Nearly a year ago, Wu-Tang Clan announced its most ambitious project yet: A single 31-track double-album, recorded in secret over a six-year stretch, to be sold to the highest bidder.
Wu-Tang’s de-facto leader RZA had a simple vision for the album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin," one that was built around crafting a singular music experience.
For the Record
March 3, 12:02 p.m.: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated the album would be auctioned off. “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is now being offered as a private sale, rather than as an auction. Paddle8 discretely and privately vets offers for sale, versus an auction where it would sell to the highest bidder. The album is currently for sale, and the online auctioneer confirmed it has received a number of serious offers. The post also clarifies the 88-year clause. Copyright is determined by the U.S. Copyright Office according to federal copyright law. The 88-year hold is a contractual restriction.
Intrigue around the project continued and was intensified by reports that the group received a $5-million offer for the album. Speculation as to how fans would hear it -- perhaps in art galleries? -- brewed throughout Wu-Tang’s contentious reunion for the release of its anniversary album, "A Better Tomorrow."
Currently the album is locked away inside a vault in Morocco, but new details have emerged as Wu-Tang preps to release it for sale.
Among them? The revelation that whoever purchases the album can’t release it commercially for 88 years. The condition of the sale means Wu-Tang will never release any of the content in any form to the public, and neither can the buyer -- at least not commercially.
Wu-Tang’s extensive contractual restricition voids previously reported plans for the album, which would have allowed the highest bidder to do whatever he or she wanted with the album.
“When I think of who will come to own ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,’ I want them to recognize the historical value of what they're collecting,” RZA wrote on the album’s online auction house Paddle8.
“I’m not one for hoping as a rule, but I really hope its guardian is the kind of person who finds appreciation and value in every artistic expression,” RZA continued. “Because this work was made to be appreciated.”
So why 88 years?
The time frame is, naturally, derived from Wu-Tang’s love of numbers. There were eight original members of the collective, for instance, and the auctioneer has the number in its name. Eight turned sideways is also the infinity symbol.
“For us it also addresses the issue of music’s longevity in a time of mass production and short attention spans,” RZA said on the site. “Nothing about this record revolves around short-term gains, but rather around the legacy of the music and the statement we’re making.”
Originally RZA said he hoped the buyer would display the album at museums and galleries, or take it on a “tour” where listeners pay a premium to hear the project.
Considering the artwork is sold without copyright, broadcast rights, performers consents and other reproduction rights, one workaround for any buyer could be to release the project to the public for free.
“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,” RZA added.
“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is housed inside an engraved silver-and-nickel box crafted by British-Moroccan artist Yahya. It will be accompanied by a 174-page manuscript containing lyrics, credits and anecdotes on the production of each song, printed on gilded Fedrigoni Marina parchment and encased in leather by a master bookbinder.
Peddle8 also included a tracklist for the album on its site, but it includes only the working titles used during the recording. The actual titles, like the music, remain a secret.