Once Upon a Time
in Shaolin
A unique work of art by the Wu-Tang Clan
The album as the artwork
31 tracks. 9 members. 6 years in the making.
An edition of one and one alone, for all time.

“Best of the league, we’ve been doing since ‘93, big sword raps, cutting through thick beats.”
Excerpt from the new album

An Introduction From RZA
& Alexander Gilkes
Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is the latest chapter in a storied saga of culture and innovation.

The Wu-Tang Clan has been breaking artistic ground since emerging two decades ago with sonic innovations that would etch the group into the canon of contemporary culture. Its oeuvre is as much one of art as music, its approach as visionary, lyrical and cerebral as conceptual artists from any era, in any medium.

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is as much a work of art as a piece of music, and so, we present it as such.”

And yet that fact is, in our times, often neglected. In an age where the work of musicians is increasingly perceived as being as accessible, affordable, and expendable as a box of paperclips, acknowledgement of the profound artistry required to write a moving verse, produce a transformative album, or navigate a formidable career, is often reduced to an unread liner note. Such a scenario in the art world—if the only Picassos to be seen were postcards—is unimaginable.

We are proud partners in the private sale of this, the latest work of collaborative force from a mythical collective of artists known as the Wu-Tang Clan: RZA, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Ol' Dirty Bastard, GZA, Masta Killa, U-God, and Inspectah Deck, under the creative auspices of RZA and Cilvaringz.

Images Courtesy Jonathan Mannion
“Halloween came, I had the chance to choose other joints, the Iron Man suit was live, the mask was on point. In sixth grade I was deep with science, mixing certain elements with water trying to make iron.”
Ghostface Killah
Excerpt from the new album

Art, Experience & The Appreciation Of Shaolin

It’s called Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. I felt that's what happened to me during the making of this album. I got a chance to go back to Shaolin. The Shaolin Wu-Tang came from, that Wu-Tang went to. The Shaolin that shaped us.

I'm a student, so when I travel to new countries or places, I go to the museums. I go to look at their art, to visually experience it. More than the final works themselves, I go to witness the creative processes brought on by men. By men of different times, different places, different backgrounds, different worlds.

This work isn’t just a treatment of music, but a capture of time. A capture of the energy of some of the best MCs doing what they do. From one city to another city, one country to another country. All that energy encapsulated in these two discs, and put into this one box. That's art.

“This work isn’t just a treatment of music, but a capture of time. A capture of the energy of some of the best MCs doing what they do.”

When I think of who will come to own Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, I want them to recognize the historical value of what they're collecting. I’m not one for hoping as a rule, but I really hope its guardian is the kind of person who finds appreciation and value in every artistic expression. Because this work was made to be appreciated.

Ultimately, what is art? It is far more than what society deems ‘artistic.’ It is about appreciation. I don't care if a child just finger paints and brings a painting home to his father. All he can do is write C-A-T with finger paint. The A is ugly, the T crooked, the C looks like a G. He hands this to his father, this first piece of art. His father takes that and he appreciates it.

“Our folks, don't understand what we're doing, I'm saying peace to the God, let your knowledge be born”

Method Man
Excerpt from the new album
Enter the Chambers: The Making of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin
By Chris Norris, co-author of The Wu-Tang Manual and The Tao Of Wu

Sixteen years ago, just after he’d shepherded an unruly collective of Staten Island-based outsider artists to the summit of global fame, the RZA made one of the countless unpredictable moves that define the Wu-Tang Clan legacy: He went sightseeing. “It was an historic, artistic mission,” he says of a trip he made alone in 1998—starting with the Louvre’s oils and watercolors, and moving to Florentine statues, Roman frescoes, Athenic acropoli, and Istanbul mosques, as he made his way down the Continent to a destination in Northern Africa. He did not travel in high, Jay Z/Beyoncé tourist style. “I was reading, studying and fasting,” he says. “I wanted my mind clear to take everything in.” By Cairo, he was ready to be among the first visitors allowed into a newly unsealed pharaonic tomb on the Giza Necropolis.

There in its stone chambers, the sights and sounds of his travels coalesced within. He looked at works of ancient artisans, felt a palpable connection to human history, and had a profound new sense of his role. “That’s when I realized I was an artist,” he says. “Up until then, I considered myself a rapper, a producer, a hip-hop artist. That’s when I thought, ‘Yo. I'm an artist. This is what I do.’”

