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Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ Will be Played at an Art Exhibition In Tasmania

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The only existing copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, one of the greatest collector’s items in recorded music history, will finally get its public debut.

There is a catch: you’ll have to visit Tasmania next month to hear it.

The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, the capital of the Apple Isle, has loaned the one-off record for its upcoming exhibition, Namedropping.

Mona’s Frying Pan Studios will host 30-minute listening parties twice-a-day from June 15-24, where a curated selection of tracks from the album will be played.

“During Namedropping,” reads a statement, “the world’s only copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s fabled seventh studio album will be on display in the museum. We’re giving you the chance to hear it, too. At least some of it.”

Tickets are free – if you are lucky enough to secure a ticket, the museum handily warns – and available only for over-18s.

“You hear talk about once-in-a-lifetime opportunities: this is probably one of them,” reads a statement.

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The brief history of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is so unusual, it’s worthy of its own feature film.

The hip-hop pioneers announced the secret, one-of-a-kind pressing in 2015, a rebuff to the digital world in which we now live. And put the record under the hammer.

“When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it,” says RZA in a Q&A on the online auction site. “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.” The Clan delivered the coup de grâce on the project by deleting all digital files.

The winning bidder was Martin Shkreli, the notorious so-called “pharma bro” who went on a headline-dominating rampage when he both hiked up prices of the HIV/AIDS drug Daraprim and purchased the unreleased double-disc for a cool $2 million.

He continued to capture headlines when promised to share the album publicly, but only if Donald Trump was elected as president. That happened, and Shkreli shared a small series of videos, all of which featured him with snippets of the album playing in the background – despite being under orders from the Clan to not play the album for 88 years.

Shkreli attempted to sell the album on eBay, chastened by the backlash he’d received from a member of the Clan and the music world. The sale didn’t go through and, in 2018, following Shkreli’s conviction for securities fraud, he was forced to part ways with the album under a federal court-ordered seizure of assets.

In 2021 the US Department of Justice reportedly sold the album for $4 million to digital art collective PleasrDAO, its current owner.

Lars Brandle
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