Last month, Forbes reported that the Wu-Tang Clan’s latest album would exist as a one-of-a-kind physical artifact, encased in an engraved silver and nickel box, which was painstakingly handcrafted by artist Yahya. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is a double album, and will be sold for a price tag in the millions. Wu-Tang member RZA told Forbes, “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”
If you’re a fan of Wu-Tang, this might seem like a very appropriate approach to their craft; their lyrics are often focused on the gilded palaces of history past. As such, the album will be toured through galleries and museums, according to RZA and the album’s producer, Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh. On the website for the project, RZA and Cilvaringz state, “While we fully embrace the advancements in music technology, we feel it has contributed to the devaluation of music as an art form. By taking this step, we hope to re-enforce the weight that music once carried alongside a painting or a sculpture."
It’s an interesting re-envisioning of the future of music distribution, an anti-leak model that takes the album release out of the realm of digital consumption, and places it on a well-lit pedestal. But what does that mean for fans?
A group calling themselves Fans of Wu-Tang the World Over has created a Kickstarter to fund $5 million for the album, which has so far been the highest bid. If they hit the crowdfunding goal and win the auction, the idea is to give the 31-song album away for free:
The risk is some Saudi oil baron's kid spending his dad's money to collect a trophy and then he'll keep the album to himself and fans the world over will suffer.
If for some reason we are unable to purchase the album to distribute it to all fans or we are outbid, there will be a vote to either refund all money to backers or use the money to fund a Wu Tang related project such as a free concert for backers.
The founder of this group will not profit by even a single penny of backers' contributions, nor will a cent be spent until the auction date when the entirety of funds raised will be bid in an attempt to win the album.
It’s certainly a more democratic process, but is it the process RZA envisioned? The organizers of the Kickstarter, Calvin Okoth-Obbo and Russell Meyer, said they “can’t imagine RZA being upset if Wu-Tang fans get together and raise enough money to purchase [the album].”
They also said that, in the event they do raise enough to buy the album, they’ll rock-paper-scissors to see who holds it.
As of Friday morning, they have nearly 350 backers and have collected a little over $2,000. The funding ends on June 9, which means there's still time for an even higher bid to materialize.