If you’re looking for new martial arts-flavoured pop culture, there’s no better place to turn at the moment than music videos. In fact, three of hip hop’s biggest stars have recently released a pair of combat-laced short films in the past couple of weeks alone.
First Nicki Minaj debuted the video for her latest single, “Chun-Li.” (Heads up: this video, and the following ones in the post, contain some mature content and probably aren’t safe for work or young viewers.)
The title of this song, for those not up on their Street Fighter lore, comes from one of the franchise’s most iconic characters. “Chun-Li, the first female fighter of the series, made her debut in Street Fighter II: The World Warrior in 1991,” Billboard’s Rania Anitfos recently explained. “Her mission throughout the game is to avenge the death of her father, aiming to take down the villainous M. Bison. Chun-Li soon became one of the franchise’s most popular characters and is portrayed in a number of the series’ spinoffs, feature films, comic books and merch.”
The video lives up to that promise with Minaj sporting a Chun-Li worthy look while a troop of fighters perform martial arts-influenced dance moves and stunts in the background.
After months of anticipation (she first teased fans with a behind the scenes shot on her Instagram account last fall) SZA finally released the video for “Doves In The Wind” ft. Kendrick Lamar at the beginning of May. Lamar, aka Kung Fu Kenny, also plays SZA’s foe in the clip, and the two have a pretty epic martial arts battle:
If you’re not familiar with both hip hop and martial arts, the fact that some of its current luminaries managed to drop such similarly-themed videos within such a brief time period might seem like a pretty wild coincidence. But the truth is that this is actually just the latest chapter in an increasingly storied history between the two disciplines. From the multi-layered Shaw Brothers references at the heart of the Wu-Tang Clan’s oeuvre to Lupe Fiasco’s extensive training in karate, kendo, aikido, and wushu, the relationship between hip hop and martial arts is long-running, deep, and vital.
“On the surface, it may seem odd that martial arts and hip-hop would have any connection. After all, martial arts teaches simplicity and detaching oneself from material possessions, while hip-hop places a spotlight on an excessive lifestyle including money, women, and heavy drug and alcohol use. If you compare the history of the two, however, the relationship becomes evident,” Odyssey’s Julian Pollifrone wrote about the connection between the two worlds last May.
“Kung Fu films from Hong Kong were often purchased in packages by New York City movie theaters to save money. They were also shown on TV through programs such as “Drive-In Saturday.” The films, primarily those produced by Bruce Lee and the Shaw Brothers, depicted an underdog overcoming an oppressive organization, or unjust leader, using nothing more than willpower and their hands and feet. This theme of rising above injustice with so little resonated with the African-American community of this time period. While hate-blinded police officers were equipped with guns and clubs, the oppressed had their fists and a voice through music, leading to the birth of hip-hop. Martial arts reinvigorated the warrior instincts African-Americans lost during slavery and the time of Jim Crow Laws. The films also gave young black and brown children non-white role models to look up to, which was quite rare in the 70’s and early 80’s.”
According to Joseph Schloss, the author of Foundation: B-boys, B-girls and Hip-Hop Culture in New York, martial arts philosophy also played a role in shaping hip hop into the art that it is today. ”What martial arts really did for hip-hop was to provide a model for an apprenticeship system that showed how you could respect a teacher or a mentor without diminishing your own self-respect,” the writer and scholar told Complex in April 2017. “It was a model where you could be like, ‘I’m going to learn to be humble and disciplined, and let this guy tell me what to do, but that doesn’t mean that I’m letting him disrespect me.’ That’s a big part of what allowed the art form to develop, because when people put themselves in that situation, they were able to learn a lot of important things and push the art form forward by being open to that instruction.”
This isn’t the first time that Minaj and Lamar have participated in this cultural exchange, either.
Nicki Minaj played a tragic heroine in the samurai-themed video for “Your Love” back in 2010. The idea came about because the legendary Director X, who directed the project, showed the artist a martial arts film to give her an idea of what he wanted the video to look like in general terms. But Minaj took the idea and ran with it. “For me, I was really all about the fabric,” Director X told the Huffington Post about the genesis of the video in 2013. “I sent her a reference that was from a Kung Fu movie because it was the only thing that really explained what I was thinking, which was going to be just a straight performance video wrapped around the fabric. But then she saw the martial arts and she wrapped that into the concept, too.”
Her character’s fate was also Minaj’s idea.
Kendrick Lamar first started using the Kung Fu Kenny name/ alter ego with the release of the Damn. album in 2017. Kung Fu Kenny was then featured prominently in a video inspired by The Last Dragon that was used to promote his tour for that record.
THE DAMN LEGEND OF KUNG FU KENNY from alexandre moors on Vimeo.
SZA recently shared a quick display of her boxing skills on her Instagram account, as well:
Have you seen the new Nicki Minaj and SZA ft Kendrick Lamar videos? Are you a fan of martial arts-influenced hip hop? Let us know in the comments!
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