This is not the same statement as similar-sounding ones from today’s Renaissance rappers like, say, Kanye West or Pharrell Williams. While both work skillfully in fashion and other non-musical creative fields, they tend to pour their outsize personas into these forms without altering the vessel itself. The Wu-Tang Clan never worked this way; they had to smash it from the start.

By anyone’s estimation, the Wu-Tang Clan were an uncategorizable phenomenon when they emerged. In a New York hip-hop scene obsessed with form and provenance, they came from a borough that was functionally nonexistent, had at least six too many members, and specialized in a vocal style whose choppy rhythms, breakneck speed, and wildly allusive, dense texts suited mainstream rap tastes as well as bebop swing. All-or-nothing from the start, the Wu-Tang Clan had to remake hip-hop in its own image, which they did in under five years.

It took most of the world a bit longer to absorb the panorama visualized on their debut, Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers. Now ranked among the finest in albums in both rock and hip-hop history, 36 Chambers was a somehow gritty yet mystic dreamscape comprised of true crime, martial-arts lore, arcane science, chess strategy, and scripture from the street-Islamic school called the Nation of Gods and Earths, from which all nine members held advanced degrees. It took five or six solo albums, each by one the best rappers of his era, for their deceptively sparse, slum-Modernist bricolage to establish the RZA as one of the late-20th century’s two or three true sonic auteurs.

But it’s not until now, 20 years after their debut, that the Wu’s most striking quality is visible: how confident a valuation the artists gave their own work from the start. In October of 1992, while all nine members were penniless and some newly out of jail, the group scrambled together $5,000 to record two songs and have them pressed onto a thousand 12-inch vinyl discs. This was the analog era and they pressed the flesh: they put the discs into boxes and loaded them into a muffler-dragging, four-door Merkur Scorpio hatchback. They drove through New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia bearing copies of the ferocious tag-team single Protect Ya Neck, giving it to radio DJs and selling it on consignment to record stores.

On the radio, the single won the group fans; in the stores it won them capital, the consignment shops selling out of the discs received, paying the group cash, and requesting 300 more at a time, which the group provided using money from the sales—leveraging themselves up quickly, tier by tier. By February of 1993, Protect Ya Neck was a hit on DJ Kid Capri’s taste-making WBLS show. Nine months later, Loud Records released Enter the Wu-Tang, which sold 20,000 copies in one week. All the while the group’s members were in the process of restructuring the entire record business. Under RZA’s direction, each individual member signed a solo album deal with a different label, deriving multiple revenue streams for the group and spreading its influence throughout the industry.

In 1997, it took the group a mere six months to make their follow-up album, Wu-Tang Forever, which sold over two million copies worldwide and earned over $30 million in the first week of its release. It continues to be heard on playlists around the world.

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, on the other hand, took them six years to make. It will be owned and ultimately controlled solely by one person. Clearly, no other rap act has the distinct kind of credibility and resonance to merit this kind of breathtakingly bold presentation. If hip-hop music corresponds to art history, the Wu-Tang Clan are at once too vast and singular to fall into any school or movement, and too superlative to represent a single era. The sound is Modernist, their sonic architecture Baroque, and their representational technique High Renaissance. RZA’s brand of genius has always been a particularly broad and penetrating vision.

“If hip-hop music corresponds to art history, the Wu-Tang Clan are at once too vast and singular to fall into any school or movement.”

“It didn’t create something,” he says of his vision for the Wu-Tang Clan “It was already floating over the island, ready to take form. Kung-Fu flicks, hip-hop battles, the rap styles, the sound—all I had to do was connect them all.” Like Duchamp seeing deadly horizontal jaws in the hooks of a wall-mounted coat rack, RZA looked at what was in front of him and saw what no one else could see: “the illest MC team in history,” he says.

