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The world’s rarest album by Wu-Tang Clan can finally be listened to... If you head to Australia

The world’s rarest album by Wu-Tang Clan can finally be listened to... If you head to Australia
The world’s rarest album by Wu-Tang Clan can finally be listened to... If you head to Australia Copyright Mona - The Museum of Old and New Art
Copyright Mona - The Museum of Old and New Art
By David Mouriquand
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There's only one copy in the world. It's a fabled album only heard by a handful of people. And now, it will be on display in a museum for the first time, with limited listening events...

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It’s the rarest album on earth, only listened to by a handful of people. But now, the public is going to get the chance to finally give it a spin.

Only snag – you'll have to shell out for a ticket to Australia. The Australian island of Tasmania, to be precise.

The sole copy of Wu-Tang Clan's 'Once Upon a Time in Shaolin' will be played to the public for the first time at The Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Hobart.

The institution will be holding limited listening events as part of its upcoming exhibition, Namedropping, during which visitors can experience a curated 36-minute mix from the album, played from a personalised Wu-Tang PlayStation 1 in Mona's own recording studio, Frying Pan Studios.

These sessions will be held from 15 – 24 June.

"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. "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."

Wu-Tang Clan's Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
Wu-Tang Clan's Once Upon a Time in ShaolinThe Museum of Old and New Art (Mona)

So, what makes this album so special?

The lone copy of 'Once Upon a Time in Shaolin' is Wu-Tang Clan’s seventh album, a 31-track opus recorded in secret by members RZA, GZA, Inspectah Deck, Method Man, Raekwon the Chef, Ghostface Killah, U-God, Masta Killa, and Capadonna. It took six years to complete and is contained in a jewel-encrusted box designed by British-Moroccan artist Yahya.

It is bound by a legal agreement preventing its commercial release until 2103, meaning this rare piece of hip-hop history has only been heard before by a select few around the world.

Its upcoming appearance at Mona is the first time that the album has been loaned to a museum since its original sale.

It was sold to disgraced pharmaceutical entrepreneur Martin Shkreli in 2015 for $2 million (approx. €1.84 million) and the digital master files deleted.

Martin Shkreli
Martin ShkreliRichard Drew/AP

For those of you unfamiliar with the kind of person Shkreli is, he is perhaps best known for increasing the price of life-saving HIV drug Daraprim from $13.50 to $750 per pill.

Shkreli trolled fans online by playing snippets of the album during interviews, and he claimed he would leak the album if Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016. He did not follow through.

In 2021, the US Department of Justice seized it from Shkreli, who was convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy in 2017 for defrauding investors out of more than $10 million between 2009 and 2014.

The federal authorities sold the album to digital art collective Pleasr for $6 million to cover "pharma bro" Shkreli's debts.

In a statement, Pleasr said it was honoured to partner with Mona to "support RZA'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. 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."

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Tickets for Namedropping will be available via the Mona website from Thursday 30 May. 

Trip to Tasmania, anyone?

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