Latest Vibe with Adisa Banjoko (HHCF)

Adisa Banjoko

The Chess Drum caught up with Adisa Banjoko of the Hip Hop Chess Federation (HHCF) to discuss his new projects, the challenges, the successes and the organization’s sprawling new space for classes. The HHCF is on the move once again and has been progressive in trying to establish an fusion between different artistic expressions to draw from the strengths of each. Chess, Hip-Hop and martial arts all have their dualities and it is clear that this the HHCF has been able to take this concept where no one has gone before. Banjoko provides some important insights. Enjoy!

1. The HHCF is going on ten years of existence. What are three key lessons have you learned during this journey?

I think the lesson one, is that running a non-profit is hard work. So do not try to do this unless you are deeply sincere and dedicated to making your vision happen at all costs. Lesson two, is never let the short sighted negative vision others have of you make you put limits on your own vision of what you can accomplish. Three, always put the needs of the youth ahead of your ego. Without that you will surely fail.

Chess Life (February 2012)

Hip Hop Chess Federation featured on the cover of Chess Life
(February 2012)

The HHCF presented at the Innovative Concept Academy in St. Louis.

2. Last year you launched the “Living Like Kings” exhibit featured at the World Chess Hall of Fame? What has been the feedback from that production and what constructive projects have come out of it?

Having the HHCF go from being ignored by most of the mainstream chess organizations to having an exhibit at the World Chess Hall of Fame (WCHOF), is still an indescribable emotion. It is a bizarre blend of joy, humility, accomplishment and the feeling that one has only truly begun walking a path. The opening of the Living Like Kings exhibit broke all previous attendance of any opening at a WCHOF event.

When RZA and I stepped out of the limo with Susan Barrett (who was Director of WCHOF at the time) the line was going around the block. Nappy DJ Needles had bangers blasting through the building. Bobby Fischer’s exhibit was upstairs from ours. It was surreal. The energy was electric. Kids were b-boying and battling on the floor. Rappers like Kyjuan, Tef Poe and Hip-Hop writers like B-Gyrl 4 Life came out to support.

Earlier in the day RZA and I had spoken to more than 400 kids about chess, martial arts and the power of non-violence and we spoke at the juvenile hall on the same topic. Just the night before another young Black male had been killed by a cop. His name was Vonderitt Myers. So in general the city had a lot of racial and political tension. But RZA and the HHCF brought a lot of ease to that tension through the fusion of logic and art. Community activists like Rodney Hubbard kept us informed on the nature of the climate so we could keep peace the focus.

Adisa Banjoko with Wu Tang Clan legend, the RZA
at the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis.

The feedback was amazing overall. It is hard because it was such a unique exhibit, that it was hard to compare it to anything else done on chess. However, there is much more to cover and HHCF will be having new events in the coming year or so to share those other unexplored elements of the conversation.

The HHCF is currently in its final stages of expanding officially in St. Louis. I have to thank Rex Sinquefeld and Dr. Jeanne Sinquefeld for allowing HHCF to even have something on Hip-Hop and chess in St. Louis. Without their open mind and vision, and the kindness of Jen Shahade and Susan Barrett it truly would have never happened. For many, the WCHOF is where people hope to go at the end of a chess journey. For the HHCF, the Living Like Kings exhibit served as a launch platform for the expansion of our mission. We are grateful and very much in love with the city and youth of St. Louis.

3. You have spoken at a number of different colleges and universities. Despite hip-hop’s acceptance among college-age students, is there an difficulty with trying to explain the science of hip-hop, thereby over-intellectualizing the artform?

That is a very good question. Hip-Hop is now studied across the country by many amazing professors. The beauty of this is that many of these people are not just people who studied Hip-Hop- they grew up with it. So much of their knowledge is first hand wisdom presented with an academic refinement that folks on the streets might know as well, but cannot express as effectively.

Adisa Banjoko on point at Harvard University.

The other thing is, I believe we have only reached the tip of the iceberg when considering all of the academic applications and benefits of Hip-Hop to the minds of children. Every year or so someone is sharing a new methodology or discovery where rap music, Hip-Hop dance, graffiti or DJ’ing is used to help kids. I think people like Dr. James Peterson at Lehigh, Dr. Jeffery Ogbar at U Conn, Dr. Mark Anthony Neal at Duke, Lehigh’s Dr. Monica Miller and others are doing amazing work. Work that needs to be done. Additionally The Cornell Hip-Hop Archive, The Harvard Hip-Hop Archive and a lot of the work Jeff Chang and others are doing at Stanford are proof of how much we still do not know about Hip-Hop’s full potential. My belief is that Hip-Hop has been framed as such a base “uncivilized” art that many institutions of higher learning are late on the Hip-Hop education train. I look forward to the day when Hip-Hop has been over-intellectualized, but that day has not yet arrived.

That said, this year I have presented on the history of Hip-Hop and chess at University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Oberlin College, and U Conn among others. Not only am I having no difficulty finding high levels of student engagement, the demand seems to be rising for these kinds of conversations.

4. You have recently gotten a new space for your programs. Can you describe your new space and tell us what kind of programs you have planned in the near future?

I am so excited and thankful about our new space. We have more than three thousand square feet! The original HHCF headquarters was small, but we did amazing work out of there. Our Hip-Hop dance team won a lot of titles. We ran some kids jiu-jitsu classes out of there as well, but the demand of our programming was much greater than our ability to deliver. We had to add to the team. So we did.

HHCF now have an amazing team Susan Barrett is our Mid West Program Director, Vince Bayyan is our North Eastern Program Director, Kevin Hwa is our Chess Education Director and we have Sean McClure is our Media Director for HHCF. We just got education Itoco Garcia to join on as Education Director for our organization. We plan to be rolling out a lot of powerful programming across the country.

HHCF Headquarters
CLICK to see larger images. Hover to get descriptions.

In the fall HHCF will be doing joint classes of chess and jiu-jitsu. The classes will be for both adults and children. Our goal is to give people the ability to plug directly into the fusion of chess and martial arts. At the same time, we hope to bring a new age of fitness for young chess players.

We also will be having B-boy classes, and other martial arts programming. We are in the middle of building a music studio there now. Thanks to a sponsorship from Universal Audio we are off to an amazing start. Street Games Vol. 2 will be out this fall. DJ Rob Flow will be putting it together and Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and Eugene Brown of Big Chair Chess Club are on there hosting. It’s pretty amazing. I cannot wait for you guys to hear it. We hope to be hosting regular HHCF chess tournaments very soon.

Beyond that, I have a new book dropping in October called Royal Wisdom: The History of Hip-Hop and Chess. The cover art is a breathtaking 8 x 12 foot canvas created by Carlos Rodriguez and Rene Guyiot. It will be on public display soon. I’m excited about the book coming out. We had amazing classes at the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula in East Palo Alto this summer and our free chess camp in San Jose at the Seven Trees Community Center is ending in about 3 weeks. It has been an amazing year for HHCF and we stay thankful for all the support our organization has gotten over the years. For more check us out on or follow us on instagram @realhiphopchess.

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About HHCF: The Hip-Hop Chess Federation is the world’s first nonprofit (501c3) to fuse music, chess and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and nonviolence. They host lectures, panels, and celebrity chess events to help at-risk, gang-impacted and gang intentional youth make better decisions in life. The HHCF has been featured on Good Morning America, Forbes, Chess Life, VIBE and Rolling Stone.

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