CHOPS is an Asian American hip hop producer, rapper and former member of the Asian American Hip-Hop group, the Mountain Brothers. He is a very busy guy nowadays supporting Haiyan relief and successfully funded Kickstarter projects of his own. Over his illustrous career, CHOPS has established a name for himself as a producer, creating tracks for artists such as Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy and Kanye West and the popular song “The Creep” by The Lonely Island. His latest project, Strength in Numbers, is a collaboration with more than 30 Asian and Asian-American artists, many who we have featured on this very site. Read below for the full Q&A…
I’m not claiming to be familiar with all the appearances on the album, but I have interviewed Baiyu and Connie Lim and a few of the Emcees featured. What I can say is they are all very eclectic artists from one another. How did you form a synergy making sure all these people came together to make a cohesive record?
CHOPS: It is pretty diverse, that’s one of the main reasons for doing the Strength In NUMBERS project. There’s so many different styles of artists involved who are dope, who I wanted the chance to work with. First because I’m a fan, and wanted to help showcase everybody’s skills. Plus I wanted to show my ability and range production-wise too. To me it feels eclectic but cohesive at the same time. Creatively it was fun having a mix of songs and artists, and even in some cases getting people together who hadn’t worked together yet, like Paul Kim and Dumbfoundead, or Joanlee and Decipher.
If your Kickstarter project is any indication, there can be a lot of questions I can raise from it.
CHOPS: Luckily I’m answering this after the end of the Kickstarter, and it did fund, but it was rough there for awhile. Felt like I was ready to quit a few times. But the amazing thing about this project, is getting to connect with folks who believe in what we’re doing. There’s a lot of people who helped bigtime. They made the Kickstarter succeed, and continue to make the project bigger, with much more impact. The real goal of the project isn’t a monetary goal, and monetarily this project is not a success for me compared to other stuff I do, especially considering the time put into it, it’s been over two years. But everything else about the project makes it a total success so far, the support has been amazing. We’re working on more music videos, and other stuff to help get the word out. I want to make sure people get to hear the music, whether they support via iTunes or Amazon, or whether they just pass it around. Realistically if people share this music, even without kicking in, it’s a good thing. Musicians these days, especially Asian American ones, are not fighting piracy. We’re fighting obscurity.
So, you don’t think there is a lack of community in the Asian/Asian-American music industry? Perhaps a lack of trust or support between labels and Asian artists?
CHOPS: I think there’s little to no support from mainstream outlets for anybody not yet in the mainstream, which means having to go grassroots with everything, and build up our own support. This is something the artists on the project have been doing for years. I wanted to try and join forces with everybody and see what could happen with everybody helping each other a little. We’ve been getting good response so far, and that feels good, feels like progress.
Rhymefest had a line where he addressed his indie projects not getting more shine due to his connections: “Brush up on your math skills / Nothin plus zip equals zero; he couldn’t relate / That n_gga ain’t been broke since “H to the Izzo“. Is this somewhat true? With all your connections with Kanye, Jeezy, Bun and Wayne, why do you feel its still an uphill climb sometimes?
CHOPS: It is somewhat true, you need opportunities to get success, and you need success to get opportunities. To the industry, I’m just one of a zillion mofos who make beats. I’m fortunate to get to do successful work with big artists now and then, but I’m at a point in life where I’d like some of my work to mean something, on a personal level. I want it to be a little deeper than just “I did a beat for this famous person.” That’s a big reason for the Strength In NUMBERS project. People say my group Mountain Brothers played a part in starting something, and I want to be part of helping give another push.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
CHOPS: I’m gonna show my age with some of these, and I’m terrible at “best of” lists, I always remember stuff after. Some favorites are Hard Boiled, Young & Dangerous, The Raid: Redemption, Monga, SPL, and Miike’s Dead or Alive. I’ll definitely check your site to find out good movies to watch!
I remember talking to Mike B and Decipher and I asked them why all their LP’s guests appearances were just Asian artists, whether it was an project specifically to raise up Asians or just collaborating with friends. They choose the latter but your latest project says you wanted Asians only. What is the reasoning behind this?
