Friday, February 21, 2020

Pop Smoke: Gangs, Guns and Dying Young

Recently rapper  Pop Smoke (born Bashar Barkah Jackson) was murdered in LA.
It took a lot of folks by surprise and it has been very sad. He rapped a lot about
guns and death and violence. I am not that familiar with his life. I cannot say for
sure that he was deep in the mix. Sometimes it’s just an act. Either way, it does
not matter. I mean Juice WRLD just died of his OD,  I’m still not over the killing
of The Jacka or Nipsey Hussle and it feels like  these younger rappers seem
to be dying faster and faster. Very painful stuff. 

I
Image: copyright of Complex Magazine

Since the 90’s alot of rappers have made a good name for themselves by being
gang affiliated. Some of them really were in the streets. Some were not but had
family and friends who were and it helped their image. When this kind of strategy
becomes desperate you end up with Tekashi 69 kind of situations. When you
really look at Tekashi and some of his early video interviews before a really
blew, you could see he was not a killer. This was a kid looking to get famous by
any means necessary. That is a popular phrase originally coined by Malcolm X
(using it to describe the dedication of the Black socio political agenda of the time)
used in Hip-Hop because of rappers like Public Enemy, KRS One, Paris and
other rappers of the late 80’s and 90’s. 


Later some of the street rappers used similar slogans to amplify their dedication
to the street life. Tekashi wanted to be down so bad, he betrayed his own
non-gangster nature to get money. He got famous by any means. Unfortunately
it was at the cost of that which is priceless- his freedom. He lost his lady, access
to his kids, the ability to make music and he still has a long way to go because of
what he did. The gang pushed aside their normal vetting process to get money
from a dude who was not built for that life. They all got ruined.


The other reality is that the way he and others liked to be on social media flashing
of money, gold cars, etc. on social media is like throwing blood in the water at real
sharks. Real street people are starving out here. They shoot people for a lot less
than you show on the screen. These guys are desperate. If they want something
better and if you get online telling them you got it and you down to kill for it- you
might come across someone more hungry than you. 


Apparently Pop Smoke posted his address on IG or any social media a few hours
before the home invasion.  When you tell people you gotta lotta money and or run
with killers it can be very dangerous business. That is just solid advice. Especially
while traveling. 


I myself rarely post where I am in real time. You see me in The Bay- I might be in
London. You see me in London, I’m back in The Bay. One of the things that social
media does is it gives you the illusion that everybody who watches you like you.
They don’t. I mean, I don’t even like me that much sometimes. How unrealistic is
it that a certain amount of folks out there might have bad vibes for you- let alone
willing  to put bad intentions into action? I did a short video on the reality of
having enemies in your life and how to deal with this reality. 


Check in with the Homies


In Hip-Hop back in the late 80’s and early 90’s most rappers would go to local
mom and pop stores to promote shows and album releases. Because Hip-Hop
is close to the streets a lot of these artists created solid connections with other
people in the know. Not only was it smart (ie keep you from being a victim of
attack and robbery (in the Bay Area Nas, 2Chainz and once even DJ Quik
had rowdy experience). I don’t say this to embarrass anybody. Look, the streets
are dangerous. Anybody can get it. 


My point was in the day certain artists, like DJ Premier and Guru of Gangstarr
were very well connected to people from Fillmore District in SF (very reputable
are for art, music and street violence). They never had problems. San Francisco
was always like a second home to Gangstarr. Chuck D of Public Enemy, X-Clan,
KRS One, and others were well connected to the people and artists in the
community. So they never had problems. 


National artists used to check in with local artists not because they were scared
but they wanted to be connected to the local fans. As rap went more and more
mainstream label folks intervened for control as they tried to do more lucrative
deals with radio stations. Little by little artists were cut off from the local fans and artists. 


