The fascinating story of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, Wu-Tang Clan’s seventh studio album and inspiringly presented art project, continued earlier this month when the new owners of the one-of-a-kind piece came forward. Now, RZA is reflecting on the original creative impetus behind the project, as well as what’s next. Of course, some unavoidable Martin Shkreli mentions are also included in the recent Hot 97 interview.
“The idea was to make something that was unique, that had a value of its own,” RZA said around five minutes into the discussion when asked to detail the group’s “mindset” at the time. “We actually, when we let it go, the quote that came out of my head was like, ‘Yo. This thing is going to have a life of its own, like a child.’”
In the years since the 2015 auction, RZA added, the album has done “exactly that.” Shifting to how he feels about the project now, including the controversy surrounding previous owner Shkreli, the Wu-Tang: An American Saga executive producer opened up about the complicated nature of that facet of the project’s existence.
“No disrespect to Martin Shkreli because I don’t ever knock somebody who, you know, when somebody buys something they buy something, right?” he said around the 6:30 mark. “But it was in the wrong hands, in all reality. He made the deal before it was revealed of his character, his personality, and all the insidious things he would go on to do. That wasn’t the guy I met but he definitely unfolded into that guy and he had control of this one-of-a-kind piece of art.”
RZA then reiterated that the project temporarily fell into the “wrong hands” before conceding, ultimately, that a sale is a sale.
“Everybody’s got a right to buy something that’s for sale,” he said. “But now I think it’s in the right hands.”
More recently, RZA said, he’s spoken with the people at PleasrDAO—who bought the project from the federal government after it was seized from Shkreli—and there is definitely more of a “moral Wu vibe” present. As for what this means in terms of the album’s future, including the possibility of museum-inspired listening events, RZA expressed optimism about being able to tap back into “a lot of beautiful ideas” that were originally meant to be part of the rollout before the Shkreli drama intervened.
“Those ideas were not going to be able to happen with Mr. Shkreli and now that PleasrDAO has it, there’s an opportunity [for] a lot of these beautiful ideas and what this art can be and how it can expand itself in the world and its own life itself,” he said around the 8:19 mark. “I think the possibilities are there now.”
Deeper into the interview, RZA is asked again about the possibility of listening events being held for the general public, prompting the artist to briefly explain how the original vision for the project included treating it like, for example, a Leonardo da Vinci painting.
“It would travel its route through museums or special locations that you could [visit] but there’s stipulations on that,” RZA said.
Catch RZA speaking a bit more on Shaolin, as well as the future of An American Saga, up top. And for a breakdown of the album’s inventive release strategy, click here.