Wu-Tang Clan’s rare album once owned by ‘pharma bro’ to be played at Tasmanian museum

By Clancy Balen, ABC

Few people have heard the world’s most expensive album ever sold, and when they have, it has only been for a tantalising handful of minutes.

Limited to one copy, US rap group Wu-Tang Clan’s legendary seventh studio album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, is set to be briefly housed at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) from next month.

“Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances,” MONA’s director of curatorial affairs, Jarrod Rawlins, said about the album’s place in a new exhibit titled Namedropping.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is more than just an album, so when I was thinking about status, and what a transcendent namedrop could be, I knew I had to get it into this exhibition.”

The album will be part of the exhibit for a little over a week – from 15 to 24 June – with a limited number of free tickets to be released for the event.

Visitors will be able to listen to a curated 36-minute mix from the album, played from a personalised Wu-Tang PlayStation 1 at MONA’s in-house recording studio.

The listening sessions will be held twice a day.

The mysterious album exists in the cultural conscious primarily through the few supplied media photos of its ornate nickel-silver casing, and reporting from music outlets who were given a brief listening session upon its release.

The album is not available to listen to in any other format, aside from the tightly guarded single copy.

(Rear L-R) Elgin Turer

Album originally bought by ‘pharma bro’ Martin Shkreli

It is another curious step in the album’s already colourful history.

The album was recorded in secret over six years, but upon its completion, the rap group limited the album to a single two-CD physical copy.

Former pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli departs the US District Court for the Eastern District of New York, August 3, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.

They also deleted the digital master files, and bound the album in a legal agreement that stipulates the album cannot be commercially exploited until 2103.

In 2015, it was sold at auction to convicted pharmaceutical business and investor Martin Shkreli for a record US$2 million (NZ$3.2m), who then attempted, and failed, to sell the album on eBay.

‘Pharma bro’ Shkreli drew widespread notoriety that year for increasing the price of a life-saving HIV drug, Daraprim, from US$13.50 to US$750 per pill.

Following Shkreli’s incarceration for seven years after defrauding investors in two failed hedge funds, the album was seized in July 2021 by the United States’ Department of Justice.

Wu-Tang Clan's seventh studio Once Upon a Time in Shaolin (2015).

The US Government sold the album to a confidential buyer as part of a US$7.4m forfeiture money judgement against Shkreli.

In October that year, The New York Times reported that the secret buyer was digital art collective PleasrDAO – self-described as a “collection of DeFi leaders, early NFT (non-fungible token) collectors and digital artists” – who purchased it for US$4m.

New owners ‘honoured’

In a statement, Pleasr said it was honoured to partner with MONA to support Wu-Tang Clan’s vision.

“Ten years ago, the Wu-Tang Clan had a bold vision to make a single-copy album as a work of fine art,” the statement read.

“To put it in an art gallery … make music become a living piece like a Mona Lisa or a sceptre from Egypt.

“With this single work of art, the Wu-Tang Clan’s intention was to redefine the meaning of music ownership and value in a world of digital streaming and commodification of music.”


According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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