The Wu-Tang Clan’s latest—and perhaps last—collective musical endeavor has been six years in the making, will be sold exclusively to one (very wealthy) buyer, and will only be released commercially after 88 years. Anyone reading this now will likely never see that day. Why such extremes? “Art is extreme,” group leader RZA says. “For art to change the way people think, it has to come from an extreme place.”

The 31-track double album, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, will be released as a single copy. There will be no back-ups—digital or otherwise. Not even the Clan members themselves will have a copy. Wu-Tang will sell the album through New York online auction house Paddle8, whose investors include Damien Hirst and the Mellon family. The album, which will come encased in a hand carved silver and nickel box made by British-Moroccan artist Yahya, is expected to sell for millions.

Adding to the album’s intrigue is Wu-Tang’s announcement earlier this month that commercial release of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin will have to wait 88 years. After that time, the copyright on the album, including both public and commercial rights, will transfer to the album’s owner. At that point, it will be the owner’s choice whether or not to release it.

Perhaps these cloak and dagger tactics are as much of a gimmick as the unannounced release of Beyoncé’s self-titled album in 2013, which shocked the Twittersphere and generated 1.2 million tweets in just 12 hours. For one thing, the 88-year hold on the album’s commercial release is not really a game-changer—at least not from a legal perspective. Music consumers, whether Swifties or Beliebers, are already prohibited under copyright law from making and distributing copies of the albums they buy. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is no different, except in the sense that the Wu-Tang Clan is exerting a lot more control over the release by choosing to make and sell only one copy. In the meantime, the group will create vast publicity and make millions, and you won’t be able to listen to the album (which, by the way, features Cher).

Still, Wu-Tang has a message. Its members (aside from Method Man, who apparently thinks this idea is “stupid”) want the album to be seen as a rare piece of art, just like the works of a revered visual artist. “When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you are buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it,” RZA explained. “Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you are the sole owner of a unique original. And that’s what Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is – it’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album.”

For all the plebs out there who can’t afford to buy the album’s single copy, there is consolation: here’s a 51-second snippet of the album, yours for free.

Kate Dutcher

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