Chess is Hip Hop
Kids today might look at the measly board games we had at our disposal, and shake their heads in disgust. What they may never know is that before tablets, mobile phones and consoles; classic board games and an imagination was all you needed. Generation X (at least in developed countries) has access to so much gadgetry, that it is rare that these humbled games would win the lopsided battle for their attention. However, if they realized how much chess (in particular) has infiltrated the world of hip-hop and pop culture, perhaps they’d give it a second look.
I LOVE to play chess. It’s an activity my brothers and I got into mainly due to lack of other extracurricular options. At first I was surprised how involved I became in the game. I remember this one occasion well: I had laid a fiendish trap for my worthy opponent; 6 or 7 moves had led up to it – the success of my whole strategy hinged on their next move, and in the anticipation of them taking the bait, I realized there was a thumping in my chest. That thumping was not only my excitement but the real world connection I was having. Not only to the game, but to the mindset behind it.
That very mindset of being strategic, the complexities and skill level required to be a contender, and thinking beyond your opponent–all of that tied in directly to hip-hop–another big interest. Soon enough, the world around me began to transform and I saw chess in hip-hop and vice-versa.
It’s impossible to be fan of rap and not notice Hip Hop’s love affair with the distinguished game of chess. Wu Tang single handily made chess cool for a generation. From their banger, “Da Mystery of Chess Boxin“, to Gza’s album art on Liquid Swords, their love affair with chess was clear for the world to see. I read in Rza’s book (part memoir, part Self help manual) Tao of the Wu, how he fell in love with the game and how the game is a reflection of his state of mind.
In pop-culture in general, chess has always been prevalent. The six degrees of separation become even more staggering when you look into the details. Take the movie Fresh, starring Samuel L Jackson as an example. In the movie his son, played by Sean Nelson, took his skills as a chess player and transferred them into his life in the hood. In true Machiavellian style, he manipulated friends as if they were pawns on a chess board. Going further, Papoose sampled some of Samuel’s dialogue from the movie in his classic track, ‘Chess’.
In Training Day Denzel Washington utilized an epic one-liner that encapsulated the appeal and mystique of chess, “This sh*ts chess, it ain’t checkers“. In short that line is about how your average Joe might be content with his mastery of the relatively simple checkers; but chess requires a lot more brain work and, therefore, a lot less people take the time to get to grips with it (no shots at short attention span gang).
Even within the intersection of fashion and hip-hop, chess makes its way through. In the distant, nerdy world of ‘professional’ chess, a talent has emerged, battering his peers and dominating his landscape. 23-year-old Norwegian, Magnus Carlsen is the reigning world champ and has achieved the highest rating in the recorded history of chess – legend, certified. Now here’s where the story takes a further twist; Magnus is a model for clothing label G-Star Raw. This in itself is nothing amazing, but in a world built on stereotypes, it makes Magnus a newsworthy enigma. Some media outlets even go as far as describing him as a “Rock Star” and the “Justin Bieber of Chess”.
Thanks, in part, to our culture’s fascination, Chess continues to endure the ages; and with it’s roots running as deep as the 6th century it truly is a survivor. I’m optimistic it will keep on captivating minds, and I hope to play my part. Introduce a friend, young mentee, or family member to the game. Have them read this article and enlighten them on how it’s a game of masters. Everyone wants to be a master right?
You May Also Want To Check Out:
‘Chess Yoga’, a non-profit organisation dedicated to introducing children to chess.