Episode 19

Sophia Chang

Episode 19

Wu-Tang Clan “Whisperer” Sophia Chang on Becoming the “Baddest Bitch in the Room”

Interview by Spencer Bailey

Sophia Chang pulls no punches. As the self-described (and indeed) “first Asian woman in hip-hop,” Chang carries herself—happily, proudly—with the bravado and swagger of the industry brethren she managed throughout much of the ’90s and 2000s, including Ol’ Dirty Bastard (O.D.B.), RZA, and GZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Q-Tip and A Tribe Called Quest, and D’Angelo. What makes Chang’s career particularly remarkable, beyond her having worked with so many bold-faced hip-hop names, is both the organicness and audaciousness of her journey: A chance encounter in 1985 with Joey Ramone led to a budding friendship with the punk icon and, in a roundabout way, to working for Paul Simon in the late ’80s; through frequenting downtown clubs at the time, she befriended the Wu-Tang Clan, becoming a longtime confidante, insider, and ally of the hip-hop collective. By the early ’90s, Chang had landed an A&R gig at Jive Records, where she signed the Fu-Schnickens and worked with names like KRS-One and Tribe. 

In 1996, having become deeply engaged in kung fu—a practice and passion she picked up through her friendship with the Wu-Tang Clan—Chang decided to take a major turn, leaving the music business altogether to manage Shi Yan Ming, a Shaolin monk who became her partner and the father of her two children, and his New York City temple. Though the relationship didn’t last—the couple split up in 2007—it proved a key part of Chang’s spiritual journey, life, and career. She would return to hip-hop after that, working on various projects with and for the likes of RZA, GZA, and D’Angelo for a few years. Now, at 54, Chang is preparing her next big move, stepping out from behind the curtain to tell—no, to own—her story. This fall, with Audible, she’s releasing The Baddest Bitch in the Room, a coming-of-age audiobook memoir that chronicles her peripatetic path. Chang is soon to venture into television, too, having recently sold a screenplay to HBO.

Born and raised in Vancouver, the first-generation Korean Canadian will not and cannot be pigeonholed, pinned down, put in a box, or stereotyped. On this episode of Time Sensitive, Chang talks to Spencer Bailey with refreshing candor about her exploits in the 1990s hip-hop world, including her close friendship with O.D.B., whom she managed; the ever-shifting landscape of racism, sexism, and ageism in America; and why she feels that now, more than ever, is her time to shine.

CHAPTERS

Chang discusses the title of her new audiobook, The Baddest Bitch in the Room; Black Girls Rock!, women’s empowerment, and #MeToo; Megan Twohey and Jodie Kantor’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein in The New York Times; and ageism.

Chang shares her passion for kung fu, particularly her physical and spiritual journey practicing it and the drive and empowerment it has brought her, long-term.

Chang delves into her upbringing and family background. The daughter of Korean immigrants, she was the first person in her family to be born in America (in Vancouver, where she was also raised).

Chang’s goes deep into her musical knowledge, referencing everything from Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” to Pavarotti.

Chang details working with the Wu-Tang Clan, most notably O.D.B., RZA, GZA, and Method Man, and discusses transitioning her career from music management to public speaking.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

SPENCER BAILEY: Today in the studio we’ve got Sophia Chang. Some may know her as the “Wu Whisperer.” Others will probably likely soon know her as the “baddest bitch in the room.”

SOPHIA CHANG: Thank you very much.

SB: Which is the name of her book that’s coming out [tomorrow, Sept. 26].

SC: Audiobook.

SB: So, I wanted to start there, with “baddest bitch in the room.” That idea came about publicly on New Year’s Day, 2018. You posted a video proclaiming that you were the “baddest bitch in the room.” Tell me about that. Where did that come from? How did you come to describing yourself as such?

SC: Well, it originated from me actually looking at my girlfriends. I was at the second annual Black Girls Rock! awards ceremony. Black Girls Rock! is an amazing organization founded by DJ Beverly Bond. She’s a model turned DJ/activist and philanthropist. My friend Bethann Hardison—who is a legend in fashion—she was a model herself and then went on to manage models and then went on to become a fashion activist and has been very, very vocal about the lack of diversity in fashion. It was Bethann Hardison who was getting honored. It was Sam Martin, another amazing woman, who was an executive at HBO and produced, I don’t know, probably twelve films over there. Then, Joan Morgan, who’s one of my closest friends, who was a scholar, an author. She called herself—when she first came out—the “hip-hop feminist.“ She’s an award-winning journalist.

So, we had gone to the awards, and then we went out for dinner, and—always the photographer, never the subject—I ran down the stairs and I started catching photos of them. I just looked at these women and I thought, Wow, my girls are the baddest bitches in the room. I understand that that may sound competitive, but it is not us going into a room and saying, “Ugh, I’m so much better than you.” It’s not about that.

SB: You’re owning it, though.

SC: That’s exactly right. It’s about the aggregate of your qualities, and then claiming it. So, it’s not enough that somebody else says to you, “You know what? You’re A, B, C, D, E.” It’s [that] you have to accept it, you have to claim it and you have to be proud of that fact. My hope is that all women will get to the place where they can make this claim for themselves, because all of us should feel that way—we all have extraordinary qualities that are unique to us. So, I can say something like, “Oh, I think I’m a great mother.” There are many great mothers out there. But, then what about all of the other things that make me? Or, that make her? I think that most of us, we are not what is considered beautiful. Right? We are not young. I mean, most of my friends, we’re well over 40. Most of us are women of color, single mothers, and we live in a society that essentially doesn’t really tell us, “You’re beautiful.” We do not fit into the very narrow paradigm of beauty. So, that’s how the club came about, and then yes, then I clearly claimed it for myself. And that exercise that I posted on Instagram, what I really hoped would happen is that other women would take it up and say, “Oh my God, I have to do this.” Nobody did. I think that’s very telling, and it’s sad.

SB: Do you hope your book might—

SC: I hope so.

I think what’s really interesting about the exercise is, how many women have ever sat there and written down all of the amazing things about themselves? Maybe I volunteer at a soup kitchen. Maybe I’m an incredible litigator. Any of those things. I can bake great cookies. I’m the best CPA. You know what I’m saying? I’m a fantastic politician. All of those things that you add up … I can kayak really well, or whatever. I don’t know that many women go through that exercise. It’s like when you renew your résumé and you go, “Holy shit, I’ve done a lot. Oh, my God.” This is the CV that I would like women to do for themselves. 

