Yesterday’s news that the Wu-Tang Clan had actually managed to find a genuine buyer (who Forbes have confirmed was a private American collector) for their one-of-a-kind album, ‘Once Upon A Time In Shaolin’, struck the final blow to the efforts of plucky Kickstarter duo Calvin Okoth-Obbo and Russell Meyer, who wanted to buy the album and share it with the people. The agreed price for the record – which is encased in a handcrafted silver and nickel box – was “in the millions”, and therefore some way ahead of the $15,046 that Okoth-Obbo and Meyer managed to raise on the crowdfunding website.
NME caught up with the pair recently to gauge their reaction to the news that cash really does rule everything around (me).
How do you feel about the fact the album has been bought?
Calvin: I think it says everything that for as long as this story’s been floating around, the album is just now being bought. It kind of a flew around for like a balloon that someone just let the air out of, and then just fell to floor with a whimper. Maybe the ends will justify the means, but overall it played as pretty corny to the Wu-Tang listening public – I’m sure someone will set up some place for people to go listen to it for the price of a ticket, so let’s see what happens.
Russell: I’m surprised it took this long to get a deal done. In general, I think most members of the Wu-Tang who aren’t RZA think this was an idea that didn’t really deliver much in the way of positive reception: by the fans, press, industry, whatever. My favourite Wu member, Method Man, had a reaction that pretty accurately sums up how I and most other people feel about the project: “This shit is fuckin’ stupid.”
Any ideas on who the buyer might be?
Calvin: It has to be someone that has an idea of how they’ll spin it into another money-making venture: setting up a pop-up exhibition, or someone using it as an opportunity to co-brand with some product, or maybe a start-up with venture capital money to burn that wants to force their way into the pop cultural consciousness. It clearly has to be someone with a lot of money to burn.
Russell: My hunch is that it’s someone who has an angle of their own. Maybe it’s a celebrity or company who’s going to generate a lot of PR for themselves by creating a listening tour. “I bought this and I’m going to have a bus touring festivals where we’ll let the fans hear it for free. Wu-Tang is for the people and we love the people”, blah blah blah. A brand could generate a lot of good, organic press for themselves if they did that. If someone bought it purely just to listen to by themselves, they must be so incredibly wealthy that they literally have money to burn and they just want something to show off to their other rich friends.
Some people are saying Quentin Tarantino bought it – how legit do you think that guess is?
Calvin: I wouldn’t be surprised – he’s rich, obsessive over collecting rare film and music mementos, and a big Wu-Tang/rap fan. I remember seeing a RZA interview on YouTube where he mentioned his good relationship with Quentin, since he wrote the original score for Kill Bill. RZA told this story about them first meeting and sizing Quentin up over his knowledge of martial arts genre films – something along the lines of RZA bringing out a limited edition VHS, and then Tarantino one-upping him by bringing out an original 35mm print of the same movie. Seems like they were obsessed about many of the same things, including one another’s work.
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What do you think the buyer should do with their copy of the record?
Calvin: Upload it to AudioMack, LiveMixtapes, DatPiff, or wherever else you can go to stream/download music. And then put a version to DropBox with the actual files and tweet out a link. Wu-Tang is for the children, downloaders, and people with strong wireless internet connections or a good mobile data plan.
Russell:That’s what we were going to do if we raised enough money to buy it. Subvert the exclusive, walled gardens aspect of the whole thing and let the people who would care to hear it have the chance to do just that. If you have it and you’re just going to keep it for yourself and bogart your shiny new toy, you’re a dickhead.
Your Kickstarter sadly didn’t raise enough money to buy the album – do you think this means that people aren’t interested in hearing the record?
Russell: Not at all, I just think they aren’t interested to the tune of $5 million dollars. I think the ones who donated were people like us who thought it was a stupid stunt of an idea and wanted to flip it on its ass. Most of the donations we received were of the $5-$20 variety. One guy gave ten grand, but I think he realised he’d be getting it back when we didn’t reach our insane goal of 5 million. We created the Kickstarter expecting not to raise enough money. We just wanted to point out the absurdity of the whole endeavour and unite the fans who were interested in hearing that album. Wu-Tang is incredibly well respected in hip-hop obviously; people refer to them as gods. But they got to the status they’re at thanks to the fans, so it left me feeling sour that they created some new art and hyped it like, “Oh, this is some of the best shit we’ve ever made…. but you’re never gonna get to check it out, sorry.”
Can you take a guess at what you think the album might sound like?
Calvin: My guess is [that] it’s just RZA laughing at whoever ponied up the cash over ‘Triumph’ for 70 minutes. Cher’s supposed to be on it, and the lady that plays Melisandre on Game of Thrones, among others. So there has to be some stuff from out of left-field on there, and for pride reasons wouldn’t totally phone it in. I’m not sure if I’m millions of dollars curious, but I would be lying if I pretended like I’m not excited to hear it.
Russell: It’s probably pretty good, is my guess. They got the whole group back together and from the snippets I’ve heard [that have been] leaked, the production is dope. Thematically, it’s probably grandiose. But who knows, right? It could be just lazy, mixtape B-sides and RZA just trolling the fuck out of us.