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World’s rarest album to go on display in Australia
World’s rarest album to go on display in Australia
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World’s rarest album to go on display in Australia

An album so rare and valuable that only a few ears have ever listened to it is set to go on display at an Australian gallery, giving the public a taste of the uber-exclusive tracks.

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Housed in an ornate silver box, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin - recorded in secret by the Wu-Tang Clan over six years - was designed to be a piece of fine art. Only a single CD copy exists.

The record by the pioneering hip-hop group is the most expensive ever sold. Currently, it is on loan to Tasmania's Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).

Over 10 days in June, Mona will host small listening parties where members of the public can hear a curated, 30-minute sample of the album.

The album is part of its Namedropping exhibition, which examines status, notoriety and "the human pursuit".

"Every once in a while, an object on this planet possesses mystical properties that transcend its material circumstances," said Mona Director of Curatorial Affairs Jarrod Rawlins.

"Once Upon a Time in Shaolin is more than just an album, so... I knew I had to get it into this exhibition."

Formed in Staten Island in the early '90s, Wu-Tang Clan is said to have revolutionised hip-hop forever - but is also known for their violent and sexually explicit lyrics.

Recorded in New York City and produced in Marrakesh between 2006 and 2013, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin includes the nine surviving members of the group - and features pop artist Cher and Game of Thrones actress Carice Van Houten.

How Wu-Tang Clan revolutionised hip-hop forever

The group felt the value of music had been cheapened by online streaming and piracy, and wanted to take "a 400-year-old Renaissance-style approach to music, offering it as a commissioned commodity".

It includes a hand-carved nickel box and a leather-bound manuscript containing lyrics and a certificate of authenticity - and a legal condition that the owner cannot release the 31 tracks for 88 years.

Producer RZA likened it to a Picasso artwork, or an ancient Egyptian artefact.

"It's a unique original rather than a master copy of an album," he said when the album went on sale in 2015.

As a result, only a handful of people on the planet have heard snippets of the 31 tracks.

A group of potential buyers and media heard a 13-minute section in 2015, and disgraced drug firm executive Martin Shkreli - who bought the album for $2m (£1.6m, A$3m) - streamed clips of the music on YouTube to celebrate Donald Trump's 2016 election victory.

Shkreli was later forced to hand it over to US prosecutors in 2018 after being convicted of defrauding investors, and it was then sold to digital art collective Pleasr.

In a statement, Pleasr said the Mona listening parties - which will run between 15 and 24 June - helped realise the group's "bold vision to make a single copy album as a work of fine art".

Mona is known for its provocative exhibitions - a recent one called the Ladies Lounge drew international attention after it became the centre of a high-profile anti-discrimination case.

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