Sophia Chang, the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘muse,’ says the group helped her embrace her race
The former manager of RZA, GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard has a new memoir out
America, witness the Wu-naissance.
In May, Showtime aired Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a four-part documentary. Earlier this month, Hulu launched the miniseries Wu-Tang: An American Saga. And on Sept. 26, the woman Method Man once described as Wu-Tang’s “muse,” Sophia Chang, drops her audiobook memoir, The Baddest Bitch in the Room.
The former manager of RZA, GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Chang is a longtime music executive who dubs herself “the first Asian woman in hip-hop.” She talked to The Undefeated about how RZA became godfather to her kids, the double standards that women face and how Wu-Tang helped her embrace her own cultural identity.
The interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
How does a Korean-Canadian child of immigrants, with no formal music education, end up managing members of the Wu-Tang Clan?
I’d like to correct you. Like all good Koreans, I did take a few years of piano! In 1987, the hip-hop community was small and New York-centric. Every sector of the industry — the emcees, DJs, rap artists, B-boys, A&R [artists and repertoire] people, publicists, producers, agents, attorneys, managers — everyone was at the clubs. I got into the music industry through the clubs.
I started working at Jive [Records], heard the Wu-Tang and Gravediggaz demo and wanted to meet the man behind these groups. Once I met [RZA], it was clear that we had an intellectual, spiritual connection. I’m Buddhist and believe in reincarnation and think it’s entirely possible that we’ve known each other in the past and fought battles together.
It was a different connection than the night you met Ol’ Dirty Bastard.
Dirty, God rest his soul. One night, I was in this club in Chelsea, I saw his braids across the club. I made my way across the club. I think he’d already heard about me, so he hugged me. He was so energetic and expressive. He made me laugh, and all of a sudden I hear this POP-POP-POP! I knew it was gunfire because I’d been in enough clubs to know what that sounded like. He’s like, ‘Get down, Sophie!’ grabs my head and gently pushes me to the floor. I look at him and he’s laughing his a– off. I’m like, OK, this is probably not the first time for you because you don’t seem concerned, but I was straight shook.
What was it about Wu-Tang’s music that spoke to you?
Here’s a group whose whole ethos is built on martial arts, which is Asian culture. So built into the DNA of the Wu-Tang Clan — named after Wudang, a mountain and sword style in China — is a respect and love for Asian culture. It felt earnest. It didn’t feel like something they just slapped on and thought, ‘Oh, wouldn’t this be cool?’
Then there’s nine [emcees]! Who the f— corrals nine emcees and makes it all sound cohesive? It’s one thing if you know nine dope emcees and say, ‘Come in and drop 16 bars.’ That’s not that hard. But to make it work as a collective group, have a consistent ethos and aesthetic, that takes a master alchemist.
How did the Clan’s love for Asian culture affect your own confidence?
There was a time when I didn’t want to eat Korean food, where my mother had to make me cheeseburgers. Have you ever had Korean food? It’s f—ing amazing. So I’m embarrassed about my parents’ name, their broken accent. The food smells different, I look different. Then Wu-Tang introduces me to this world. I start watching kung fu movies, [director] John Woo movies, and it was a different lens to see Asian masculinity. I’m watching these John Woo movies and I’m like, I want to marry [actor] Chow Yun-fat because he’s the finest man I’ve seen in my f—ing life. There’s this whole notion of what Asian masculinity is; it was eye-opening. Then I meet [Shaolin monk] Shi Yan Ming, who then becomes the father of my children.
How did RZA become their godfather?
By the time I was pregnant, RZA already had four children. He, his then-wife, me, [my ex] were all very close, spent a lot of time together. I have so much respect for him as a thoughtful, honest and philosophical man. It just made sense that, God forbid, something befall me and [my ex], we would entrust him and his partner to raise my children. We knew he’d be a good father.
What should be Wu-Tang’s legacy?
The Wu-Tang logo, designed by DJ Mathematics, is the most famous music logo in the world. I don’t think the Rolling Stones logo is bigger. You can go into the smallest village in the farthest corners of the Earth and chances are you’ll find a m—–f—– with a Wu-Tang tattoo or rocking a Wu-Tang T-shirt, and that is profound. That’s not about their music, that’s about who they are as a collective, their fearlessness.
In an industry with few women, especially in the late ’80s and early ’90s, what kind of double standards did you face?
It’s not just in the music business but in general: the patriarchy. I had a conversation days ago with a woman who had a reputation for sleeping with artists, and that never left her. Is that fair? She allegedly did what the men did, and the men never got judged for it; instead, they got patted on their backs. ‘Oh, you f—ed her? High-five!’ That’s not what it was like for [women]. I was single, didn’t have kids. You think I didn’t want to be out there f—ing a bunch of people in the industry? Sure, I did! But I held myself back because I knew as unfair as it was, it would become a scarlet letter on my forehead.
Why tell your story now?
I’m hoping that anybody who’s felt marginalized, silent, undervalued, underseen, anyone who’s been told they can’t pursue their dreams, anyone who’s been told they’re crazy for wanting what they want, they [listen] to my memoir and go, ‘OK, this b—- just went out and did it.’