So, it’s a three-step process. One is to actually sit down and write those things down, and what’s extraordinary about it is once you start writing, more and more comes, and then it starts to make you feel better about yourself because you don’t write two things and go “I’m done.” And, if you do that, that’s a problem, because there are many more things that are extraordinary about you. 

The second part of the process is to say, “Okay, you know what? I own this. I claim it.” Then, the third part of the process is to actually commit it to video, and I don’t care if you never broadcast it, because not everybody’s like me. You could be shy, but I think the very exercise… It’s like the difference between saying something and writing it. So, I can say something to you but if I write it to you in a letter or in an email, that’s a very different commitment, right? Even from thinking what makes me the baddest bitch in the room to writing it down is a step. And then, from writing it down to claiming it is another step, and then from claiming it to actually recording it for posterity [in a form] that you can look at, show other people—doesn’t matter—or look at for yourself, I think it’s an interesting exercise and I do hope that more women do it because it just…

You know, when I talk about my girlfriends, it feels great.

SB: Yeah. I think it’s coming at a really great moment in culture, too. This fall, there’s also the book She Said coming out, by Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor.

SC: Jodi Kantor. Yes, I saw them.

SB: Which also marks two years since they wrote that story—

SC: The Weinstein [story] for the Times, yeah. I saw them on television yesterday, and I am so grateful for the level of reporting that we have these days. This is when you go, “Ah, yes.”

SB: We need more, though.

SC: We need more. You have Ronan Farrow, you have David Fahrenthold, you have Maggie Haberman. I listen to The Daily almost … I listen to The Daily daily, the New York Times podcast, and the level … Hi, Michael Barbaro … the level of journalistic, the curiosity and the integrity and the depth of the reporting—I’m so grateful that we live at a time and in a country where they have the freedom to do that, and that they have the resources.

SB: That’s one platform. There really isn’t enough of them. We need more context. We need more depth and understanding.

SC: Absolutely, absolutely.

SB: I love this sentence you wrote in the book that I wanted to bring up early in our conversation because I think it’s funny, me being a straight white male.

SC: [Laughs] God bless you.

SB: I have to throw it out there. I’m sitting here with the baddest bitch in the room.

SC: Don’t worry, I have some straight white male friends. [Laughs]

SB: You write, “Many men have told me that they were initially scared to talk to me. They should be. My confidence serves as a filter.” I wanted to tell you I’m not scared, but I’m excited and honored. Reading your book, what I found so amazing about your stories—and we’ll get deep into them in this episode—is that you have such poise and strength and grace, conviction, and ultimately all of that together gives you a power that I think is special. And we need more of [that] in the world.

SC: Thank you so much. Really, that’s so kind of you. Poise, I don’t know that anybody’s ever said that to me, but I’m going to take that. I’m going to get a tattoo of it across my forehead when I leave here.

SB: I’ll take credit for it. [Laughs]

SC: Good. So, let me address the quote. I’m a petite Asian woman, and I was a petite Asian girl. I’ve always been diminutive, and I, like so many of the rest of us raised in North America, in the diaspora, particularly in North America, have all internalized the model-minority myth. So, when I was younger—look, I never lacked confidence—but I knew very, very early that I was other. So, I did everything that I could. I was teacher’s pet, I was the smartest in the class, I was elected social coordinator a couple years in a row, but I always knew that I lived on the margins. My confidence sexually and in terms of dating came much, much, much later in my life.

I always knew, again, that I was really smart and really articulate, but it wasn’t, frankly, until my ex and I split up that… I’m 43 at this point, and I’m entering the dating world, and what’s happened since 1995? The internet, texting, sexting, sending dirty pictures. I was like, Oh, my God, it’s a whole new world [out here] and I don’t know anything about it. Re-emerging. I would say that I call this a coming-of-age story. I’ve had many comings of age. One was when I was 43 and all of a sudden the rug was pulled out from under my life. I lose my best friend, my partner, my business partner, the father of my children. He doesn’t cease being the father of my children, obviously, but my partner in parenting. And, my whole business, my career, and a huge part of my identity was wrapped up in that.

So, coming out of that and saying, “Oh, my God, and now I have to start dating again” because there was no part of me that thought “I’m done.” Then, I started to have these experiences—reclaiming my sexuality was something that was an incredibly empowering experience and very, very important, and I hope that [among] the listeners of my audiobook will be other middle-aged women. I think that there is a myth out there that women, we hang up our vaginas at 40, that we’re not really sexually active anymore, and if there are women out there like that, that’s totally fine. That’s not a judgment nor an indictment. But, from my experience and from my friends’, we never stopped fucking. The notion that somehow we are no longer attractive, I find that really frustrating.

All my life I dealt with sexism and I dealt with racism, and then I realized, “Oh, guess what now? I have to deal with ageism, too.” So, it’s the triple punch. The notion that men are intimidated by or scared of me is exactly the response I want, and it is. It’s like a self-cleaning oven. If you don’t have the cojones to talk to Sophia Chang, I have no interest in speaking to you.

SB: Well, there’s an inferiority complex thing going on, and it’s in our culture massively right now. #MeToo is one thing, but I think the whole culture of the inferiority complex that’s going to come out—

SC: That’s so interesting.

SB: Nobody’s really written widely about that yet.

SC: That’s very interesting. Do you mean vis-à-vis men specifically?

SB: Yes.

SC: Yeah? Well, you know and then there was this whole notion of the “incel” that came up, and thinking, Wow, that’s such an interesting concept, right? Because I believe part of it is that these men feel entitled to sex somehow. Is that right? And, I just think that that’s bizarre and wrong.

SB: There’s so many ways to go because your book is so wide-ranging.

SC: Take me where you will.

SB: Before we go into your childhood and upbringing, which is a fascinating story, I wanted to start with kung fu

SC: Okay, yay.

SB: Kung fu being obviously connected to that and your identity. I think what’s so fascinating, though, is that you came to kung fu through the Wu-Tang Clan. You actually had this cultural denial going on being a Korean-Canadian woman who was like, “What’s kung fu? What?”

SC: [Laughs

SB: Then it took these nine guys from Brooklyn and Staten Island, who are obsessed with kung fu movies, to indoctrinate you into that. Talk about that. When was it that kung fu became something that you were open to engaging in, no longer having the cultural denial about?

