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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The chess and hip hop connection! Must-read interview

Chess blog for latest chess news and chess trivia (c) Alexandra Kosteniuk, 2012

Hi everyone,

We've found the hip-hop chess movement quite exciting. Here is another interview conducted by Anthony Wing Kosner for the Forbes magazine!

The QoC Interview: Adisa Banjoko, Founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation

This interview was conducted with Adisa Banjoko by email February 9-11, 2012. Adisa is the founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation which just celebrated its 5th anniversary of helping young people in the San Francisco Bay Area overcome difficulties through music, chess and martial arts. The HHCF hosts “celebrity chess benefits where underserved youth play chess for educational scholarships and engage cultural icons from various backgrounds.” Clearly not your average chess club.

Q: Most people are not aware of the connection between hip-hop and chess. What made you think to put the two together?
A: The connection between hip-hop and chess is actually quite deep, but unknown. Most people don’t realize that rap music has celebrated the game of chess more than any other form of popular music. Rappers like T.I., Tupac, Public Enemy and members of the Wu-Tang Clan have played the game and championed the philosophies that come off the board. However, few of them are really seeking Grand Master status. The goal is more to stay mentally sharp, avoid threats, recover from loss, refine their focus etc. This is what The Hip-Hop Chess Federation teaches kids to do in real life.

In the early 1970′s, after Bobby Fischer conquered Boris Spassky and became a recluse, hip-hop emerged in its initial embryonic stage. Chess was quite mainstream in those days. In the late 1980′s we find rap groups like Public Enemy, X-Clan and EPMD mentioning chess. Most of the early references are speaking about chess in terms of social and political control. Political rap found itself isolated by the mid 1990′s, but after the release of Searching for Bobby Fischer and Fresh, chess lyrics began to resurface in rap. These lyrics were much more about survival on the streets—more personal—about emotional self-mastery, and never allowing yourself to be manipulated by others. There are countless examples from rappers like 50 Cent or Jay Z, but the Wu-Tang clan remained the most consistent in speaking on the benefits of chess. Nevertheless, no single rapper or rap group owns that lane. Hip-hop’s connection to chess is rap music’s dirty secret. These guys are incredibly smart.

Q: Haitian Voudoun and other syncretic religions of the African diaspora hid tribal deities behind a veneer of Christian saints and rituals. Do you think that the intelligence in hip-hop is purposely masked by layers of bravado and bad language? Are the chess references in hip-hop a clue pointing to the presence of that intelligence below the surface?

A: Indeed it is. Hip-hop is intelligence camouflaged in violence and chaotic melodies. For instance in a song by AZ with Rakim called “The Format” it says, “Relax through stress, do math and set mad connects/Cash the check, to get assets we blast techs [9 mm pistols]/Dealing with the mental aspects in chess.”

The complete song has a lot of undeniably sexist, materialistic and violent elements. I am not here to defend the indefensible lyrics of any artist, but deep intelligence is there. But it is not there to convince the mainstream of its intelligence. It is there to be a survival guide to those living on the streets

Also the other idea that we focus on in the HHCF is that many youth are violent by design. It’s not a conspiracy theory. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to how poverty was the root of a lot of violence. I see a lot of random crime to be the desperate attempts of misguided minds to win by force what they have not been able to achieve with their minds. The HHCF seeks to get them to trust in the power of their minds so that force is never needed wherever you walk. So much rap hits the streets where the kids walk that the mainstream never hears. That is another part of why the fusion of hip-hop and chess seems so alien. Some of it is what academics call “code switching.” So the language, the look, everything is meant to push “outsiders” away and share hidden messages to their intended like-minded demographic.

Q: Hip hop is a style of music that celebrates conflict—the rap battles, the emphasis on racial and economic tensions, even the aggressiveness towards women. Do you think is it uniquely suited to chess, more so then classical or other forms of popular music?
A: Hip-hop for many is a battle, but I don’t believe that conflict, tension or sexism is unique to hip-hop. If you take hip-hop as an art form beyond rap (meaning DJ’ing, breakdancing and graffiti art) it is all about the battle for the supreme original style and approach.

Conflict in the octagon, on the chessboard and on the mic purge us of our illusions about who we are. It prevents us from lying to ourselves about our intent or true capabilities. This is why so many businessmen and women readThe Book of 5 Rings, The 48 Laws of Power or the Hagakure. We admire Sun Tzu and Clausewitz in retrospect, but the truth is, they were real killers. They murdered more people than any rapper. If your mind is purified through battle you can share the wisdom that converges in the words of 50 Cent, Napoelon Bonaparte and chess master/martial artist Josh Waitzkin.

We don't think you should miss the full interview! Continue reading here.

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