From Shaolin Masters to Shaolin Fantastic: The Hip Hop Kung Fu Connection



Photo Cred: Philip Cosores /

Ok, now that we have all had over a month to listen to DAMN and watch the visual treatments for the first two singles, we can take a minute to appreciate ‘DNA’ and marvel at its brilliance. Not only is ‘DNA’ heavily laden with pop culture references, as well as biblical allusions; the second video from Kendrick Lamar’s fourth studio album, DAMN, also incorporates elements of Asian cinema and the martial arts aesthetic. These familiar themes are arguably more in line with the roots of hip hop’s history, than visuals of young men shooting dice or being interrogated by the police, which are also in the video.

This long standing connection between hip hop and martial arts was also showcased earlier this year when Netflix released the second half of The Get Down, a series chronicling the emergence of hip hop culture in 1970s New York, as told through the eyes of a group of teenagers led by the larger than life, Shaolin Fantastic. Despite Fantastic being a fictional character, his affinity for Bruce Lee films, the honour code of Kung Fu Masters and love of music represents a general attitude that was prevalent throughout the Bronx at the time. Of course, this was reinforced by the availability of Kung Fu movies, which played around the clock in every cheap theatre that wasn’t showing soft core porn from Times Square to 42nd Street.

During those formative years, the concepts of discipline, honour and loyalty which are integral to the plotlines of old Kung Fu movies helped shape the foundation of hip hop. Challenging the dominant media which was predominately white, the world of Asian cinema offered an alternative form of representation, and stories about ordinary people achieving greatness through discipline and practice. Martial arts also heavily influenced the world of B-boys and B-girls who used the melodic and explosive movements from the movies to inspire break dance moves and routines.

While its been noted that as hip hop has matured it has moved away from those simple ideas of honour and loyalty towards materialism and excess, every decade or so there is an artist, or collective that reintroduces the foundational bond between hip hop and martial arts.



In the 90s, martial arts imagery again became a powerful tool in hip hop, although this time it was less about the cool, mystic and measured moves that master’s like Bruce Lee exhibited, but more about the power and violence that is a byproduct of martial arts training. If the relationship between hip hop and martial arts had been one of artistic inspiration prior to the 90s, the 1993 release of Wu Tang Clan’s, Enter the Wu Tang: 36 Chambers, cemented a deeper bond.

Wu Tang has become synonymous with hip hop’s affection for martial arts and this is most evidenced on their first album where the recurring themes and motifs of escapism, loyalty, honour and martial arts-styles where punctuated with the promise of violence and the realities facing young black men.

Thanks to founding member and group producer the RZA, who could be described as the personification of hip hop and martial arts, Wu Tang’s inclusion of these repetitive themes came across as fresh and new. This authenticity came as result of The RZA looking beyond the genre of Kung Fu and Martial Arts cinema to study Buddhism and the Art of War.

For The RZA, who ironically is the is the closest thing we have to an actual Shaolin Fantastic, Staten Island is Shaolin, his friends, the clan, are warriors and need to protect their hood and honour.  In fact, he still incorporates his brand of martial arts influenced hip hop into the soundtracks of films like, Kill Bill and The Man with the Iron Fists.

While Wu Tang was asserting themselves as hip hop’s power group that should definitely not be F***ed with, Kendrick Jeru Davis a.k.a Jeru the Damaja was also using the familiar imagery of Asian cinema to set his New York based raps apart from mainstream artists like Nas and Biggie whose albums dominated 1994.



Unlike Wu Tang, who used broad themes and witty word play, paired with hoodies, Timberlands and Wallabees to portray their martial arts inspiration, Jeru wore a traditional Chinese outfit and raped about self-discipline and righteousness.

By the early 2000s, as hip hop became mainstream and began to take over as the dominant culture the influence of martial arts shifted from music to film, with movies like Romeo Must Die and the Rush Hour franchise. As Jackie Chan and Jet Li introduced a new generation to the beauty and subdued force of martial arts, the soundtracks to their films relied heavily on the connection that had already been forged between hip hop and martial arts.



In Rush Hour 2, released in 2001, Don Cheadle, who also plays the cop in Lamar’s ‘DNA’ video, is Kung Fu Kenny a Crenshaw Avenue Chinese restaurant owner with ties to illegal gambling. Kenny wears a familiar Kung Fu inspired jacket and has a love of Chinese culture, he also engages in an even handed spar with Jackie Chan.

All of this imagery from Nehru collared Kung Fu jackets, to the association of hip hop, martial arts and violence are at play in ‘DNA’. Kendrick’s interpretation isn’t all about paying homage to a bond that is decades old though, it also moves the connection to the forefront and establishes an association between West Coast hip hop and martial arts, something new for a discourse that has always centered around East Coast hip hop and the culture coming from New York.

