Wu-Tang Clan’s one-copy-only album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been sold at auction. The buyer remains anonymous, but Forbes reports that it was sold by the online auction house Paddle8. Reportedly, it cost somewhere “in the millions.” Regardless of who bought it, the album’s copyrighted for the next 88 years, so nobody can hear it legally unless he travels (to Marrakech, Morocco) to listen to it in person. But leaks aren’t legal and they still happen.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’s goal, according to RZA, was to change the way music is viewed as an art form. “For art to change the way people think, it has to come from an extreme place. No monumental change ever started with a compromise or a small shift. It starts extreme,” he said. Essentially, if someone wants to see an original painting, she has to physically see it. It’s supposed to be a temporal and unique experience the same way that seeing a live musical performance is not replicable. If Once Upon a Time in Shaolin were readily available, it would no longer be special.
Because the entire thesis of the Wu-Tang Clan’s “secret” album is exclusivity, it hopefully does not leak. The album’s recording process began in 2006, so it’s possible that there’s some more vintage Wu on there, but if 2014’s A Better Tomorrow (recorded beginning in 2011) is any indication, people don’t want too much late-aughts Wu-Tang. It didn’t chart particularly well and received mixed critical reviews, at best.
Wu-Tang Clan has released six group albums (that people have heard) to go along with the various members’ countless solo projects. Once Upon a Shaolin likely would not add very much to the catalog. The “private American collector” has the option of touring it around the world for people to listen in person. But if it were to get out digitally publicly, it would probably be the most expensive leak in the history of recorded music. That would be a real accomplishment on its own.