History is indeed the word. Even today, early works like Wu-Tang: Enter the 36 Chambers feel worm-holed from another civilization. Rigorously schooled by their elders in the historical, biological, and theological lessons from the Nation’s catechism-like Divine Lessons, as well as the Far Eastern myths and history driving the hundred-odd Kung-Fu films each member traded like samizdat, Wu-Tang clan vocalists were communing with ancient history as much as with their own era. They minted their own slang idiom and threw the names of ‘90s brands alongside geological terminology, creating a body of work that resonates with the otherworldly, deathlessness of recorded sound that has captivated scientists and scholarly listeners since the dawn of audio technology at the start of the 20th century. Guglielmo Marconi designed and used the device that transmitted the first radio message in 1903, and came to believe that mere technological improvements would allow him to hear the voice of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Two decades later, a writer for The Washington Post speculated that a radio might broadcast the voices of the dead, which simply vibrate at a lower frequency than those of the living. A person inhales, their breath fills their diaphragm, diaphragm resonates vocal chords, vocal chords stir a stylus, stylus traces a pattern analogous to the sound: an analog recording.

This new Wu-Tang Clan album offers the most fully-realized sonic mosaic not just of the group’s core members, but the constellation of singers, rappers, and other disciples delineating the Wu-Tang universe, including Sunz Of Man, Killarmy, and Gravediggaz. Punctuated by immersive audio microdramas, the album renders a palpable sense of time and space. It’s hard to imagine any single group whose music could fill two discs. Few artists, working in the sonic medium or otherwise, would attempt to commit to that next logical step, and do so in a method that is representative of the medium, the message, and the millennial backdrop.

These seeds were sown ten years ago in London, during RZA’s downtime from shooting a 2005 thriller with Clive Owen. While he worked on music at his flat, RZA took visits from his good friend, a leading international Killa Bee named Cilvaringz. At the time, the Moroccan producer and rapper was three years into a unique, apprentice-like relationship with the RZA. “I’d work with him whenever I could,” says the 35-year-old né Tarik Azzougarh. “Make beats, see how he produced. Pick up everything I could.”

Cilvaringz had won this privileged vantage through sheer passion and commitment: first by joining the Wu-Tang Clan on stage as a teenager at a 1997 concert in Amsterdam. There Cilvaringz first met RZA, instantly impressing with his freestyle verses. The two met again later in New York. “Something about the kid’s energy struck me,” RZA recalls. “So I decided to take him on as a student.”

When they reconvened in London during RZA’s filming, Cilvaringz found himself increasingly drawn to the sound that first called to him years ago, the one its creator had left behind. He tried to assay the transfigured night street sound on classic mid-‘90s Wu-Tang albums. “When he’d be off shooting, I’d just be going through his classic beats. It took me a long time to realize that most of his beats back then were spontaneous, and that he’d recognized it. He would leave mistakes in on purpose. A beat wouldn’t loop properly, the engineer’d say—‘Hey, this loop on Criminology isn’t working’—and he’d say, ‘Nah, just boost the bass, leave it in.’ That was his genius. That’s why no one else could make tracks like that. Everyone thought those beats were just an old soul sample with hard-hitting drums underneath, but that isn’t even close to what’s going on.”

By 2007, having traveled extensively together (including a Cilvaringz-RZA world tour to promote Cilvaringz’s solo work), the duo had developed a creative dialogue that went beyond mentor-protégé classification. Recognizing the rare relationship and opportunity, they decided to partner on creating an entire Wu-Tang album in the lineage of the group’s signature methodology. The two began a frequently-interrupted production that enlisted each Wu-Tang member when and where available. “I would send stuff back and forth to RZA and he would give his directions—‘Watch for this, change that, that arrangement isn’t good, that rapper don’t sound right on this song.’”

The result is more than a conventional album-length recording. “It was this document of a moment in life,” says Cilvaringz. “It was an attempt to recreate the Wu-Tang saga through the sound of each of those chambers, have the listener go through them one at a time. We had to get the guys to sound like they did in ’93 and ’97, hear them roar with that sound of Wu-Tang Forever and 36 Chambers, and yet make the sound of this album cohesive.”

“We had to get the guys to sound like they did in ’93 and ’97, hear them roar with that sound of Wu-Tang Forever and 36 Chambers.”

