Hip-Hop Happening

 In Culture, Feature

The World Chess Hall of Fame premieres an outside-the-box hip-hop exhibit.


In the mid-1970's, DJ Clive “Kool Herc” Campbell first began performing in the Jamaican tradition of speaking poetry and boastful quips over music in the community room at historic 1520 Sedgwick Ave., in the South Bronx of New York. Many consider those “house parties” the de facto birth of hip-hop, which grew quickly to include rap music, turntablism (DJ-ing), break dance and graffiti art. As hip-hop culture first spread through the Bronx and the rest of NYC, then to communities beyond urban borders, it influenced everything in its path. Now, in an unexpected twist, a much anticipated hip-hop centered show hits St. Louis, courtesy of the World Chess Hall of Fame.

“Living Like Kings: The Unexpected Collision of Chess and Hip-Hop Culture,” shows Oct. 9-April 26, 2015, and offers an eye-opening look at how the ancient game of chess intersects with the powerful, creative expression in hip-hop culture. Organization of the exhibit began about two years ago under then-WCHOF director/now-consultant Susan Barrett, who was responsible for last year’s nationally lauded exhibit “A Queen Within,” merging fashion and chess.


“A lot of people are under the assumption that there is no connection whatsoever between hip-hop and chess,” says Shannon Bailey, chief curator for WCHOF. The depth of that connection is surprising. Look no further than Adisa Banjoko, the inspiration for “Living Like Kings.” An author, educator and founder of the nonprofit Hip-Hop Chess Federation in San Francisco in 2006, Banjoko fuses chess and hip-hop to promote peace, knowledge and self-reliance among young people. Chess, in fact, was adopted early by hip-hop culture: Bobby Fischer has been mentioned in several rap songs, The RZA and The GZA of Wu-Tang Clan were participants in the 2008 Chess Kings Invitational Championship Belt, and the list goes on.

The centerpiece of “Living Like Kings” is a commissioned, immersive, multimedia experience created by artist Benjamin Kaplan that will be organized around seven themes that chess and hip-hop share: history, strategy, spirituality, process, creativity, education and symbolism. Hundreds of media will be used, including archival and original video, photography, music, custom-designed type, illustration and voice-recorded interviews of hip-hop and chess experts, musicians and players. Examples include Banjoko, International Grandmaster Maurice Ashley, Wu-Tang Clan member RZA, women’s grandmaster Jennifer Shahade, groundbreaking turntablist DJ Qbert and Eugene Brown, whose life inspired the film “Life of a King,” released in January and starring Cuba Gooding Jr. All of these will explore a linear narrative, and by using inventive projection techniques, the exhibition will surround visitors in sights and sounds.

Learning Lab

The second-floor gallery of WCHOF will house a companion learning lab for the show, where visitors can immerse themselves in the exhibition through video and music stations, hands-on art opportunities, and educational or creative presentations like break dancing lessons, poetry readings and nights of freestyle rapping or dancing. To show the connection between hip-hop and art, the WCHOF will bring in graffiti artists to do chess-themed murals on the walls. With the exhibit running six months, each month will feature an additional focus on one of the six chess pieces: the king, queen, bishop, knight, rook and pawn with interpretations that are both creative and historical.



Photos of •À_Living Like Kings•À_ by Patrick Lanham.

DJ Needles


Photos of •À_Living Like Kings•À_ by Patrick Lanham.


Photo credit: Patrick Lanham

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