‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ is the secret Wu-Tang album that took 6 years to record, and it may never fully be released to the public. The secretive album is technically being released by the Wu-Tang Clan, but only ONE copy is being made available, and that lone copy is being sold at auction to the highest bidder.
From there the owner of the solitary LP is free to do (almost) whatever they want with it, just so long as that ‘whatever’ doesn’t include producing and selling more copies. See, even if the highest bidder shells out millions for the 31 tracks at auction they only own the original work of art, and not the right to replicate that work of art. Therefore it wouldn’t be for 88 years until the copyright ran out on the album that the buyer could replicate the album and release it to the public.
But I did say that you might be able to listen to it, and here’s how: the buyer WILL own the rights to the 1 master copy, and they will be able to take that to clubs worldwide for listening parties. So there is a (pretty good) chance that you’ll be able to hear the album in the future by stalking the eventual buyer’s public appearances.
Here’s more from Forbes on what might be the most unique album release in music history:
The Wu-Tang Clan went seven years between the release of its last two albums. That may seem like a long time, but not when compared to the likely wait for the next one: 88 years.
According to producer Cilvaringz, that’s how long it will be before the eventual buyer of the lone copy of the group’s secret double album, The Wu: Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, can release the LP commercially.
“After 88 years the copyright, which includes public and commercial rights, automatically transfers to the owner of the work,” he told FORBES. “However, it will still be his or her choice at that [point] to release it or not release it.”
There was also talk of sending the album around the world on a “tour,” shipping it to galleries and other exhibitions spaces where people could pay $30-$50 per person to hear the full recording on headphones. Wu-Tang’s stated goal was to use the record as a way to return music to the fine art status it enjoyed hundreds of years ago; the group hoped to tap an auction house to sell it as though it were a painting by a great master.
88 years is a LONG ass time, even with modern medicine supposedly meaning we’re all going to live to 300-years old.
More from Forbes:
“ When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it ,” explained RZA in a Q&A made available on the microsite. “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.”
Added 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 .”
The precise number of years in the moratorium is a product of Wu-Tang’s fixation on numerology and symbolism. According to RZA, the number eight is important to the group for many reasons: it’s the original number of members in Wu-Tang; it can be found in the name of the company selling the album; it’s the sum of the digits in the year 2015; and, when set on its side, it becomes the infinity symbol.
So do I accept that I’ll never hear this masterpiece of music? Or do I now begin convincing myself that the entire LP is a piece of shit, and I’m better off not obsessing over it in the first place?
Sooner or later this album will make it to the public (methinks), and it’s not going to take 88 years. It’s going to take a staged home robbery, or misplaced baggage, but we’re going to hear it in our lifetime’s….I hope.
Here’s a quick clip Forbes was able to get ahold of last year (of an unnamed track):