After disgraced pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli was convicted of securities fraud in 2017, he was forced to relinquish his assets, including a highly collectible edition of the Wu-Tang Clan album Once Upon a Time in Shaolin. The U.S. government sold it this past summer for $4 million to, it has now been revealed, a cryptocurrency collective called PleasrDAO.
Shkreli, who is now serving a seven-year prison sentence, placed the winning $2 million bid on the album via the online auction house Paddle 8 in 2015.
The collective, which has been storing the record in a New York City vault, says they want to make the two discs’ 31 tracks more widely available to listeners. But that’s despite Wu-Tang’s leader, RZA, and producer, Cilvaringz, specifying in the original sale that the music could not be publicly released for 88 years, until 2103.
“This album at its inception was a kind of protest against rent-seeking middlemen, people who are taking a cut away from the artist. Crypto very much shares that same ethos,” the collective’s “chief pleasing officer,” Jamis Johnson, told the New York Times. “The album itself is kind of the O.G. NFT.”
In fact, the new sale came with an NFT instead of a physical ownership deed. PleasrDAO paid $4 million in cryptocurrency to an intermediary represented by Peter Scoolidge, a lawyer who helped broker the deal with Cilvaringz.
The government received what was “publicly known to be owed under the asset forfeiture order,” Scoolidge told the Times, or about $2.2 million according to recent court filings.
Ahead of the sale, Scoolidge was given the rare opportunity to listen to the record in order to determine it was in working order. He used a Discman, playing the music for a select group of law enforcement and representatives of the U.S. Marshals, the U.S. attorney’s office, and the Department of Justice.
“As you can imagine, the tracks have a lot of colorful language on them, [so] there’s a lot of giggling [as] people who are not hip-hop people [are] listening to this stuff,” Scoolidge told Rolling Stone. “It was pretty funny.”
The collective that bought the album has 74 members. The group’s name is a portmanteau based on the NFT artist Pplpleasr and the acronym D.A.O., which stands for “decentralized autonomous organization.”
Since it was founded less than a year ago, the collective has acquired a number of high-profile digital works, including NFTs by Edward Snowden and Pussy Riot, as well as one based on the popular Doge meme, which it began selling to the public in fractional shares.
“This beautiful piece of art, this ultimate protest against middlemen and rent seekers of musicians and artists, went south by going into the hands of Martin Shkreli, the ultimate internet villain,” Johnson told Rolling Stone.
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