SC: It wasn’t only cultural denial. It was cultural rebellion and cultural shame even. As a kid, I wanted to be white. I say that in the memoir. So, I signed a group called the Fu-Schnickens in 1992, and their aesthetic also was around kung fu. They said, “What kung fu movies do you like?” I was like, “I don’t watch kung fu movies.” They were like, “How can you be Asian and not watch kung fu movies?” I remember finding that question a little bit offensive, and then I met Wu-Tang and there was something in the way that they embraced and uplifted and celebrated the culture that was so profound to me. And getting to live and breathe that up-close and personally was phenomenally empowering.

The doors had also been creaked open by my proximity and friendship with the groups in the Native TonguesJungle Brothers, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and A Tribe Called Quest—and that whole Native Tongues movement, which was steeped in Afrocentrism, and watching them yearn for a connection to their motherland. So, hanging out with Wu-Tang and listening to their music, and seeing how impactful—not just kung fu movies, but also John Wu—had been on them, I thought, You know what, Sophia? You are, number one, a huge fan, and number two, these are friends whom you love and respect dearly, and they are telling you in no uncertain terms that this genre, this culture informed who they are, not just as artists, but as men.

When I started to watch kung fu movies—of course, we all delight in the fighting and the choreography, and the wire work and the weapons and all that kind of stuff—but I also understood very quickly that what resonated so deeply with Wu-Tang were the themes. Loyalty, brotherhood, few against many, oppression, all of those things that they experienced. I went down the Jackie Chan rabbit hole, the Jet Li rabbit hole, the Donnie Yen rabbit hole, the Michelle Yeoh rabbit hole. Me and my girlfriend Maria Ma, who’s Taiwanese American, we said, “Oh, my God, let’s do kung fu.” We started looking for a teacher, and we found a 34th generation Shaolin monk [Shi Yan Ming], which is insane.

SB: It’s interesting to note that the Wu-Tang guys referred to Staten Island as “Shaolin.”

SC: As “Shaolin,” I know. It’s incredible. I just took this very circuitous route back to myself. My brother, Heesok, says, “Wow, Sophia, most of us go through our Asian renaissance at 15. It took you until you were 30.” [Laughs]

SB: So wild. Obviously, this 34th generation Shaolin monk you speak of became your friend, your lover, your partner, and the father of your two children. Talk about that process of coming into his world. At one point, you left music behind, in 1996, to work full-time as manager of his temple.

SC: When I look back at that, the name of that chapter is “When the Student Is Ready,” referring to the adage when the student is ready, the teacher will come. I had met him on February 10th. No, I met him probably February 3, 1995. I started training February 10, 1995. And you know, people have asked me, whether it’s in listening to my memoir or in looking at my extremely lengthy resume on LinkedIn, “Wow, you jumped from so many things. You jumped around so much. What did that feel like? Did you ever have regrets?” I said, “I never had regrets because I never thought about it that much.” So, I didn’t sit there and make the calculation and say, “Well, Sophia, you are on this extremely promising trajectory, and in this many years you could have this title and be making this much money.”

It never occurred to me, and it never does. When the thing presents itself to me, I just know that it’s right. I left the music business because it was so clear to me that this was my future, and you know, I talk about this. I literally went home the night I met him… Now, he speaks Mandarin. I speak English. We exchanged no words. I went home and I called my parents. I said, “I met the man I’m going to marry today.” I knew, even though we never formally married, I knew that that was the man that I would spend the rest of my life with. Leaving music was nothing. There was no decision to be made there. There were no regrets. What was most important to me in music was not my job, was not my position, was not the salary, was not the status. It was the friendships.

So, the real friendships, I maintained. The ones that really meant something to me and they stay with me to this day.

SB: Yeah. This whole world of kung fu and Shaolin, and obviously being connected to your ex-husband, Shi Yan Ming.

SC: Shi Yan Ming, yeah.

SB: He also became friends with RZA. So, there were some links between this world—this more spiritual kung fu world—and the music.

SC: Yes. Introducing Yan Ming to the RZA was almost surreal. RZA grew up in the projects of Staten Island watching kung fu movies as his escape, and, as you referenced, Wu-Tang Clan named Staten Island “Shaolin.” Wu-Tang is named after Wudang, which is a mountain and a temple where tai chi was founded. So, here’s this man that is one of my closest friends, and I get to introduce him, “This is my new boyfriend, and he’s a Shaolin monk.” [Laughs] The second they met, I knew they’d known each other in past lifetimes. I absolutely knew it, and I think I knew RZA in past lifetimes as well. They’re still best friends to this day. Seeing them connect was really, really beautiful, and I’m very proud of having created that union, and then taking RZA to Shaolin Temple in Wu-Tang was—

SB: Yeah, I love that scene in the book. It’s just so surreal. I think it’s also amazing the bond RZA must have with your children. He’s their godfather.

SC: Yes, he is. When I got pregnant, I was talking to Yan Ming, and I said I think that we should ask RZA to be the godfather of our children, and he was like, “Of course.” When we asked RZA, number one, he was taken aback and he was so humble about it. He was like, “Oh, of course.” He said, “No one’s ever asked me that before and I’d be honored to be the godfather of the golden dragon.” My children are now 17 and 19, so they’re at the age where they can have an independent relationship with him.

SB: Also, just how cool, “My godfather’s RZA”? [Laughs]

SC: I know. It’s so adorable. I remember a couple of years ago, my daughter was taking a shower and I put my ear up to the door because I heard some noise, and she was rapping Wu-Tang. She was listening and rapping Wu-Tang at the top of her lungs, and it was so, so cute. But, you know, what’s really I think great about my children is I don’t think they ever tell people that. I think the only people that know that are my friends, RZA’s friends, Yan Ming’s friends, and maybe my children’s very close friends, but they would never, ever broadcast something like that because that’s just… Well, it’s frankly not how their mother raised them.

SB: Not cool.

SC: And, that’s right. It’s not that cool.

SB: It’s cool that he’s their godfather, but it’s not cool to talk about it.

SC: Exactly. They think he is so funny. They love spending time with him.

SB: So, while we’re still on kung fu, what does it mean to you? You’ve described this idea of your body as a temple. Tell me about how transformative kung fu has been for you as a practice and a discipline.

SC: I started training at 30. I was three months shy of 30. I don’t know, most people probably start a little bit younger. [Laughs] I have my mother’s hummingbird metabolism, so I’ve never had to work out to stay thin, but, right before I turned 30, I started going to the gym. I tried yoga and stuff because I knew that I wanted to be fit. And, it was so boring for me. Then, when I started training in kung fu—first of all, Yan Ming is the greatest martial artist I’ve ever seen, and I’ve traveled the world. I’ve probably seen the greatest martial artists in the world. The combination of Shaolin kung fu with Chan Buddhism, which was founded by Bodhidharma, an Indian monk, 1,500 years ago at Shaolin Temple—a lot of places talk about mind, body, spirit training. And, I’m sure a lot of places do it, but the way that the Shaolin temple integrates these things is incredible.

