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Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan
Once Upon A Time In ShaolinWu-Tang Clan

The buyer of Wu-Tang Clan’s ultra rare album wants to share it with fans

A cryptocurrency group bought the one-of-a-kind record for $4 million, after it was seized from former owner Martin Shkreli

Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon A Time In Shaolin was a wild proposition to begin with: a one-of-a-kind album that was auctioned off in 2015, under the condition that it wouldn’t be publicly shared. What’s even wilder, however, is the ride that the album-slash-artistic-statement has taken since, which has seen it pass through the hands of ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli, the feds, and now a high-profile cryptocurrency collective.

Until now, the most recent buyer of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin has been kept under wraps, though it was reported that it had changed hands for millions of dollars earlier this year.

Prior to that, Shkreli was forced to hand the infamous album over as part of a $7.4 million settlement with the US government, after his arrest on securities and fraud charges in 2015, and conviction in 2017. Needless to say — given his notoriety for hiking the price of a critical AIDS drug by 5000 per cent — no one was particularly sympathetic about him losing the item he paid $2 million for back in 2015.

Now, the New York Times has revealed that the new owner of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is the crypto group PleasrDAO, which paid $4 million in cryptocurrency, via an intermediary, for the privilege. An NFT (what else?) acts as the ownership deed for the physical record. Despite being around for less than a year, PleasrDAO has also claimed ownership of NFTs related to Doge and Ed Snowden, and reportedly counts Pussy Riot’s Nadya Tolokonnikova among its members.

According to PleasrDAO’s Jamis Johnson, the purchase of Once Upon A Time In Shaolin chimes with the group’s interest in icons of digital culture, as well as cryptocurrency enthusiasts’ general desire to disrupt the art market. “This album at its inception was a kind of protest against rent-seeking middlemen, people who are taking a cut away from the artist,” Johnson tells the New York Times, going as far as to call the album: “Kind of the OG NFT.”

As a “decentralized autonomous organization”, PleasrDAO members share collective ownership of the NFT deed to the album, and therefore the physical artifact. All of them can listen to the work’s 31 tracks, which are spread over two CDs locked in an engraved silver box, though they’re still prohibited from sharing the music publicly.

Johnson, however, expresses an urge to get the music out to a wider audience in the future. “We believe that we can do something with this piece,” he says, “to enable it to be shared and ideally owned in part by fans and anyone in the world.”

Though he does apparently want to honour Wu-Tang Clan’s original intentions, he says: “Our direction right now is to get this open to the whole world.”

The hip hop group’s feelings on the most recent deal are yet to be revealed (RZA previously tried to buy the record back, but ran into contractual issues). The United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, which sold the piece, just seems to be glad to get rid of it, stating: “The United States has disposed of the album and the proceeds of its sale according to law.”