Ashley Dean
Ashley Dean

If you'd pay millions of dollars for a painting, why not music?

That's essentially the idea driving Wu-Tang Clan's decision to release just one physical copy of a new record, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. According to an announcement last week, the 31-track album was recorded in secret over a few years.

In an interview with Billboard, RZA said, "The main theme is music being accepted and respected as art and being treated as such. If something is rare, it's rare. You cannot get another."

He also said that there have already been offers. The highest is $5 million.

It's hard not to agree with him reflexively, on principle. Music is art, and if, like a painting, there's only one piece of that art, it should be worth a lot more money.

But, then again, this seems pretty contrived. It's one thing when a rare vinyl record goes for a high price. That scarcity is unintentional. Music is a medium that has long been made for mass distribution. Think about it that way, and limiting a record to one copy with a seven-figure price tag seems like a dickish way to make a point.

Consider this, though, too: Before selling the sole copy, Wu-Tang will tour the record through festivals, museums, galleries and other spaces. Audiences will be able to pay to hear the thing straight through.


On a website dedicated to the record, the group explains more.

"History demonstrates that great musicians such as Beethoven, Mozart and Bach are held in the same high esteem as figures like Picasso, Michelangelo and Van Gogh. However, the creative output of today's artists such as The RZA, Kanye West or Dr. Dre, is not valued equally to that of artists like Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst or Jean-Michel Basquiat. Is exclusivity versus mass replication really the 50 million dollar difference between a microphone and a paintbrush? Is contemporary art overvalued in an exclusive market, or are musicians undervalued in a profoundly saturated market?"

Technology, they say, has contributed to the devaluation of music. It's an excellent point. But if the price of rarity in the contemporary art world is something to sneer at, what does it mean to play the same game with a record?

Maybe. This is still pretty fantastic. I'm on board. Even with an outrageous amount of disposable income, I doubt I'd buy it. Then again, if it absolutely blew me away at a listening, I might whip out the plastic.

I also doubt this will change much. It's a hell of a statement, though, and as that website says, "It's welcoming people to a new world."

Oh, and it features FC Barcelona players. Make of that what you will.

Contact Ashley Dean at 303-473-1109. On Twitter: @AshaleyJill.