Even crafting instrumentals, the thinking was in narrative terms. “We knew what the ninth song was going to be before we recorded it. We knew how the painting would look. Obviously it changes, it adapts but that’s the core you start off with: to make a record that encapsulates the Wu-Tang Clan itself.” They began with a song title that would dictate a certain dynamic and ambiance, each song a chapter folding into a larger album-length storyline—a move straight from the Wu-Tang playbook. “For us, albums weren’t just an array of songs, but [read] like a film,” says the RZA. “Thirty-six Chambers to me was a movie. Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, Iron Man, Liquid Swords—to me, these are all audio movies.” Today, a RZA production like Raekwon’s album Only Built 4 Cuban Linx is justly considered both hip-hop benchmark and freestanding urban crime novel.

Perhaps the life experience that yielded such tales prepared this group for tectonic shifts in their own art form. As the new Wu-Tang album began forming, the industry around it dissolved. Within five years, the digitization of recorded music altered its monetary value to an extent that few could have imagined, bringing an assumption common to young listeners that music should simply be free. At the same time, Cilvaringz was exposed to a near opposite phenomenon in the confounding contemporary art world.

After meeting the London-based collector Vanessa Branson at a party in Morocco, Cilvaringz agreed to sign on as vice president of an upcoming Marrakech arts festival, since his status as citizen would smooth things with the government. He became the festival’s signatory, took on administrative duties, and got a bracing look at the difference between how the fine art and music businesses valued their stocks in trade. Aghast in 2007 at signing a €13,000 check for an installation comprising three flagpoles, by 2009 Cilvaringz was ensconced at the Marrakech Biennale with figures like artist Julian Schnabel, director John Boorman, sculptor Jimmy Boyle, and art-collecting movie-maker Danny Moynihan, who wrote the art world satire Boogie Woogie and candidly discussed the scene’s hypocrisies with Cilvaringz.

As a result of the conversations, Cilvaringz began intensively researching the career of Andy Warhol, and found an image online of his iconographic black Coca Cola bottle on white canvas—and its 60 million dollar price tag. Using the art world lens instantly magnified the questions that the music industry was wrestling with on its own. “That [was] the first time I asked myself: ‘Why and how are these artists valued at such a price?’ People like Dre or Kanye or RZA are geniuses in what they do, and their music is valued at 99 cents. No disrespect to Andy Warhol, Basquiat, Damien Hirst, or any other artists, but if you walk down the streets and ask people randomly, ‘Do you know Damien Hirst? Do you know Basquiat?’ they’ll say ‘Who?’ If you say, ‘Do you know Dr. Dre? Do you know Kanye?,’ they’ll say ‘Yeah.’”

“It’s not about impact, it’s about exclusivity,” Cilvaringz quickly realized. “It’s about singularity versus mass reproduction. Fine art can’t be uploaded and downloaded to get the exact same thing every time. When you stand in front of the Mona Lisa, it’s not the same as seeing a picture of it online. But music can be pressed off 10 million times and supposedly provide the real thing over and over and over.”

But just how real is this thing then? “You just can’t digitize the whole experience,” says Cilvaringz, whose profound study of ‘90s hip-hop prompted insights similar to those Walter Benjamin had in ‘30s Germany—on the effects of time, history, and medium on human sense perception. “Back in the day, when a record came out you lived with it for the whole summer, for the whole year. You lived with an album.” The shelf life of new music is fast approaching zero. “You look at album releases now and the promo leading up to the release is more interesting and intense than the music itself, because once the records are out, no one speaks about them again.”

This decade’s highest-caliber music artists have been drawn to the materiality of the medium, arguably the site of its greatest flux and meaning. Radiohead engaged with it as social activists, releasing the 2007 album In Rainbows online for a pay-what-you-like fee to download, akin to how city art museums charge for admission. Beck, grandson of the Fluxus artist Al Hansen, explored a more radical regression: he released the twenty songs of his twelfth album, 2012’s Song Reader, solely in sheet music form: rock’s premiere sampler-mad Postmodernist engaging the pop form before recorded sound.

“You look at those moments and realize nobody was talking about the music. Does it sound good? Is it good? People only talked about the approach it took as a release.” Hip-hop’s headline-grabbing releases—like Nipsey Hussle’s $100 mixtape or Jay Z’s free-to-Samsung-owners Magna Carta Holy Grail—were merely commercial strategies with deft choreography of media platforms.

By 2013, the Wu-Tang Clan were “sitting on an album,” says Cilvaringz, “that sounds dope, that a lot of time and effort went into and that needed a different trajectory.” This album would perform on all the levels that distinguished recent innovative releases, but add a profound, more daring twist: “While everyone’s trying to sell the most records to the most people, we’ll try to sell the least.”

