I’ve ran into Chops at a variety of functions in recent years; they range from shows where I was performing to parties that he was DJing; from local arts initiatives focused on creating platforms for the unseen to be seen, to dim sum restaurants in Chinatown, where he’s enjoying quality time with his family.
Where ever it may be, whenever I find myself standing between Chops and any person that has yet to hear of his accomplishments, I always introduce the man in the same way: Chops was one of the original members (arguably the best member) of the Mountain Brothers who were the first Asian-American rap act to be signed to a major label.
That fact is a mere footnote in the Chops story at this point. He has gone on to produce records for the likes of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Young Jeezy, Bun B, Lil’ Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and many more.
But to me, that “mere footnote” is what made Chops and the Mountain Brothers an important part of who I am today. I grew up up listening to Hiphop by immersing myself in its culture, and I’ve always been a creative minded individual but I never saw myself as someone that could, or even wanted to, make rap music. And I do believe that was, in part, to not having someone that looked like me– a blueprint if you will, showing me that someone who looks like me could be on that stage.
Chops and the Mountain Brothers were that blueprint.
That was during the very early days of the internet and only a few notable Asian-American acts were popping up here and there, and it was encouraging to see that maybe the bamboo ceiling could be broken through in Hiphop. Since then, there have been only a few (and very far in between) Asian- Americans who have impacted the culture on a mainstream level (Jin, Far East Movement, Dumbfoundead, etc.), but Chops and the Mountain Brothers were undeniably ahead of their time; it’s inspiring to see that Chops is still heavily involved in the music business and is an absolute pioneer in every sense of the word.
As I spoke to the man himself, as many times as I’ve done so, this time felt a bit more surreal as I had to recall on a time before I knew him personally. I was introduced to Chops’ music from the same friend that introduced me to the Lost Boyz and who taught me about the Zulu Nation; those three elements would set the foundation on which I would build the understanding of my own identity within Hiphop. The one thing that stuck with me from this conversation was when Chops touched on how seeing the way your community is represented in media affects your personal identity.
“When people see images of themselves in a positive light, that means something.”
Chops said that The Mountain Brothers were pressured early on in their careers to shoot videos in Karate uniforms and bring gongs on stage. They did not. They knew that would mean something entirely different from their message.
See Chops and many of the artists from Strength In Numbers in discussion and performance Saturday, November 14th, during the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival