Wu-Tang Clan Album ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ Will Be Played in Tasmania

A decade ago, the Wu-Tang Clan issued a sole copy of a CD-only album, secured it in an engraved nickel and silver box, locked it away in a vault and said it could not be heard by the public until 2103.

The move was seen as a protest against the devaluation of music in the streaming era. But a year later, the album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” got caught up in the very capitalistic endeavors that Wu-Tang had tried to avoid, when it was purchased by Martin Shkreli, the disgraced pharmaceutical speculator who was convicted of fraud in 2017.

He bought the album at auction for $2 million, only for it to be seized by the government and sold in order to pay off Mr. Shkreli’s nearly $7.4 million debt.

As these things go, an NFT collective purchased the album for $4 million in 2021. And soon, if you can get yourself to the island of Tasmania off the southern coast of Australia in two weeks’ time, you might be able to hear what RZA and the producer Cilvaringz created 79 years before it was meant to go public — or a part of it anyway.

From June 15 to June 24, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, will host a series of private listening events where visitors will be able to “experience” a selection of the 31 tracks from the group’s seventh studio album. “You hear talk about once-in-a-lifetime opportunities,” the museum wrote on the exhibit page. “This is probably one of them.”

Free tickets, “if you are lucky enough to secure” them, the museum said, can be reserved starting Thursday.

The listening sessions will be part of a larger exhibit called “Namedropping,” which will last until April next year and will examine celebrity, status and culture. Other names attached to the exhibit include Porsche, Madonna, Henry Kissinger, Air Jordan, McDonald’s and Henry VIII. The Wu-Tang album will be available for listening only for those 10 days.

“Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances,” Jarrod Rawlins, the museum’s director of curatorial affairs, said in a statement to The Guardian. “‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ is more than just an album, so when I was thinking about status, and what a transcendent name drop could be, I knew I had to get it into this exhibition.”

Mona, as the museum is known, opened in 2012, much to the chagrin of locals and the delight of tourists and curators. The $200 million venture was the brainchild of David Walsh, a wealthy local gambler and mathematician.

Mona seemed like a perfect fit for an NFT collective looking to “support RZA’s vision” for the album, the collective, called PleasrDAO, said in a statement to The Guardian.

The group appears to have been teasing the news for days. A video on social media shows a hand-drawn sign that reads “Do you like Wu-Tang?” onboard the Staten Island Ferry and at other New York City locations as passerby listen to snippets of the album. The album’s title is a nod to “Shaolin,” how the group refers to its hometown Staten Island and a regular subject of lyrics of the Wu-Tang Clan, a nine-member group that was founded in New York in the early 1990s and was known for hits like “C.R.E.A.M.” and “Protect Ya Neck.”

As the owners of the album, PleasrDAO can listen to the 31 tracks on its two CDs, which are accompanied by a leather-bound parchment book, according to the 2021 deal. But the original restrictions that RZA and Cilvaringz imposed on Mr. Shkreli were a part of the sale to PleasrDAO, including that the album cannot be released to the general public in any form until 2103 (88 years from its initial sale in 2015).

However, at the time of the purchase, PleasrDAO said that it had ambitions to make the album more available to the public through listening parties and gallery-style exhibitions. It was not immediately clear what proof PleasrDAO had shown to the museum that the collective and the museum had the legal right to play it.

RZA, PleasrDAO and the Mona museum did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“It’s not an album you just listen to or hear but rather something you experience,” RZA wrote when the album was released. “Some songs are long and feel like journeys, others short like an adrenaline shot. Sonically it’s that gritty, raw, melodic, eerie, dark, Wu-Tang shit fans fell in love with. Hence the title, because once upon a time in Shaolin, it sounded like this.”

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