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Thread: Sophia Chang

  1. #1
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    Jian Hong Shi

    When Your Mom Is the Longtime Manager of Wu-Tang Members and Your Dad Is a Shaolin Monk
    Featuring Jian Hong Shi, age 15, grade 10.
    By LAURA BENNETT
    FEB 08, 20189:04 AM


    Jian Hong Shi and her mom, Sophia.
    Photo illustration by Slate. Photo courtesy of Sophia Chang.

    In this series, kids (and not-exactly-kids-anymore) review how well their parents balance life and work. To nominate a potential subject ideally between the ages of 5 and 17, email humaninterest@slate.com.

    Laura Bennett: Can you tell me a little bit about your relationship with your parents?

    Jian Hong Shi: Well, my mom and I are very close. I feel super comfortable telling her if anything happens with my friends. She gives me very good advice.

    What kind of advice?

    She always gives me the grown-up answer, like, when I am having a problem at school: You should pull them aside and talk to them. I tell her, Mom, we’re not as mature as you think we are. They are gonna think that is weird.

    My parents haven’t been together since I was around 5 or something like that, so they don’t live in the same house. My dad and I are not as close because he’s not at home as much as my mom is. But when I do see him, he is super goofy and silly. So I’m always laughing when I’m around him.

    What does your mom do for work?

    Well right now, she’s writing a book and doing public speaking. She also briefly worked at a cannabis company. That was kind of a wild thing because she’s never smoked a day in her life. But while I was growing up, she managed hip-hop artists.

    Do you remember how she became a manager of hip-hop artists?

    She had been close with the Wu-Tang Clan for a long time. So I think it happened organically. She worked with a lot of different artists in Wu-Tang, like RZA, GZA, ODB while he was alive, but that was before I was alive. [She also managed D’Angelo and A Tribe Called Quest.]

    Does she manage anyone now?

    Nope, she’s completely out of that now. She says that she doesn’t want to manage other people now. She wants to focus on herself. I think she’s come to a place in her life where—she told me, for example, that her friend said, “Sophia, I want to stop seeing you work with egotistical men.”

    Your mom mentioned to me that she was very aware of raising a daughter who was a hip-hop fan, because hip-hop is not always kind to women. Was that something she talked about with you?

    She always made it very clear to me when certain lyrics were misogynistic. She would ask me if that was how I thought I should be treated. And I was like, “No mom. I just enjoy the music.” If we are in the car and the radio is on, and we hear some really misogynistic lyrics, she always goes: “Oh that’s nice.” “Oh, haven’t heard that one before.”

    She always wanted me to know my worth. Through her job, I always saw her as a powerful female figure, not someone who was easily swayed by male opinion. Also, the artists she worked with, she knew them on a deep personal level—she knew their heart and their intent.

    Do you like Wu-Tang’s music?

    I do. I went through a phase when I listened to just Wu-Tang, when I was like 12. It was super eye-opening for me. I loved how all the different Clan members had their different flows and styles and voices, even though they were one Clan.

    “I had this moment last year where I was super tired and I started thinking about a bunch of stuff and I sat back and realized what my parents did and got super happy.”
    — Jian Hong Shi
    What do you think your mom loves about Wu-Tang’s music?

    I think the production and sampling as well. But also the wordplay and the metaphors and how they all blended together as one but people who were fans really felt like they knew each of them, their strengths and their weaknesses. I think she really respected that whatever deal they had, the RZA made sure it was inclusive. No one was ever left behind.

    What was it like to know these guys personally and also be such a big fan?

    I felt super grateful. The RZA is actually my godfather. I’ve known him and his kids since I was really young. So when I listened to his music, it was learning about the RZA instead of him as a father and a friend. So that was really cool.

    It is pretty wild to have a mom whose job means you get to have the RZA as your godfather.

    Yeah. It’s crazy. I don’t think I realized how influential and huge these artists were until later. At the time I just thought, this is just mom doing her job.

    What does your dad do?

    He’s a 34th-generation Shaolin monk from the original Shaolin temple in China.

    Whoa.

    Yeah. I used to be kind of embarrassed about telling my friends because they’d be like, “Oh yeah, my dad is an accountant or something.” But now I’m super proud of it. Anyway, he’s a monk. And he created his own temple, the USA Shaolin Temple. His English wasn’t that great and he didn’t really know about America, so my mom really helped him with the business side. Now it has branches in Austria and South Africa and Mexico. It makes me really proud of him. He helps a lot of people both physically and mentally.

    Here’s a ridiculous question: Do you think your parents have interesting jobs?

    Yes. Over time I became kinda used to it. But I had this moment last year where I was super tired and I started thinking about a bunch of stuff and I sat back and realized what my parents did and got super happy. Then I fell asleep.

    But it was a fascinating moment where I was like, “Wow, I should really talk to my dad more about his experience coming from China to here and creating his own business. I should talk to my mom more about how she built herself and became successful on her own.”

    Who generally works crazier hours, your mom or your dad?

    My mom would get calls during dinner and would never pick up. She would call them back afterwards and that could go pretty late. Or she’d only pick up calls that came directly from the artist or from her mentor, Michael Ostin. With my dad, once he was home, he was home.

    What stresses your parents out the most about their jobs?

    For my mom, it’s working with people who aren’t as dedicated to their job as she is. People who aren’t passionate and are just doing it for the money. For my dad, I don’t really see him stressed.

    Well, he is a monk.

    Yeah, you’re right, he’s very calm. He never really loses his temper. He’s super in touch with the monk he was in China, when he was under all of those rules. He didn’t have enough food to eat. He had no heat. Having that all inside him helps keep him grounded.

    When you were growing up, did your parents have rules for you around screen time?

    My dad really hates it when my brother and I are on our phone. Because he’s like, “It will ruin your eyes.” Not because he is worried about what we’ll see. I don’t think he’s too aware of exactly how much is out there on the internet. With my mom, it’s more that she doesn’t like the idea that strangers can talk to me.

    How did your mom inform your music taste when you were growing up?

    She was obviously very deeply involved in hip-hop. But also on Sundays, when we would clean the house, she would always have old-school R&B on. Like Maxwell, Tony! Toni! Toné! Uh, I guess Robin Thicke doesn’t count as old-school R&B.

    Do you have a sense of what you want to do for work one day?

    I’m super interested in architecture. My school offers classes on it. I’m going to take them and if I do end up enjoying them, great.

    Would you ever want to manage hip-hop artists?

    Probably not. Just because that doesn’t really interest me, not because I’ve seen a negative impact on my mom. She used to always tell me, you’d be so good at this. But it’s not really my interest, so I’d feel like I wasn’t really doing what I wanted to do.

    Would you ever want to be a monk?

    No. No no no no no. Yeah, no. There are way too many rules.


    Laura Bennett
    Laura Bennett is Slate’s features director.
    When I was in Wudangshan with Yanming and Sophia, she was pregnant with his first child. I should've realized that because of some of Sophia's actions, but at the time, I was too swept up with with the trip. I've never met either of their children.

    Thread: Shi Yan Ming & Shaolin Temple USA
    Thread: Wu Forever!
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #2
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    Sophia Chang

    Sophia Chang Ain’t Nothing to **** Wit’
    Anne Branigin
    Today 9:00am


    Illustration: Sam Wooley (GMG/Getty Images)

    In The Art of Exchange, The Root explores the intersections where different identities and communities of color meet. Each story covers a different place or personality that expands or challenges our idea of what cultural exchange, allyship and cross-cultural support look like.

    Sophia Chang wears her heart on her neck.

    On a sliver of red thread running across her collarbone hangs the iconic Wu-Tang “W,” a symbol so ubiquitous and recognizable, variations of it appear all over the planet. But Chang isn’t just signaling her fandom. As the former manager for members of the Wu-Tang Clan, it’s as much a sign of devotion as it is one of appreciation.

