Weird Music Wednesdays #6: Wu-Tang Clan and the Great Hip-Hop Swindle

In today’s music business, artists must take steps to protect their necks against early release, copyright infringement and other musical pitfalls.

That’s why the legendary hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan will be producing only one copy of their next studio album, eventually selling it in an extravagant silver box for a multimillion dollar price.

In a recent interview with Forbes, frontman RZA said the group intends to reinstate the idea of music as “a piece of art” or “a collector’s item,” and thus, the album will be taken on a tour of museums and galleries where fans can pay an admission fee — about 30 to 50 dollars — to listen to the album inside the venue.

This isn’t the first time artists have resorted to extreme measures to make their bread off sales. One of the first instances of successful non-traditional music sale was Radiohead’s “In Rainbows,” offered on the band’s website for whatever price the buyer wished to pay. More recently, Jay-Z struck a massive deal with Samsung, in which the phone giant paid for a million copies of his album “Magna Carta Holy Grail” that users of the Galaxy series could download for free.

Depending on how successfully the marketing campaign goes, people will most likely pay to listen to the album based solely on its status as a media spectacle, regardless of the quality of the album. Furthermore, numerous psychology studies claim consumers unconsciously evaluate higher priced items as of higher quality, so the album may be received in a better light.

The Wu’s scheme may actually be quite genius; that is, of course, assuming the album doesn’t leak. There are numerous checkpoints along the way — from production, to mastering and pressing — where the album could make its way into public circulation. If this happens, the project is destined to fail.

Still, while the strategies of Radiohead and Jay-Z were dependent on making music more readily available to consumers, the Wu’s venture hinges on arbitrarily charging music lovers an exorbitant price just to hear the thing. If the Wu-Tang had a really incredible album on their hands, a “piece of art” as RZA claims, they would most likely opt for a traditional release rather than preventing and delaying the album from being appreciated by the general public as they currently are.

I would advise against anyone getting reasonably excited about this “legendary” album and remember that — in the wise words of the Wu themselves — cash does, in fact, rule everything around us.

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