The idea of “hip-hop chess” might leave some with a puzzled head scratch. But for veteran hip-hop journalist, certified chess geek and Hip-Hop Chess Federation founder Adisa Banjoko, the marriage of the two seemingly disparate worlds was never a question.
Rappers have always used chess as a metaphor, Banjoko said, be it political, like Public Enemy’s Chuck D on “Rebel Without a Pause” (“No matter what the name, we’re all the same pieces in one big chess game”) or a metaphor for street life, like 50 Cent on “Piggy Bank” (“This is chess not checkers, these are warning shots / After your next move, I’ll give you what I got”).
Even rap mogul Jay-Z acknowledged the importance of chess, noting in his 2010 autobiography, “Decoded”: “My pop taught me chess, but more than that, he taught me that life was like a giant chessboard where you had to be completely aware in the moment, but also thinking a few moves ahead.”
It’s that aspect of both hip-hop and chess — the teaching of life skills — that prompted Banjoko to start the Hip-Hop Chess Federation in 2006.
“The game empowers you off the board,” Banjoko says. “You’re going to live the game.”
“You’re royalty,” Banjoko tells students. “You carry yourself with dignity. You know who you are. You have to navigate and move like a king.”
While the organization has celebrated its success as an afterschool program in San Francisco and with high-profile events across the Bay Area featuring chess masters, martial arts experts and critically praised rap artists such as RZA, GZA and Oakland rapper Casual of Hieroglyphics, Banjoko recently brought the HHCF program to the Tri-Cities.
This summer, Banjoko is offering weeklong Chess Life Strategies camps in Fremont. HHCF is also partnering with award-winning nonprofit organization RAW Talents to offer Cheer and Dance camps and Performing Arts camps.
All classes are held at 34782 Centralmont Pl. in Fremont and participants can choose to join any of the three camps or a combination of classes. Held from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, the weeklong camp costs $339 for their all-day programs, or $179 for morning programs and $158 for afternoon programs. Camp dates run through the first week of September. (Click here to see the full details.)
HHCF and RAW Talents if currently offering a half-off deal via LivingSocial, which expires Wednesday at 11 p.m., according to Banjoko.
Summer camp lessons will last a lifetime
What sets the HHCF and RAW Talents apart — aside from allowing kids the chance to flex their intellectual, creative and physical muscles in the same setting — is the teaching of the chess ideology and their realistic approach in helping youth actualize their dreams, said Banjoko and RAW Talents founder Meek Gaborski.
“We explore the ecosystem of their artistic interest,” Banjoko said. “We’re not giving kids random feel-good anecdotes.”
Through RAW Talents, children are encouraged to chase their dreams but in a realistic manner. Gaborski, a former actress, model and competitive cheerleader, connects students with her contacts in the industry and provides them with information on alternative options. Not every child will be a Hollywood sensation, and for this Gaborski has brought in special guests such as Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, to teach students alternatives such as voice acting.
Among the featured guests for RAW Talents camps this summer will also be Kristin Curtin, a casting producer for various major network television programs, who will talk about what to expect and how to prepare for an audition.
Past RAW Talents students have landed small spots in commercials, including a commercial for Yahoo! and a local ad for Washington Hospital.
Adding to the organization’s list of accolades, the RAW Talents cheer group won four national titles, most recently the Elite International Championship held in San Mateo in April. They won their first title the year they began three years ago.
“Most schools can’t say that,” Banjoko said.
On the chess front, students will learn foundational training along with lessons on life skills.
Banjoko has developed his own principles to promote positivity among youth. One of his philosophies is the concept of “3PA > 1NT” — “three positive actions are greater than one negative thought.”
The teaching is a tool for stress removal, Banjoko said. If a student is worried about an algebra test, he can take positive steps such as studying, seeking a tutor or asking a friend for help to overcome his negative belief, he said.
“The idea is to make a habit of creating proactive responses to problems,” Banjoko said. “You don’t have to be a chess master to understand these ideas.”
As for the hip-hop?
“You’ll definitely hear some James Brown and Wu-Tang instrumentals playing,” Banjoko said.
But more than just the music, students will analyze song lyrics about chess and study the business strategies of successful artists like Jay-Z and 50 Cent, Banjoko said.
“Success is rarely an accident, and if it is, it won’t last long,” Banjoko said of the rappers’ calculated careers.
For the Chess Life Strategies summer camp, Banjoko plans to webcast meetings with special guests using AirTime, a Skype-like video chat platform integrated into Facebook.
Among those scheduled to speak with students are rappers Rakaa from L.A. group Dilated Peoples, jiu-jitsu master Ralek Gracie, sports medicine expert Dr. Peter Goldman and proven.com founder Pablo Fuentes.
To register for HHCF and RAW Talents summer camps, visit the RAW Talents website at www.rawtalents.org.