    On her website, Chang includes the tagline, “Raised by Wu-Tang.” Not only is it a clear subversion of the manipulative Svengali trope that dominates our view of artist-manager relationships—think N.W.A’s Jerry Heller—but for Chang, it’s simply the truth.

    “So many things have come to me because of Wu-Tang,” she says. “There’s no way I would be who I am or where I am without those friendships. There’s no way. And it’s really important to me to acknowledge this. How their love of, and respect for, and embrace of me has impacted me.”

    Along the way, Chang—who, as a Korean-Canadian woman, was an anomaly within an anomaly in the male-dominated world of ’90s hip-hop—advocated fiercely for Wu-Tang and other artists behind the scenes, helping to shape the very foundation upon which hip-hop’s golden era is built.

    “I always say that ‘The Message’ is the song that changed my life,” Chang tells me over a long weekday lunch at a Japanese teahouse in New York’s East Village (full disclosure: Chang and Danielle Belton, The Root’s editor-in-chief, are longtime friends).

    Chang had biked over, having just finished a workout. She has practiced kung fu for years, and Chang’s dedication to the martial art shows in her small, taut physique.

    On first glance, the most noticeable thing about Chang might be her haircut: shaved down at the sides, her long black hair wrapped in a loose bun balanced atop her head. But what permeates through her conversation—the thing that seizes you, that is as present in her contemplative moments as when she’s gushing over Hasan Minhaj or Chow Yun Fat—is a welcoming, hard-won confidence.

    As she speaks with both care and passion—Chang is not the type to hide either—it’s easy to imagine Chang as the sort of friend you’d call to help you figure things out. The kind of woman capable of both seeing you and gathering you up.

    Chang encountered Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five’s “The Message” as a high school student in Vancouver, British Columbia—it was one of her first tastes of hip-hop, and she was instantly hooked. She says “the urgency, the anger, all of that, the defiance, the owning of all of it” spoke to her.

    “Watching these artists long for connection to their Motherland, to Africa. You know that’s a lot of what it was about. It was the medallions and the colors, you know, the green, black and red color scheme. I found that really moving. Watching them want that connection was deeply impactful.” —Sophia Chang
    Chang understood the anger. For her as a Korean Canadian, the Vancouver she grew up in didn’t bear much resemblance to the diverse, cosmopolitan city people encounter today. Back then, she says, it was majority white, and her experience of going to mostly white schools instilled in her from a very early age that she didn’t belong. As early as age 5, Chang dealt with racial taunts, being called “*****,” “Jap” and “gook” and all the other words blanketed on Asian immigrants to impart that they don’t belong.

    Even in the instances where her Asianness wasn’t called out directly, “looking different was a constant reminder,” she says. “You’re other, and to a large degree, you are less than.”

    The bullying eventually faded away as she grew older, says Chang, but the feeling of otherness didn’t. It’s a strange tick of the minority experience—particularly the Asian immigrant experience, with its emphasis on assimilation and performance as a way to endear yourself to a white mainstream—to feel both hyper-visible and invisible.

    Fueling her anger, too, was the way she saw her parents treated, particularly because of their foreign accents. So Chang lived her teenage years actively pushing away her Korean heritage, shunning Korean food, even while at home.

    “It was a broad rejection of the culture,” Chang says, acknowledging that her family probably took it as a rejection of them as well. Even as the taunts receded into her memory, that sense of rejection remained. Of course, pushing her culture away didn’t bring her the sense of belonging she sought.

    “That’s how white supremacy works, right? You still always know you are outside,” she says.

    And it remained that way, even as Chang first discovered hip-hop, which gave her a vehicle for the rage and defiance she’d long felt. It wasn’t until Chang moved to New York City to work in the music industry that it changed.

    “When I first came to New York, I hung out a lot with the guys in Native Tongues, Tribe [Called Quest], Jungle [Brothers], De La [Soul], Monie [Love]. And they were a huge part of the Afrocentric movement, which impacted me really deeply,” she says.

    “Watching these artists long for connection to their Motherland, to Africa. You know that’s a lot of what it was about. It was the medallions and the colors, you know, the green, black and red color scheme. I found that really moving,” she says. “Watching them want that connection was deeply impactful.”

    But it was her relationship with the Wu-Tang Clan in particular that sparked what she refers to as a personal renaissance.

    “Their wholehearted, unabashed, extremely expressive embrace of Asian culture—it piqued a curiosity in me about my own culture because they celebrated it so deeply, and in a way that was so organic and so reverential,” Chang says, adding that she never once felt fetishized or tokenized by the group because of her heritage. The connection between Chang and the group, particularly with Wu’s mastermind, RZA, was visceral and immediate.

    “It’s kind of like a futuristic or sci-fi movie where you get to compress time, so that months and months and years and years of getting to know each other was compressed into moments,” she says of the intellectual and spiritual connection she felt with the group. “It doesn’t mean they knew about my life, but they knew who I was.”
    continued next post
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  3. #3
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    Continued from previous post


    RZA and Sophia Chang. Chang describes their connection as immediate. “I just remember thinking that RZA was one of the smartest people I had ever met,” she says. “Just going, ‘Holy ****, is this guy smart.’”
    Photo: Courtesy of Sophia Chang

    It’s difficult to think of a group like the Wu-Tang Clan stepping onto the pop-cultural scene today and not running headlong into a discourse about cultural appropriation, a conversation that has become increasingly messy on the social media sphere, in part because people impart their own definitions on the term.

    Chang herself approaches the topic with refreshing humility.

    “I’m not smart enough and I’m not erudite enough” to define appropriation, she tells me, adding that she can’t articulate specifically why Kendrick Lamar employing his “Kung Fu Kenny” persona doesn’t bother her, but seeing a white person do it would.

    “Somewhere there, in the back of my mind, are the terms ‘colonialism,’ ‘imperialism’ and ‘white supremacy,’” she says. “I couldn’t write a thesis on this; I just know how it makes me feel.”

    As we continue talking, though, she makes clear that power dynamics and acknowledgment—whether one attributes the source of their inspiration or influence—matter deeply to her.

    “Like the bone-broth thing,” she says, referring to a burst of stories in mainstream media outlets about bone broth, long a staple of Asian cuisines that has become trendy among white Americans.

    “Mother****ers, you ****ing think you invented bone broth? Right now in the 21st century? I don’t think so,” Chang asserts.

    Through Wu-Tang’s influence, Chang herself became a student of kung fu films, watching them with girlfriends and falling in love with the John Wu films and Chow Yun Fat in particular. The movies weren’t specific to her Korean heritage, of course, but they gave her a foothold to embracing her Asian identity—particularly the parts that didn’t jibe with being a “model minority.”

    “It’s one thing to be angry and just kind of keep it all to yourself and, you know, punch pillows in the quietude of your home. It’s another thing to be able to get out and claim that anger and express it,” Chang says.. “As the ‘model minority,’ especially as a petite Asian woman, I’m expected to be quiet and docile and not upset the apple cart. So being around people [like the Wu-Tang Clan] who helped me own that was incredibly empowering.”

    What Chang doesn’t mention, but comes up continually in conversations with her friends and the people she’s worked with, was how she could take that confidence and empower others.

    “Hip-hop taught me everything about loyalty.” —Sophia Chang
    Joan Morgan, an author and original staff member at Vibe magazine, has counted Chang as a close friend since they crossed paths in the ’90s.

    “I don’t think there’s anyone in my life that’s female ... that’s such a strong advocate for themselves and for other people,” Morgan says. “She’s very clear on what she deserves, but never compromising someone else’s humanity to get to where she wants,” adding that her example has helped Morgan advocate for herself.

    Chaz Hayes, who manages E-40 and Spice 1 and worked with Chang when she was at Jive Records, says she impacted his management philosophy and that of others in the business, teaching him to stay loyal to his artists’ vision and advocate for them.

