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US Government Sells One-Of-A-Kind Wu-Tang Album

Rashaad Patterson/Paddle8
The album once certified as the most valuable in the world has a new owner.

“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” a 31-track effort by the Wu-Tang Clan that has gained near-mythic status was sold by the United States government recently to satisfy the remaining balance of the $7.4 million forfeiture order owed by its previous owner hedge fund manager and pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli.

Shkreli, more popularly known by the “Pharma Bro” nickname he gained while on a run that included hiking prices of a life-saving drug 5,000 percent, playing online supervillain, and purchasing the one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Album for $2 million at auction — was convicted on two counts of security fraud and one count of securities fraud conspiracy in August 2017 and sentenced to seven years in prison. The 38-year-old was also ordered to pay the debt, which had a remaining balance of around $2.4 million at the time of the sale due to sell-offs of other assets. 

Due to a confidentiality provision in the contract that protects information relating to the buyer and price, the exact number may never be known but Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, stated it was at least enough to pay out what was owed in a Department of Justice (DOJ) press release.

“Through the diligent and persistent efforts of this Office and its law enforcement partners, Shkreli has been held accountable and paid the price for lying and stealing from investors to enrich himself.  With today’s sale of this one-of-a-kind album, his payment of the forfeiture is now complete,” Kasulis said.

It was the end of an infamous era in music history that began in 2015 when Wu-Tang mastermind, RZA, decided the group's seventh studio effort would be limited to one single copy in an effort to return music to the value of fine art, writing on a website at the time:

The music industry is in crisis. The intrinsic value of music has been reduced to zero. Contemporary art is worth millions by virtue of its exclusivity ... By adopting a 400 year old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity and allowing it to take a similar trajectory from creation to exhibition to sale ... we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music.

The DOJ release states that at the time Shkreli purchased the Album in 2015, it was marketed as “both a work of art and an audio artifact and that it includes a hand-carved nickel-silver box as well as a leather-bound manuscript containing lyrics and a certificate of authenticity. It also noted that “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” which Shkreli attempted to sell online weeks after his conviction before the court-imposed forfeiture, is subject to various restrictions, including those relating to the duplication of its sound recordings. 

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