Home NEWS ENTERTAINMENT Listening to unheard Wu-Tang Clan – the world’s rarest album

Listening to unheard Wu-Tang Clan – the world’s rarest album

Inside a delicately hand-carved silver box on display in an Australian museum lies the most exclusive, most valuable, and perhaps most infamous album in the world.
And this weekend, I became one of the lucky few on the planet to have heard it.
Recorded in secret over six years by trailblazing hip-hop group the Wu-Tang Clan, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was designed to be a piece of fine art.
Only a single CD copy exists – and with it comes a legal stipulation that the owner cannot publicly release the 31 tracks until 2103.
The record, which features the nine surviving members of the group, is currently on loan to Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) – a gallery so well known for its headline-catching art some dub it Australia’s “Temple of Weird”.
First conceived during the pandemic, the museum’s new Namedropping exhibition explores why humans chase things that signal status and notoriety.

At the top of lead curator Jarrad Rawlins’ wish list for the exhibition was this album.
“If I’m completely honest it started as a fantasy… we were in a meeting and I just said, ‘We should get that Wu-Tang CD’, and everyone went ‘Yeah. Lol’,” he says.
After years of negotiation, fans from all over the globe have now flocked to Mona to hear a 36-minute sample of the album, curated especially by Wu-Tang Clan producer Cilvaringz.
What can the few dozen people who scored tickets to the uber-exclusive listening parties expect? Mr Rawlins teases a Cher cameo – his favourite bit – but otherwise is tight-lipped.
“The more we know about this album, and the more people out there know, the less magical it becomes,” he insists.
“I think the fans are as excited about not being able to hear it… as they are about being able to hear it.”
But somewhat ironically, the week that Namedropping opens, news breaks that the company loaning the album is suing its previous owner – disgraced “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli – for allegedly making digital copies.
He was forced to hand over the album to US prosecutors in 2018 – three years after purchasing it – after being convicted of defrauding investors.
It was bought by digital art collective Pleasr for a rumoured $4m (A$6m; £3.2m), value they’re trying to preserve by making Shkreli destroy his bootleg files.
Since 2015, fans have heard snippets of the mysterious music – from potential buyers treated to a 13-minute segment when it was first released, to the handful of times Shkreli streamed scraps on YouTube, and now a five-minute clip which the public can buy for a single dollar.
But never this much of it.
As I queue up for my listening session, a contract demanding that I don’t record it is thrust into my hands.
“Your obligations under this agreement start on your entry to Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and continue for the remainder of your life or until 2103, whichever occurs first,” it reads.
And when we reach Mona’s Frying Pan Studio itself, I realise the jokes I’ve been hearing about metal detectors are not jokes at all.
One by one, we’re asked to take off our coats, ditch our bags, and empty our pockets, before we are diligently scanned.

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