We say kung fu is Chan and Chan is kung fu. You can’t really do one without the other, so my body, yes, became incredibly fortified. I mean, I am 54 and I’m stronger—physically stronger—than I’ve ever been in my life, and I don’t know how many people can say that. This isn’t just about how much can you bench press or anything. It’s really about power. I feel more powerful than I’ve ever felt. I think as girls, and then, by extension, as teens, young women and women, we’re not really taught to be in our bodies the way you guys are. You guys are rough-and-tumble, and you get dirty and you play your sports, and you have fights on the playground, and you possess your physicality in a way that I don’t think we do.

I think that girls are taught to be kind of afraid of their bodies. “Oh, my God, I’m going to get my period. Oh, my God, I’m developing breasts. Oh, my God, this is happening.” And, we’re so self-conscious about it.

SB: Mostly, yeah.

SC: We’re just made to fear it in a way because we’re self-conscious about it. Coming into my body and owning my body was really a transformative experience, and knowing that, along with how I develop myself spiritually and intellectually—and again, the combination of that—is beautiful. And, I’m grateful.

SB: It’s interesting how you talk about it because part of it is body education. It’s like teaching your body, and what we teach our body, and when you think about that in relationship to gender or to how young girls are raised, it’s just shifted so much in the culture, in, I think, a positive way. But when you and I were kids [Chang in the ’70s and ’80s, Bailey in the ’90s], that was just not the case. It was very unusual to… I remember growing up [in Denver] and having two girls on my hockey team, my ice-hockey—

SC: Oh, you played hockey? Ice hockey?

SB: My ice-hockey team.

SC: Yes. It’s very Canadian.

SB: It was amazing to see how empowered they felt, skating out on the ice with the boys. That was not the norm then at all. I think this idea of parity needs to be found through sports as much as our active life.

SC: I agree. And, also, what you boys learned playing team sports… I think you learned something about being on a team, about leading or following, or galvanizing. I used to say, “You throw like a girl.” That’s really fucking sexist. It’s ridiculous, but again, I internalized that. I completely adopted that as a thought, and—

SB: Now, it’s like, what does that even mean?

SC: Yeah, that’s the stupidest thing, Sophia. That’s so sexist. Obviously, I don’t say it anymore, but I absolutely did say that.

SB: I think we all said stuff like that because the culture propelled it.

SC: Dictated it. Exactly, exactly.

SB: Before we finish with kung fu: In 2003, you started questioning your relationship with Yan Ming. You separated. You started seeing a shrink in 2004 to explore your relationship as well as motherhood. Talk to me about walking away from the temple, walking away from Yan Ming, how you handled that internally, and, more to the point, how did you transition your kung fu life out of the temple?

SC: Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I saw my shrink for three to four years before. I started seeing her in 2003, I guess it was, or 2004. Yan Ming and I separated, emotionally and romantically, at the top of 2007, and I actually moved out in 2008. Leaving him, of course, was heartbreaking. That was the man of my dreams. Yan Ming is the single most remarkable person I’ve ever met in my life, and will probably remain that. He’s an extraordinary human being. We just weren’t meant to be together anymore. But, it was still heartbreaking. Losing my best friend was equally as hard as losing my partner. So, that said, it wasn’t a difficult decision. I didn’t sit there going, “Should I stay or should I go?” (Shout-out to The Clash and Mick Jones.)

Like every other decision, I just got there and there it was. In terms of training, what were my options? I could go train Shaolin kung fu with another “Shaolin monk” in New York? No fucking way. Go train with another “kung fu master”? I would never do that, and I frankly don’t think that Yan Ming would care, but I would see that as a betrayal, and I would never find a master as great as him. I had to start doing it at the gym, and it was really different because I had essentially architected a community, and that community was gone. Going from training with thirty to fifty people to training alone was a cold, harsh reality. Like, Oh shit, I don’t have the energy. I don’t have people saying, “More chi, more chi. Train harder, train harder.” It is up to me now to motivate myself.

And now, frankly, I don’t think I’d want to train in a class again. So, it was a tough transition, but it was a transition I knew I had to make because I will train for the rest of my life. I will train until I can’t train anymore. This I know. I think that what was more difficult than leaving the physical place of training and leaving the class was being treated like persona non grata, and looking at how quickly people who treated me with the respect that I fucking deserved suddenly saw me as a pariah. I thought, “Bitch, you wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for me. He wouldn’t have been on the Discovery Channel if it wasn’t for Sophia Chang. He wouldn’t have been on Nat Geo if it wasn’t for Sophia Chang. He wouldn’t have been on the cover of the four biggest kung fu magazines in the world if it wasn’t for Sophia Chang.” 

Look, I’m not diminishing Yan Ming at all. Again, he’s the greatest martial artist in the world. He deserved all of that, but it wouldn’t have happened without me. And, the thought that they could so quickly just go from seeing me as the woman who built the temple to the woman who no longer deserves to be here—that was painful. Walking into the house that you built and no longer feeling welcome? And I seethed. I looked at those people and I thought, Are you fucking kidding me? Really? This is how you feel about me now? Because, guess what? I am the same bitch that was here before and made this place. I’m the same one that ordered the uniforms and the sneakers and the T-shirts. I’m the same woman who wrote the rules, started the testing here, started all of these things.

One of the things that I write about—and that I feel very strongly about as a woman of color—is erasure. So, the notion that people would choose to not—that others would choose to erase me from the history of the USA Shaolin Temple and Shi Yan Ming’s history is galling. That’s part of what I get to do in this memoir: I get to claim who the fuck I am and what the fuck I did because I’m not going to let anybody else erase that.

SB: I want to go back to your upbringing.

SC: Okay.

SB: It’s such an incredible story. Korean immigrant parents. Your father is an academic and a mathematician. Math genius, really. And, your mother worked full-time at a library. Talk about what it was like to be the first generation not—in your family—to be born in Korea, and to be raised by them in a way that perhaps was very distinctive of being a first generation, that came with being that first-generation immigrant, because you were—as you write in the book—rebelling against this identity that later you found you could claim again.

SC: Well, I think this experience—I know just from anecdotal research and conversations with my fellow first-gen Asians—is very common. So, if you think about it, your parents migrate. They leave behind everything they know, their family, their culture, their language, their cuisine. In other words, their lives and their safety and their comfort. They make this huge step.

