‘Off its head’: Australians react to hearing only copy of Wu-Tang’s fabled album

Tyler Mitchell By Tyler Mitchell Jun13,2024
Key Points
  • The seventh studio album from hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan will be exhibited and played to a lucky few in Tasmania.
  • There is only one copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin in the world and almost no one has heard it.
  • It will be played for around 500 people at the Museum of Old and New Art.
It’s one of the world’s most well-known albums, that almost no one has heard — but around 500 new names will be added to the exclusive list in the coming 10 days.
For the first time since its original sale, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the seventh studio album from , will be exhibited to the public and played for a lucky few, at Tasmania’s Museum of Old and New Art.
“My understanding is we will have — across our individual sessions — more people than have heard it before,” MONA’s director of curatorial affairs, Jarrod Rawlins told SBS.

“We’ll have around 500 people by the time we finish these sessions.”

A man wearing glasses pose for a photo

Tight security measures will be in place at the playing of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, MONA’s director of curatorial affairs Jarrod Rawlins says. Source: SBS News / Kerrin Thomas

About a year’s work went into planning for the album’s transport to MONA and the listening sessions.

“The temptation for somebody to want to record this is obviously very high, so we need to ensure we’re happy with the screening process when people go in,” Rawlins said.

It’s part of an exhibit called Namedropping, which will run for 10 months and examines the concept of status.

How have people reacted?

MONA visitor Hermit Kovacic told SBS News hearing the album was “Amazing, actually hectic.”
“The production was off its head, classic Wu-Tang, sounded like 1993 to 2000.

I said before going in, I had no expectations but that was top tier. It felt like an evolution of all my favourite Wu-Tang stuff. I hope lots of people get to hear it one day.”


Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin will be part of an exhibit called Namedropping at MONA in Tasmania. Source: SBS News / Kerrin Thomas

A couple in Wu-Tang merchandise said it was “everything they hoped for and more.”

“It was classic but then it was emotive, and there were some funky tunes in there, it was very eclectic.

“To be able to do this for free was pretty insane. There were tears coming through but I held them all back.”

What’s the history of the album?

Recorded in secret over six years, a single copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was made and auctioned, with a legal agreement in place preventing the album being commercially exploited until 2103 — 79 years from now.
— who reportedly bought it for US$2 million ($3 million) before it was seized by the US Department of Justice when he was convicted of securities fraud.
Six men standing in a row posing for a picture

Wu-Tang Clan pictured in 2000. The group formed in New York in 1992. Source: Getty / Al Pereira/Michael Ochs Archives

It was then sold to PleasrDAO, a group of non-fungible token collectors, for a reported US$4 million ($6 million).

In recent days Pleasr has taken legal action against the former owner, accusing him of illegally making and distributing copies of the album.

The group is now selling partial ownership of the record for $1 — those who pay get access to a sample of the album and each purchase moves the 2103 release date forward by 88 seconds.

Thousands sought tickets

Wu-Tang Clan fan and PhD student at the University of Tasmania’s Conservatorium of Music, Nick van Ommen-Brown has been a fan of the group for more than a decade and says the importance of the record has only grown with time.
“At the time streaming wasn’t quite as big as it is now … now I think it’s probably more relevant as streaming has taken over the world in terms of the way music’s consumed,” he said.
“Something like this where there’s only one copy in the world, it seems important.”

He’s on a waitlist for tickets which stretches to about 5,000.

About half of the tickets went to Tasmanians with others coming from far and wide to hear the 30-minute curation of the album.
“We’ve got people coming from lots of different countries in the northern hemisphere, from every state of Australia, we’ve got people coming from New Zealand,” Rawlins said.
The listening events will take place in Frying Pan Studios — MONA’s on-site recording studio — which contains a console once used at Abbey Road Studios in London by the likes of The Beatles, Pink Floyd and The White Stripes.

“It’s a great coincidence — if it even is a coincidence — that we’ve got these two special moments in music in MONA in this wonderful studio,” Rawlins said.

A man in front of music studio equipment

Nick van Ommen-Brown has been a fan of Wu-Tang Clan for more than a decade. Source: SBS News / Kerrin Thomas

“It was a bit of fun to be able to have this Wu-Tang CD that’s so mysterious with something like an Abbey Road desk which is equally as mysterious but in a different way.”

To play Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, MONA has sourced speakers best-suited to CD playback.

“We thought about using headphones because that makes security a lot easier but we don’t like doing things the easy way here so we’re going to do it the hard way and we’re going to play it on speakers in the rooms,” Rawlins said.

Tyler Mitchell

By Tyler Mitchell

Tyler is a renowned journalist with years of experience covering a wide range of topics including politics, entertainment, and technology. His insightful analysis and compelling storytelling have made him a trusted source for breaking news and expert commentary.

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