Wu-Tang Clan’s very special album played at Australian museum

Wu-Tang Clan’s very special album played at Australian museum

In a unique cultural event, the U.S. hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan’s exclusive album “Once Upon A Time in Shaolin” has begun playing at an Australian museum. The album, which has only one physical copy in existence, is being showcased at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) from June 15 to 24. The museum has reported overwhelming demand, with all available timeslots for the twice-daily listening sessions fully booked and a waiting list of about 5,000 people.

Fans who managed to secure a spot described the experience as “very special” and “amazing.” The sessions are intimate, accommodating only about 30 people at a time. A museum spokesperson confirmed the start of the first listening session on Saturday afternoon, marking the beginning of a highly anticipated event.

The album has a storied history. It was initially purchased by the controversial pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli in 2015 for $2 million. Shkreli later forfeited the album as part of a $7.4 million forfeiture order following his 2017 conviction for defrauding hedge fund investors. The album is now owned by non-fungible token collectors PleasrDAO, who acquired it from the U.S. government for $4 million. PleasrDAO is currently suing Shkreli for allegedly making unauthorized copies of the album and releasing the music to the public.

Music fan Cameron McBryde, who traveled from Brisbane, described hearing the album as an unparalleled experience. I don’t know another song or album anywhere else in the world that holds that same value,” McBryde told the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC). Another attendee, Hayden Kovacic from Hobart, echoed this sentiment, calling the experience “amazing” and noting that “the production was off its head.”

The album consists of 31 original tracks recorded and produced by the New York-based group over six years from 2007. According to the album’s official website, the tracks were created “in the original Wu-Tang style of the 90s.” The album also includes an ornate hand-carved nickel box, a leather-bound manuscript with lyrics, and a certificate of authenticity. It comes with a legal condition that the tracks cannot be released by the owner for 88 years.

As part of MONA’s “Namedropping” exhibition, small listening parties are being held to allow attendees to experience a 30-minute curated sample of the album. Jarrod Rawlins, director of curatorial affairs at MONA, emphasized the album’s unique cultural significance. “Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances,” Rawlins told the BBC. “‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ is more than just an album, so I knew I had to get it into this exhibition.”

Until now, only a select few had heard some of the songs on the album, including potential buyers and media when the album was up for sale in 2015. Shkreli, who bought the album for $2 million, streamed snippets on YouTube to celebrate the presidential election of Donald Trump in 2016. The album was later handed over to U.S. prosecutors after Shkreli’s conviction for defrauding investors. Digital art collective PleasrDAO now owns the album and continues to safeguard its exclusivity.

MONA has a history of producing provocative exhibitions, and this event is no exception. The museum has previously hosted exhibitions like the “Ladies Lounge,” which became the subject of an antidiscrimination case. The inclusion of “Once Upon A Time in Shaolin” in their “Namedropping” exhibition further cements MONA’s reputation for curating thought-provoking and culturally significant works.

The Wu-Tang Clan, formed in Staten Island in the early 1990s, is known for their impactful lyrics that convey the trauma of the African American experience with a mix of levity and intensity. The group decided to create “Once Upon A Time in Shaolin” as a unique commodity, believing that online streaming and piracy had cheapened the value of music. The album was recorded in Staten Island and produced in Marrakech between 2006 and 2013, featuring the nine surviving members of the group, as well as guest appearances by Cher and Game of Thrones actress Carice van Houten.

The album’s journey from a secret recording to a highly coveted piece of art underscores its cultural and monetary value. As fans continue to flock to MONA for a chance to hear this one-of-a-kind album, “Once Upon A Time in Shaolin” remains a testament to the enduring legacy and innovative spirit of the Wu-Tang Clan.

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