    “[Of the other label executives], she would be the one I would say to understand from the artist’s perspective. What we were trying to accomplish,” says Hayes, adding that without her at the table at Jive, hip-hop artists, he believes, would have felt more compelled to bow to whatever the label wanted.

    “I don’t think the artists would have longevity because they wouldn’t be themselves,” he says of her influence.

    Tajai, a rapper from the West Coast group Hieroglyphics, whom Chang helped sign and develop, says it was her lack of pretentious that appealed to him.

    “She wasn’t trying to front like, ‘I’m this super b-girl,’” he says, adding that she knew when a thing was dope and wasn’t afraid to say it, and when she didn’t know something, she would ask questions.

    He says Chang also trusted and advocated for what her artists wanted to do—even when they were teenagers. “Her treating you like an equal, like a human being, went a long way,” Tajai says.

    It’s striking—but also makes complete sense—that the traits others highlight in Chang, she credits to hip-hop.

    “Hip-hop taught me everything about loyalty,” Chang says. To her, both in work and in her personal life, loyalty is paramount.

    So, too, is giving back. As the Wu-Tang Clan’s manager, she tracked down a 34th-generation Shaolin monk (Shi Yan Ming, with whom she would later have two kids) and introduced him to RZA. Through her efforts, RZA also became the first performer to ever perform at Shaolin temple, later taking him to Wu-Tang Mountain, “where the abbot of the original Wu-Tang gave the reimagined abbot of Wu-Tang a gift of his temple’s music,” Chang wrote in a 2012 article for the Asian American Writers Workshop.

    That allegiance and fidelity to hip-hop’s most well-known artists, and to the art itself, is what makes Chang an integral part of hip-hop’s story, Morgan says. Hip-hop’s golden age helped spark a personal rebirth for Chang, but so much of what continues to shine from that era was made possible through Chang’s hard work and deep, sincere appreciation for the culture.

    “She literally is responsible for helping to develop segments of the culture. And not in a way that’s tangential or harder to read,” Morgan says. “She was responsible for finding talent. She’s managed some of the most influential acts in the business. And, like all of us, she was coming of age with the culture simultaneously, and ushering in from some subculture to mainstream.”

    Tajai is even more direct.

    “Some of the iconic things we love about the ’90s, she had her hand in,” he says, noting that Redman’s classic debut song, “Blow Your Mind,” with its unforgettable Korean-language verse, was penned with Chang’s help.

    He adds, “If you want to talk about ’90s hip-hop and you don’t include her in the conversation, you got to question either your historical knowledge or what is your motivation for not including her.”

    You can learn more about Sophia Chang and her work on her website, or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Anne Branigin
    News fellow, The Root. Sometimes I blog slow, sometimes I blog quick. Do you have this in coconut?
    Nice to see Sophia get some props. If it wasn't for her, I would've never met RZA, Rosie Perez or Michelle Forbes.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  4. #4
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    Baddest ***** in the Room

    More on Sophia here.

    Former RZA, ODB, and D'Angelo Manager Sophia Chang to Tell Her Story in New Audiobook Memoir
    BY SHAWN SETARO
    Shawn is a Senior Staff Writer at Complex and the host of The Cipher, a critically acclaimed hip-hop podcast that conducts in-depth interviews with the genre’s most interesting and important figures.
    Shawn is also the former editor-in-chief of Rap Genius, and has written about music and culture for Forbes, The Atlantic, Vibe, The Source, GQ, Esquire, The Sondheim Review, and more.
    JUL 25, 2019


    Image via Publicist

    If you watched the recent Wu-Tang Clan documentary Of Mics and Men or listened to the powerful 2017 podcast Mogul about the late Chris Lighty, you no doubt recall Sophia Chang. Chang, a memorable interview subject in both projects, calls herself "the first Asian woman in hip-hop," and she has the resumé to back up the title.

    She has worked at record labels, including stints as General Manager of both RZA's Razor Sharp Records and Joey Badass' Pro Era Records. But Chang is best known for her time as a manager, with an all-star roster of clients: Wu-Tang members RZA, GZA, and Ol' Dirty *******; neo-soul heroes D'Angelo and Raphael Saadiq; Q-Tip; and more. ("I'm really hardwired to manage people," she explained to Complex.)


    Now, after a career of helping great artists tell their stories, Chang is getting ready to tell her own. Her audio memoir The Baddest ***** in the Room (put out by Audible and Reese Witherspoon's company Hello Sunshine) comes out on Sept. 26, and is available for pre-order starting today (July 25).


    Image via Publicist

    Chang will be narrating the memoir herself, which she told Complex was absolutely crucial. To make the point, she quoted an old friend.

    "I voiced the book myself because I think it's really important that people are exposed to my voice both figuratively as well as literally. RZA says, 'My tongue is my sword.' That's very much how I look at myself. I'm a petite Asian woman who did not come into this industry having wealth, power, fame. So what I had to do was work really, really hard, and part of crafting my persona and my identity was sharpening my blade. In kung fu, we say, 'Sharpen your blade every day.' So, not only do I train in kung fu every day, but I also hone the way that I speak, and my voice is my most powerful weapon and tool for myself and to speak on behalf of others."

    Chang, who in recent years has started a new career in public speaking, says that the memoir provides her with an additional way to get her message out, and to honor the people who have been alongside her for her journey.

    "I'm really grateful that Reese Witherspoon and Hello Sunshine and Audible gave me this opportunity and believed that my story was also worthy of telling," she elaborates. "And now that I have the opportunity to tell my story, I'm really grateful that I can share a lot of how other people have been so influential and loving and gracious and generous. That's a range of people from somebody like a Joey Ramone [who Chang met on her very first trip to New York City] that tipped it off, to my mentor Michael Ostin, to Wu-Tang, to the friends that sit around my dinner table, to the extraordinary women in my life. I always talk about the mother****ing village that raised me, and that village comprises all of those people. I get to honor those relationships, and I'm grateful for that."

    Baddest ***** in the Room can be pre-ordered here. Chang is coy about details, but says her audio memoir "will be like no other. This audiobook will be a game changer." You can hear an excerpt, in which she talks about her relationship with Wu-Tang, below.

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  5. #5
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    More on Sophia

    Behind every great man...

    I'm splitting this off from the SYM&STUSA thread into a separate thread just for Sophia. She's an old friend and did a lot for Shaolin in America.


    Hip-Hop Memoirist Sophia Chang on Her Audible Original 'The Baddest ***** in the Room' and Managing Wu-Tang

    9/27/2019 by Eric Diep


    Dana Scruggs
    Sophia Chang

    On Tuesday, the first official day of fall, Sophia Chang made her way through the crowd at The Top of the Standard towards the wooden grand piano. She sits on top of it and smiles, but not for long.

    “Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the baddest ***** in the room, Sophia Chang!” says D-Nice, one of the DJs for Chang’s celebration of her Audible Original memoir, The Baddest ***** in the Room.

    As everyone shouts and applauds, Chang stands on the piano, flexes and poses. Cameras flash to get the shot of our host, who is wearing her signature Gucci leather fedora and a comfortable outfit to dance in. Tonight’s party in Manhattan brought together her friends and closest confidants, some of them appearing as guest speakers in her audiobook.

    “Would you guys like to hear a little bit of my audiobook?” she asks while holding a few sheets of paper. The response is a resounding yes.

    “So, get your phones out because I promise, you’re going to want to have this,” she teases.

    Chang recites a live rendition of an excerpt in her epilogue (which you can hear in full below), describing her unpredictable path of chasing creative passions while establishing her sense of self. Along the way, she explains, she has countless people to thank, who have built her up and supported her through thick and thin. “They are my pillars, my shields, and my mirrors, who challenge me everyday to be a better person,” she says. “I couldn’t do what I do without them.”

    “Then, there’s the Clan. Peace Rakeem.”

    “Peace Soph!” says RZA, watching his friend from afar.