Throughout ‘DNA’, whether he is practicing the restraint of Bruce Lee when dealing with Cheadle, or lyrical shadowing boxing like the Wu in the second half of the video, Kendrick is showcasing his versatility and attention to nuance and detail. By donning the personae Kung Fu Kenny he is also reaffirming his connection with the deep roots of hip hop—because presumably hip hop and its many facets are in his D.N.A.








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Chicken, Waffles and ATCQ


My latest article chronicling the listening party for A Tribe Called Quest’s new album We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service..  

In some ways, Toronto and New York have always had a kinship and ‘We Got It From Here…’ serves as an unlikely connection between the two cities…. read more

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Yeezy Taught Me: Why The Kan-Tay War is More Prolific than You Think



It’s been approximately 48 hours since Kim Kardashian revealed the SNAP heard round the world, and while I awoke knowing that there would be think pieces regarding the public dismantling of Taylor Swift’s carefully crafted persona, I was disappointed to not find one that addressed the deeper more nefarious issues Tay’s lie had.

By now its public knowledge that Taylor who claimed to have no prior knowledge of Kanye’s controversial verse in Famous, not only knew about it, she helped write it. Let’s take that in for a second, this woman has spent months acting as though a lyric Kanye wrote and pre-vetted with her was so detrimental to her moral sensibility she needed to dedicate her entire two minute Grammy speech to subliminally assassinating Kanye and his character. So we now know that he did get her approval, just like he said and thanks to Kim Kardashian we also know that Taylor also suggested part of the verse be reworded to be ‘more provocative.’

While I along with the majority of Twitter rejoiced the momentous moment that Kim snapped, and snapped the video of country darling turned pop princess T Swizzle giggling and thanking Kanye for being a friend and telling her about the lyric beforehand. Let’s also put that into context, a rapper reached out to someone they are rapping about to seek their approval, this is unheard of!

As radio personality and Breakfast Club co-host as Charlamagne pointed out, during the height of Eminem’s career in which he roasted any and everybody in the industry he most definitely didn’t seek their approval.


So Ye extends a proverbial olive branch and Taylor’s all, ’thanks that’s so kind of you’, when in reality she is like I’m going to get this guy. Now whether this was revenge for the MTV awards incident I don’t know, however what I do know is Taylor’s false — at this point there is no dispute that her claims of being unaware are false– her false claims feed into a nefarious narrative that dates back almost as far as slavery, one in which white woman falsely accuse a black man of a crime.


This trope of blaming otherness stretches as far back as fancy literature and is basically the largest theme of Othello. In recent decades this theme has emerged in literary classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and movies like Rosewood and while these may be fictional works their core message is often tore from real life headlines of false allegations and real life examples.


In fact it is so prevalent there is a term for it, the Racial Hoax and the ramifications of white women blaming a black men for a crime they did not commit have cost men and even boys their lives. In 1931 the Scottsboro Nine – a group of nine young black boys ranging in age for 12-19–  were arrested after an altercation with a group of young white boys. Later two white girls would come forward claiming before the altercation between the groups of boys the Scottsboro Nine raped them.

Scottsboro Nine

Despite one of the accusers later recanting her story and that of her friend the trials and persecution of the nine teenagers dragged on for more than two decades and ended with some of the accused being sentenced to 99 years in jail while other defendants were set free.

Dr. David Pilgrim, Professor of Sociology at Ferris State University and curator of the Jim Crowe museum has written on the idea of the black male brute and the prevalence of the trope in media and literature.

“The ‘terrible crime’ most often mentioned in connection with the black brute was rape, specifically the rape of a white woman. At the beginning of the twentieth century, much of the virulent, anti-black propaganda that found its way into scientific journals, local newspapers, and best-selling novels focused on the stereotype of the black rapist,” writes Pilgrim. “The claim that black brutes were, in epidemic numbers, raping white women became the public rationalization for the lynching of blacks.”

The prolonged proceeding  surrounding the Scottsboro Nine have been cited time and time again as evidence of the Racial Hoax and may have served as inspiration for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The case surrounding the Scottsboro Nine was also instrumental in paving the way for the end of all white juries.

The trials were not effective in ending felonious accusations however, in 1944 in one of the most egregious cases of racial hoaxing 14-year-old George Stinney Jr., a young black boy, was convicted of the first-degree murder of two pre-teen white girls by an all-white jury in South Carolina. Despite a complete lack of physical evidence Stinney was convicted on the fictitious testimony of three officers who said the boy confessed.

