World’s only copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s mythical album to be played for public

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It was the world’s most expensive album ever sold. And perhaps the most mysterious.

Almost no one has heard Wu-Tang Clan’s seventh studio album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.” Only one copy — physical or digital — exists.

Now, some members of the public will have the rare chance to hear a curated, 30-minute selection of its tracks at listening sessions in Australia next month.

“You hear talk about once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: This is probably one of them,” said Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art, the Australian museum that is preparing to exhibit the 2015 album, which is not available to stream in full anywhere online. According to one Wu-Tang member, it even includes an appearance from Cher.

Excerpts of the fabled 128-minute-long soundscape will be played at twice-daily listening sessions from June 15 through June 24, on loan from digital art collective PleasrDAO — which said it acquired the album in 2021for a reported sum of $4 million.

The album’s notoriety soared when former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli purchased the world’s sole copy at auction for $2 million in 2015, making it the most expensive album ever sold. After Shkreli was imprisoned for fraud, the U.S. government seized the album and sold it.

According to the terms of its 2015 sale, the owner of “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” cannot commercialize the album for 88 years — until the year 2103. RZA, a founding member of Wu-Tang Clan, said in an interview at the time, that the length of time was chosen because the group had eight original members, the figures in the year 2015 add up to eight, and the figure 8 resembles an infinity symbol on its side.

A news release issued by Paddle, the auction house that handled the 2015 sale to Shkreli, described the album as a “retrospective soundscape that threads 31 songs, skits, and stories into a 128-minute-long aural screenplay.”

Many of the tracks were recorded in secret in Staten Island — known to the rap group as Shaolin before being printed as a disc and encased in a hand-carved nickel-silver box.

The record, which was packaged with a 174-page parchment manuscript providing context for each song, was then stored in the vault of a luxury hotel in Marrakesh, Morocco, for two years.

“The idea was to make something that was unique, that had a value of its own,” RZA told Hot 97 in a later interview. “When we let it go, the quote that came out of my head was like, ‘Yo. This thing is going to have a life of its own, like a child.’”

The prediction proved correct. Under Shkreli’s ownership, the album — which he said he bought to “show off” — soon returned to the spotlight.

The pharmaceutical executive became widely known for hiking the price of lifesaving AIDS drug Daraprim by 4,000 percent and was convicted and imprisoned for defrauding investors. After Shkreli’s arrest, Wu-Tang member Ghostface criticized the former pharma executive in an interview with TMZ and said he’d like the album to be made public.

According to the Department of Justice, Shkreli attempted to sell “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” in an online auction weeks after he was convicted but before the court imposed its forfeiture order.

Formed in 1992, Wu-Tang Clan produced a string of hits, including “C.R.E.A.M.,” “Protect Ya Neck” and “Triumph.” According to its online store, the group has sold more than 40 million albums worldwide.

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