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Wu-Tang’s Million Dollar Album – Smart Publicity or Just Plain Stupid?

Astrid Stawiarz, Getty Images

Wu-Tang Clan are planning to release a new album soon. And unless you’re a millionaire a few times over, you probably won’t hear it. At least anytime soon. The hip-hop group, which apparently is still making music from time to time, has a new album coming out this year to celebrate its 20th anniversary.

But it has another album due too. A double album that was recorded in secret over the past couple years (what? Everyone’s Beyonce now?). And that’s the album they plan to sell for at least a million dollars. Why’s it worth that much? They’re making only one copy.

It’s going to be a pretty fancy copy at that, most likely worth every penny of the million or so dollars that some lucky buyer will shell out for it. The album — it’s called ‘Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,’ but for $1 million, you can probably call it whatever you want — will come housed in a silver and nickel box made by the British-Moroccan artist Yahya.

And if you happen to be the proud owner of this one-of-a-kind album by a once-great hip-hop crew that hasn’t had its s— together for years now, you may want to keep the bragging to a minimum until you get your hands on it. The album — literally a work of art, no? — will tour the world, making stops at museums for people the planet over to gawk at and wonder, What’s the big deal?

And really, what is the big deal? Nineteen-ninety-three’s debut, ‘Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),’ is an acknowledged classic, and rightfully so. Its hazy, paranoia-filled beats and rhymes set the tone for a sizable chunk of ’90s hip-hop and made rap crews (how many Wu-Tangers were there at their peak? 80? 90? We lost count) a thing for about seven months.

"The album will tour the world, making stops at museums for people the planet over to gawk at and wonder, What’s the big deal?"

But since then, Wu-Tang’s output has been sporadic and iffy at best. Nineteen-ninety-seven’s follow-up album, ‘Wu-Tang Forever,’ was one LP stretched out over two, and the three albums they’ve released since then — including the latest that you can now buy, 2007′s ’8 Diagrams’ — are mostly forgettable.

The individual members of the Wu have kept busy over the years, most notably Method Mad, who parlayed his mic skills into an acting career that’s included deodorant commercials; Ghostface Killah, who had a nice run a decade or so ago with a string of albums about selling dope; and Raekwon, whose 1994 solo debut, ‘Only Built 4 Cuban Linx …,’ is almost as good as ‘Enter the Wu-Tang.’

You can also add the group’s mastermind producer/mad-scientist creator RZA to that list. He’s starred in a few movies, helped set the soundtracks to a couple killer Quentin Tarantino movies and has generally stayed busy by promising new Wu-Tang Clan albums every few years.

This summer’s ‘A Better Tomorrow,’ a long-in-the-works record that was set to mark the group’s 20th anniversary last year, missed its original target release, which is no real surprise for a crew that’s rarely featured all of its members onstage at the same time. Even during their peak years, they rarely would be seen together. In concert, it was hard to tell who would show up and who wouldn’t. Hell, it was hard to tell who was even up onstage at times, since various auxiliary members of the Wu would often crowd out the guys who actually deserved to be there.

So missing schedules is just something the Wu-Tang Clan does. Will we see ‘A Better Tomorrow’ sometime this year, as promised? Most likely. But I wouldn’t bet a million dollars on it. Plus, it’s great publicity. How many people knew the Wu-Tang Clan were releasing a new album this year? How many people even knew the W-Tang Clan were still around?

Will this special, one-of-a-kind silver-plated album eventually make its way into the collection of a very rich Wu-Tang Clan fan who has some extra cash laying around for a record that — let’s face it — will probably be listened to only once? I wouldn’t bet a million dollars on that either.

Next: Wu-Tang Clan Vs. Fugazi

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