World's Rarest Album Heads to Museum

Australia's Mona museum to air portion of Wu-Tang Clan's 'Once Upon a Time in Shaolin'
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2024 8:06 AM CDT
You Can Now Hear the World's Rarest Album
This April 21, 2013, file photo shows Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, aka RZA, left, and Clifford Smith, aka Method Man, of Wu-Tang Clan, right, performing at the second weekend of the 2013 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, Calif.   (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP, File)

Members of the public have a rare opportunity to hear the rarest album in the world. The Wu-Tang Clan's Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, of which only one two-CD copy exists, is currently on loan to the Museum of Old and New Art (Mona) in Tasmania, Australia. Over 10 days next month, the museum will host small listening parties where visitors can hear "a curated, 30-minute sample of the album," the BBC reports. Recorded in secret from 2006 to 2013, the hip hop album was meant "to redefine the meaning of music ownership and value in a world of digital streaming and commodification of music," says the digital art collective Pleasr, which purchased the album for a reported $4 million in 2021, per the Guardian.

Some potential buyers and members of the media heard a 13-minute section of the album before its initial sale in 2015. The album was then bought up by pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli for a reported $2 million. Though the owner was forbidden from any commercial release until 2103, Shkreli streamed clips of songs on YouTube in 2016. He was forced to surrender the album to the US government two years later after his conviction for defrauding investors. The album was subsequently purchased by Pleasr, which said it planned to share the album with a larger audience via listening parties. This is the first time the album has been loaned to a museum since its 2015 sale. It will feature in Mona's "Namedropping" exhibition exploring celebrity, status, and notoriety.

"Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances," said Mona's director of curatorial affairs, Jarrod Rawlins. "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." Pleasr said the museum listening parties would help realize the Wu-Tang Clan's "bold vision to make a single copy album as a work of fine art." The listening sessions in Mona's Frying Pan Studios run twice daily from June 15 to 24. A limited number of free tickets will become available beginning May 30. (More Wu-Tang Clan stories.)

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