When nine Staten Island-based rappers joined forces as the Wu Tang Clan, it was to launch their names into the early 90’s rap scene, and to end their individually mediocre careers. However the product of their collective efforts, 1993’s “Enter the Wu Tang (36 Chambers),” succeeded so immensely that it surpassed even the lofty expectations of its creators.
Suddenly the MCs (known by the pseudonyms of RZA, GZA, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Inspectah Deck, Raekwon, Masta Killa and U God) were responsible for a critically acclaimed and financially successful piece of hip hop history, and their names were launched into the dialogue of the international hip hop industry.
Over the next two decades, the rappers would spin their initial success into triumphant solo careers, lucrative record contracts and industry transcending business ventures, including video games, clothing lines and films.
The Wu-Tang Clan’s first album would be lauded as genre defining, and the group would eventually go on to be regarded as one of the best in the history of hip hop.
Now, 21 years after their first work reached the charts, the group has announced an album that will buck the trend not only of current hip hop, but of modern popular music as a whole.
The grandiosely named The Wu- Once Upon a Time in Shaolin will be pressed as a single copy, and this singular album will be taken around the country to museums where, like an art installation, fans will be charged admission to listen to a single playing of The Wu. After the museum tour, the single copy will be auctioned off to the highest bidder.
The album was produced by Wu Tang associate Cilvaringz under the guidance of RZA and, according to the project’s website, features “a unique tapestry guest performers” including “Bonnie Jo Mason, Redman” and “FC Barcelona soccer players.” It includes 31 unreleased tracks featuring a collective of all members of the Wu Tang Clan. The single copy of the album will be presented to its owner in a handcrafted, carved nickel-silver box created by Moroccan metal artist Yahya.
“Offers came in at $2 million — somebody offered $5 million,” RZA told Billboard magazine. “It gives us an idea that what we’re doing is being understood by some.”
Without the goal of reaching a massive number of people, the album becomes a unique product.
It does not have to appeal to the tastes of the public, because like a single piece of art, those who are interested will be forced to seek it out, rather than have it presented to them for their approval via the internet or radio. This is also an interesting move in the face of the massive decline of physical album sales in modern music. As fans have begun to consume more and more media online, the idea of an album as a special investment has evaporated.
When vinyl was the dominant medium, albums were cohesive pieces of art, with visuals on the cover complimenting the content of the songs. By making the single version of The Wu one hard copy, it becomes more than just the songs it contains, it becomes a homogeneous piece with the physical aspects of the album being inseparable from the audio.

Members of the Wu-Tang Clan perform on stage. The Wu-Tang Clan assembled in the early 1990s with RZA (center) as leader and released their first album in 1993.

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