Another group good for being connected to local areas regardless of label stuff was. 
Brand Nubian for The Source way back (Mary J. Blidge was on the cover) and a
big part of my story was how well Lord Jamar and Sadat X were connected to
the Grape St. Watts Crips. Brand Nubian never had a problem in LA. This was not
long after the LA Riots and the unity vibe was big between the coasts. 


The Jacka was good about that too. He had a solid national network because he
preferred to look into connecting with anyone who was dope and respected The
Bay. Immortal Technique, Andre Nickatina, Dilated Peoples, and Master P are
also great examples. 


The biggest gap I saw in that divide was many years back Drake and Lil Wayne
were doing a show at San Jose State. The same day, there was a Hip-Hop
Conference that dealt with police brutality etc. on the same campus. But there
was not connectivity between Cash Money and the local artists and activists.
Both were well attended but in the old days the rappers would encourage their
fans to go to both. Those days are largely gone now. 


The Wu-Tang Clan has always had folks on the ground city to city. They best
exemplify the idea of staying connected to the beats and the streets. They have
such a good network individually and collectively. This is one of the reasons they
are so successful. 


But again, corporate labels ruined a lot of that. Artists, labels and management n
eed to be doing better work on reconnecting artists to the communities they tour in
. It is good for the community and it is good for the monetary bottom line. 


The End Game


Nipsey Hussle was killed by his own supposed to be folks. I hope this does not play
out the same way. Tupac used to talk about all the cultural conflict rappers go through
between being the neighborhood guy you used to be, then going to the suburbs and
those folks don’t want you as a neighbor. I cannot imagine what the weekly pressures
like that can deliver so many of these young Black men without solid family’s, mentors,
financial friends who are not predatory etc. 


Plus the struggle between the “mean guy” persona on wax and the real day-to-day
person they are is another stress in itself. At the end of the day as a Hip-Hop OG
writer and lover of the subculture, as a father seeing how he died really troubles me.
The main concern I have right now is that if his killers were not a targeted non gang
affiliated scenario that we could  end up looking at West coast rappers getting hit up
while in NYC or whatever as a form of retaliation. 


The other week rappers E-40 and Richie Rich got into it online after the Superbowl.
It looked like it might get intense for a minute. Within a few days though, things were
measurably better. They met, squashed it and worked it out. Go look into it. That is
how OG’s do it. They deserve to be on the frontpage of all kinds of websites and
magazines. But they are not. What I am sure of is that if one of them had tried to
kill the other it’d be all over the news. This is the America we live in  now. This is
the world that builds up a rapper like Pop Smoke, watches him die and then you
see all the media vultures circling the drama. Another Netflix fim in the coming
years I’m sure. I bet nobody makes a film about 40 and Rich though. That is the
deeper crime. But this ain’t healthy. This ain’t good for Hip-Hop, America or the
world at large. 


We must do better before Hip-Hop kills itself off or dies out from addiction. I
never ever thought it’d be like this when I got into the subculture back in 1982.
To all the OG’s in the rap game, no matter what you do you matter. Your wisdom
matters. We can’t let these our kids go out like this.  I pretend to have no answers
at this time. But I’m tired of watching these young brothers die on the dope and
the gunplay. Much love to the family of Pop Smoke. 

Adisa the Bishop is the host of the Bishop Chronicles Podcast. It focuses on west coast Hip-Hop, MMA and health and fitness trends. Listen now on www.bishopchronicles.com  or follow him @bishopchronicles on IG.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

The Mic and the Chessmen (REPOST)

This essay on Hip-Hop and chess was written by Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and I in 2014. It ran in Ebony Magazine in 2014. I just found it sitting in one of my drive files. I figured to celebrate Black History Month I would repost it. Enjoy...

-Adisa The Bishop

The Mic and the Chessmen   
By: Adisa Banjoko and Grandmaster Maurice Ashley 


I don’t play either side or the king, I play God/ Heavenly wars played out on hand
carved boards
- Rakaa Iriscience, 64 Squares in the Cipher 


Thinking Like A King 


About seven years ago I was speaking at San Francisco Juvenile Hall talking to teen boys
about and being an author as a career choice. I was promoting my first independent book
release Lyrical Swords: Hip-Hop and Politics in the Mix. Despite often connecting early
and easy with kids this talk was crashing and burning like no other talk I had given
before. I glanced in my backpack and remembered there was a chessboard in there.
I held the board up and asked, “Who here knows how to play chess?”