SB: Sacrifice.

SC: A huge sacrifice. And really, I think, the majority of them do it not just for themselves. They really do it with their children in mind. They come here and what they want most for their children is their well-being and their safety. So, I asked this friend of mine, Charlotte, recently, “Why do you think there are so few Asian creatives?” and she said, “Well, think about it, Soph. Think about what our parents did. You know, they immigrated from Korea. They didn’t come here having in mind that their children would go into something that they see as not being solid.” So many Asians’ immigrant parents expect their children, and want their children—and, I understand this now as a parent myself—to become doctors, lawyers, professors, dentists, engineers. All of these things that seem very, very solid, and I was definitely was expected to be a professor.

My brother did go on to be[come] a professor, Heesok Chang. He’s a tenured English professor at Vassar. Then, I deviated, flagrantly. Flagrantly. I didn’t even attend my university graduation. I didn’t even talk to my parents about it. That is so disrespectful. When I was writing my memoir, I thought, Yo, you didn’t ask your mom and dad about this. My father, God rest his soul. I had this very interesting conversation with my mother just a month ago. I said, “You know, Mom…” (These are the things that you uncover as you’re writing, as you do this interrogation.) I said, “You know, Mom, you never pressured me.“ Other than my mother saying, “Oh, come back and get an MBA.” “You never pressured me. You and Dad never said, ‘When are you going to have kids? When are you going to get married? When are you going to give us grandchildren? When are you going to get a job that we can actually talk about with our friends as opposed to this amorphous stuff that we don’t understand?’” They never said that to me. 

I asked my mother this, and she said, “You know, Sophia, our friends thought we were crazy.” I said, “Really? They thought you were crazy? They said that about me and Heesok?” My daughter’s sitting there, and my daughter goes, “Mom, why would they think Grandma and Grandpa were crazy for Uncle Heesok? He went to Stanford.” [Laughs] My mom was like, “No, no. They didn’t think we were crazy for Heesok. It was you.”

Apparently, my parents’ friends summarily said to my folks, “You’re crazy for giving your daughter that freedom.” I never knew that. I literally learned that a month ago. I’m 54. My mother’s 87, and I’m so grateful that my parents didn’t buckle to that peer pressure. They said, “Yeah, do what you want to do.” But, I also think that they knew, what would I do? What would I do if they said come home. “Okay, I’m packing up right now.” They knew their daughter.

SB: I think that independence comes through very clear in some of the descriptions in the book where you’re talking about what it’s like and what it means to be an Asian American woman. There’s one part where you’re writing about the notion of leaning in, like the Sheryl Sandberg idea, and you write, “As a petite Asian woman, I never had the luxury to simply lean in. I had to kick down the motherfucking door. I had to learn to be big and strong in other ways.” I think that’s something that so many people who might be classified as “other” identify with.

SC: When Lean In came out, I read it and there were definitely things in there that were helpful and instructive, but it was also very clear that that book was written from my “perspective” and not written for me. I think that what happens for women of color is that we are very, very clear about our otherness. We are reminded of it daily, if not hourly. The whole term microaggressions is so real to me. My girlfriend Maria Ma, that I referenced earlier, years and years ago, before the term microaggressions existed, we were talking about dealing with racism, and she had an argument with a friend of hers, a white man, who said, “Oh, come on, Maria. You don’t really go through racism. You don’t really suffer racism, do you?”

She said, “Listen to me. I suffer a thousand tiny indignities a day.” When she said that, it really struck me: This is microaggression. It can be as casual as a glance. It could be just a tone of how somebody says something to you. I don’t think I’ve ever leaned into anything, and I don’t use the term just because… And, I’m not saying other people shouldn’t use it, and I’m not saying it doesn’t resonate deeply with other people. Of course it does, and it should, and congratulations. But, it’s not for Sophia Chang. I understand that, as a petite Asian woman who is cloaked in the model minority myth, who is expected to be submissive and quiet and fastidious and keep her head down, and keep her voice low, and be politically malleable, that in order for me to be heard and seen, I have to do quite the opposite. I walk into every room like I’m six feet tall.

SB: The other notion in the book that I highlighted because I was like, Oh man, this is so good—is this idea that your story is not a “woe is me” story. It’s “yo, it’s me.” I thought that was really great.

SC: Exactly, yeah. Look, my story isn’t like, “Oh, my God, I went through all this trauma and drama.” I am a privileged, middle-class, college-educated Asian Canadian woman. I know exactly what that means. As an American Asian Canadian, I benefit from my proximity to whiteness. I know that. So, being a petite Asian woman, and especially being in hip-hop, which is dominated by men… The music business is dominated by men, and hip-hop absolutely, and steeped in sexism and now, I would say, has veered into misogyny. I knew that I had to conduct myself in a certain way, and to this day, I literally will bang my fist on a table to be heard. It would be great if I didn’t have to, but I do, right?

It’s kind of like people that say all lives matter, “All lives matter.” We’re not saying all lives don’t matter, you fucking idiot. What we’re saying is Black Lives Matter wouldn’t have to exist if all lives truly mattered. In other words, I wouldn’t have to pound my fist on a table and get in your fucking grill if you saw me and valued and respected me the way that I deserve to be. I conduct myself in precisely the manner that I need to in order to be seen and to be heard and to be valued.

SB: A scene I found really fascinating was when you take a trip to Seoul, and you’re walking through the streets and past these shops. Your parents’ native country, the people of your parents’ native country are staring at you like… I can only imagine what a mindmeld that must have been to have that experience. Could you talk about that?

SC: The primary emotion that I experienced was shame, because again—very common to first-gen immigrants—I lost the language. I think that we probably do that in response to rejecting our culture. That is just one of the symptoms of that illness. Here I am visiting my extended family, and they all live modestly. I can’t communicate my excitement to meet them and their children, my gratitude for them spending so much time and money with this. I just felt like this mute sitting there and having to communicate through my parents, and thinking [about how] Korean is my maternal tongue. It was my first language, and I lost it. So, it’s not even like I’m sitting here saying, “I never taught myself Korean.” I fucking knew Korean and I lost it.

I know that for me, and that for many like me, I lost it because I was so desperate to assimilate. Because my phenotype, my biological markers, do not allow you to think any other than she’s Asian. She’s other. There’s no passing for me. I so wanted to fit in, and part of that was losing the language, which is regrettable and regretful. That was really the primary emotion that I felt, and then there was the humiliation—

SB: Which had to do in some way with your haircut, right?

