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MIT Hip-Hop Speaker Series returns, with eye on diversity

Manager and producer Sophia Chang kicks off year with debut of her Raised by Wu-Tang blog.

By Zach Church  |  August 16, 2016

Sophia Chang

Sophia Chang appears Sept. 21 at the MIT Hip-Hop Speaker Series

On Sept. 21, Sophia Chang—hip-hop manager, producer, writer, and label manager—will visit MIT. She will be the first woman and the first Asian to speak in the burgeoning MIT Hip-Hop Speaker Series. The talk takes place at 7 p.m. in Wong Auditorium, with doors opening at 6:30 p.m.

The series, which began in 2014, has so far welcomed hip-hop artists to discuss topics ranging from prison reform to entrepreneurship. Until now, the series has been organized by a loose collective of MIT students, including Forest Sears, SB ’16, and Chris Nolte, MBA ’15, co-founder of music crowdfunding site TapTape. Ad hoc support has come from Arts at MIT and the MIT Sloan Entertainment, Sports, and Media Club.

The club’s involvement was recently formalized and the series will become more frequent, with three or four talks expected in the 2016-2017 academic year. Adam Mitchell, MBA ’17, an organizer of the series, discussed why hip-hop makes sense at MIT, why Chang will kick off the year, and his favorite moments from past talks.

What is the goal of the MIT Hip-Hop Speaker Series? Is it just to have artists and others speak about anything, or is it more specific than that?

Adam Mitchell, MBA '17Adam Mitchell, MBA '17

The MIT Hip-Hop Speaker Series brings together leaders in hip-hop with students at MIT, the goal being to create entirely unique and meaningful dialogues on topics outside the traditional realms of both academia and entertainment. Past speakers have included  Killer Mike, Lil B, Prodigy of Mobb Deep and Young Guru, who have lectured on topics as diverse as prison reform, race relations and police brutality, entrepreneurship, and workplace culture.

As a lifelong fan of hip-hop, it’s been an absolute dream come true for me to be able to bring artists to campus to share their stories. Hip-hop is a fundamentally provocative, engaging genre so the series has been really well-received by students at MIT.

What do people need to know about Sophia Chang, your first speaker for the school year?

Sophia Chang is the music business matriarch who managed Wu-Tang Clan members ODB, RZA, and GZA, as well as D’Angelo, Raphael Saadiq, Q-Tip, A Tribe Called Quest, and Blackalicious in addition to putting in label time at Atlantic, Jive, and Universal. She produced fashion shows for Vivienne Tam, “Project Runway All Stars,” and Ralph Lauren and has written a screenplay which she sold to HBO and has developed other film and TV properties. Most recently she ran Cinematic, the label and management company for Joey Bada$$, Pro Era, and G Herbo.

She’s the embodiment of what we value at Sloan. She has displayed tremendous leadership, talent, and entrepreneurialism across multiple industries and passions, all the while overcoming racism and sexism in a traditionally male-dominated industry and genre. She’s an engaging public speaker and it’s a major milestone as she’ll be the first woman and first executive to ever speak in the series, which is long overdue.

What unique perspectives or ideas do speakers from the hip-hop community offer the MIT community?

While our guests have achieved tremendous success in the creative arts and business, they rarely come from privileged backgrounds. Unlike many of the speakers we host at MIT, they’ve lived through tremendous adversity and can speak to their firsthand experiences with issues of national importance in the U.S.: racism, police brutality, disproportionate amounts of incarceration of black and Latino communities, institutionalized sexism, amongst other topics. What I think is so compelling about the series is that many of our students already feel a deep emotional connection to the music, but they’re given this chance to engage directly with an artist or executive on their life and beliefs, which makes the messages in the music resonate even further. The series presents a human face and connection to societal issues that many MIT students are generally insulated from.

What are some of your favorite moments from past talks?

Hearing firsthand Prodigy of Mobb Deep reflect on his experience in prison and the state of the prison system in the U.S. was a highlight. Getting to hang out with Pusha T, who is one of my favorite artists, to talk about technology and what we as MIT students could invent to help artists make music was surreal.

What should people expect from the speaker series this year?

More diversity, more unique perspectives, and provocative speakers who are making a difference in the industry. First and foremost, we’re really excited to have Sophia as our first-ever female speaker. So many women have contributed to the evolution of hip-hop, but their voices and stories have traditionally been underrepresented. Sophia will speak about her history in and perspective on hip-hop through the unique lens of an Asian woman in the industry dating back three decades. She will discuss the tightrope she learned to walk as a woman in such a male-dominated world as well as management as a service industry, acknowledgement of privilege, addiction and depression, and her evolving relationship with the culture.

She has chosen [the event] to launch her highly-anticipated blog Raised by Wu-Tang and will give the audience a sneak peek at the site, including video testimonials from the Abbot himself, the RZA, and Method Man.