When in 1998, Ol’ Dirty Bastard commandeered the Grammy Awards show’s podium to declare “Wu-Tang is for the children,” he was actually sharing the group’s core philosophy. The sense of mission that drove Once Upon A Time In Shaolin to its final, surprising chapter came from just this sense of time. “[In the music scene today], people give six years of their life to creating a moment and now it gets sold online for parts,” says Cilvaringz. “For once, we want the artist and not the market to decide what music is worth.”

Commending one of their best and most comprehensive albums in history, the Wu-Tang Clan made a very real sacrifice to the larger cause. “People don’t have the bond they once did with music,” says Cilvaringz. “With the physicality of it, with the experience, musicians no longer see any reason to make the effort. They no longer see themselves as artists. It’s that experiential value, the spiritual value of music—that’s what we want to preserve.”

“Elevate myself to a higher point of energy
my supreme talent is to restore balance.”
Masta Killa
Excerpt from the new album

“Game of thrones, blood, get your name known, the ruthless ones, kill and display your bones, high on my horse, my swords seen many wars, fought off demons, dragons and minotaurs”

Inspectah Deck
Excerpt from the new album
A Conversation with RZA & Cilvaringz
The work’s architects sit down with Paddle8.

On March 26, 2014, the Wu-Tang Clan announced they would be releasing just one copy of their forthcoming album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. Arguing that music had been economically and experientially devalued in a world of streaming and data consumption, the Clan stepped to the fore with a radical new concept. If society was prepared to let the art of music ebb away into convenient consumerism, they would use their final album to wrest profound engagement back to the core of musical experience. There would be only one incarnation, and it would remain a unique piece of artistry, creativity, and craftsmanship.

Can you give us a status update on the album, for the record? Recent months were shrouded in secrecy.
RZA: It’s been an interesting time since the initial announcement. While the debate was ongoing in the public arena, we were having an intriguing series of talks in private with a variety of auction houses and art experts, and also lawyers, publishers and music executives. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin didn’t conform to either music industry or art world conventions, and no one could define it within an existing framework. Ultimately, it was writing its own rules and dictating its own destiny, but we couldn’t maintain a running public face to that process purely for the sake of headlines.

There’s been interest from commercial parties as well as private collectors. How do you feel about someone wanting to release it?
CILVARINGZ: We initially wanted the buyer to do whatever they wanted with it. But when we realized how much commercial interest there was, we began to understand that allowing it to play out in that way would undermine its trajectory as an artwork, even if no amount of replication could touch the original. We felt that retail commercialization and mass replication would dilute the status of the album as a one-off work of art and compromise the integrity of our statement.

RZA: When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it. Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you’re the sole owner of a unique original. And that’s what Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is. It’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album.

CILVARINGZ: We thought long and hard about whether to defy art world conventions and transfer all rights to public release to the buyer. But we genuinely felt that a swift public release after such a radical concept would neutralize the statement we are making. So we decided that the right to release the album would be transferred only after 88 years have passed.

Why 88 years?
RZA: Anyone who knows the Wu-Tang Clan knows we often apply numerology, mathematics and symbolism to the things we do. There were 8 original members of the Clan when we made Protect Ya Neck and M.E.T.H.O.D Man. The individual numbers of this year also add up to the number 8. The broker of this work carries the number 8 in its name. The number 8 on its side is a symbol of infinity, as it was used on our album Wu-Tang Forever. You can call it mathematical coincidence, but it’s always had great symbolic significance for us. For us it also addresses the issue of music’s longevity in a time of mass production and short attention spans. Nothing about this record revolves around short-term gains, but rather around the legacy of the music and the statement we’re making.

So you feel the extreme nature of this work is the only way to make a lasting point?
RZA: Art is extreme. For art to change the way people think, it has to come from an extreme place. No monumental change ever started with a compromise or a small shift. It starts extreme. Once the impact is felt, then we can see about compromises, but that first statement has to hit home.

“Art is extreme. For art to change the way people think, it has to come from an extreme place.”

What about a scenario where a philanthropist buys the album and releases it for free?
RZA: It would be a possibility. But bearing in mind the investment the owner would be making, we consider it unlikely.

