LOS ANGELES – RZA may be out and about promoting his film “Brick Mansions” co-starring the late Paul Walker, but it's clear that the rapper/director/actor/producer is also in full-promo mode for the couple of projects Wu-Tang Clan has in the hopper.
Most recently, RZA announced that the hip-hop group had spent the last six years secretly recording the album “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” of which only a single copy will be released, and to the highest bidder. The album will be encased in original silver-and-nickel box designed by artist Yahya and is intended — in RZA's words — as a work of art; whoever ends up purchasing it can do with it whatever he or she wants, whether hold it in a private collection or release it somehow for public consumption or otherwise. Curious fans will hopefully be able to listen to “Shaolin” like they would view a touring piece of art or artifacts: in museums and galleries, and for a price.
In the meantime, the MC admitted the Wu's 20th anniversary album “A Better Tomorrow” has undergone a number of delays, and it's currently (and very tentatively) slated for release this summer. RZA's mentioned in other reports that the participation of Raekwon among other members has been dodgy.
But, yes, the whole crew is present and accounted for on “Once Upon a Time…” RZA told me in our video interview, though recording it was a vastly different experience than laying down “A Better Tomorrow.”
Below is an abridged transcription of RZA's response to what Wu-Tang Clan's participation was like for “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin,” and what he hopes to achieve with its rare release:
I think the secrecy of that project allowed it to be fulfilled. I think the openness of “A Better Tomorrow” is gonna be a stumbling block. Which is weird, but it is part of the dynamic of my crew.
Most people, if you offer them medicine, they won't take it. You gotta put it in their food. And “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” was like the medicine was put into the food. “A Better Tomorrow is like, “Yo, you need this” and “Nah, I don't need it.” That's the analogy I will give it.
I will say “A Better Tomorrow” isn't only for us, it's for the people, for the world… that's what that concept is. “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is a dream of a fan. People always ask me “How did it feel to make 'The Man with the Iron Fists,' to have Gordon Liu in your movie and T-Kwan [Thomas Chow Wai Kwan] and Quentin Tarantino all around you?' I'm fan of these people. That's the greatest feeling, [as] a fan to finally realize his dream and to meet the people he admired become his peers.
“Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” is that story … more than anything, it ain't that people gotta raise money. The price of something is because of the rarity of it. But the idea of music being art, of music being a work of art, and a piece of art… people are responding more to the artistic value of it more than the number value.
Of course the number value is gonna be whatever. I've sold an album for $5 million before. I sold “Bobby Digital,” I had a $5 million budget. “Wu-Tang Forever” is nothing new, getting a lot of money. It's about now appreciating art for what it is. That's what's been missing. We've become entitled.
Here we have a movie, “Brick Mansions.” It took years to make, and for actors, you're talking 60 to 70 days schedule, some away from your families. Guys risking their lives jumping of roof. Millions of dollars spent, thousands of hours… and a person now gets to enjoy all this for $10 to $12. Why try to get it for free? If you keep getting it for free, how can we make another one? You don't want music, then say that. And we'll stop. That's something I'm really adamant about, fans of music and film will realize that as they legally consume, it's gonna bring back the output.