers between wanting to destroy the album entirely and fantasizing about hiding it somewhere extremely remote, so people who want to hear it have to go on a spiritual pilgrimage just to listen to it.
He also promised to release it for free if Donald Trump actually got elected. Obviously, he never followed through with that wager, though, allegedly he did discuss releasing it with Wu-Tang Clan in the wake of the 2016 election.
“I'm not just the heel of the music world," he said, bragging about being the biggest villain in music. "I want to be the world's heel."
Some men just want to watch the world burn.
Fortunately for Wu-Tang fans and art aficionados around the world, Shkreli never got the chance to hide or destroy Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Before he could do anything with it, he was arrested by the FBI and ordered by a federal judge to forfeit $7.36 million in assets — including the mysterious and still-unreleased album.
Unfortunately, that album is now locked up somewhere in a government warehouse. After all the hubbub and drama surrounding its creation, auction and eventual forfeiture, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin ended up in the hands of the Feds. It would be like if a room full of original Da Vinci paintings were discovered and then seized by the FBI before anyone ever got to see them.
No one knows exactly where the album is now. But it’s almost certain that federal agents got one hell of a kick out of listening to the most expensive album in music history, free of charge after they took it from Shkreli.
Needless to say, this was not the fate that Cilvaringz and co-producer RZA had in mind when they came up with the idea for Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. They wanted to spark a serious debate about the value of music in the modern world, they wanted to create something that couldn’t be exploited commercially until long after their deaths, they wanted to create something that would endure, that would tantalize the world with mystery and rareness, that would titillate fans when they finally got to hear what was on it.
Instead their mystery masterpiece was squirreled away by one of the most hated people in the world, squandered for the enjoyment of a bourgeois antihero and then confiscated by the federal fuzz. And it’s doubtful that they’ll ever release it for free, as was intended. Which means, the only way all 110 minutes of that album will ever be released publicly is if the federal government chooses to commercially distribute it in the year 2103, for their own profit.
And that is a sick fate for such a radical hip-hop concept.