As a Korean-Canadian from Vancouver, Sophia Chang began working in the music business and the New York hip-hop scene in the 1980s. But just because she stayed behind the scenes in promotion, artist development and management, doesn’t mean she didn’t pick up a few tricks about entertaining an audience. For her new audiobook, The Baddest Bitch in the Room (available at audible.ca), Chang, 54, doesn’t so much read her memoir as perform it. From New York, the Wu-Tang Clan friend and associate spoke to The Globe and Mail about hip hop, good advice and the boldness of playing word games with a man called Rhymin’ Simon.
What was it like, a Korean-Canadian from Vancouver, moving to New York and getting involved with the hip hop scene in the 1980s?
When I got into the music industry, hip hop was a tiny, tiny scene. It was a tremendous privilege to be welcomed into a world that was not my own. It was New York. It was black and brown folks. It was predominately male. It’s globalized since then, obviously. Hip hip is now the most dominant musical force, perhaps even cultural force, in the world.
Did you see it coming?
I can’t say that I did. But I certainly knew it wasn’t going away. People would suggest that it was a fad, like disco. But it didn’t occur to us that it might go away. We knew it would stay. As it turned out, I don’t think there’s ever been any cultural force bigger than hip hop, in terms of music.
Whoa, hold on, what about rock 'n' roll in the 1950s and 60s? Elvis. The Beatles. I mean, we’re talking about a revolution.
Sure. But I don’t think it had the cultural impact of hip hop, in terms of the music we listen to, how we walk, how we talk, how we dance, how we dress and how we interact with each other.
Fair enough. Let’s talk about Paul Simon. You tell a story about playing Scrabble with him and having the audacity to challenge him on a word. Is that an example of the super confidence you mention in the book?
[Laughs] I think we can call that hubris. But I was sure that ‘thane,’ which is the word he played, wasn’t a word.
The dude probably has ‘wordsmith’ on his business card. What were you thinking?
Well, afterward, I thought, ‘Really, Sophie?’ But it was a delightful moment. He’s one of the smartest people I ever met, in every way. He was so gracious about it. He just had this quiet smile on his face. I ended up losing a turn and he won the game.
In the book, you talk about learning from Paul and many others. What was the best advice you ever received?
When I managed RZA [the Wu-Tang Clan leader and producer], he said to me at one point, ‘Soph, I need you to get me more money.’ Now, that wasn’t advice, but it made me realize that I needed to be a better negotiator.
What advice would you give to someone like you, when you were just starting out.
Be true to yourself and pursue your passion.
What about Wu-Tang’s advice from 1993, Protect Ya Neck?
That’s a good one too [laughs]. But my overall advice is to be true to yourself and find your passion. I failed plenty. I’ve been fired, and I’ve been humiliated. But as long as I knew I was doing the thing that was true to my heart, it didn’t matter.