New York City hardcore rap group Wu-Tang Clan will be making music history with their new LP Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The double disc album consisting of 31 tracks will only have one copy and is planned to be the first private album in history, planned to pass around exhibitions before being sold to a collector.
Work on the album began two years ago in secret. The sound is said to stay true to the original style of their early days in the 90s with its gritty, hardcore beats. All eight of the surviving Wu-Tang Clan members – RZA, GZA, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, Masta Killa, U-God, Inspectah Deck, and Method Man – will appear on it.
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin will be encased inside an engraved nickel and silver box created by Yahya, a British-Moroccan artist, completely transforming it into a piece of art. The album will not be on the Internet or on iTunes. The plan, according to member RZA and producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzougarh, is to have it passed through museums, festivals and galleries, where visitors will pay to listen to the album with headphones provided by the venue. Of course there will be heavy security to ensure there is no illegal recording.
The concept thus is entirely dependent on secrecy and not getting it in the wrong hands, one leak will ruin it all. Wu-Tang Clan has said they do not care about flopping or being ridiculed, as the core idea of why they are making the first private album in history is worth the risk. That core idea, according to the project’s website, is to take a “400-year-old Renaissance-style approach,” where music is a commodity that is commissioned, going from the first stage of “creation to exhibition to sale.” Wu-Tang’s goal is to raise awareness and bring to the forefront discussions of music and its future. In particular, they want to keep the music album surviving, while inspiring “creation, originality and debate.” Moreover, Forbes quotes RZA as saying that music has not received the same treatment as art in regards to how it is looked at in its value; it has been “diminished” to a point where sometimes it is given away for free.
To put it into perspective, as stated on the project’s website, Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart were held in the same high esteem as visual artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, and Michelangelo. Fast forward to today and musicians such as Kanye West or Dr. Dre are not valued in the same light as Damien Hirst or Andy Warhol. With the album they want to give music a weight equal to a sculpture.
What is interesting is that music is an art that is meant to be shared. Anyone can access music from legendary composers such as Bach and Beethoven. On the other hand, the idea of visual art is different, it is not something that can be passed around, thus why there are art galleries. Moreover, to become a legend requires time and 100 years from now, musicians such as Kanye West and Dr. Dre could very well be held in the same esteem as Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst. Certainly, bands and musicians from the 1900s have begun to, if not already, reach that type of legendary status. The goal of Wu-Tang Clan of making their album the first private piece of art certainly takes the idea of music to a whole different level and in ways it does emphasize the value of music as an art. On the other hand, trying to give it the same weight as a sculpture or painting is not really viable and realistic considering their differences.
Opinion By Kollin Lore