In 2014, Rap group Wu-Tang Clan announced a unique publicity approach to the release of their next album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin–they decided to only make and sell one copy to the highest bidder. In an age where artists have difficulty making a living solely from music sales, it seems like an obvious way for-Tang’s members to take home a paycheck. The buyer could do anything he or she wants to with the recordings, the only stipulation being he or she cannot commercially profit from future sales of the album’s content.
In an age where audiences regularly share music and providers stream free content, it seems one would expect a Wu-Tang fanatic to make the purchase and share the treasure with fans, right? Not if the highest bidder is none other than the Internet’s most-hated hedge fund villain Martin Shkreli–the same Shkreli who bought the patent to the rare HIV drug Daraprim, raising its price from $13.50 to $750.00 per tablet.
Contract details of the purchase between Shkreli and the album’s broker, Paddle8, are private. But inside sources reported to Bloomberg Businessweek the agreement hovers around the $2 million mark. The transaction took place shortly before the publicity of Shkreli’s Daraprim endeavors hit the news. Upon hearing the private purchase would be made public by Shkreli himself, Wu-Tang founder and lead business man RZA email Bloomberg stating, “The sale of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was agreed upon in May, well before Martin Shkreli’s [sic] business practices came to light. We decided to give a significant portion of the proceeds to charity.” He has not yet shared what charity he and his mates have donated to, but one would hope it is an HIV prevention or care program.
In his interview with Bloomberg just before hosting his company’s holiday party, Shkreli commented on hired Rap star entertainment for the evening, Fetty Wap, “You know, at the right price these guys basically will do anything.” Shkreli admits he did not attend the initial listen but sent an employee to confirm the album’s contents. He now says he’ll save it for a rainy day or perhaps with Taylor Swift if she wants to hear it.
While he may have turned a pretty penny with his pharmaceutical deal, there’s no direct way for Shkreli to profit from ownership of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The group has in turn promised the album’s purchaser sole custody of the only physical recording. While Shkreli makes himself out to look like the greedy kid in the Hip-Hop sandbox, business savvy RZA and loyal Wu fans will surely find a way to get Shaolin’s music to the masses. Perhaps an epidemic of live fan-produced bootlegs will surface or remixes will magically find their way into producers’ hands…
For more on Wu-Tang Clan, visit their website: www.wutang-corp.com