On Friday, October 13th, Wu-Tang Clan debuted their brand new LP, Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues, the first commercially available album from the lauded Staten Island hip hop crew since 2014’s A Better Tomorrow. Later that night, Wu-Tang members RZA, Ghostface Killah, and Cappadonna appeared along with featured singer Steven Latorre, producer Mathematics, and the legendary The Roots crew on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to run through one of the album’s singles, “My Only One.”
Why was it necessary to qualify Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues as the iconic hip-hop collective’s first “commercially available” album since 2014? If you recall, they made considerable waves back in 2015, when they released a single copy of an expansive double-album, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin, which they then sold via auction to the highest bidder. As representatives from the Wu-Tang camp said at the time, the album was recorded in secret over a six-year period, after which a single CD was pressed, packaged in an ornate box, and stored in a vault in Marrakech, Morocco.
The highly specific contract for the sale of the album states that the buyer cannot distribute it commercially for 88 years. As the group’s de facto leader the RZA explained at the time, “When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you’re buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it,” said RZA. “Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you’re the sole owner of a unique original. And that’s what Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is. It’s a unique original rather than a master copy of an album.”
Sound bizarre to you? Well that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The single copy of the album was eventually sold for more than 2 million dollars to an anonymous “American businessman”–who, to the dismay of virtually everybody, turned out to be none other than AIDs drug price-hiking pharma-bro CEO and general public pariah Martin Shkreli. The saga of Shkreli and Once Upon A Time In Shaolin only got more ridiculous from there. First, he made a public promise that he would release the coveted album if Donald Trump was elected president–back when that prospect seemed wholly unfathomable. Once Trump was eventually elected, Shkreli did end up keeping his promise by sharing little bits of the album, but he did so via YouTube videos that feature him in them looking particularly grumpy, so they’re sorta hard to watch to begin with. Before that, he had threatened to destroy the album so nobody would ever hear it–presumably just to spoil if for everyone else (he totally would be that guy). But once he was arrested and held on a massive bond after being accused of securities fraud, he ended up auctioning off the album on Ebay to pay off legal debts (he sold it for nearly a $1M loss on his original investment).
While the stringent language of the contract prevented the Wu from doing anything about Shkreli holding the album hostage, it also thickened the plot. The story reared its head once again when someone snapped a photo of the Shaolin agreement revealing a contractual caveat just bizarre enough to be true:
Forget the $2M, this is easily the most interesting part of the whole deal between Wu-Tang and Martin Shkreli. pic.twitter.com/5nSshXhjnJ
— Rob Wesley (@eastwes) December 9, 2015
According to alleged photos of the sale contract, the album was legally allowed to be rescued from its buyer in a heist carried out exclusively by “active members of the Wu-Tang Clan and/or actor Bill Murray, with no legal repercussions,” prompting public please from fans for Murray to go on a caper with the Wu to retrieve the album from its surreptitious owner. The contract passage was later revealed to be a hoax, but the outlandish concept became the premise for a new musical comedy, Martin Shkreli’s Game.
Other than a track list and the snippets released by Shkreli, Once Upon A Time In Shaolin has yet to see the light of day–a surprising fact in the age of free-flowing information in which we live. However, the group’s new album, The Saga Continues, finally goes a long way toward scratching fans’ Shaolin itch. The excellent new project simultaneously feels like classic Wu and something totally fresh and creatively cohesive. Produced in its entirety by longtime collaborating producer Mathematics, the new LP recognizes the shitshow surrounding the Wu’s one-copy-only 2015 album on multiple instances, taking multiple tongue-in-cheek jabs at everyone’s least favorite pharmaceutical demagogue throughout. Whether you come for the Shkreli burns or just for some classic Wu mastery, The Saga Continues will more than satisfy your jones. Well, for now anyway…(#freeShaolin).
You can listen to Wu-Tang Clan’s newly released new album, The Saga Continues below via Spotify: