Would You Pay Several Million Dollars For Wu-Tang's New Album?

By selling their new work to just one person, and exhibiting it in galleries and museums, the group stirs debate about the commodification of modern music.

Image courtesy of Yahya Group

If you haven't heard about the multi-million dollar album Wu-Tang is selling, you are so not ready for brunch conversation this weekend.

The famed music collective has spent years working on its latest record, but instead of a mass release, they're only producing a single copy, housed in an intricately decorated nickel-and-silver box created by the British-Moroccan artist Yahya.

Before the album, The Wu: Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, goes on sale, it will take a tour through art galleries and music festivals—similar to the way Scotland's national galleries are sending their Botticellis and Singer Sargents to be displayed here in the United States. RZA, the group's de facto leader, told Forbes that there will likely be a $30 to $50 charge to listen to the album at these events—and that listeners will have to go through strict security to make sure they can't record the album.

So the album was created like a work of art, and it'll be exhibited like a work of art before being sold like one, too (perhaps through a gallery like David Zwirner or Gagosian, perhaps at an auction house like Christie's or Sotheby's or Phillips de Pury) for millions and millions of dollars. The new owner will own it outright, and unless a major music label purchases the album and the rights to distribute it, there will be no copies, no $1.29 song downloads on iTunes and no free torrents of all 31 tracks.

And that, of course, is the point. Wu-Tang is taking a stand against the commodification of modern music in a way that no other artist working today has. A statement from RZA and Civilaringz, the Dutch producer and rapper who has been associated with the group since the turn of the century, explains their thinking:

"Is exclusivity versus mass replication really the $50 million difference between a microphone and a paintbrush? Is contemporary art overvalued in an exclusive market, or are musicians undervalued in a profoundly saturated market? 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, as any other contemporary art piece, we hope to inspire and intensify urgent debates about the future of music. We hope to steer those debates toward more radical solutions and provoke questions about the value and perception of music as a work of art in today's world."

And you thought Beyoncé's secret album was revolutionary.

—Details associate online style editor Justin Fenner.

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