Several months after going to auction with Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the Wu-Tang Clan has yet to sell their final album, only one copy of which is reported to exist in the world. The album features 31 tracks, all eight living Wu-Tang MCs, and will not be heard by the listening public for 88 years — as per a copyright clause designed by RZA and controversial Wu-Tang affiliate Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh.
According to online auction house Paddle8, the sale of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has not been finalized, although the house “continues to work with the seller to vet a number of offers from serious potential collectors.” The album went to auction in early March, reportedly with a base price of $5 million dollars.
The brainchild of self-described Wu-Tang “abbot” RZA and his protégé Cilvaringz, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin also aspires to the status of an expensive art object. The physical album is contained within two nickel-silver boxes that were hand-carved by a Moroccan artist and a team of ten workers over the course of three months.
Of course, an 88-year copyright would not prevent a potential buyer from playing the songs to the public for free. It remains to be seen whether the sale of the album is being held up by lack of viable interest, or if the red tape that comes with such a rare item — under such an extreme copyright — is slowing the pace of the sale.
Since March, the album has proven a source of controversy not only among fans, but also between members of the Wu-Tang Clan.
Method Man, whose album The Meth Lab is out this week, was the loudest opponent of the album. “I’m tired of this shit and I know everybody else is tired of it, too,” he told XXL, “Fuck that album, if that’s what they are doing.”
Ghostface Killah was somewhat more muted. “It could be good and it could be bad,” he told CBC Music in April.
“My first thing was like, no, give it to the people,” he added, “Then I look at it, like 88 years, most of us is going to be gone by that time, but…it might give Wu-Tang another burst in 80 years.”
RZA’s response to Method Man was unambiguous. He took to Twitter to defend the album’s eight decade copyright:
The response by Wu-Tang Clan members may have been a reaction against the back room development and marketing strategy behind the album. The process seems to have been restricted to RZA and Cilvaringz. And it was Cilvaringz — who also conceived of Snowballs, a cooling underwear that improves men’s sperm quality by icing the testicles — who appears to have pushed for selling the album at auction.
“Initially we wanted the buyer to do whatever he wanted with it,” Cilvaringz told Scluzay.com. But later, after assessing “commercial interest” in the project, Cilvaringz and RZA “began to understand that allowing it to play out in that way would undermine its trajectory as an art piece.”
Art piece or not, the trajectory of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been non-existent. It may as well remain in the hands of the men who made it, in fact, given that the potential buyer will be unable to hear the album until she pays several million dollars. Flavorwire heard a 13-minute sample of Shaolin at MoMA PS1 in March. The verdict? It’s hard to say. But it did feature Cher.