The US government claims that the price it got for the legendary sole copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is a “trade secret” that cannot be revealed, according to documents obtained by BuzzFeed News.
The album was originally purchased for about $2 million by pharmaceutical executive and hedge fund manager Martin Shkreli in 2015. When he was convicted of securities fraud in 2018 and ordered to forfeit $7.36 million, US marshals seized the album along with other assets.
Last July, the Justice Department announced it had found a buyer for the album but didn’t identify the individual or the price. The New York Times reported that Peter Scoolidge, representing the digital art collective PleasrDAO, paid the US government $4 million. The documents say that the new buyers assume the same terms of Shkreli’s purchase agreement. The new buyers may display the presentation box, which was designed by British Moroccan artist Yahya Rouach, and they “shall have the right to sell and/or exhibit the Box embedded with the Wu-Tang Clan logo.” They are prohibited from making copies of the album.
According to a copy of the five-page purchase agreement, the album was sealed with “tamper-proof evidence tape” and delivered to the new owners “in that state.”
The new documents, which were obtained through a freedom of information request, include more than a dozen previously undisclosed photographs of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, which was released on two CDs and contains 20 songs. The album is held in a nickel silver box stored in a cedarwood box and covered in black cow leather with light beige velvet lining. It also includes a 175-page leather-bound lyric book and a certificate of authenticity. The government redacted images of the CDs.
Wu-Tang Clan said the choice to produce only one copy of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was a form of protest of the way music had been devalued in the digital era.
Neither Scoolidge nor representatives for Wu-Tang Clan responded to a request for comment from BuzzFeed News. RZA, the de facto leader of the rap group, told a New York radio station last year he regretted selling the album to Shkreli. But since the government’s sale to PleasrDAO, RZA said he believes the album is in better hands.