Some argue that the single-copy concept lays itself open to accusations of elitism. Why should only one person be able to own this, to the exclusion of others?
RZA: The end goal is actually the exact opposite of elitism. Yes, the album in itself will only be owned by someone who can afford it. Only one man can hold the scepter. But look beyond the prize and prestige of owning this album and focus on the statement it carries and you’ll see that we’re trying to re-attach values to music for the benefit of all kinds of musicians. We released A Better Tomorrow which is for all of our fans, but we created Once Upon a Time in Shaolin for a different purpose. I planned for the two records to balance each other.

CILVARINGZ: When recorded music loses its monetary value, it’s the little guy who suffers most. Artists at the top of the tree have other potential revenue streams. They can tour, they can license, synchronize, and diversify into fashion or film. But an independent musician starting out has none of those options. He needs the thousand copies of his album to be worth something. Recorded music is the work of art.

RZA: Exactly—and if recorded music is worthless, the independent artist can’t make a living. He has no space to meditate and create and is forced to stop making music to be able to eat. And that leaves music in the hands of corporations who work to a formula and in the hands of people who’ve already made it. Like we said, this is about the big picture; limiting the album to one copy will not immediately re-attach value to all recorded music, but the debate that our approach has sparked might eventually lead to a change in the perception, value and appreciation of music as a work of art, and that is why we feel the sacrifice is worth it.

CILVARINGZ: Profound experience requires investment—of time, money, passion, emotion. We always treasure the things we had to work for or commit to more than the things that are a click away. I still remember the albums I had to queue up to buy with my hard earned money—the process of investing in it deepened the experience of listening to it. And that is the other critical point here—questioning whether universal accessibility has diminished the way we experience music.

So why would someone want to own something like this for millions of dollars?
RZA: This is not something you should want to own because of the price tag, but because it’s a fingerprint, like a strand of DNA—it stands alone. It’s a piece of history, and the seal to a legacy. The buyer would be the only person in the world to possess a historic, unheard and never to be released Wu-Tang Clan album. Not a single copy or backup of this work exists—neither I nor any Clan member has a copy. There is only one.

You say “seal to a legacy”: does that mean there will be no more Wu-Tang Clan albums?

RZA: Destiny bends, but it feels almost certain that Once Upon A Time In Shaolin will be the final Wu-Tang Clan album.

What is the relationship between Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and A Better Tomorrow?
RZA: They are two completely different concepts—both musically and in the way we introduced them to the world. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is classic Wu, and was designed to be a standalone work that encapsulates our history. A Better Tomorrow is all about the future—new horizons and a new sound. The two together unite history and future, yin and yang. Looking back over 21 years, it was important to unify those two strands of our identity within the two albums, but they remain two totally different ideas and two different sounds.

Tell us a little about the actual music on Once Upon A Time In Shaolin and the philosophy behind it.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is classic Wu, and was designed to be a standalone work that encapsulates our history.”

RZA: Musically, this album takes the listener on a journey back to the chambers we were going through in the ‘90s. Not so much lyrically as musically, as brothers are living a different reality to then. But this record was produced in that fashion, it sounds different from anything that’s out today. It was about tracing and re-living certain origins. If you listen to the intro of "Clan In The Front" on the 36 Chambers album, you’ll hear me shout out the entire original Wu-Tang movement. We rolled real deep back then and I invited some of those brothers on a few skits and tracks. It made the period concept of the recordings more authentic.

CILVARINGZ: I would say the album is an incredible experience. It’s not an album you just listen to or hear but rather something you experience. We decided very early on that we wouldn’t let any industry standards such as radio or song lengths affect production. We simply let the songs dictate what they wanted to become. Sonically it’s that gritty, raw, melodic, eerie, dark, Wu-Tang shit you fell in love with as a fan. Hence the title, because once upon a time in Shaolin, it sounded like this.

Finally, what’s the status on the exhibition tour?
RZA: We’ve had a great response from museums, galleries and art funds from around the world and we had begun planning a series of dates.

But after preliminary discussions with interested collectors and galleries, we realised that there were significant concerns. With retail commercialization not an option, we felt we could only allow the album to move into an exhibition phase after consultation and discussion with the eventual owner. That seemed like the only fair thing to do, rather than play it all over the world and limit their options. This way it would be his choice to either share it with the world or keep it totally private.

