When U.S. Marshals sold the one of a kind Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin last year, it noted in the bill of sale that it was handing over the album “as-is.” As anyone who has bought something used online will tell you, “as-is” is code for “beat to shit.” According to government photos of Once Upon a Time in Shaolin obtained by Motherboard through a Freedom of Information Act request, the album and its various containers had been treated roughly.
The U.S. Marshals seized the album from pharma-bro Martin Shkreli and sold it on July 27, 2021 to help cover the cost of restitution Shkreli owed in connection with a 2017 conviction on securities fraud charges. The feds were close-mouthed about what they sold it for and to whom, but a lawyer who facilitated the transaction listened to some of the album and told Motherboard it was a certified banger. Turns out a crypto collective that parcels out shares of NFTs and other collectibles to sell as investment opportunities paid $4 million for the album. Shkreli had paid $2 million for it at auction.
A Freedom of Information Act request for documents related to the transaction returned an official (and rather official-looking) bill of sale from the U.S. Marshals, a redacted contract detailing the sale, and 54 photographs that give the most thorough look at the album and its contacts yet. According to the sales contract, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin included “audio recording on 2 CDs,” as well as an outer box that’s a “cedar wood box covered in black cow leather with light beige velvet lining.”
There was also an inner box—a “nickel-silver box and inner jewel case containing two CDs, over cedar wood with black cow leather lining”:
And a “leather-bound lyric book containing lithographs depicting original artwork and photographs of the band members”:
And a “leather folder with Gold-lead certificate of authenticity”:
And a “leather folder with Indenture and purchase agreement, Approximately 30 pages”:
The photos give us a wonderful look at the album and its contents, but they’re also redacted, so that they don’t reveal too much. (The FOIA provision the feds cited in redacting records covers “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential,” which perhaps actually applies here.) The track listing, parts of the lyric book, and the CDs themselves have been covered over by a big white block. The boxes also look rough. The outer box has scratches in the leather. There’s a big divot to the upper left of the icon Wu-Tang symbol exposing the cedar box underneath.
The nickel-silver plated inner box is tarnished. Various bits of the case are changing color. The jewel case is covered in fingerprints presumably left by the paws of the Pharma Bro and his minions and various federal agents. Someone or various someones in the long chain of custody from Wu-Tang to Shkreli to the feds left deep impressions on Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.
It appears its new owners are at least treating it with the reverence it deserves. In a glossy photo shoot with Rolling Stone, they handle Once Upon a Time in Shaolin with surgical gloves. The nickel-silver inner box appears to have been restored. Pictures of the leather covered outerbox aren’t shown and it's unclear what shape it's in now.
According to the contact, the buyers can’t make digital copies of the album and they must agree to the terms of Shkreli’s original purchase contract. That means the general public isn’t hearing this album anytime soon. The new owners also can’t resell it to Shkreli.
“Under no circumstances will they allow the assets to revert to Martin Shkreli nor shall Purchasers allow Martin Shkreli to receive any benefit, direct or indirect, from the sale of the Assets, other than the benefit conferred by the Forfeiture Orders applying the proceeds of the sale to his outstanding forfeiture money judgement,” the sales contract said.
It’s a small victory to know that Shkreli won’t leave any more fingerprints on Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.