Sold for $4 million in a complex deal involving crypto.
Seven years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan’s one-of-a-kind album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” was created as a protest against the devaluation of music in the digital era. Before long it got caught up in a tale of capitalist villainy when it was purchased by Martin Shkreli, the price-gouging young pharmaceutical speculator who was later convicted of securities fraud.
“We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of music…This is like someone having the scepter of an Egyptian king.” — RZA, The Abbott, head of the Wu-Tang Clan, 2015
The two-CD, 31 track album was conceptualised and then produced by Cilvaringz alongside RZA in secret over the course of six years starting in 2007 and includes every member of the Wu-Tang Clan, sans Ol’ Dirty Bastard who died in 2004. Once completed, they pressed a single copy to be encased in a leather covered box with an interior nickel/silver-plated “box-within-a-box-within-a-box” made by British-Moroccan artist Yahya. Ownership of this monument is accompanied by strict legal repercussions against any improper digitisation and/or distribution of the work.
As told by Chief Pleasing Officer of PleasrDAO Jamis Johnson, ‘The history between inception and the present of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin reads like pulp fiction. Martin Shkreli, aka “Pharma Bro” and prominent internet villain, purchased the album anonymously at auction in 2015 for $2 million – making it the most expensive work of music ever sold. He threatened to destroy the album and allegedly used the jewelled CD case as a coaster. Shkreli, notorious for hiking the price of pharmaceutical drugs, was eventually found guilty of fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison. In 2018 a court ordered the forfeiture of Shkreli’s assets which included Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The album sat in a temperature controlled vault in the basement of the Department of Justice, until now.’
Although “Once Upon a Time” predates the recent craze for NFTs — “nonfungible tokens,” or digital items created using blockchain computer code, preventing them from being duplicated and allowing their provenance to be tracked — the PleasrDAO’s goal of recapturing the value of artistic scarcity in the digital age has led it to become seen as a kind of precursor.
‘The album itself is kind of the O.G. NFT,’ said Jamis Johnson who was proudly wearing a Wu-Tang T-shirt.
To tie “Once Upon a Time” to the digital realm, an NFT was created to stand as the ownership deed for the physical album, said Peter Scoolidge, a lawyer who specialises in cryptocurrency and NFT deals and was involved in the transaction. The 74 members of PleasrDAO — the abbreviation in its name identifies it as a “decentralised autonomous organisation” — share collective ownership of the NFT deed, and thus own the album.
‘Thirteen years ago, I had an idea everyone said was crazy. I started producing this album on a moonshot and after some hard early yards, it took on a life of its own. The Clan made it real, Martin made it notorious, the Feds made it legendary and PleasrDAO brought it full circle.’ — Cilvaringz, Producer and Conceptualizer of ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’
A lot of things in life are temporary, fleeting, impermanent. But remember this – just like blockchain, Wu Tang is forever.
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