In June 1944, Stinney became the youngest person ever executed in the 20th century when he was strapped into the electric chair. Accounts say his small body didn’t fit into the restraints designed for grown men and the boy’s small body writhed in pain while he was executed.


On Dec. 17, 2014, Stinney’s conviction was vacated by Circuit Court Judge Carmen Mullen, effectively clearing his name 70 years later.

Emmet Till, a 14-year-old black boy from Chicago visiting relatives in the Deep South in 1955 was kidnapped, tortured and murdered because he may have whistled or said something to a white woman, a story that was never corroborated however it didn’t prevent Emmet’s grisly murder.

In a report published by the University of North Carolina, entitled White Women, Rape, and the Power of Race in Virginia, 1900-1960, Lisa Lindquist Dorr the report’s author states:

White women’s accusations of rape also brought struggles for power among whites, both women and men, to the fore. The rape myth, based on white women’s role as the symbolic guardians of white purity and virtue, gave white women considerable ability to accuse black men of rape and demand that white men provide protection through revenge. This power theoretically resided in the hands of all white women, regardless of their character or social status, and thus gave all white women, no matter how untrustworthy, virtually dictatorial power over white men’s actions.

While Lindquist was focusing on the 60 years between 1900-1960, the recurring theme of white womanhood falling victim to black masculinity has endured.

Susan Smith a mother of two drowned her two small children in the family car while she stood there and watched. She then called police and said that she had been car jacked by a black man. After a throng of media attention and police scrutiny Smith finally came clean, admitting to drowning her two boys and concocting the carjacking story.


Almost 58 years to the day that the Scottsboro Nine were falsely arrested on trumped up rape charges, The Central Park Five were arrested. The five Latino and African-American men were arrested for the rape of a jogger in Central Park. Although all five vehemently denied any involvement at first after hours of interrogation and police cohesion some of the young men confessed.

Subsequently the men were convicted of the crime and began serving long sentences in the New York penal system. That is until, 2002, when a man who had no connection to the Central Park Five confessed to the crime, his DNA was tested and it was confirmed that he was the assailant.

The Central Park Five were then exonerated and freed after spending more than a decade behind bars. I’d like to say the examples end there, but they don’t. In this day and age where black people especially men are the targets of this malicious eviling even by law enforcement officers it is not only mean, it is extremely detrimental for Swift to perpetuate this false narrative especially while knowing it is utter nonsense.

And let’s make this extraordinarily clear, I did not for one second doubt what Kanye said. I have often over the years felt odd about defending his antics to people, but never once disbelieved him when he said he had gotten her co-sign. He after all may be a lot of things but a liar is not one of them. I suspect a lot of people suspected there was truth to what Ye was saying, even though white feminists were quick to rally round Taylor their homogenous ‘I like provocative rap, don’t call me a bitch’ brand of feminism.

On the other hand we have Taylor who has made a career of using people for whatever purpose then discarding them into her song lyric generator for maximum pop benefit. I read an article about her while cycling through the think pieces dubbing her the Beckiest Becky and the ones that somehow found a way to make her a victim. In the article the writer talked about even her name story being a lie depending on the crowd she is in front of, according to said writer she has been known to say she is named after Fire and Rain singer James Taylor in honour of her parent’s obsession with the folk crooner. Taylor has also been known to say her parents –both business people– wanted her to have a unisex name like CK One so she couldn’t be predetermined by her resume, what her name is a type of feminism affirmation, awesome.

Now that we all know the truth I feel less than satisfied, mostly because it took another white woman to show the receipts and clear Kanye’s name. Ultimately his word was not good enough when it stood in dark contrast to the white light that is Taylor Swift and I find that disturbing.

In Black Skinheads, Kanye eloquently raps, “They see a black man with a white woman At the top floor they gone come to kill King Kong…” and while he was probably referring to his relationship with Kim it could also be an allegory for his dealings with Swift and the perception America has of the black male, which dictates, you can exist for our benefit but if you get to close to our shiny princesses we will come for you.




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Astronaut’s photo of space flower a global milestone

Scott Kelly isn’t the first astronaut to tweet while in space, and he probably won’t be the last. However, on Monday morning he became the first astronaut to ever tweet a photo of a flower in full bloom grown in space..

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Toronto artists dominate Billboard’s Hip-Hop and R&B chart


Its been a great year for Toronto, thanks in part to Drake and The Weeknd…

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Popular emoji crowned word of the year

😂😂😂  Emojis have quickly become  part of our daily lexicon, so few were surprised when the Oxford English Dictionary named an emoji word of the year…

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Toronto transportation troubles


A look at what is going on in the world of Toronto transportation…

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