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Wu-Tang’s RZA says single-copy was in “the wrong hands” with Martin Shkreli

By | Published on Friday 29 October 2021

Wu-Tang Clan

Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA says that the group’s single-copy ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ album fell into “the wrong hands” when they sold it to Martin Shkreli in 2015. However, at the time he felt the CD was going to have a “life of its own” and – he reckons – it has done “exactly that”.

“The idea was to make something that was unique, that had a value of its own”, he tells Hot 97 in a new interview. “When we let it go, the quote that came out of my head was like, ‘yo – this thing is going to have a life of its own, like a child'”.

When Wu-Tang first announced that they were going to make the album and sell just one copy of it, it made headlines, of course. But at the time, it seemed entirely likely that what once the sale was complete, the album would sit on a shelf in some rich person’s house and never be heard of again. However, as it turns out, RZA was right, and this single copy album has been on quite an exciting journey.

After controversial hedge fund manager Shkreli purchased the only copy of the Wu-Tang album for $2 million in 2015 it was regularly in the news. It became 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.

While he was busy doing all of this, Shkreli was also defrauding investors in his hedge fund. He was subsequently found guilty on three fraud charges in 2017 and sentenced to seven years in prison. And in addition to that jail time, he was also served a forfeiture money judgment, which ordered him to hand over $7.4 million.

Having pulled $5 million from Shkreli’s bank accounts, the US government seized other assets in lieu of the rest of the money, including a Picasso painting, a copy of Lil Wayne’s then unreleased ‘Tha Carter V’ album, and the Wu-Tang record.

“No disrespect to Martin Shkreli because I don’t ever knock somebody who, you know, when somebody buys something they buy something”, says RZA. “But it was in the wrong hands, in all reality. He made the deal before [much] was revealed of his character, his personality, and all the insidious things he would go on to do. That wasn’t the guy I met, but he definitely unfolded into that guy and he had control of this one-of-a-kind piece of art”.

The US government auctioned off the album earlier this year, announcing that in doing so Shkreli’s debts had been cleared. Last week, it was revealed that the record had been purchased by NFT collectors PleasrDAO for $4 million.

RZA feels happier about its new home, saying: “Everybody’s got a right to buy something that’s for sale. But now I think it’s in the right hands”.

He also confirms in the new interview that around the original release and sale of the record there were plans to publicly display the album and hold listening events, but “those ideas were not going to be able to happen with Mr Shkreli”.

“Now that PleasrDAO has it, there’s an opportunity [to achieve] a lot of these beautiful ideas, and what this art can be, and how it can expand itself in the world and its own life itself”, he says. “I think the possibilities are there now”.

Exactly what Pleasr’s plans for the album are remain to be seen. The collective is best known for buying up NFTs and then selling off smaller shares in them.

“We want this to be us bringing this back to the people”, Jamis Johnson, Pleasr’s Chief Pleasing Officer recently told Rolling Stone. “We want fans to participate in this album at some level”.

So perhaps there is still more of a story to be told about this album. What’s to come doesn’t sound quite as exciting as the previous chapter though. Hopefully the film being made about its journey will just concentrate on that.