CHOPS: That’s a great question. The reason for me wanting Asians only for this project, is because I’ve spent most of my career not working with Asians. When I was a lot younger I dreamed about having a situation where I’d get to work with great Asian artists. But for a ton of different reasons, that didn’t happen.Until now that is.
You have a no-sample production style. I don’t need to tell you that in modern beat-making that is rare. Why did you choose to mold that style?
CHOPS: Sample-free beats are more popular now than when I started. I was kind of an oddball back then, for not sampling. But when I was learning I was really influenced by groups like The Roots, who use live instruments. I always loved the programmed synth and drum machine stuff too. I’ve had some music training, so playing and programming instruments makes it easier for me to get ideas across than sampling somebody else’s work. Plus, business-wise if you sample, there’s no royalties, which would kill me because I live off royalties.
You’re a busy man, aside from the Strength in Numbers, what can fans expect from you into 2014?
CHOPS: I’ve actually been working on this project for so long I kinda got tunnel vision and didn’t do much else for awhile, so I’m just getting back in motion. I have some collab projects where I’m doing production and getting on the mic, with a couple of my favorite artists from the West coast and down South. I don’t like giving too many details before the eggs are hatched, but we’re working. I’m always making solo music, but that’s usually for stuff like placement on TV shows, I never really put that stuff out but I’m thinking about doing some of that too. And we’re planning collab projects, or at least songs, where I do some more tracks with some of the Strength In NUMBERS artists. That’s the other great thing about the project, finding cool artists who click and want to do more work together.
Looking through the ‘Strength in Numbers’ list of Asian artists, it’s really crazy! They’re all talented but nobody on radio, TV or magazine is showing them love. Why do you think that is? Does it go BEYOND their ethnicity?
CHOPS: I think regardless of race or ethnicity, the public basically ignores you until you do something that grabs some attention. Plus, you’re not getting a lot of love from radio, TV, and print unless you have “the machine” backing you. And a lot of people in the mainstream music biz are less likely to stick their necks out for somebody or something unproven. And of course, we’re unproven for the most part. The thing is though, times are changing and you don’t need radio, TV, or magazines to get heard and seen. More importantly, fans don’t need radio, TV, or magazines to find great music and great artists.
Lastly, any advice for any struggling producers out there?
CHOPS: This is going to sound harsh but it’s the advice I always give. Don’t do it. Especially as a job. Everybody and their mom makes beats, now that anybody can get a half decent laptop and a cracked copy of Fruity Loops or whatever. The supply is insanely high, and demand is lower than ever. That ratio won’t improve as time goes on. The odds are really fucked up. In all likelihood, you won’t be able to make a living from it. BUT, if you love it so much that there’s no choice but to constantly continue to learn, continue to improve, continue to connect with people, continue to seek ways to make your passion work for you, etc. etc. etc…. if you have the attitude that nothing can keep you from it, and the actions to back it up, you might just do ok. I’ve been doing this as my living for about 15 years now and I’m still working on all that stuff, trying to get where I’m going.
Want to know more about the project or check out the other artists on the track? Follow CHOPS’ cookie crumb trail below:
List of artists on ‘Strength in Numbers’:
Ann One (LA), Baiyu (NYC), Bambu (LA), Catzie of Yellow Rage (PHL), Connie Lim (LA), Decipher (PHL), DJ Bonics (PHL/PGH), DJ Neil Armstrong (NYC), DJ Roli Rho (NYC),Dumbfoundead (LA), El Gambina (NJ), Erika David (Bay Area), Hopie (SF), Hoya (NYC), J-Key (NYC), Joanlee (LBC), Kiwi (LA), Lil Crazed (MN), Matt Cab (Tokyo), Mic Barz (ATL), Mountain Brothers (PHL), Nikko Dator (LV), Paul Kim (LA), Prometheus Brown (SEA), Rekstizzy (NYC), Rocky Rivera (SF), Ruby Ibarra (Bay Area), Tasha aka Yoonmirae (Korea), Thai (PDX), Tiger JK (Korea), Timothy Flu (ATL), Verbal of M-Flo / Teriyaki Boyz (Tokyo), and Yellow Boyz (ATL)