During a newly published interview with SCLUZAY, RZA and producer Tarik “Cilvaringz” Azzourgarh spoke at length regarding Wu-Tang Clan’s upcoming single copy album, The Wu – Once Upon A Time In Shoalin.
The conversation revealed various interesting facts regarding the project, including the proposition of the album being released commercially after 88 years.
“Initially we wanted the buyer to do whatever he wanted with it,” producer Cilvaringz says. “But when we realized how much commercial interest there was, we began to understand that allowing it to play out in that way would undermine its trajectory as an art piece, even if no amount of replication could touch the original. We felt that retail commercialization and mass replication would dilute the status of the album as a one-off work of art and compromise the integrity of our statement.”
Continuing, RZA added: “When you buy a painting or a sculpture, you are buying that piece rather than the right to replicate it. Owning a Picasso doesn’t mean you can sell prints or reproductions, but that you are 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.”
“We thought long and hard about whether to defy art world conventions and transfer all rights to public release to the buyer,” Cilvaringz continued. “But we genuinely felt that a swift public release after such a radical concept would neutralize the statement we are making. So we decided that the right to release the album would be transferred only after 88 years have passed.”
Addressing why only after 88 years, RZA explained the importance of the number to the Wu-Tang Clan.
“Anyone who knows the Wu-Tang Clan knows that we often apply numerology, mathematics and symbolism to the things we do,” RZA says. “There were 8 original members of the Clan when we made ‘Protect Ya Neck’ and ‘M.E.T.H.O.D Man.’ The individual numbers of this year also add up to the number 8. The broker of this work carries the number 8 in its name. The number 8 on its side is a symbol of infinity, as it was used on our album ‘Wu-Tang Forever’. You can call it mathematical coincidence, but it’s always had great symbolic significance for us. For us it also addresses the issue of music’s longevity in a time of mass production and short attention spans. Nothing about this record revolves around short-term gains, but rather around the legacy of the music and the statement we’re making.”
RZA & Cilvaringz Offer An Update On The Status Of “Once Upon A Time In Shoalin”
While discussing the Clan’s quiet past few months, RZA detailed the latest activity with regards to the album’s purchase.
“It’s been an interesting few months since the initial announcement,” RZA explained. “While the debate was on-going in the public arena, we were having an intriguing series of talks in private with a variety of auction houses and art experts, but also with lawyers, publishers and music executives. ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ didn’t conform to either music industry or art world conventions, and no-one could define it within an existing framework. Ultimately, it was writing its own rules and dictating its own destiny, but we couldn’t maintain a running public face to that process purely for the sake of headlines.”
On the topic of the album’s musical content, RZA reveals it’s a journey through the iconic collective’s past.
“Musically, this album takes the listener on a journey back to the chambers we were going through in the 90s,” RZA says. “Not so much lyrically as musically as brothers are living a different reality to then. But this record was produced in that fashion, it sounds different from anything that’s out today. It was about tracing and reliving certain origins. If you listen to the intro of ‘Clan In The Front’ on the 36 Chambers album, you’ll hear me shout out the entire original Wu-Tang movement. We rolled real deep back then and I invited some of those brothers on a few skits and tracks. It made the period concept of the recordings more authentic.”
Cilvaringz added: “I would say the album is an incredible experience. It’s not an album you just listen to or hear but rather something you experience. We decided very early on that we wouldn’t let any industry standards such as radio or song lengths affect production. We simply let the songs dictate what they wanted to become. Sonically it’s that gritty, raw, melodic, eerie, dark, Wu-Tang shit you fell in love with as a fan. Hence the title, because ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin,’ it sounded like this.”
Addressing why one would want to purchase the album for millions of dollars, RZA explained that the project is “a piece of history” and the “seal to a legacy,” before claiming that this album will most likely be the last offering from Wu-Tang Clan.
“This is not something you should want to own because of the price tag, but because it’s a fingerprint, like a strand of DNA – it stands alone,” RZA says. “It’s a piece of history, and the seal to a legacy. The buyer would be the only person in the world to possess a historic, unheard and never to be released Wu-Tang Clan album. Not a single copy or backup of this work exists – neither I nor any Clan member has a copy. There is only one… Destiny bends, but it feels almost certain that ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin…’ will be the final Wu-Tang Clan album.”
RZA Distinguishes Between “Once Upon A Time In Shaolin” & “A Better Tomorrow”
While outlining the differences between The Wu – Once Upon a Time in Shaolin and A Better Tomorrow, RZA says the former encapsulates the Wu’s history while the latter is an illustration of the future.
“They are two completely different concepts – both musically and in the way we introduced them to the world,” RZA says. “‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’ is classic Wu and was designed to be a standalone work that encapsulates our history. ‘A Better Tomorrow’ is all about the future – new horizons and a new sound. The two together unite history and future, yin and yang. Looking back over 21 years, it was important to unify those two strands of our identity within the two albums, but they remain two totally different ideas and two different sounds.”
To read the full interview, where RZA and Cilvaringz also touch upon the view of elitism surrounding the project, click here.
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