Now, you can hear the world's rarest album: "Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances"

 Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan performs at The Theater at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas on February 09, 2024 in Las Vegas, Nevada
(Image credit: Getty Images/Shy McGrath)

There is just one copy of the Wu-Tang Clan’s 2015 album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin and in the last decade only a handful of people have heard its contents.

But a gallery in Tasmania are, for ten days only, making it available for the wider public. From June 15th to the 24th Tasmania’s Museum of Old And New Art (Mona) are hosting a series of listening parties that will feature a half-hour excerpt from the album, as part of their Namedropping exhibition, which examines status and notoriety.

"Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances," said Mona Director of Curatorial Affairs Jarrod Rawlins. "Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is more than just an album. I knew I had to get it into this exhibition."

The original idea behind the album was, in an era when unlimited streaming has rendered music virtually worthless, to limit access and thus increase a record’s value. The Staten Island hip-hop group then set out to create a Renaissance-style art object, a single copy of an album that would – in theory at least – provoke debate about the value of music.

Recorded over an eight year period and released (if you can call it that) in 2015, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin has certainly created notoriety. Encased in a silver jewel-encrusted box with a Wu Tang seal, it’s only been heard in public once, in March 2015 to a room of art critics, dealers and collectors, all of whom were searched for recording devices. 

It was eventually auctioned off to drug firm executive Martin Shkreli for $2 million. When he was convicted of securities fraud in 2018, his assets were frozen and the album was picked up was picked up by PleasrDAO, a group which purports to purchase non-fungible tokens (NFTs) that honour ‘anti-establishments rebels’. It is PleasrDAO that is loaning the album to Mona.

PleasrDAO spokesperson Jamis Johnso has described Once Upon A Time In Shaolin as a “beautiful beautiful piece of art, this ultimate protest against middlemen and rent seekers of musicians and artists.” In 2021 he told Rolling Stone. 

“We want this to be us bringing this back to the people. We want fans to participate in this album at some level.”

To their credit, Wu Tang Clan did at least donate a “significant portion” of their $2million to charities, including the Children’s Literacy Society.

Will Simpson
News and features writer

Will Simpson is a freelance music expert whose work has appeared in Classic Rock, Classic Pop, Guitarist and Total Guitar magazine. He is the author of 'Freedom Through Football: Inside Britain's Most Intrepid Sports Club' and his second book 'An American Cricket Odyssey' is due out in 2025