The news that Wu-Tang Clan had recorded an album of which there would only be one copy, sold for millions of dollars at auction, with the stipulation that it couldn’t be resold, has inspired debate for more than a year. Some people, like RZA, have argued that the plan is a radical statement on behalf of the value of music and the album format. Others have argued that it’s an insult to fans, a capitulation to traditional ideas about exclusivity and power that rap once railed against, and a demonstration of how capitalism can hurt art.
The debate is now settled. Wu-Tang has made a horrible mistake.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been sold to Martin Shkreli, the 32-year-old pharmaceutical executive who triggered outrage worldwide earlier this year when his company increased the price of a drug used to treat some AIDS sufferers by 5000 percent—from $13.50 to $750 a tablet. He recently said he wished he’d raised it more. He appears to have bought this album in hopes of scoring dates, and for now, he does not seem interested in letting the public hear it.
The Bloomberg Businessweek article that broke the news of Shkreli’s winning bid quotes him as saying he has not yet listened to the album, even though the deal—for a rumored $2 million—closed months ago. He did delegate to an employee the task of confirming that all the songs were there. So why buy it? He said he made his final decision once the auction-house representative told him that doing so would give him “the opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities and rappers who would want to hear it.”