A new chapter has begun in the strange saga of Wu-Tang Clan‘s seventh studio album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The one-of-a-kind release that was bought by pharmadouche Martin Shkreli and, after his seven-year prison sentence, seized by the federal government, has a new owner: the cryptocurrency collective PleasrDAO.
As the New York Times and Rolling Stone report, PleasrDAO acquired the album for the crypto equivalent of $4 million, though since the government doesn’t treat cryptocurrency as real money, the purchase took place through an intermediary. PleasrDAO has previously bought digital collectibles connected to Russian dissident punks Pussy Riot and NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the group believes Once Upon a Time in Shaolin fits into this ethos of “anti-establishment rebels.”
PleasrDAO — the DAO stands for decentralized autonomous organization — is led by 34-year-old Jamis Johnson, who gave himself the questionable title Chief Pleasing Officer. “This album at its inception was a kind of protest against rent-seeking middlemen, people who are taking a cut away from the artist,” Johnson said. “Crypto very much shares that same ethos.”
Released in 2015, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin pre-dated the current NFT craze but held the same passion for irreplaceable art. At the time, Wu-Tang mastermind RZA said, “The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years. And yet it doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.” So Wu-Tang Clan created exactly one copy of their album, sold with the stipulation that it could never be publicly shared. Unfortunately, everyone agrees that it fell into the wrong hands.
“This beautiful piece of art, this ultimate protest against middlemen and rent seekers of musicians and artists, went south by going into the hands of Martin Shkreli, the ultimate internet villain,” Johnson said. He added that “we want this to be us bringing this back to the people. We want fans to participate in this album at some level.”
PleasrDAO isn’t quite sure how to do that under the terms of the purchase agreement. Some ideas have included listening parties, gallery-style exhibitions, or allowing fans to become co-owners. “We believe that we can do something with this piece,” Johnson said, “to enable it to be shared and ideally owned in part by fans and anyone in the world.”
The group has also been in touch with RZA and the project’s co-creator, Dutch rapper Cilvaringz. RZA has so far declined to comment, though Cilvaringz seems game. “We wanted to honor the NFT concept without breaking our own rules,” he said in a statement.
RZA may be occupied with other projects. Earlier this year, he revived his Bobby Digital persona and announced a pair of albums, Digital Potions and RZA vs. Bobby Digital, though the latter’s release date, August 6th, came and went without new music. As for the rest of Wu-Tang Clan, members GZA, Raekwon, and Ghostface Killah are currently on tour. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.