Wu-Tang are getting set to release a new album ‘The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ as a limited edition of one, complete with engraved silver presentation box. The intended asking price to be paid by the eventual lucky owner? Somewhere “in the millions”.
The album, in many ways, is a think piece; intended as a way of transforming the way music is consumed, bringing it away from mass production and taking it into the realms of visual art. There’s a long history, of course, of discussing the difference between the presentation of visual art and the presentation of mass cultural products like popular music. Most famously, perhaps, is Walter Benjamin’s discussion of the loss of aura in art through mechanical reproduction. Benjamin argued that by copying an art work for wider distribution the unique qualities of the work are diminished and this reduces its sense of authority and impact. Of course, when ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin’ is considered, the impact stems not from the music itself (though we’re sure it’ll be pretty special) but from the concept itself, and there’s the problem.
This isn’t about an album, or a shiny box it’s kept in. It is about a concept carried out by people who have the authority in their name to charge multi-million dollars for what to all intents and purposes would normally be considered a high quality dubplate. If Wu-Tang pull this off and succeed in touring this album in museums and galleries like they hope, and then manage to sell it for whatever price they name, they’ll have done so because of their success in mass producing their brand around the world.