    “Method Man was the first to call me family,” she continues. “ODB was the first to hire me as his manager. And the RZA was the first to empower me as a general manager of a label. They weren’t a constant physical presence over the last quarter century, but they didn’t need to be. They are with me everywhere I go.”

    “Wu-Tang helped me find my voice, and led me to Yan Ming. Method Man gently tended to my confidence as a middle-aged woman. What am I categorically certain of, right now, is it is my turn.”

    Sophia Chang's Audible Original Memoir The Baddest ***** In The Room

    On Sept. 26, Chang -- a music industry veteran, who once managed RZA, Ol' Dirty *******, and GZA, as well as other hip-hop/R&B icons like Q-Tip, Raphael Saadiq, and D’Angelo, is entering a new chamber as a memoirist. Her Audible Original memoir, The Baddest ***** in the Room, is out this week.

    The story chronicles her life as a Korean Canadian, born and raised in Vancouver, who had to face unshakeable racism in her childhood. It follows her through her move to New York, where she lived through the golden era of ‘90s hip-hop, and her breaking into the music industry with stints at Jive and Atlantic, bonding with the Wu-Tang Clan, finding love with a Shaolin monk, dating with bravery as an older woman, and much more. It’s an untold perspective from one of the Wu’s closest associates, who famously bridged cultures by helping to orchestrate RZA’s first trip to the Shaolin Temple in China with Sifu Shi Yan Ming.

    Just days before Chang’s audiobook release, Billboard spoke to her about writing The Baddest ***** in the Room, her relationships with ODB and Chris Lighty, mental health, women in hip-hop, and Asian representation in the entertainment industry.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
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  6. #6
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    Continued from previous post

    [IMG]https://www.billboard.com/files/media/sophia-chang-baddest-*****-2019-billboard-embed.jpg[/IMG]

    You’ve titled your audiobook The Baddest ***** in the Room and you are narrating it yourself because you wanted listeners to be exposed to your voice—both figuratively and literally. From a creative standpoint, how much time did you spent writing your memoir and when did you start recording it?

    So I started writing my memoir last April. I turned in my first draft in August. I turned in a close-to-final draft again in January. I guess it took me eight months to write, and the production behind it has been incredibly ambitious, as you hear. That took a long time. It’s a seven-and-a-half-hour-long audiobook. Recording myself took 20 hours, which is extraordinarily fast. But I have 24 guest voices. No one has ever done this before in an audiobook.

    When you were sitting down and writing your memoir and putting your thoughts down, did you have any goals? What did you want to accomplish with your story?

    I think what I wanted to accomplish was to inspire people. People have been telling me for years, "Oh, you know, Sophia you gotta write a book. You have such a crazy life. You have all these amazing stories." And I resisted it for a long time because, frankly, it felt like an exercise in narcissism, right? A banal tale of hanging out with famous people. I knew that I didn’t want to do that.

    So when I discovered in telling my story I can actually be helpful and be of service of other people, then it gelled for me. But not before that, right? Because self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment and fame, I don’t care about any of that ****. I do not care. So when I finally decided that I was going to write my memoir, and put my story down for history, I did it because I knew that I would be able to inspire -- and hopefully -- empower people.

    Before your audiobook’s release, you’ve been tweeting the guests in your memoir, sharing a bit about why they all mean something to you. With your experience in the music industry, can you share some advice on maintaining meaningful relationships in the music industry? Some of these people have stuck with you as you evolved in your career, and genuinely have become your friends.

    I love that question. I talk about it in my memoir in talking about [Ol' Dirty *******], God rest his soul. ODB was my first management client. And what I understood immediately and profoundly was my artists had to trust me. I think they would all say this, that Sophia Chang did everything in the best interest of her client. Whereas I think there are plenty of people in entourages that do things that are self-servicing. However that plays out. I wasn’t that interested in getting things for myself, what was satisfying for me was helping artists realize their creative vision and getting their stories out there.

    So number one, trust is key. And I think we can say that about any relationship, any given human interaction. And second, I say in my memoir that hip-hop taught me my greatest lesson about loyalty. All of those artists you have seen on my Twitter and you will continue to hear on my memoir have been incredibly loyal to me and me to them in return.

    Raekwon was the first member of Wu-Tang that I got, and he was like, "Soph, I know you didn’t think I wasn’t going to come through for you." I was like, "No." And he said, "You know it was just a matter of time and that I am not never, never going to come through for you." I said, "Absolutely." And we had this incredible conversation, and he in turn -- and I love Rae for this; you know, he and [Ghostface] are obviously close -- he said to Ghost [to do the audiobook].

    When I saw both of them later, I saw Ghost and he said, "So, we’re going to do the audiobook thing, right?" I said, "Yeah, we’re going to do it." And he said, "Yeah, Rae told me, Rae told me." When we saw Rae, he was like, "Yo, did you do it yet? Did you do it for Soph yet?" [Laughs.] And you know, Rae was the first Wu-Tang domino, and he’s the one that really kicked it off. He cajoled Ghost. I was going to get Ghost anyway, but not easily as I would have if Rae have not been my advocate. That’s a ride or die. That’s why I say, "My name is Sophia Chang and I was raised by Wu-Tang."

    In your memoir, you say you became closest with Ol' Dirty *******. He was able to enter your chamber where he could be his “goofy, brilliant, sometimes vulnerable self,” as you described. Why did you and ODB click so well?

    I think ODB, God rest his soul, and I clicked so well is the same reason why I clicked so well with all my artists. Dirty used to say to me, "Sophie, I love the **** out of you. And you know why? When I’m around you, I don’t have to be Ol' Dirty *******, I can be Ason Unique." Ason Unique is his righteous Five Percenter name. He also has an amazing sense of humor, I think we used to make each other laugh. I think what all of them would tell you is I treated them like people. I didn’t treat them like stars, nor did I treat them like the anomaly. I think one of the things that I hope comes through in my memoir is the profound humanity of the guys in the Clan.

    Nobody has the perspective that I do on Wu-Tang, because nobody has the relationship that I do with Wu-Tang. RZA said, "Who is Sophia Chang? In the Wu-Tang Clan, she is the yin to our yang." At once, she’s kind of like our auntie, she’s kind of like our sister. And I don’t know, frankly, if anyone else occupied that space. And he knew that.

    When you talk about getting into the music industry in 1991, it sounds like we come from two different worlds when I compare it to my experience. Do you think it was more open and collaborative back then? Were more people about experiencing the growth of hip-hop from a subculture to mainstream?

    Yeah, I moved to New York in ’87. So my first job at Jive was in ’91. But I immersed myself in the scene in ’87. And at that time, hip-hop was still No. 1, very New York-centric. You certainly had artists in the West Coast and the South and stuff like that but not like the proliferation that you see now. New York was still very much the nexus of hip-hop. And it was also a small scene, like you said, it wasn’t mainstream yet. It was still an underground scene and it was still a subculture. And there’s no Internet, right? The dissemination of music only came through the gatekeepers, meaning record companies and radio. There was no listening to SoundCloud. There were no places that you could put up your mixtape. There were these very specific gatekeepers, and I’m grateful for the iterations of those.

    But where we all gathered was in the clubs. So in a club you would have MCs, DJs, rap artists, B-Boys. They are the creatives, right? But you would also have managers, A&Rs, publicists, attorneys, touring agents. You had everybody in it. It was a very small, insular scene. And to that end, I would say it was collaborative -- but it was also felt so distinctly like a community, because we were all so excited.

    You know, for me, the green, Canadian French lit major, it was a deep privilege to be welcomed into this world that was not of my making. I’m welcomed into somebody else's world and somebody else’s culture. And we were all very, very close. We were also excited because we were making discoveries together, because another way we heard of the music was at the clubs.

