The government sold “Once Upon a Time in Shaolin” to satisfy a judgment against its first owner, Martin Shkreli. It ended up with a collective called PleasrDAO that paid an intermediary $4 million.
PleasrDAO’s Jamis Johnson described the purchase as appealing to the group’s interest in acquiring signature items of digital culture, as well as to a wider mission that it shares with many cryptocurrency champions: prying artistic creations from an exploitative, antiquated economic system and offering the promise of a fairer one.
“This album at its inception was a kind of protest against rent-seeking middlemen, people who are taking a cut away from the artist,” Mr. Johnson said in a video interview from his apartment in Brooklyn. “Crypto very much shares that same ethos.”
Although “Once Upon a Time” predates the recent craze for NFTs — “nonfungible tokens,” or digital items created using blockchain computer code, preventing them from being duplicated and allowing their provenance to be tracked — the group’s goal of recapturing the value of artistic scarcity in the digital age has led it to become seen as a kind of precursor.
“The album itself is kind of the O.G. NFT,” said Mr. Johnson, 34, who was proudly sporting a Wu-Tang T-shirt.
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