Who owns the world’s most expensive CD?
Inside the legal battle over Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin”
Last Word Features
Like so many of life’s great mysteries, it all began with a news release. On July 27, the U.S. Department of Justice sent out an alert with the attention-getting headline, “United States Sells Unique Wu-Tang Clan Album Forfeited by Convicted Hedge Fund Manager Martin Shkreli.”
“Through the diligent and persistent efforts of this office and its law enforcement partners,” declared Acting United States Attorney Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, “Shkreli has been held accountable and paid the price for lying and stealing from investors to enrich himself.”
While the federal government isn’t usually in the business of selling slightly used CDs, this one was worth the hassle.
For one thing, Wu-Tang Clan’s “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is a two-CD set, with 31 previously unreleased tracks that took the iconic hip-hop group a full six years to record. But what makes the 2015 album even more special is the fact that it was released in a limited edition of one, encased in an engraved nickel-silver box with a leather-bound parchment book of lyrics, and auctioned off for $2 million to Martin “Pharma Bro” Shkreli, the hedge fund manager who infamously acquired the license for an HIV drug and upped its price from $13.50 to $750 per pill.
In 2017, Shkreli was indicted for securities fraud and sentenced to seven years in prison. The federal government subsequently seized the album and auctioned it off to satisfy the balance of a $7.4 million forfeiture judgment.
So, who is the anonymous party who now owns the world’s most expensive CD? And how much did they pay for it?
Those questions remained unanswered until a few weeks ago, when PleasrDAO, a collective of Non-Fungible Token enthusiasts and investors, posted a video on their website titled, “We Bought the Unreleased Wu-Tang Clan Album With Crypto.”
“There is no more storied, iconic, and historic piece of physical music on earth than the single copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s unreleased album, “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” bragged Jamis Johnson, PleasrDAO’s “chief pleasing officer,” with the zeal of a kid showing off his new bicycle. “After nearly a decade under wraps and in private hands, PleasrDAO purchased the complete album, with plans to oversee and fulfill Wu’s original vision … ruckus.”
At this point, it’s not clear what that ruckus will look like. When Wu-Tang auctioned off the album, it came with the stipulation that the music could not be commercially released until the year 2103, which is still a long way off. Upon purchasing it, Shkreli said that he had no plans to actually listen to the album, but simply bought it to “keep it from the people.”
PleasrDAO, which bought the album for $4 million, hope to do the exact opposite by negotiating a deal with Wu-Tang in which fans and investors will be able to buy NFTs that give them part ownership of the album.
“This is like the original NFT,” says Johnson in the video, as he drives to the vault where the holy grail of hip-hop awaits him. “It’s the original fight against the rent-seeking middlemen. And crypto is the same ethos. Wu-Tang Clan was prescient in understanding that conflict.”