SC: Absolutely. I had, at the time, a pixie cut, and I remember we would go into giant department stores and women would step out from the counter, step out and then just lean over and stare at me. It wasn’t this casual—

SB: Yeah, it’s like rubbernecking.

SC: That’s right. That’s exactly what it is. Total rubbernecking. It started to upset my father, which I think was more upsetting to me, that he started to be embarrassed about it. When I looked around, I realized, Oh, there are very, very few women in Korea at the time—it was 1995—that had short haircuts like me. Asian women, we’re known for our—and, I had it to my waist until I was 25—long, straight, lustrous, glossy, black hair. And, it is beautiful. It is so beautiful. I cut mine off at 25 to a pixie cut because I just didn’t want to be called or treated like a China doll anymore. Again, that’s an individual choice. There’s nothing wrong with Asian women that have long, beautiful hair. I think it’s gorgeous, but I know that for me personally, I wanted a shift in the perception.

It was tough, but it was also extremely empowering to go to a country where everybody looked like me.

SB: So, I think at this point in the conversation, it makes sense to talk music. We’ve skirted around that, even though that’s been probably the centralmost part to your life next to kung fu. In high school, you heard “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, and this had a catalytic effect on you.

SC: Catalytic. Good word.

SB: Talk about that.

SC: I grew up in Vancouver, which is Top 40 radio. Really, really white music. The Eagles, Trooper, which was a local band, rock and roll, Led Zeppelin, and then when I got into high school—my brother’s three years older than me, and he was always very musically curious—he introduced me to Blondie and the Talking [Heads]… You know, to new wave and punk essentially. David Bowie, The Clash, The Jam, The [Sex] Pistols. So, I was a really big fan of new wave and punk, and I think what I responded to was the antiestablishment leanings in that music—and the anger. There’s just that surge. So, in twelfth grade, when this boy Ray played [that] song, I don’t know that I’ve ever heard something that was so life-changing.

I can tell you songs that I listen to that are transportive. Pavarotti singing an aria, or Aretha Franklin singing opera, but in terms of catalytic, to use your word, it was absolutely “The Message.” I loved dancing, so the beat was something that really got me. The bottom of the song, as we would call it. Then, the lyrics. Just the sense of urgency in that song, and the storytelling, and it was cinematic, and there was an anger behind there like, “This is my world and I need you to pay attention.” It was absolutely a wake-up call for me, and it sparked my curiosity, like, What is this art form? Who are these amazing poets speaking in this way about these things over this beats? I think [music magazine] NME used to have a section in their paper called “The Song That Changed My Life.” “The Message” is the song that changed my life. There’s no doubt about it.

SB: It was shortly thereafter, in 1985, that you saw Run-DMC’s “King of Rock” music video, which led to—it’s another, maybe not catalytic moment, but definitely a powerful one for you.

SC: Watching Run-DMC, there was a defiance that I loved. You’ve seen the video obviously? They’re in the museum and smashing the icons, the all-white icons of rock and roll. That defiance and that resistance and that refusal to accept that as the canon and the history. I don’t know if you’ve listened to any of the 1619 podcasts? I’m on the third episode right now. It’s Westley Moore, and it’s about the birth of American music. He’s essentially talking about how all American music comes from black music.

SB: Which, everybody needs to know but nobody knows. It’s crazy.

SC: Right, like you and I know that, right?

SB: Well, I’m spoiled because I’m also college-educated, and my favorite class from where I went to school was an American studies course called Racial Politics of American Pop Music [taught by Cotton Seiler]. I learned more about our country in that class than I did in any American government class.

SC: Really?

SB: Yeah.

SC: Where’d you go to school?

SB: A small liberal-arts college called Dickinson [in Carlisle, Pennsylvania].

SC: Nice. That sounds like an amazing class.

SB: It was.

SC: And, so you listen to this, and again this goes back to the issue of erasure. So, like you said, us knowing, should be fait accompli. This should just be part of the national discourse.

SB: Public knowledge.

SC: Exactly. As my mother would say, it’s common sense. Yeah, I think that it’s really, really important to understand where it comes from. For “The Message,” I only saw the cover and heard the song, but then, seeing the video, it was electrifying. It was incredible. The arms crossed across the chest, and then the legs out and the black leather and the Adidas. Just this whole, “Fuck everybody. This is who we are, and we are not ashamed of it.” That was amazing.

SB: There’s this little bit in the book that you write that, to me, really summed up not only your musical tastes, but also your astute understanding of hip-hop. You write, “To me, hip-hop was a perfect potent parfait. It combined all the elements of the music that had informed my life: the compelling drama and narrative of opera, the infectious melodies and hooks of pop, the powerful vocal performances of crooners, the four-on-the-floor beats and danceability of disco, the rebellious messages and stripped-down arrangements of punk.” 

I think people forget how much music was coming into hip-hop—how many different styles were informing it. I was recently just watching the new Wu-Tang show on Hulu, and you just get so into the musical references that those guys were pulling from. It’s so fascinating when you understand [that] the origins of this music doesn’t just go back— If we’re talking the eighties, it doesn’t just go back to seventies and sixties. They were listening back to 1920s New Orleans jazz… A Tribe Called Quest obviously was pulling from that. It’s fascinating.

SC: Yeah. Thank you for referencing that passage. Think about the ingenuity of hip-hop. What’s that saying, that the greatest inventions are born of necessity or something like that? Think about a subculture existing in the South Bronx, and DJs plugging into a lamppost and scratching records together, and making a whole new art form. I recently had this conversation with Hannah Gadsby, another genius. Go see her [off-Broadway] show Douglas if you haven’t seen it. It’s astonishing. We were talking about when hip-hop came out that people said that it wasn’t music. You know, who gets to say that?

SB: Or, who gets to say that it’s not literature?

SC: That’s right. Who gets to say that it’s not poetry?

SB: When Kendrick Lamar won a Pulitzer, I was like, Thank you.

SC: Exactly, exactly. Obviously, we’re talking about the dominant culture because Hannah was criticized for her first show, Nanette, which is also incredible, not being comedy. Well, who gets to say that? And, she talks a lot in this new show about who controls the canon.

SB: I love that you point out, as a French major, that you ditched Balzac, Flaubert, and Proust for LL Cool J, Run-DMC, and Public Enemy.