    So I’ll give you an example: DJ Clark Kent. One of the greatest DJs of all time. I was at the club when he broke a Color Me Badd song called “I Wanna Sex You Up.” And It was a huge ****ing hit. The first time any of us heard it was that he had a white label, which is a 12” that didn’t have the art or anything yet. It was an advanced copy, and he played it at the club and none of us had heard it. He broke the record, single-handedly, at that club. It was incredible.

    If you still keep an eye on the industry now, what do you think about it? There’s definitely an emphasis on things like influencers, brands, data, and streaming numbers.

    I think the industry is exactly where it is supposed to be, with the advent of technology and social media. I am not really attached to it anymore. I don’t have my finger on the pulse anymore. I don’t know who the latest, greatest artists are. I don’t know who the biggest influencers are. It’s very foreign to me, because that’s not how I interacted in the industry. But I also think that’s just where the state of the business is now, because technology is a behemoth.

    The music industry lost for years and years, because we were in denial of technology. We didn’t understand what Napster was, and what it could do for the business. I mean imagine being in the music business, here comes Napster, and all of a sudden the stuff that you produce and make and sell for $24.99 a CD is suddenly free? And the whole world believes they should get this thing that you made for free. Here comes the collapse, right? And the music business is, as the French would say, bouleversée -- it’s turned upside down and it doesn’t know what to do. So I think it is exactly where it should be. But I think the evolution of it is really fascinating.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
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    Continued from previous post

    There’s a story where you’re at the New Music Seminar in 1991 as a speaker. You're side-by-side with Joan Morgan, who called herself a “hip-hop feminist,” and it took you decades of learning and living to claim that term. What’s your take on seeing the rise of Cardi B, the support of Rapsody, and just an overall change in how we embrace women in rap?

    I think it is amazing and late. It’s really late. I mean, we live in a patriarchy, and I was part of that. Although I did sign a female rapper, a woman named Mz. Kilo from L.A. I think that it is so testosterone-driven that I am so delighted by these female artists that are coming out today. There’s actually a lot of female MCs: [Queen] Latifah, and [MC] Lyte, and Monie [Love], and Isis [now known as Lin Que]. There were lots of them. Yo-Yo and Da Brat and stuff. It didn’t seem surprising.

    I think somewhere along the way, there weren’t as many. So this proliferation -- and also seeing how powerful they are -- is really exciting. Seeing Cardi come up, and really claim her **** and stake her claim and become this really outspoken woman -- and doing it on her terms -- is a phenomenal message.

    You grew up shunning the model minority myth. There was a time when you felt like an outsider, rejecting your Korean heritage. For example, when you were younger, you felt ashamed that Korean food looked and smelled differently. But you later decided to embrace your heritage, your traditions, and your culture. Why was that so important for you to do?

    I have to give context for that. I am a child of Korean immigrants who was born and raised in Vancouver. And though there was a lot of Asians there, we were still very much the minority. I was born in 1965 so I was in 5th grade in 1975. I grew up being called a ch--k, a J-p, and a g--k, and it was regular. I say this in my memoir, a big part of my rejection of my culture was watching my culture be rejected by my adopted country and being made to feel other. And other is lesser, isn’t it? Nobody is put on the margin so they can be elevated, they’re put on the margin so they can be diminished.

    Korean was my first language. I lost it on my mission to assimilate. I was ashamed of my parents’ names being different. I was ashamed that my parents spoke with accents. I was ashamed and embarrassed about our food. Kids saying, "Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees, look at these" to my ****ing face, because there was never a time that I wasn’t being reminded of it.

    As a result of that, I wanted, as a child, to be white. Plain and ****ing simple -- I wanted to be white. From what I can gather from anecdotal evidence, that is a very common experience for first-gen immigrants. And then I hear “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in my senior year of high school. I move to New York. I hear A Tribe Called Quest, Leaders [of the New School], Jungle Brothers, Monie Love, and Latifah, and they’re all a part of the Native Tongues movement, which is steeped in Afrocentrism and this is about yearning for a connection to Africa, to their motherland. That made me go, "Oh, OK, that’s interesting." And it made me re-examine myself. And then I met Wu-Tang Clan. [Laughs.]

    Everybody knows this, [but] Wu-Tang is named after Wudang, which is a mountain in the providence of Hebei, China. They called their home borough of Staten Island Shaolin, which is the mecca of martial arts. Not only did they introduce me to kung-fu movies, they also introduce me to John Woo, who is the greatest director of all-time, and his muse Chow Yun-Fat, the greatest actor of all time. It’s the first time I find Asian men attractive because again, I’ve internalized all the bull**** messages, the terrible racist messages, that Asian men aren’t attractive. And then I see The Killer and I’m like, "Oh my God, I wanna marry this man!" He’s married, but otherwise I would be married to that man. So it is this very interesting, circuitous route that I take back to myself.

    Do you think we’re in a renaissance for Asians in American pop culture right now? With the success of Crazy Rich Asians and The Farewell, as well as SNL casting its first Asian cast member, Bowen Yang, is there still room for improvement?

    Not a renaissance, right? ‘Cause a renaissance implies a rebirth. It’s not like we come back around to something, we were never ****ing here before. Do I think we are seeing an increase of representation? Of course. We have Crazy Rich Asians, we have The Farewell, we have my friend Justin Chon’s film Ms. Purple, which is excellent, that just came out. We have Fresh Off the Boat. Is there a rising tide? Yes.

    Again, to the other point? It’s late. It’s never too late, but it’s late. Is there room for more representation? Yes. The bottom of this funnel is small. We are all kind of squeezed through the tiny end of the funnel. I don’t want it to be a funnel. I want it to be a big ass hole that we can just all jump through. It’s better and I’m delighted, but it is nowhere near where it should be.

    My brother Heesok Chang, he’s a genius. He’s [one of the] ten smartest people I know. When I started writing, he said to me, "Sophia, what you’re doing with your memoir, is that you are simply asking the world to imagine that you exist." That was profound. And it remains profound and I write it at the end of my memoir. What he is saying is absolutely right. What I promise to the world is if you’ve never ****ing seen anybody like Sophia Chang before and you never will again. And in that way, I am cracking open the imagination to world of: What can an Asian -- in my case Canadian -- Asian woman look like? Because for all the tropes, for all the "model minority" myth, for all the stereotypes, for all of the ways that we have been oppressed -- I am none of that.

    My daily life is an act of defiance. I am essentially a 54-year-old Canadian Korean woman, who has a crazy samurai hairdo, who is a single mother of two grown teenagers, who is out here announcing to the world in no uncertain terms and with no compunction whatsoever and with fire conviction, that I am the baddest ***** in the room. That’s ****ing radical.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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    Continued from previous post

    You also talk about Chris Lighty at various points in the memoir. He was someone that became one of your most valuable friends, giving you the gift of sanctuary during tough times. Can you speak on his contributions to hip-hop and what Lighty-isms you kept with you since his passing?

    Chris Lighty, God rest his soul, yes, was one of my closest friends. Chris Lighty was my Rock of Gibraltar, he was my shelter to the storm. He was my Kevlar. Knowing that I walk with Chris Lighty figuratively, meant that I walked with this shield of imperviousness.

    To his contributions to hip-hop, Chris came up carrying crates for the legendary DJ Red Alert. Way back in the day like the mid-’80s. And the thing about Chris is he was so smart, and he was so entrepreneurial. He was just a hustler to the core. And he grew up doing what he does with The Violators, grew up on the streets. He was no stranger to danger. He had really good instincts on people.

    I remember I would go see Chris at his Violator office, and he’s a mogul, and he’s sitting at the top of the world and he’s managing the biggest talents in the world, and he would stop everything to listen to DJ Scratch -- another dear friend of mine -- to DJ Scratch’s radio show on WBLS because it was really important for him to listen to that show.

