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Where Can You Listen to the World’s Most Expensive Work of Music?

Margaret Lipman
Published Jun 11, 2024
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The world’s most expensive musical work is an album recorded by the American hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan between 2007 and 2013. Only one physical copy was ever made of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, the group's seventh studio album, with no option to stream or download the music digitally. However, later this month, the exceedingly rare 31-track album will be displayed at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania, and museumgoers will be able to listen to a shortened version. This marks the first time the album has been loaned to a museum for the public to hear.

Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was recorded in secret and the single physical copy was auctioned in 2015 under several specific conditions. A legal agreement stipulated that the album could not be used commercially for 88 years, until 2103. However, the album was allowed to be played at listening parties, and in 2015, a 13-minute excerpt was played to around 150 people at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. The secrecy surrounding the album was an intentional statement about the value of music in the modern age and the impact of streaming and piracy on this art form. Wu-Tang Clan member RZA stated that he wanted Once Upon a Time in Shaolin to be regarded as a piece of contemporary art, and the album itself is packaged in an ornate, hand-crafted silver box.

The story of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin gets even stranger. In 2015, the now-disgraced entrepreneur Martin Shkreli bought the album at auction for $2 million. A controversial figure, Shkreli was the CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, and later that year, he abruptly hiked the price of Daraprim (pyrimethamine), a drug used in the treatment of both HIV/AIDS and parasitic diseases, from $13.50 to $750 per pill. In 2017, Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud and sentenced in 2018 to seven years in federal prison. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was seized along with other assets by the court, including a Picasso painting and an unreleased Lil Wayne album.

In 2021, the US Department of Justice sold the album to PleasrDAO, a group of non-fungible token (NFT) collectors, for a reported $4 million. They are now loaning Once Upon a Time in Shaolin to MONA for its upcoming exhibition Namedropping. A 30-minute medley from the album will be played for the public from June 15 to 24 at free events, though tickets are very limited.

An album shrouded in mystery:

  • *Once Upon a Time in Shaolin features music from all surviving members of Wu-Tang Clan and reportedly also includes two appearances by Cher.

  • *RZA has stated that the decision to prohibit commercial use of the album for 88 years was inspired by the eight original members of the hip-hop group and the fact that the numbers of the year 2015, when the album was released, add up to eight.

  • *While in possession of the album, Martin Shkreli streamed excerpts online when Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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