Wu-Tang Clan's Mystery Album Hits Sour Note at JFK

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RZA of rap band Wu-Tang Clan performs at the Montreux Jazz Festival July 18, 2007. Denis Balibouse/Reuters

Wu-Tang Clan's 1993 breakout album, the sensational Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), was an invitation (albeit a guarded one) into the slums of Shaolin, the spiritual home of a mythological clan of musical visionaries. Twenty-plus years later, various members of the original group are still creating music, both together and as individuals, and remain as entranced by warriors and the pursuit of wisdom as when they first began creating music together.

The clan's latest work, Once Upon a Time in Shaolin, described as the "final chapter in the Wu-Tang Clan mythos," is shrouded in mystery—because virtually no one has heard it. And virtually no one will for the next 88 years.

The work has been reportedly kept in a secretive vault somewhere in Morocco, and bears a clause stipulating that it cannot be released for commercial purposes until it's almost a century old. But on Friday, the album—protected in an intricate, hand-carved box made with silver and nickel—garnered a bit of publicity after it was taken by customs at JFK Airport while Cilvaringz, a producer for the musicians, was traveling with it and forgot the key to the box.

The producer and RZA, a central member of the Wu-Tang Clan, told the story to a select handful of people at a listening event at MoMA PS1 in Queens, New York, last Monday during which the fellows played 13 minutes of the coveted album, ArtNews reports. There, they said that when Cilvaringz arrived at JFK with the album in tow, TSA agents seized the box and held it for over three hours, because they were stupefied by its contents. Page Six reports that before he was let go with the album safely in hand, airport security scanned the box under its "rarely used highest-strength" system.

The work is currently being auctioned off on the site Paddle8 with the clear understanding that whoever becomes the lucky owner can't release the songs for commercial purposes until 88 years have passed. Why 88 years? The Wu-Tang Clan members have long admired numerology, and the significance of the number is partially a nod to the group's original eight members and that number as a symbol of infinity.

"For us it also addresses the issue of music's longevity in a time of mass production and short attention spans," said RZA in an interview via the project's website. "Nothing about this record revolves around short-term gains, but rather around the legacy of the music and the statement we're making."

At the PS1 event, Cilvaringz shared that the piece had been inspired by ancient cultures and the pyramids of Giza. The work is being marketed as a piece of art, not so much an album; the group intends for it to be "the greatest work of art ever devised by man." Hopefuls wanting to unpack the mysteries of the box (and chessboxin'), though, will have to be very patient and long-lived.

Wu-Tang Clan's Mystery Album Hits Sour Note at JFK | Culture