    Chris was hip-hop in a way that I never will be. And I’m not diminishing myself, it was just him. He was from the South Bronx, he grew up there. I say in my memoir, the rise of Chris Lighty mirrors the rise of hip-hop. From the projects of the South Bronx and the turntables being plugged into a streetlamp to becoming this global cultural figure. And he was there. He was there for every one of those transitions.

    After going through the deaths of ODB and Lighty, you talk about mental health, telling people if you see signs of your friend suffering, go ahead and speak up. A lot of people in the music industry have been open about their mental health issues as a way to destigmatize the shame from having depression or addiction. Personally, do you think this is a good direction we are heading towards?

    My answer to that is yes -- but we need much more conversation around it. I was supposed to do a panel back in March with my friend Danielle Belton, the editor-in-chief of The Root. And it was going to be me, her, a mental health professional, and it was going to be RZA and Joey Bada$$. And the topic was, Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Suicide in Hip-Hop. Because of my personal losses, I wanted to crack open this conversation because it’s just not discussed. For us, too. Asians, we don’t talk about mental health. It’s stigmatized. It’s seen as a weakness, as opposed to an illness, which it is. It’s an actual illness.

    When I was coming up in hip-hop during what we call the golden era, people may of talked about smoking weed, but they didn’t talk about much else. I never saw anybody doing anything more than smoking weed. Maybe they were, but they sure as hell didn’t do it around me. But now, you have a bunch of really popular artists bragging about drinking lean, taking xans, percs, oxy. Those are prescription opioids. And you don’t have to be very educated to understand that prescription opioids is an issue. There’s an epidemic of overdoses all across the country. Every race. Every sector.

    To me, hip-hop is the biggest genre in this country. For the biggest artists in the biggest genre to essentially brag about a lifestyle where they’re slowly killing themselves... Make no doubt about it. As far as I know, people don’t casually take prescription opioids. Oh, you know, every once in a while, I put the kids to bed and I have a glass of Rosé. You don’t casually take opioids. So it’s one of two things: Either they’re lying about it, which is terrible because it still means they’re setting an example. Or, they’re not lying about it, and those boys are addicted. And we will continue to lose talent if we don’t open up the conversation.

    Lastly, what is the biggest challenge of being an artist manager?

    I think the biggest challenge is that it is largely a thankless job. You have to have the constitution to just keep going at it, and you often don’t get the recognition you deserve because artists are -- and this is partially them, but it is also part of the culture that we created -- they are largely narcissists. And it’s a matter of saying, "I’m going to do this despite the fact I’m not really getting the recognition and the thanks that I wish." So I would say that’s the biggest emotional challenge. And maybe some people don’t care about that. I know that I care about it. The other thing is you’re constantly cajoling. Cajoling, cajoling, cajoling, all the time.

    There’s a part in the memoir where you talk about GZA saying, “We did it,” giving you your props and validation for your work.

    Holy ****! Yeah, but the GZA is one in a million, for real. I would also say I have to shout-out Joey Bada$$. He was recently on the radio with Angie Martinez and the RZA. And she asked, "How did you guys meet?" And he said, "Shout out to Sophia Chang, she introduced us. And she’s been instrumental in my career." That was stunning. Stunning.

    Our interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
    shoot. i forgot our forum censors ***** again.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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    More buzz

    The First Asian Woman In Hip Hop Is Ready To Tell Her Life Story
    By ERIN KELLY
    Sept 26, 2019


    Dana Scruggs

    Sophia Chang is a living legend. At 54, her storied resume starts in the music business in 1980s New York City — a career that led her to become the first Asian woman in hip hop, ultimately becoming manager for members of the legendary Wu-Tang Clan — but that's not where her story ends. That union put Chang's life on a path that led her to a Shaolin monk who would become her partner, a journey into motherhood, and defining shifts that would force her to decide what kind of woman she wanted to be — and she's finally ready to tell her story.

    In her Audible Original by Hello Sunshine, The Baddest ***** In The Room, Chang shares the intimate details of how she's lived a life full of dismantling biases about what it means to be an Asian woman. From the board rooms of some of hip hop's most powerful record labels, to a defining journey to the Wudang mountains, The Baddest ***** In The Room inspires anyone who’s ever struggled with defining their limits.

    To give Bustle readers a taste of everything The Baddest ***** In The Room has to offer, we partnered with Audible to talk to Chang about all things fearless — from diving back into the dating scene in her 50s, to changing careers, to shattering one stereotype after the next.

    You mention that it wasn’t until you were 50 that you were ready to tell your story. Why is now the right time?

    I wasn’t ready before I turned 50. I spent my entire 30-year career helping remarkably talented men tell their stories and it simply didn’t occur to me that mine was worth telling. That changed when I started working at [a music group] in 2014 and took on a number of young female mentees, and then the idea crystallized three years later when I participated in [a film program]. A film I was producing was chosen to be part of this event that gives you a very limited time to pitch your project to buyers.

    I narrowed my resume to 60 seconds and almost every time the buyer said, "Now that’s the movie I want to see!" Although I have never fulfilled the Model Minority Myth — that I, as an Asian Canadian am not supposed to stand out, play by the rules, never upset the apple cart — I did internalize it to the point of not wanting to be in the spotlight. Obviously, that’s changed.


    Dana Scruggs

    In The Baddest ***** In The Room, you discuss that you admired how one of your clients valued himself while negotiating. Looking back, what did being in this job teach you about valuing yourself?

    Managing [a prominent hip hop artist] taught me to be truly in service of the artist, whereas doing A&R — being the talent scout who helped get an album made and shepherd it through the system — you are beholden to the label as its employee. Working with [that artist] elevated my negotiating game. He once said to me "Soph, you’ve gotta get me more money." I realized that the fact that I don’t care that much about money is irrelevant because, again, I am in the service of my client. So I learned how to read contracts and negotiate, and now I’m an animal at it and I love the art of the deal.

    You write that you were warned not to sleep with artists or you’d be “done" in the music business. How did that make you feel at the time? Would you react the same way today?

    It enraged me then, as it does now. It’s all about patriarchy, isn’t it? It’s the whole pimp/ho binary: A man is lauded, high-fived, and patted on the back for sleeping with a bunch of women, but women are shamed and branded with the scarlet letter. If someone told me that now, I would say "suck a d*ck," because I can sleep with anyone that I want and that by doing so, I am neither a lesser nor greater woman.

    How did you know that it was time to move on to other career opportunities?

    If you read my [resume], you’d be stunned by the number of jobs in different sectors that I’ve had. I was never very conflicted about leaving one job and taking on another, even if I knew nothing about it. Partly because I had the privilege of a middle-class safety net, partly because, again, my confidence. If I f*cked up or got canned, I always knew that there would be another hustle for me. Other than with my ex, I never attached my identity too tenaciously to any one position. I think that’s a potential recipe for disaster — what happens if you get fired? Are you lost because you no longer feel whole? No, thank you.

    What was your motivation for beginning kung fu training?

    I never had to work out to stay thin, thanks to my mother’s hummingbird metabolism, but as I neared 30, I wanted to be more fit so I started going to the gym, which I found so boring. Then I met Wu-Tang Clan and they introduced me to kung fu flicks and the beauty of Asian culture in general, which I had rejected from childhood. I decided I wanted to start to train.

    I had no idea that training would lead to me being at my strongest at 54 and the man I would partner with in business and life and parenthood. That’s a profound gift and I owe that to the Clan!


    Dana Scruggs

    How did your priorities change when you became a mom?

    My priorities changed completely as a mother. The second I gave birth I knew two things with utter certainty: That I would die for my child in an instant, and that I would kill for my child just as quickly. My child’s safety is my primal and primary concern such that every single move I make is for them — from the jobs I take to where we live to the men I date.

    What’s your relationship with hip hop like today?