“Witty Unpredictable Terminating Assassins, Neverending Gore,
torture from the blasting.”
Excerpt from the new album

“Hood down, Timberland shoe strings Doc, getting bombed like the Husseins”

Excerpt from the new album
The Album
An unparalleled two-hour sonic experience from the Wu-Tang Clan.
About the Album

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is a new work that serves as a retrospective soundscape, one that threads 31 songs, skits, and stories into a 128 minute-long aural screenplay. Recorded in part in the Wu-Tang Clan's home enclave of Staten Island, New York, the album marks a return to "Shaolin" not only geographically, but sonically and symbolically too.

Weaving a now highly dispersed ensemble of MCs into a compelling narrative plotted and played out over a course of years, the work features appearances from long-time Wu-Tang collaborators like Redman, and members of an extended brethren including Killarmy and Sunz of Man, with the familiar scene-setting of long-time backing vocalists Tekitha and Blue Raspberry

With a cinematic narrative (mixed especially to be experienced via immersive, studio listening) in the inimitable Wu-Tang vernacular, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is from start to finish—from execution through distribution—both a work of art and an audio artifact. “Musicians have long insisted their work ought to be treated like any other piece of fine art,” noted Time. “Now, the Wu-Tang Clan is putting its money where its mouth is to back up that assertion.”

A sonic sculpture (complete with custom-carved nickel silver casing) built emphatically against the grain of current musical standards of appreciation, the result demands a closer listen and reimagines the musical experience against the backdrop and confines of contemporary culture. As The Independent observes, “A challenge to the increasing disposability of music in the digital era, the album will be owned by just one person, and only heard by a few.”

Once Upon A Time In Shaolin is available for purchase and ownership by one individual only. It is presented in a hand-carved nickel-silver box and accompanied by a 174-page manuscript containing lyrics, credits, and anecdotes on the production of each song, printed on gilded Fedrigoni Marina parchment and encased in leather by a master bookbinder. For more images of the work, please visit scluzay.com.

The seller of this Artwork will provide the Buyer with a Certificate of Authenticity for the Artwork at the time the Artwork is delivered to the Buyer. The Buyer’s right of ownership of the Artwork and its content is for private use only. The Buyer acquires full public and commercial rights in the Artwork eighty eight (88) years from the date of sale. The seller has agreed, as a condition of the sale, not to ever release any of the content on the Artwork in any form, format, channel, medium or manner (including, print, disk, tape, electronic or virtual) to the public. This Artwork is offered for sale without copyright, broadcast rights, performers consents, and other reproduction rights. The Buyer must apply to the relevant parties to obtain such clearance and consents as may be necessary.

Track Listing
Once Upon A Time In Shaolin

While the Wu-Tang Clan will retain the actual track listing and song titles of the album exclusively for the buyer, they have released a track listing of the working titles they used during the recordings, to prevent leaks. The actual song titles as they stand now, are said to be completely different and will, like the music, remain secret.

Shaolin School
  1. Entrance (Intro) 1:57
  2. Rivals 4:12
  3. Staple Town Pt.1 (Interlude) 0:44
  4. Ethiopia 7:55
  5. Handkerchief 0:49
  6. Staple Town Pt.2 (Interlude) 1:10
  7. The Pillage of '88 6:52
  8. Centipedes 7:14
  9. The Widow's Tear 3:55
  10. Sorrow 5:45
  11. The Shogun 4:40
  12. Blue [Interlude] 0:55
  13. Semi Automatic Full Rap Fanatics 1:56
  14. Staple Town Pt.3 (Interlude) 3:30
  15. The Rain 7:16
Allah School
  1. Sustenance (Intro) 0:43
  2. Lions 6:08
  3. Since Time Immemorial 2:32
  4. The Slaughter Mill 6:31
  5. The Brute 3:24
  6. Iqra 7:23
  7. Flowers 5:49
  8. Poisoned Earth 4:34
  9. Shaolin 6:14
  10. Freedom [Interlude] 2:25
  11. The Sword Chamber 4:05
  12. Unique 2:32
  13. The Bloody Page 5:09
  14. The Saga Continuous 6:58
  15. Salaam (Outro) 1:31
  16. Shaolin Soul [Exit] 3:41