And Finally Artist News

RZA says Wu-Tang’s single copy album has taken on a life “like the Mona Lisa”

By | Published on Tuesday 3 April 2018

Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA has spoken about the life the group’s single copy album ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ has taken on since it was sold for $2 million in 2015. He compared the record to the Mona Lisa.

“I definitely read every article about it”, he tells Rolling Stone. “It’s kind of crazy. The record has become an entity, very different from a lot of albums. It’s like the Mona Lisa. It’s got its own folklore, and that’s what me and [co-producer] Cilvaringz wanted”.

The only copy of the album was bought by controversial figure Martin Shkreli in 2015. Since then, it’s been the centre of a weird feud between Shkreli and Wu-Tang rapper Raekwon, and also a copyright lawsuit. Parts of the record were aired by Shkreli to celebrate Donald Trump becoming US president, while an event to play the whole thing publicly was cancelled over security concerns. Then Shkreli (unsuccessfully) put it up for sale on eBay.

The latest twist in the story is that the US government is attempting to seize the CD. Shkreli was ordered to pay over $7 million after being found guilty of fraud earlier this year. And ‘Once Upon A Time’ – along with Lil Wayne’s unreleased ‘Tha Carter V’ album and a Picasso painting – is an item it’s hoped will top up the $5 million in cash seized from one of Shkreli’s bank accounts.

RZA says that he just hopes that the terms of the contract Shkreli signed when he acquired the album are adhered to during the current legal wranglings.

“I would hope that the clauses that was given to Mr Shkreli is upheld, because it was a legal, binding thing”, he says. “I would just hope that whatever happens, that legally, all the things that we thought to protect what it was and what it is remains intact”.

He admits that he already tried to buy the album back when it was put up for sale on eBay. However, he had to abandon this plan when, ironically, it turned out that the contract with Shkreli prohibited him from doing so.

“When [Shkreli] put it on eBay, the first thing I did was call my lawyer, and I was like, ‘Yo, let’s go'”, he explains. “And they said, ‘Alright, check with your contract’. And it’s no, you can’t do it. Ain’t that a bitch?”

This is tough, he says, because he would have liked to have kept it all for himself all along: “It was hard for me to sell that album, because I wanted it to be on my living room table. When it was finally completed and everything was sent out, I was like, ‘This would be great in the Wu mansion'”.

No one else agreed with him though, particularly investors in the project who were keen to see a return. Friends also argued that keeping it would be “even more selfish than selling it”, he says.

Ultimately, he goes on, the album remains a statement about the value of music. “I felt like we misplaced the value of music”, he explains. “We put everything in front of its value. We put our cellphone and headphones in front of the value. Kids are paying $600 for headphones, but they won’t pay a dollar for the music. Headphones are useless without the music. The iPod was useless without the music. The cellphone was probably 50% used for music. It crippled an industry”.

“It’s making a comeback now”, he goes on. “They found a way to monetise streaming, but it took them years for that. You’ve gotta think about how many artists have lost their way of living, have been forced to come out the studio and just go on tour, because the studio wasn’t the place where they earned a living to create music. So that’s what this album is about. OK, nobody don’t see the value on it, and we gonna put a value on it. We wanna say, ‘This is what we think it’s worth'”.

So, that’s that all cleared up.