    I don’t have a relationship with current hip hop. As a 54-year-old mother, I think it would be weird if I said that the music of today is the soundtrack to my life. It doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy certain songs and artists, but the music doesn’t speak to me the way it used to. To be clear, that’s neither a judgment nor indictment of the music; I simply got too old for it. In my eyes, it’s the most youth-centered genre of music: it’s made by the young, about the young, for the young. My 17-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son are total hip hop heads, thank god, and they tell me anything I need to know. I love and respect the culture because it gave me so much, but it’s no longer the music I listen to on the daily.

    I'm curious: What's it been like to dive back into the dating scene in your 50s?

    I was 42 when I left my ex and hadn’t been single since I was 30, which was in 1995. Well, guess what happened in the meantime? The internet and smartphones. When I emerged from that relationship I felt like ... "Wait, you send pictures of what, how?" But let me tell you, once I crossed that line, I was an instant pro.

    What's next for Sophia Chang?

    Well, at 54 I have a new career: I’m an author. I have more books in me for sure. I also have a number of TV shows in development, one that’s a scripted project about me. I will be a showrunner one day and make sure that my Asian sisters and brothers are brought into the writers’ rooms and we are properly represented.

    So: What's the secret to becoming the baddest b*tch in the room?

    I don’t know that there’s a secret to becoming the baddest b*tch in the room. What I do know is that it starts by self-examination and self-celebration. I hope my memoir inspires women to mine their power and see their beauty. It’s not only the amazing aggregate of our qualities that makes us the baddest b*tch in the room, it’s also claiming it. I know that’s hard, but more of us need to get there if we’re going to rule the world, right?



    Courtesy of Audible
    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    This post is sponsored by Audible.
    Sophia's impact on Shaolin and pop culture was fascinating. I'm glad she's getting some spotlight now.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
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    Sophia & Wu



    Sophia Chang — Woman Who Helped Guide the Career of the Wu-Tang Clan, Q-Tip & More — is Finally Telling Her Story [Interview]
    POSTED BY DIMAS SANFIORENZO 19 HOURS AGO


    Photo Credit: Dana Scruggs

    We sat down with industry veteran Sophia Chang, who just released her memoir The Baddest ***** in the Room. She talked about her career, public speaking, her relationship with Chris Lighty, and imagining Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” video with women at the table.
    “My name is Sophia Chang, and I was raised by Wu-Tang.”

    Usually, that would make for an amazing greeting. But it’s one of the last things Sophia Chang tells me during our 40-minute phone conversation we have just days after her memoir, the Audible Originals The Baddest ***** in the Room, is published. It’s a hell of a line, one she’s probably said dozens of times during her 30-year career working in music.

    It’s not hyperbole, either. In the early ’90s, Chang was a pivotal behind the scenes player in music, working in various departments from A&R to promotions to management. Over the years she collaborated and rubbed shoulders with a wide spectrum of artists: like Paul Simon, Q-Tip, Redman, and Chris Lighty. But it was the Wu-Tang Clan who she really bonded with and who, she says, “claimed” her. She met the Clan in 1993, right when they released their debut single, “Protect Ya Neck,” and almost instantly sparked a friendship with the group. Often called “Wu-Tang’s muse,” she has, at various points in her career, managed RZA, Ol’ Dirty *******, and the GZA.

    Despite her resume in rap music— she says she’s the “first Asian in hip-hop” — only a small portion of The Baddest *****, which was released on September 26th, is centered around hip-hop. There is a love component here. In the mid-’90s she started learning kung fu and fell in love with a Shallon Monk named Shi Yan Ming. She left the music industry behind and put a majority of her time and effort into building Yan Ming’s brand and maintaining his Manhattan-based temple. The two would eventually go on to have two kids together before going their separate ways. (During this time there were early plans on expanding Ming’s temple.)

    After making her way back into the music industry — in various stints, including working in a senior position at Universal Music Group — Chang started to realize she spent her life helping craft the stories of men. It was time to tell her own story.

    The Baddest ***** in the Room is a compelling listen, mainly because Chang is an expert storyteller. She’s great with details and she isn’t scared to be vulnerable in public. (At various points in the book you hear her voice crack while telling an emotional story.) Lots of artists are mentioned in the book. But nothing ever feels gossipy. Sophia made a conscientious effort to keep the story centered around her and the many geniuses that orbited her. In this book, Chang is the Sun. The memoir is also super interactive; throughout you hear (sometimes grainy) audio clips from the likes of RZA, Ghostface Killah, Method Man, Raphael Saadiq, hip-hop feminist Joan Morgan and more.

    I recently sat down with Sophia Chang to talk about the making of the book, her relationship with Chris Lighty, and imagining Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M.” video with women at the table.

    Check out the interview below.

    Could you have written this book 15 years ago?
    No. I wasn’t ready to write it 15 years ago. I still wasn’t interested in telling my story. I didn’t yet think that it was worthy of telling. Also, 15 years ago, my children were two and four…and [at those ages] you’re in the thick of it. There’s no way I would’ve been ready. I was still with my ex. I was running this temple. [There] was way too much going on.

    Did you have an epiphany moment?
    There were two things that happened. I started working at Universal Music Group. And I took on a number of young women fresh out of college — many of them 22 at the time — as mentees. It occurred to me, given my vast experience, having worked so many different jobs in so many different sectors, I could use my experience to help teach people. That was number one. Number two: [Sheryl Sandberg’s book] Lean In came out. Lean In had some really great messages. But that is written from a very specific perspective, and I had originally conceived of this book as a Lean In for women of color.

    It turned into a very traditional chronological memoir. But I do really hope that people, particularly women of color, glean messages from it.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  11. #11
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    Continued from previous post


    Photo Credit: Gary Gershoff/Getty Images

    You left a career in music essentially for love and family.
    It wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s not like I sat there and said, “OK Sophia, you’re leaving this world and now you’re going to into that world.” It was a pretty organic transition, and I didn’t really think that hard about it.

    One of my editors asked me when I was writing, “Did you ever regret leaving any of those jobs?” And as a personal philosophical philosophy, I do not believe in regret. I don’t experience regret like that. So if I **** up — and I **** up plenty — I am regretful that I’ve hurt somebody’s feelings and then I address it and I apologize. As somebody who is self-analyzing ,self-interrogating, self-critical, and self-renewing, I am constantly taking stock of what it is that I do, how I behave, and how I could have modified my behavior for a better outcome.

    That means that once I make that analysis that I am learning something — learning something means that I have gained a lesson. A lesson, to me, is a gift. So I don’t live with regret in general and I never looked back. It wasn’t until I was writing this memoir that I went, “Wow, you know what? I might be a record company president right now.” And there’s no part of me that says “****! I made the wrong decision.” Because it wasn’t just for love that I left. It was also because I believed so deeply in Yan Ming and his vision for building the Shaolin Temple in upstate New York.

    Why do you think Wu-Tang hovered towards you in the beginning?
    When I met Wu-Tang it was before the album came out, but everybody knew they were going to be huge. We only had to hear “Protect ya Neck” once to know, Oh ****, these guys are going to blow the **** up. So there were hundreds of people around them, all clamoring for access. And here comes this petite Asian, Canadian woman in the midst of them.

    They just plucked me out of the crowd and they not only welcomed me, they claimed me. Now why do I think that was? I never had an agenda. I never had ulterior motives. I had [three] things: I was a devoted fan, but there were plenty of those. Number two: I love them deeply as people. And number three: I only ever wanted what was in their best interest. I say in my memoir being embraced by the Clan was amazing because I felt truly seen. And my friend said, “You know, don’t you think it’s possible that they would say the same thing? That when they met you, they felt seen because they were seen in one way. and then here comes Sophia Chang and you just cut through everything and you see them for their humanity?”

    The bonus content [on the book] to me is some of the richest content. I specifically asked Ghostface Killa and Raekwon this question, “Why me, you guys, why did you choose me?” And they both put it up to the Most High. They both said “It’s God’s plan, Soph. You were supposed to be there with us.” Ghost was like “You’re like sunshine, Soph.” And Raekwon said “You were a gift to us. You were instrumental in the things that we did.” And I never knew they thought of me that way. I just thought that I was somebody that they loved dearly who was just kind of in the midst.