SC: I mean, think about Public Enemy. I don’t know if you remember the first time you heard Public Enemy, but it blew my wig. Chuck D, his voice, that deep bass in his voice, and then the Bomb Squad and the noise they infused it with. Like I said, it was just this incredible cocktail of all of these different elements, the richness of it. Again, going back to how cinematic it was—it was so overwhelming and so powerful, and I’m grateful that we live in a time where I think that people are finally starting to respect hip-hop. Because clearly the reason that it wasn’t embraced or celebrated the way that it should’ve been is racism. Public Enemy, Fear of a Black Planet, all the fears that the dominant culture has about this actually becoming mainstream and becoming something that would be taken seriously—I think that people understand now.

I think that hip-hop is, of all the musical genres and I would argue even more so than rock and roll—and part of this is because of digitization and the internet—has had the greatest global impact of any musical genre. Hip-hop has impacted the way we listen to music, the way we dance, the way we move, the way we talk, the way we walk, the way we dress, the way we interact with one another, how we speak. It’s in the vernacular. You can watch television commercials from the biggest corporations, and they are using hip-hop terminology.

SB: Yeah, you go to a slum in Mumbai and they know what Coca-Cola is and they know who Kanye and Jay-Z are.

SC: You go the smallest village or hamlet anywhere in the world, and I guarantee you, you will see a Wu-Tang logo.

SB: [Laughs] Let’s go there. Your path to Wu-Tang is amazing. I’ll try to do it in brief because we only have so much time on the podcast, but in Christmas break, ’85, you come to New York. You go to a club called The Ritz. It’s now Webster Hall. That night, you end up going to dinner with Joey Ramone. You have to read the book to actually get the full story, but Joey and you become friends. You end up hanging out with him later in Europe, and by the time you come to New York, in 1988, to pursue a music career, he’s arranged for you to stay with his friend Legs McNeil, the renowned music journalist, and his girlfriend, Carol.

Carol’s working for Paul Simon, and basically you get to be brought into Paul Simon’s world through Carol, which leads you to going to a Yankees game with Paul Simon and playing Scrabble with Paul Simon. I think let’s just start there, that Joey Ramone led you to Paul Simon, which led you to the Wu-Tang Clan. That trajectory is mind-boggling.

SC: [Laughs] Yeah, none of it seemed that extraordinary to me as it was happening, or for the rest of my life, until I actually wrote this down. Look, working for Paul, first of all, I got to tell my parents that I worked for somebody that they had heard of. It’s like the first hotel you stay at is the Ritz-Carlton as opposed to a Motel 6. Paul, he was coming off of the Graceland tour. It’s the biggest album of his career, and this is where I met Mo Ostin, the longtime chairman of Warner Bros. Records, who founded Reprise Records with Frank Sinatra. The greatest record-company executive ever, in my estimation. His right hand, Lenny Waronker, and his son, Michael Ostin, who ran A&R, who became and is to this day my mentor and one of my closest friends. The community that I built there was extraordinary.

Watching Paul make music was amazing. So, while I’m in the Paul Simon world, I’m also going to see groups like The Pogues and Fishbone, and Squeeze, and The Godfathers at the Ritz—now Webster Hall—and simultaneously, I’m going to these hip-hop clubs. I’m going to Nell’s but I’m also going to PayDay. At the time, the hip-hop scene was tiny, tiny, tiny. It was a privilege to be embraced by the community. It was such a small scene, so every single sector of the industry was there, which doesn’t happen anymore. It was through that that I met Sean Carasov, God rest his soul, who did A&R at Jive [Records]. He said, “I’m moving to California. I think that you should interview for my job here in New York.” I interviewed with Barry Weiss, who was the longtime head of Jive Records, and also a brilliant record-company guy, and I got the Wu-Tang demo. Couldn’t sign Wu-Tang because of the parameters of the deal, but—

SB: But, you got the Fu-Schnickens.

SC: But, I got the Fu-Schnickens and I got Casual, and I got Souls of Mischief (shout-out 93 ’Til Infinity), and then I got the Gravediggaz demo, and that’s how I met RZA, and then I met the rest of the Clan.

SB: And, you became particularly close to O.D.B. [Ol’ Dirty Bastard].

SC: I did. I did, God rest his soul. He was the last one that I met, and what I write in my memoir is that—again, these are only things that you unearth as you write—is that the Clan provided me with three very substantial firsts. Method Man was the first person to ever say, “Soph, you’re family.” No one had ever said that to me. We didn’t talk like that. O.D.B., God rest his soul, was the first person to ask me to be a manager. I was like manager? Okay. RZA, I have now been the general manager of three labels, and the first one that I was the general manager was Razor Sharp Records. That’s extraordinary. 

And, Dirty, yes, I was very close to. Talent aside—we don’t need to talk about how talented he is. I think that speaks for itself, and everybody knows that. I think what is far more important to me to share with the world—as I do feel about sharing with the world about the rest of the Clan—is the man, the person, the human, who was so funny and so smart, and so astute and so deeply human, and vulnerable and ferociously loyal and protective. He was all of those things. I just saw his wife [Icelene Jones] in Atlanta a couple of days ago. She’s very excited for the audiobook, and I’m so sad that he’s not here. But, at least I get to honor him.

SB: Right. I thought it was interesting when you talk about managing artists, managing talent, really—

SC: A.k.a., babysitting.

SB: Yeah. You describe it as a thankless job because most artists are so narcissistic. How did you deal with all of these different personalities? Elsewhere in the book, you describe yourself as being constantly surrounded by famous testosterone-driven men, and here you are, this petite Asian Canadian woman surrounded by these big, testosterone-driven men. Was that empowering? And, how did you handle all of those personalities?

SC: Handling the personalities wasn’t really anything to me.

SB: Natural.

SC: Yeah, it was very natural. I do think that I have a gift for dealing with talent. What was really a drag, and what is a drag for—I would think any artist manager would tell you—is the babysitting aspect of it. “Get in the car, get in the car, get in the car. Remember your passport, remember your passport, remember your passport. Don’t stop before you get to the gate. You can get something on the plane. Go to the gate.” Just that kind of cajoling is really annoying, but it blanches in comparison to what you get to do. As a manager—as Don Passman writes in his excellent book that I tell everybody to read, All You Need to Know About the Music Business—think of your manager as the CEO of your enterprise. You get to guide every aspect of an artist’s journey and their career, and that’s a massive privilege.

I’ve worked with, as far as I’m concerned, some of the greatest talent in the world. So, dealing with the personalities, a lot of people ask me that, and I don’t think it’s for everybody. I think I just have a unique constitution for it. In terms of being a woman, I walked a tightrope. I’m 28, I’m relatively young, I’m single. I would love to play around and have sex, and do all of that, but I knew that I couldn’t, which is not fair, of course. This is patriarchy, because the men can do whatever the fuck they want. But I knew that if I started sleeping with artists, or the producers or whoever, that it would stigmatize me. That wasn’t a big sacrifice to make, but more important than that was how I conducted myself.

