The Deadliest of Chambers

Wu Tang Clan, rap royalty and cultural icons, recently put out their first single in 7 years, Keep Watch.  The album is from the promised sixth LP from the group, Better Tomorrow.

If you’re a Wu Tang Fan–and who isn’t–you’re looking forward to hearing some new material.  Wu is hoping one fan is willing to go the extra mile to get that fresh stuff.

A second album has been recorded by Wu Tang in secret.  While that may have you scraping your bitcoins for a download,  chances are you won’t hear it unless you are lucky enough to attend one of the art gallery events previewing the album, titled Once Upon A time In Shaolin, before its sale.

imgres-3Wu Tang has decided to release only one copy of the album to the highest bidder.  Wu Tang has always been enterprising, so maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that they are thinking about a unique way to distributetheir work.


The reasons for this revolutionary record release are perhaps not (totally)so materially driven as you may think.  Hip Hop has been little more than product in America for some time now, and Wu Tang hopes to get people to conceive of Hip Hop as the art that is has been and could be again

“The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years,” says RZA.  “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.”

But releasing the album to the art world instead of the airwaves means that unless a corporation steps in and snaps up the album to give to its customers for publicity, the album could go to a collector, never to be heard by the public.  Neither buyer guarantees elevation of the work to art status.   Either way, Wu Tang stands to make millions and challenge the traditional boundaries of the genre.  Both ways leave long time fans behind.

Somehow, having a single wealthy collector or worse yet, a corporation owning a seminal masterpiece from a classic hip hop group seems to continue the commodification of hip hop in a new sphere even as it limits its availability to loyal fans.


This is only the last in several experiments in music releases.  With digital music threatening the ability of artists and companies to tightly control the sale of its products, artist are getting creative.  Beyoncé’s album Beyoncé surprised everyone, while her hubby’s Magna Carta was given as a gift to a million Samsung users.

Do you think Wu’s limited release will spark widespread appreciation of hip hop as art, or will putting  Wu Tang on the auction block make it chattel music?