In 1993, the Staten Island-based hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan released its debut studio album “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),” a compilation of 13 tracks that showcased the ensemble’s lyrical prowess.
Working with a limited budget, the nine Wu-Tang members rapped multisyllabic and hard-hitting rhymes over classic samples and clips from martial arts films. Their work almost instantly paid off — the debut album was critically praised and would later signal the group’s rise as hip-hop’s premier artists.
But few are aware that one of the people behind the Clan’s success was a woman who didn’t necessarily fit hip-hop’s mold: a first-generation, Korean-Canadian, “sex-positive” feminist, whose introduction to the genre was through Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s 1982 hit, “The Message.”
In 1987, Sophia Chang, who briefly worked at Jive Records, met RZA, the group’s leader, after listening to a demo. The two immediately connected, and through a series of networking, Chang became not only RZA’s manager but also GZA and Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s.
“Here’s a group whose whole ethos is built on martial arts, which is Asian culture,” she explained to The Undefeated in a 2019 interview. “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?'”
Though Chang helped propel the rap group to stardom, she has also since faced her own set of challenges as an Asian-Canadian female — not only in a male-dominated industry but in a general space that is often dictated by heteropatriarchy.
“I know the power of being a woman and I don’t like the notion that we have to behave like men in order to be powerful because that immediately diminishes, to me, the power of being a woman,” Chang told In The Know. “We are so powerful. I think we’re more powerful than men and having the confidence in who you are, in how well you do your job, I think, is very helpful because what other people look at is, ‘Well, who’s that woman over there? ‘Cause she’s f***** smart and she always gets her job done.'”
And because the music industry, along with the larger society, has glorified sex while demonizing women over the years, Chang said she has had to stand up for herself. During the early days of her career, for instance, she was advised not to have sex with any rapper due to the fear that it could possibly put her job in jeopardy. Now, the music pioneer wants women — especially those of Asian descent — to take ownership of their own bodies and sex lives.
“Being frank about sex is something that’s taught and runs contrary to what Asian-American women are considered to be,” she said. “I think we’re considered to be docile and that, you know, geisha girl, and we’re submissive, and that’s really a fantasy for men… Stop having your stupid preconceived notions about who we are, what we’re going to be in the bedroom, and let us reveal that to you.”
Chang, who released her memoir “The Baddest B**** in the Room” in September 2019, said she hopes her experience can empower other women to take charge.
“I am a 54-year-old Korean Canadian, single mother of two grown teenagers with this crazy haircut, out here announcing to the world, ‘My name is Sophia Chang and I’m the baddest b**** in the room,” she said.