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Wu-Tang's One Copy Album: Can Art Hype and Collectors' Items Teach Music's Value?

Box-of-wu"The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin..." is the first piece of a larger experiment (yes, bigger than Wu-Tang) that references high art market practices as an inspiration for the ultimate Wu-Tang collectors' item. The double album includes numerous members of the Wu-Tang Clan, production and inspiration from Moroccan-based Wu-Tang affiliate Tarik "Cilvaringz" Azzougarh and the leadership of RZA presented in the form of an elegantly packaged single copy album. But will it change our understanding of the value of music? I don't think so.

"The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin..."

"The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin..." is explained on a site named "ezclziv scluzay." It includes this "Edictum":

Wu-Tang producers Cilvaringz and The RZA present the first ever private music album.

The music will only ever have one incarnation.

It will not be made available digitally or in any other existing mass format.

After touring the album at festivals, museums, exhibition spaces and galleries for the public as a one off experience, it will be sold exclusively to one buyer.

The music industry is in crisis. Creativity has become disposable and value has been stripped out.

Mass production and content saturation have devalued both our experience of music and our ability to establish its value.

Industrial production and digital reproduction have failed. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero.

Contemporary art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity.

This album is a piece of contemporary art.

The debate starts here...

There's more on the site but Zack O'Malley Greenburg has the full story and more about the odd mix of influences at work.

The Basic Concept

Basically Wu-Tang recorded a double album, people only get to hear it in art and festival settings for a high-priced ticket fee with various security measures to avoid leaks and then the album will be made available in one limited edition release in a container created by Yahya.

RZA states:

"We’re about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before...We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king."

The best part is the one-of-a-kind element and the "scepter of an Egyptian king" metaphor. That's what speaks to a serious collector that loves Wu-Tang and that's what this is about as a final object.

Hold On Now: Monetary Worth Does Not Define The Value of Music

But RZA and Cilvaringz want more than that. Says RZA:

"The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years...And yet its [sic] doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.”"

So here's where they lose me though I certainly understand the argument.

You can't compare apples and oranges. The visual art market and the market for music are two different things. Both sell art but in different forms and with different histories. Such direct comparisons are meaningless though there's nothing wrong with taking inspiration from the way one market works and seeing how it applies in another market. That's sometimes quite profitable.

But if you maintain that the value of music is defined by what it brings in the marketplace then you are the one devaluing music.

Music is so deeply a part of human culture and existence, in fact music helps define such concepts, that if you can only state its value in terms of money then you are lost from the deeper realms you claim to represent.

Can't have it both ways.

Which is not to say that art and money are mutually exclusive. I never said that.

But Selling Exclusive Items To Rich People Sounds Interesting

What is interesting in a business sense here, beyond the outstanding collector's item aspect, is that "The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shaolin..." is the first of a series of such items. After referencing RZA's creation of the "Wu-Tang Deal", a statement from Cilvaringz & The RZA reveals:

"Now 21 years later a new approach is introduced, one where the pride and joy of sharing music with the masses is sacrificed for the benefit of reviving music as a valuable art and inspiring debate about its future among musicians, fans and the industry that drives it."

"Simultaneously, it launches the private music branch as a new luxury business model for those able to commission musicians to create songs or albums for private collections. It is a fascinating melting pot of art, luxury, revolution and inspiration. It’s welcoming people to an old world."

AKA let's sell incredibly exclusive things to rich people.

I get it.

[Thumbnail image: detail of "The Wu - Once Upon A Time In Shaolin..."]

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Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/Facebook) is currently relaunching All World Dance. To suggest topics about music tech, DIY music biz or music marketing for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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