Now, it just so happens that I’ve never been drunk nor high. I’m just not interested. I’m not wired that way. I think that what all of the artists knew was two things. Number one, most importantly, that I did everything in service of them and for their benefit, not mine. Because there are plenty of managers out there that do things, whether overtly or underhandedly, that is really for them. But, as a manger, you’re in the service industry. The second thing that they knew was that Sophia Chang will take care of business. It’s like that line that Jim Jarmusch says, “We’re good. Sophia’s the glue. We’ve got Sophia. She’s the glue.”

SB: Post-managing, you’ve become much more… Or, I wouldn’t say post-managing, but—

SC: No, I’m a recovering manager. I’m a reformed manager. Yes, we can say that.

SB: So, you’ve evolved into this public speaker, let’s call it, and you began speaking publicly again in March 2012. It was at an Asian American’s writer’s workshop, and you were speaking about the Rodney King aftermath in Los Angeles. What was your take, or angle, on that? How were you talking about Rodney King, and why did you choose Rodney King at that moment? Obviously, it was an anniversary year [of the L.A. riots of 1992], but why did you decide that that was how you wanted to reenter the public-speaking arena?

SC: I was actually invited by Hua Hsu, who is an incredible writer and a professor at Vassar, with my brother. He asked me specifically to speak about that topic. I remember that day very, very clearly, the day that the verdict came down, and feeling kind of afraid. As I’m sure you remember, there was a lot of tension between the Korean and the black communities. There was that horrible murder of Latasha Harlins at the Korean deli. I remember feeling nervous because of the justifiable outrage. So, when I chose to talk about it, I remember hearing “Black Korea” by Ice Cube, and being so deeply disappointed and being hurt. Obviously, it’s not about me personally, but as a Korean who had been embraced by hip-hop, and then to have this artist that I respected so deeply do a song that was so against my people was really hurtful and really disappointing.

That’s how I opened it and talked about it. Frankly, if I were to go back and give that talk again… I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do think that it is really important that the Asian American community addresses the anti-blackness that exists within our community. Look, again, that is dictated by the dominant culture. I have no delusions about that.

SB: Well, I think in this context, we have to mention the fact that Redman did a song [“Blow Your Mind”] that your dad wrote the lyrics for. How amazing.

SC: I know. I just saw him recently, too.

SB: Then, Hot 97 wouldn’t play it because they thought it was racist.

SC: I know. Yes, he called me up and said, “What is this?” Redman was like my roommate and he had the keys to my apartment, and he would just come up and sleep in the other tiny loft in my apartment. One night, he said, “Sophie, I want to rap in Korean.” I was so delighted and surprised by that. I said, “I can’t write it, unfortunately, but my dad can.” My dad took so much pride in writing this braggadocio and we just sat there and we practiced it over and over and over. It was really important to him to get it right, and again, in retrospect, I just love how much… I will say that I think that was in direct correlation to our friendship and the influence that I had on him. I don’t know that he would have come up with that idea had it not been for our friendship.

SB: This idea of public speaking—obviously you’re clearly very good at it, just being in this intimate room with you—

Chang speaking at Spotify.

SC: Thank you.

SB: I think it’s interesting that toward the end of the book you point out that it became clear that your experience, particularly as a working mother, has deep value. That this was the thing that you’re like, I can bring this to the world, I can bring my perspective to the world and I can come out from behind the curtain or behind the shadows of all these—mostly men—that you’ve worked with over the years.

SC: Essentially, I spent thirty years of my life helping extraordinarily talented men tell their stories, and I truly believe there’s nobody better at it. I’m really, really, really excellent at it. Again, I have no regrets. I did what I was supposed to do, and I’m grateful. It was an honor and a privilege to work with that kind of talent. But I also started to realize, yes, you know what? I do have something to say. The first place I lectured was at MIT. (You’re welcome, Mom.) I did a lecture at Spotify a couple of years ago, and I read the closing to RZA over the phone. When I was done, he said, “Wow, Soph. Congratulations. This is your thing. This is your thing now and it’s really powerful. I can see you in an arena full of twenty thousand people speaking publicly.”

What’s so amazing about that, Spencer, is that is exactly my vision. I don’t think I’m just going to be talking to panels of forty people. No, no, no. I’m going to be huge, and again, I’m going to do it because I know that I can help people and be in service to others. And, that he had that vision, I was like, “This is what makes you the RZA.” I said, “Look, I’ll get you a good seat.” He said, “Nah, Soph. I’ll buy my ticket.” I do believe that that is what I’m here to do, and it’s not a coincidence that I happened to work with MCs—some of the greatest rappers ever—and watched them as they crafted their words and worked so hard—

SB: Well, you even helped GZA create a public-speaking career of his own—go on to talk at Cornell and NASA and Oxford

SC: I know, it’s crazy. It’s crazy, and he has a speaking agent now. I need a speaking agent, by the way. I can’t believe I don’t have one. He has a speaker’s bureau that represents him now, and he actually lectures, and I am really, really proud of the work that I did there. I also got Joey [Ramone] to do his first lectures, and they were at NYU and Harvard. You know what’s fascinating? Is that both of them—the first thing that they said the first time they stepped to a podium in front of a large classroom packed with people—was, “I’m really nervous.” It’s not like they haven’t been on stage before. It’s not like they haven’t held a microphone before.

SB: They’re baring their soul.

SC: That’s right. It’s very different. “I don’t have the music. I don’t have the smoke machines. I don’t have the hype man.”

SB: Just me.

SC: That’s right. “I don’t have an audience that’s drunk and/or high. It’s just me.” And, they were so good at it. I am very excited for the next phase of my life, which will be predominantly about public speaking. I can’t possibly touch everybody that I want to touch, advise everybody that I want to advise, mentor everybody that I want to mentor. So, this is how I’m doing it. I have an audiobook. I’m going to write more books, and I’m going to do public speaking so that I can reach a wider audience and do this.

SB: Sophia, this is great. I think the world’s ready for the “baddest bitch in the room.”

SC: Thank you, thank you, thank you. I am very, very, very happy. Thank you for having me, and I am delighted to have these opportunities to tell my story.

SB: It’s great having you here today.

SC: Thank you.

This interview was recorded in The Slowdown’s New York City studio on Sept. 11, 2019. The transcript has been slightly condensed and edited for clarity.