In a recent twist of news, the Wu-Tang Clan album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, has been sold by the U.S. government to cover disgraced pharmaceutical executive and hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli’s million-dollar debt.
In a news release on Tuesday (July 26), Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, the acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, announced the sale of the lone copy of the album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, after a judge said that it could be used to pay part of the $7.36 million owed by Shkreli. Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison for fraud and was required to forfeit approximately $7.4 million USD in assets.
Initially purchased for $2.2 million in a private auction, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has become one of the most mysterious bodies of work in hip-hop history, praised by critics lucky enough to have listened to the album prior to its release. The album—which RZA billed as more akin to a piece of fine art than a standard album release—was seized by the government in 2018 after Shkreli was arrested for fraud and was required to forfeit approximately $7.4 million USD in assets.
In April, a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn said in a court filing that Shkreli still owed the government $2.2 million. However, Tuesday it was announced that he had paid the remainder of his balance, an indication that Once Upon a Time in Shaolin had been sold.
Purchased by an undisclosed buyer, who will be revealed at a later date, the single two-CD copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was secretly recorded over six years and then kept in a secured vault in Morroco in 2014. In 2015, the album was auctioned with a legal agreement with the buyer that stipulated the album cannot be commercially exploited until the year 2103. However, it can be played during listening parties.
Wu-Tang’s objective behind this incredibly risky, yet gutsy concept was to prioritize the music, contending that technological advancements such as streaming had sonically and financially diminished the value of the art.
Now with a new owner, hopefully, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin may be liberated for the world to hear sooner than expected.