After nearly ten months at auction, the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, a two-hour long album that may not be heard by the public for 88 years, has finally been sold to an American collector for a price “in the millions,” according to Forbes and auction house Paddle8. “Millions of what?” you might find yourself asking, given that the album spent much of the year in limbo and was ridiculed even by members of the group who appeared on its 31 tracks.
Little more information is forthcoming about the sale, but Paddle8 has claimed that it is the most expensive single album ever sold, which would mean, as Forbes again points out, that it sold more than the Elvis Presley recording purchased by Jack White for $300,000.
Even beyond the question of the collector’s identity, or the auction price (much less the value) of the album — which, I’ll remind you, is a CD placed inside two nickel-silver boxes that were hand-carved by a Moroccan artist — is the problem of the album’s release to the public. Given Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’s 88 year copyright clause — a scheme dreamed up by RZA and protégé Cilvaringz (creator of Snowballs) as they climbed the Great Pyramid Cheops — members of the public will likely not enjoy a commercial release of the album in their lifetimes. Presumably, though, the owner of the album could release it to the public non-commercially — for free — or at least that was the rub when Sasha Frere-Jones spoke to RZA at MoMA PS1 in March.
It was at that time that I heard roughly 13 minutes of the album. It was not enough, really, to judge it one way or another.