In 2015, the lone physical copy of Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin was put up for auction by the group and purchased by the disgraced hedge-fund and pharmaceutical executive Martin Shrkreli for $2 million. Now, it’s been purchased by NFT sellers.
As chief executive of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Shkreli caught the public's attention after a heinous run of price-gouging that saw the price of an antiparasitic drug used to treat pneumonia in AIDS patients skyrocket from $13.50 to $750 per pill. In 2017, Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud and conspiracy—he had defrauded investors of at least $10 million from 2009 to 2014 while running another biotech company called Retrophin. The executive was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was apparently still running the company from jail using a smuggled cell phone as of 2019.
In the summer, the government sold the album it had seized as part of the $7.4 million forfeiture judgement Shkreli received at his sentencing, but no details were offered about the sale whatsoever. On September 10, PleasrDAO, a “decentralized autonomous community” focused on collecting NFTs and other forms of crypto-art, revealed itself as the buyer.
The collective bought the album for $4 million, and while it hasn’t announced solid plans for the purchase, there are hints that it envisions turning the album into NFTs. Specifically, PleasrDAO specializes in fractionalizing NFTs, which can be thought of as selling thousands of “shares” in a single NFT rather than the token having a sole owner.
“We want this to be us bringing this back to the people,” PleasrDAO's Chief Pleasing Officer, Jamis Johnson, told Rolling Stone. “We want fans to participate in this album at some level.”
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin comes with plenty of restrictions on its use, by design. For example, it can’t be put on a streaming service. But a representative for 6, the agency that brokered the album’s sale to PleasrDAO, told cryptocurrency news outlet Coindesk that it can get creative.
“Theoretically, [PleasrDAO] could have 5,000 owners of the album and make a private listening party for those owners,” 6 co-founder Jesse Grushack told Coindesk. “I think it’s gonna be up to them to figure out the way to bring this back to the people.”
It’s hard to see how that can be done without NFTs, given PleasrDAO’s focus, and it wouldn't be the first fractionalized NFT the group has made: in September, the group bought the original "Doge" meme as an NFT and then fractionalized it so individuals could own a piece for less than $1. After fractionalizing the $4 million NFT into 16,969,696,969 tokens at $.019 each, it was suddenly worth more than $300 million.
″[I]t’s very much as if the Louvre decided to fractionalize the Mona Lisa and distribute a portion of it for the public to own. However, unlike at the Louvre, collective ownership of art is really only possible using crypto art,” Johnson wrote in a PleasrDAO blog post.
It’s not clear if any of that will ever be possible, with the album’s primary restriction making that difficult: the album cannot be released to the general public in any form until 2103 (it is currently 2021, 82 years ahead of schedule). Nevertheless, in an interview with The New York Times, Johnson insisted that "We believe that we can do something with this piece" and they could "enable it to be shared and ideally owned in part by fans and anyone in the world."
PleasrDAO did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
RZA and the Wu-Tang Clan declined to comment for the New York Times story, but Cilvaringz, a producer who worked on the album and pushed the one-copy idea, said "we wanted to honor the NFT concept without breaking our own rules."
Johnson refers to the album as the “O.G. NFT,” and says how much he loves the rap group, but so far seems adamant in ignoring one of the primary rules they placed on any sale of the album, presumably in NFT form or otherwise: don’t release it to the public. Instead, the group is busy at work making the case for why the album is already an NFT and why NFTs are the future.