"We're about to sell an album like nobody else sold it before," the RZA tells Forbes. "We're about to put out a piece of art like nobody else has done in the history of [modern] music."
Once Upon a Time in Shaolin will be sold in a handcrafted and carved silver-and-nickel box, created by British-Moroccan artist Yahya over the span of three months. Yahya is well-known for his intricate artistry, and several royal families and business leaders have commissioned him for works.
"This is like somebody having the scepter of an Egyptian king," RZA boasts.
Wu-Tang intends the dramatic distribution to highlight the link between music and art. The group hopes to create a shift in the music business, and cement the relationship between music and great visual works.
The album will first go on tour at museums, festivals and galleries, and tickets will be at a cost. Security measures will be taken to ensure that no event goers take recordings when they listen to the album at the exhibit. The album will be sold to private bidders after its exhibition run.
"The idea that music is art has been something we advocated for years," RZA continues. "And yet it 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 the point that it has to be given away for free."
The rapper says that Once Upon a Time in Shaolin has been twenty years in the making. The idea originally came from an entertainment law student, Cilvaringz, who is now a part of Wu-Tang's extended family in Morocco. Cilvaringz encouraged the group to put greater value on their music, and produced the secret album.
"I know it sounds crazy," the producer says. "It might totally flop, and we might be completely ridiculed. But the essence and core of our ideas is to inspire creation and originality and debate, and save the music album from dying."
The Once Upon a Time in Shaolin release will be separate from the group's upcoming reunion album, A Better Tomorrow, which will debut in standard form this summer.