Making Dragons Fly: Kung Fu In Hip-Hop Culture (2014)
Since its birth in the late 70's/early 80's, hip-hop has been carving its way into American culture, and continues to make itself a mainstay both in our history and our society to this day. Artists ranging from A Tribe Called Quest to Wu-Tang Clan to (of course) Tupac and Eminem have used their infectious beats, compelling stories, and lyrical prowess to shape the way we see and interact with our world as well as those around us. With such a powerful tool at use, one begs to ask; how can such an influential medium be used to give something back, to help the listener find the path to being the best person they can be? Veteran rap artist Tony Chamba not only fields that question, but puts his answer into practice with his new single, Where The Dragon Flies.
Tony has been deep in the hip-hop game for years, and is also no stranger to martial arts. Before moving to California, Tony studied Tai Chi in Miami, FL. He began studying under Master Valery at Kung Fu of Golden Dragon soon after arriving in Los Angeles. Aside from potential in martial arts, Valery saw something more in Tony; he saw his ability to use lyrics to open minds and ears. After finding out that Tony was in fact a rap artist, Master Valery handed off a copy of a story on its way to screen adaptation and asked Tony to write a short rap based on the story. Much to his surprise, Tony did more than just drop 16 bars; he pumped out a full 3-verse song complete with chorus – IN ONLY 2 DAYS.
Master Valery then worked painstakingly to find the perfect beat before calling upon Jeff Silberman, another student at Golden Dragon, to help them book studio time to cover the track. With his studio having seen the likes of MegaDeth, Spinal Tap, and Lucinda, Jeff happily helped them make the song into a reality in hopes that it would see the same success as many acts that had passed through before. All these talented, focused individuals pouring themselves into this project they all believed in made things run smoothly; the entire recording session lasted just over one hour. It was simple, clean, and fun. And the most important part – the message rang through clear as a bell. So, what exactly is that message, and why do we need to hear it? The answer may be as deep and pertinent as hip-hop itself.
Far too often in modern rap songs, we hear the same themes purported; if you want to be as cool as this artist, you must spend money flippantly on expensive clothes and accessories, abuse harmful substances such as drugs and alcohol, and only associate with women by objectifying or berating them. And if anyone opposes your lifestyle, demeanor or way of thinking, the only way to solve the problem is through violence (because obviously, they're haters). While these themes have functioned to differentiate this culture from every other musical influence, it is ultimately self-destructive. With so much discord and animosity in our world, the last thing we need is the people that everybody listens to saying, 'Keep up the horrible work! Let's all kill each other!' Where The Dragon Flies makes a bold move away from this oeuvre with a poignant message of positivity and personal growth. Yet even with the message being self-actualization, Tony doesn't attempt to sugar-coat the hardships of dwelling in an environment where the odds are stacked against him. Instead he celebrates it, and speaks on how overcoming hurdles in life is a choice we must make for ourselves. A bar from his rhyme goes as follows:
God, why I wanna live, live so long
When I'm gone, my spirit and strength preserve my bones
I face death daily, I'm still undefeated
I use my power for good so my strength is undepleted
Where most rappers sing praises of instant gratification through shady choices, Chamba lets us know that the best results are the ones we have to work, sweat, and bleed to achieve.
Don't waste your whole life waitin for somethin
You runnin nowhere quick and you pacin for nothin
Show yourself, through mind body and spirit
When you look deep inside then you gotta feel it
Most people died and they tried with closed eyes
I'm leaping for destiny, takin a nose dive
Don't let it slip away, it's fluid like water
Died and resurrected, Now I live as a master
While Tony cites his musical influences from every end of the spectrum, from Jay-Z and Public Enemy to Black Sabbath and even Kenny G, his style is truly in a league all its own. His unique wordplay and gritty yet uplifting source material make you want to do more than just turn up at the club; they make you want to turn up your spiritual power and way of thinking. Only then will you be able to soar where your Dragon flies.