To my astonishment, about 75% of the room raised their hand. “OK, that’s good!”
I yelled out with a smile. “But who here is the best?! Only keep your hand up if you
know you are thebest.” Only a few hands went down. “Alright here is what's going to
happen” I declared. “We are going to have a tournament. Whoever wins gets a book.
Circle up, let’s do this.”


The energy in the room became electric. I saw racial and other social barriers fall right
in front of me, because of chess. The entire scene blew my mind. 


I asked myself, “How did these kids know so much about chess?  An avalanche of
rap lyrics from Public Enemy, Wu-Tang Clan, and EPMD collapsed on my brain
simultaneously. Hip-Hop gave methe answer. As I exited the concrete hallways
with the flickering fluorescent lights in the stairwell,I said “This is something big.”
Within the next year, I founded the Hip-Hop Chess Federation
(HHCF) nonprofit 501(c)3 to teach chess and life strategies to at-risk youth.
We use martial arts philosophy to reinforce the lessons that rap and chess teach. 


RZA in duel of the 64 squares (2).jpg
Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA and Rugged Monk of Black Knights (R) playing Chessmaster Emory Tate (L)
and others 


For some, it might easy to default to the Wu-Tang Clan’s rise as the apex of this fusion between
rap and chess. Yet to start and stop it from Enter the 36 Chambers denies the full scope of the
relationship between the game of kings and Hip-Hop. 


The truth is, when Brooklyn’s own Bobby Fischer beat Boris Spassky in September of
1972, chess was huge. Those games were aired on PBS and the network had it’s highest
ratings ever! In November of 1973 a young gang leader from The Bronx named
Afrika Bambaataa founded the Zulu Nation to cultivate Hip-Hop and promote peace
throughout the city and the world. At that same time the movies from the Bruce Lee
and the Shaw Brothers were taking over America. The strategy
ideas from Eastern Philosophy started to spread into the streets of NY. A perfect
cultural storm was brewing.


Street chess games played on the corner, the parks and those played in prisons would
ultimately serve as the glue between these subcultures. Neither chess, nor Hip-Hop
would be the same again. 


jayz_italianvogue_1.jpg
Jay Z is respected for his rap and business skills, playing chess in Italian Vogue


Chess gave Hip-Hop political, social and spiritual symbolism for metaphors no other
game hasgiven them.  RZA, Will Smith, 50 Cent and others represent a growing number
of chess playing rappers who have amazing business minds of the industry.  So its not
just good for the art its good for business.   


Reflections of the Grandmaster 


At first look, it might seem strange that there may be any substantial connections
between the world’s most intellectually revered board game and the dynamic
musical art form that is Hip-Hop. Chess, an ancient practice over 1500 years old,
often today conjures up images of rich old men on park benches.To blend that high-brow
image with the effervescent rush of inventive lyrics, pulsating, at times rebellious beats can
seem hard to bring together. But that is only if you are looking at the surface.


maurice-ashley-commentator.jpg
Grandmaster Maurice Ashley giving play-by-play coverage of Sinquefield Cup


And yet, the stereotypical differences that seem to create a cavern between chess
and hip hop soon wilt under closer inspection. For one, with the advent of the digital
age and ready-made computer instruction, today’s chess is a game for the young.
The best chess players in the world are under 30. Public
school teams are represented in full glory every year at national scholastic chess
championships, with the most accomplished team in the last ten years, I.S. 318,
coming straight out of Brooklyn.