    The other thing that Ghost said is “You never ever changed. Ever.” And Busta Rhymes said this to me last year, he said, “You’re the most consistent person I’ve ever met in hip-hop. We met you before Leaders of the New School was signed. When I had my solo career. When I was up, when I was down. You never changed.”

    One of the things I found interesting is that you talk about how you learned about your Asian roots through hip-hop.
    I am Asian, and I was born and raised in Vancouver. So I am a yellow girl in a white world. And what I wanted more than anything, when I was a kid, was to be white. And then in 12th grade, I hear “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and it’s an amazing song. And of course the lyrics are incredible and the beats are amazing.

    I understand now, in retrospect, but I think that one of the things that really struck me was that I was hearing a song about a story about people of color by people of color as opposed to what I saw. Which, when I saw people of color, it was all through Hollywood’s lens, which is a white male lens. And so hip-hop to me was so much about agency in storytelling and defiance and pride. And I never ever seen that before. So that was really regulatory. And then I moved to New York, I get into hip-hop, and I’m very close friends with many of the artists in the Native Tongues movement: De La Soul, Jungle Brothers, A Tribe Called Quest, Latifa, Monie Love, Leaders of the New School. And, you know, they’re part of this Afro-centric movement, which focuses a lot on yearning for a deeper connection to Africa — their motherland.

    And so that kind of sparked curiosity in me. And it makes me think about my own connection to my own continent, which is Asia. Korean was my first language. I lost it in my desire to assimilate. I wanted to be white. I didn’t think that Asian men were attractive. At one point. I didn’t like Korean food, like it was just this very broad, really wide rejection of my culture. And then I meet Wu-Tang clan. They were raised in Staten Island and they call their borough Shaolin and their whole ethos on [Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)] was all about Kung-fu movies and John Woo movies.

    So not only am I seeing this really incredible, robust culture of period martial arts movies, but now I’m getting a lens on modern age masculinity through John Woo’s eyes. And you know his muse is Chow Yun-fat and Chow Yun-fat, to me, is like the handsomest man that’s ever walked this planet. That was also regulatory for me. And so their respect for, and reverence and love of Asian culture helped open my eyes to it, but it wasn’t until I met them that I let all of the blocks fall away. It was kind of through the chambers of Wu-Tang that I ultimately came back to myself.

    If it wasn’t for Wu-Tang, I wouldn’t have started training in Kung-Fu. I wouldn’t have met Yan Ming. If didn’t meet Yan Ming I wouldn’t have my children. I mean I owe a lot to the Wu-Tang clan.

    In the book you talk about the last time you saw Ol’ Dirty ******* and the fact that he just wasn’t present. Was there any part of you that wanted to sugarcoat that story?
    One of the things that I think listeners will be struck by is how many times I say “God rest his soul” or “God rest her soul” in my memoir. I’m only 54 years old and other than my father — God rest his soul — who was 80 when he passed, everybody that I lose leaves in an untimely fashion. I think that, yes, naturally it was hard for me to write and it was hard for me to narrate. You know, that’s one of the things that I knew about my memoir, and that it was going to be an audiobook: I insisted that I had to read it I had to be the voice behind the story. Because another reader — let’s say we’d hired a professional actor — they would not have been able to emote the way that I did, especially when it came to loss.

    And in terms of sugarcoating things or holding things back, there’s plenty more I could have put in this memoir. I’ve been around famous people for 32 years, but I never intended to write a tell-all. I’m not interested in that. If somebody came along to me today and said, “Sophia, I’ll give you $5 million if you’ll write the tell-all, and you’ll tell us all the dirt on all the famous people you know” I wouldn’t even hesitate, to say no. I have no interest in telling anybody else’s story unless it is part of my narrative.

    So when I was shopping my book deal — and it was competitive — there were two things that I said, and I said the same thing when I was looking around for agents: number one is that it’s my voice. I write this ****. I am far from the best writer in the world, but I’ll tell you what, I’m not going to ****ing let somebody else try to capture my voice. Number two: I refuse to write a book about being with greatness, meaning hanging out with celebrities because that is, to me, an exercise in narcissism.

    I found Chris Lighty to be a very interesting and mysterious presence in the book. Did you, did you ever feel like you fully understood him?
    Yeah. I think I fully understood him, but did I know everything that was going on in his life? No. And I think those are two different things.

    I knew who Chris Lighty was, but I didn’t know the burden that he was bearing. I couldn’t say I understand everything that was going on in his life. But I understood Chris. Absolutely I did.
    continued next post
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  12. #12
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    Continued from previous post

    What do you tell people who have questions about the music industry in general? Like what are things you tell them that wish you knew as a 22-year-old?
    Let’s reframe the question. I was in the music business, pre-digital, so it’s very, very different. I’m in an industry that is flushed with cash, so everything is different. So let’s reframe it this way. What would I tell a 22-year-old getting into the business now? If they want to manage artists, I say, “OK, go ahead and do it. But you better be OK with not making any money unless you’re somehow going to manage an artist who already has a robust touring merchandise and endorsement or sponsorship career because otherwise you’re not making money.” And that’s OK. I don’t care. You don’t have to make money. But you have to know that going in. And for that reason, be passionate about your artists because you will go in and you will be their proxy and you will need to sell the **** out of them.

    They have to be on top of everything because hopefully when get as big and successful as you want, they’re going to be many, many, many balls in the air. Raphael Sadiq said about me, ” Soph, you never let a ball drop.” And RZA said “You’re the most organized person I ever met.” And those might sound like banal skills. What I realized now is [how imporant] those things are when you have so much stuff going on.



    I love the part in the book when you talk about helping Rakeon with the “C.R.E.A.M” video, and you mentioned how there shouldn’t be women in the video. But, looking back, you now wish you had women in there around the table as CEOs.
    My ideas about everything are still evolving. I’m sure there are things that I wrote and that I say today that in a few years I’m going to say, “well that was stupid” or “that was ignorant.” You know, I’m still learning. I’m just constantly evolving and pushing myself to be better. And I surround myself with people who are smarter than me, who can check me if necessary.

    There’s a line in my memoir where I say, “Rae, you know what I love about Wu-Tang and about the [36 Chambers] album is that there are no women in it.” He’s like, “yeah, you get it Soph.” And then I said to him, “What I do… the 28-year-old me is happy because there are no women in it because they were so objectified at the time. But the 54-year-old me wishes that you’d put a woman in there at the table with you as your peer. “And he was like, of course Soph, but it’s a different time. He totally understood that.

    So yeah, things change, you know, hopefully we continue to evolve and we continue to get smarter and better and we just keep growing.

    Is there anything you want to add?
    What’s next for me, is public speaking. It’s not even that it’s next. I started public speaking before I even wrote a book. I know that God put me on this planet to put a mic in my hand and have me on stage, you know, just like an MC, except I’m not a talented artist like that.

    I honestly think I’m the greatest public speaker I’ve ever seen. I mean that from the bottom of my ****ing heart. I don’t think there’s anybody better than me. And I don’t think there’s anybody that can deliver my message. Who could deliver my message? My name is Sophia Chang, and I was raised by Wu-Tang. I’m the Korean-Canadian immigrant who was a French literature major who was raised by Wu-Tang Clan and who was partnered with and had children and ran the business of a Shaolin monk. So all of that kind of crazy diverse experiences hone this voice and this voice is supposed to be shared with the world.

    I mean, RZA knew it. He was like, “I can hear you. I can imagine that you are going to be in arenas talking to 25,000 people.”


    Photo Credit: Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Audible
    I've been doing the Sophia Chang thread a disservice by not copying it to the Wu Forever thread.[/QUOTE]
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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