Well now, this is just a damn delightful thing. I mean, if the whole entire world spends an entire month collectively shitting on you, why not fuck with them a bit?
A while back, you see, the Wu-Tang Clan settled on a phenomenal publicity stunt. They would record an album, and only a single copy of it. That’s right, just one record, a piece of art as much as it is a record. The person who could afford it could then do what he or she pleased with it.
It was one of the greatest sales pitches the music industry has ever heard. In March 2014, Robert Diggs, better known as RZA, the producer and de facto leader of the Wu-Tang Clan, the iconic rap group, announced that the Clan would create only one copyof its next album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, and sell it to the highest bidder. “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music,” RZA told Forbes. “We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like someone having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”
Initially, the Clan wanted to forbid the buyer from publicly releasing the album for 88 years, but over time decided to grant the buyer total freedom as long as the album wasn’t sold commercially. That meant the owner could listen to the record in a soundproof room, drive a pickup truck over it, or release it for free on the Internet. If the owner desired, he could be the only one who ever heard it.
The Clan teamed with an auction company to sell the record. They were naturally bombarded by many offers, including ones in the millions. In November, it sold.
Then, on Nov. 24, Paddle8 announced that the Wu-Tang Clan had sold the album for a record figure “in the millions.” The price had been agreed to in May, but according to the press release, the parties “spent months finalizing contracts and devising legal protections for a distinctive work whose value depends on its singularity.” But the group wouldn’t reveal the buyer’s name. RZA said he wanted his privacy. “This was very much a mutual decision,” RZA insisted in an e-mail.
Except the buyer, who became very notorious in recent months, could care less about his privacy.
Shkreli heard about Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and thought it would be nice to own, too. He attended a private listening session at the Standard Hotel hosted by Paddle8 co-founder Alexander Gilkes. Shkreli, who describes himself as a bit of a recluse, recalls Gilkes telling him that if he bought the record, he would have the opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities and rappers who would want to hear it. “Then I really became convinced that I should be the buyer,” Shkreli says. (Paddle8 declined to comment, citing their policy of client confidentiality.) He also got to have lunch with RZA. “We didn’t have a ton in common,” Shkreli says. “I can’t say I got to know him that well, but I obviously like him.”
Having participated in bidding wars for companies and drugs, Shkreli says he had a feeling from the start that he’d made the highest offer for Shaolin. As it turned out, he was right. Shkreli won’t say how much he paid. But someone familiar with the deal says that the Wu-Tang Clan sold him the album for $2 million. Before he closed on the acquisition, Shkreli was permitted to listen to a few more snippets to make sure it was all there.
Shkreli has been a Clan fan for some time.
Primarily interested in rock as a teenager, he didn’t understand rap, but that changed when he read Shakespeare in high school. “You would get these rhyming couplets and soliloquies and stuff like that, but the couplets would really kind of jar you,” he says. “They would be really these big, soul-crushing moments that Shakespeare intended to stir your spirit. And in many ways, music does that.”
Shkreli was taken by the Wu-Tang song C.R.E.A.M., which stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.”
This was allegedly before the news of his price-gouging broke, and Shkreli said he was worried Wu-Tang would back out of the deal. Instead, RZA has pledged to give a portion of the proceeds to charity.
Shkreli says he has yet to listen to the whole album. And the whole damn world is mad at him again, and I love it. Go Shkreli.
Read the whole story here.