In what will either be a disasterous or brilliant marketing move, Wu-Tang Clan plan to only release one copy of their new double-album, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin. The album was recorded in secret over the past two years, and, unlike A Better Tomorrow, the group’s 20th anniversary album that was publicly announced, Shaolin will not be commercially available. No, Wu-Tang has bigger plans in mind.

The disc will be incased in a silver-and-nickel plated box, crafted over three months by Brazilian-Moroccan artist Yahya. The disc will then begin to tour the world. The album will appear at museums, galleries, and potentially music festivals. Fans will have to pay to hear the music, only at pre-scheduled listening events. No digital downloads, no CD prints… a real one-of-a-kind.

Commenting on the project to Forbes, Wu-Tang member Robert “RZA” Diggs said, “We’re about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music. We’re making a single-sale collector’s item. This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king.”

Once the disc is finished its world tour, it will be auctioned off for millions of dollars. This figure, as proposed by Forbes. What will the buyer do with the music? Keep it sealed in a vault? Share it on Soundcloud? Who knows?!?

Ultimately, the thought-process behind the plan is to shift the paradigm of the music industry towards the album. In the Forbes interview, RZA comments. “The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years, and yet its doesn’t receive the same treatment as art in the sense of the value of what it is, especially nowadays when it’s been devalued and diminished to almost the point that it has to be given away for free.” 

He raises some valid points. Certainly, no one can deny that music is an art form. And, with the rise of the digital era, the value of recorded music has declined, though moreso fiscally than artistically. An album may not garner an artist much money, but it can still be appreciated as a work of art in the modern era. Album releases are cultural events (take Beyonce’s surprise release or Arcade Fire’s uber-hyped Reflektor from last year), with the awesome power to inspire listeners.

My point is that creating a one-of-a-kind album may make a statement regarding the value of recorded music in general, but it also makes Wu-Tang look incredibly arrogant. Music isn’t the same as any of the classic visual art forms (sculpture, painting, etc.), because it’s auditory. It evokes different brain pathways. A painting can incite an emotional response, but can it incite you to dance? Can you share that emotional response with thousands of other people together?

RZA does raise a fair point in his interview, when he says, “There will be a time when we can’t tour, and that’s just the natural evolution of man.” It’s true, Wu-Tang won’t be around forever. He continues with, “[But] This particular privatized album, I think—this idea we have—will be something that will go longer than all of us.”

Here’s the thing- great music ALWAYS outlasts its creators. Great art speaks for itself; it doesn’t need a publicity stunt to speak for it. This is the twilight of recorded music, an end of a remarkable era that has produced decades of countlessly brilliant recordings. But, the music community lives for live music. Those arm-flailing, feet-stomping, head-banging, fist-clenching moments of unbridled passion. That’s the shit we want.

Will Once Upon A Time In Shaolin be successful? Probably. But only based on Wu-Tang Clan’s reputation, not because the buyer values the artistic concept of an album. Hell, I make music. What’s the fun if you can’t share it with everybody?

-David Melamed (@DMelamz)