In a recently released video from Forbes, Senior Editor Zack O’Malley Greenburg interviewed several individuals involved in the making of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon A Time In Shaolin while visiting North Africa. Set primarily in the Moroccan city of Marrakesh, Greenburg speaks with the album’s producer and past Wu-Tang Clan collaborator Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzourgarh.
“When a new idea like this meets the public arena, it kind of takes a life on its own,” Cilvaringz said of the concept.
“I didn’t really tell anyone until I really had the idea of what it was going to be,” he said. “Even then it was so difficult to really define, ‘Okay, this is the idea, this is where it comes from, and this is what it’s gonna do.’ To every Clan member whom I called once the idea was kind of set, it took an hour or more to really break it down. That’s not because they didn’t get it. They got it. They couldn’t see the greatness of it, or the importance of it rather, until they had the whole picture. You’re gonna get that in a nine people crew. It’s a big crew, a lot of opinions, visions on things. No one was against it and some brothers were really, really for it and said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’”
Explaining the process of actually producing and recording the record, Cilvaringz explained an intricate process designed to avoid any potential leaks.
“The production of the album was done here in Marakesh beforehand and it was in a very unconventional way because I produced the music, I selected the beats,” the producer said. “First, [I] sent them to RZA for reviewal. Song titles were already made up. Based on that, [the] selection was made as to who has to be on which record. With that we went to Staten Island, New York and basically got the guys together. The recordings, they weren’t allowed to have, they had beats—sometimes they actually had beats that had the similar sound but wasn’t the actual beat. Had the same BPM, the same speed and everything, but they would rhyme with something that would sound…much later. I just couldn’t afford for it to leak. They were never given the final copies including RZA.”
Speaking on the aesthetic of the album itself initially, Cilvaringz described sacrificing the potential career clout involved in the one copy concept.
“Raw,” he said of the snippet and the album’s sound. “Rugged. Even the way we mixed it. Even the way we mastered it. We used Ken Lewis for the mixing who’s done Watch The Throne, Twisted Fantasy [from] Kanye. He’s done some big acts that had a bit of the rough sound, the dirty gritty sound. The whole approach of it had to be ‘93 to ‘97.”
Asked directly about balancing the intricacy of making the album with the possibility that very few people might hear it, Cilvaringz detailed feeling persecuted by Wu-Tang Clan fans.
“I thought about that a couple times because I’m very proud of the album,” he said. “I feel that the sacrifice is greater. I truly believe, despite everybody thinking that this is some great publicity stunt or marketing ploy, this has been a genuine concept from the get-go. So it happened to get a lot of publicity. Great. But it is a genuine concept with a genuine core and a genuine goal. If I have to sacrifice the record for a greater good, to get the point across, to make the statement—I’m being crucified by Wu-Tang fans everyday…They go for me, and I understand it. It’s understandable. But I really believe in this approach. I think it’s very necessary. I think people are responding to it in a very interesting way.”
Elsewhere in the mini-documentary, Greenburg interviews the man largely responsible for the album’s bespoke and one-off packaging.
“Nothing’s mass made,” Yahya, a British-Moroccan artist commissioned with the box’s making said. “I couldn’t really work out how we could actually do something together. They said, ‘No we’d just need one.’ That’s the key to the whole thing but for us to explain we’re gonna have to sign you up to a confidentiality clause. I said, ‘Sure, sounds a bit of fun.’”
“It’s a box within a box within a box,” Yahya says as he unveils the packaging for Greenburg and the camera. “This has been carved in nickel silver. We decided to encase the world famous logo of the Wu-Tang Clan within…treated as an art-piece which it is. Inside you have another box, and inside this is encased the CD with their special casing. But for security reasons, we have taken it out so today what you see is just the actual artwork which houses the CD.”
“We had about ten guys working over three months from start to finish to make it. From the people who initially carved the metal, flattened it, textured the surface, constructed the wood, put it all together, mount it, finish it, line it with leather. You have about ten different skill sets needed in order to make this one box.”
Near the end of the video, billionaire founder of Virgin Records Richard Branson offered a quick comment on the group’s concept.
“I love the idea,” he said. “I think anything that people can collect as collector’s items, it makes life more fun. I expect it will end up being the most copied single copy of an album ever. I take my hat off to them for a really fun idea.”