Even the slow grandfatherly pace no longer holds water. The most popular form
of chess, is Blitz Chess, where players compete with less than five minutes
to complete all of  their moves lest they lose the game on time. At that speed,
chess becomes a blendof sophisticated pattern recognition, intense focus and
spirited improvisation.
Watching two players bang out moves with precious few seconds on the clock can
thrill and hypnotize as much as Mike Relm or DJ QBert   slicing up a turn-table.


MAGNUS-CARLSEN-4.jpg
Magnus Carlsen is putting a youthful face on the future of competitive chess. 


While chess can be coldly analytic, it’s the perpetually creative and individualized
styles that separates the players at the very top. World Champion Magnus Carlsen
plays in the style of Common. He does not care to insert himself into the battle with a
whole lot of ego. Instead slowly enveloping his opponents with subtle ideas
and smooth syncopations they succumb to his skill and assuredness that
somehow always seems totally effortless. On the other hand, Hikaru Nakamura,
America’s top player, mimics NWA with his gangsta’ style. He comes straight for the
jugular with vicious blow after vicious blow, to eviscerate his opponents
with killer movement. He’s not giving a damn what the world thinks about his overly
aggressive style and brash personality. It may say something about the nature of life
and competition that when the two face off, the calm and cool Carlsen almost always
endures. Stylish doesn’t mean a lack of determination.


_MG_5421.jpg
American chess player Hikaru Nakamura’s attacking style of play is likened to N.W.A’s
aggressive
rap style.


It should then come as less of a surprise that musicians have embraced the art form
of chess as a means of relaxation and creative expression. 


Like music, chess has gone through its evolutionary stages as well. From the
Romantic Era, scientific period, Hypermodern period, to the digital age where
more and moregreed is good- chess continues to change with the times. Hip-Hop
has gone through similar
evolution's. Look at the old school lyrical party styles of the Sugar Hill Gang, to the
intellectual
flow of Rakim to the rage of Eminem rap has changed significantly.
The science ofthe DJ’s mixing and scratching methodsgraffitiBboy’ing 
and all the branches of Hip-Hop dance
have also grown immeasurably from the early 1970’s.  


The fusion of Hip-Hop and chess is beautiful and dynamic on many levels. There is a
mountain ofstill untapped potential in this artistic and intellectual union. The amount of
lyrics about chess in
the rap world can be cool, or dark and often times very inspirational. However, if today's
MC’s are
really going to take the  fusion to the next level they are going to have to raise the bar
on their knowledge of the game. Read The Immortal Game by David Shenk, Chess Bitch
by Jennifer Shahade and Birth of the Chess Queen by Marilyn Yalom. After reading about
the Black Moorish conquerors of Spain taking the game to Europe, algebraic notation,
we should see rappers naming champions other than Bobby Fischer. There is still much
more lyrical work and history breakdowns
to be done! There are still new graffiti murals and DJ tracks to be made. I look forward
to hearing
and seeing more from the chess and rap community as this beautiful phenomenon
continues to grow. 


Adisa Banjoko is the Founder of the Hip-Hop Chess Federation. They fuse music,
chess and martial arts to promote unity, strategy and nonviolence. Maurice Ashley is the
first Black Grandmaster in chess and host of Millionaire Chess in Las Vegas Oct. 9th.
Adisa Banjoko will be at the World Chess Hall of Fame’s Living Like Kings exhibit 
which runs October 9th 2014 to April 26th 2015 in St. Louis Missouri. 

+++++

To learn more about how the fusion of Hip-Hop and chess can improve your life
subscribe to the Bishop Chronicles Podcast on Spotify, iTunes, Mixcloud and Libsyn.
Bishop Chronicles is brought to you by the good people at Pharcyde TV!




Tuesday, February 18, 2020

HHCF Updates for 2020

Photo by: Dream Ear Productions Copyright 2020

Peace to the planet Earth! I have missed you! Sorry for such a long delay in posting. A lot of stuff changed for HHCF, but for the good. The truth is, I fell ill in 2020 with a bacterial infection in my stomach.. It was bad. I had to get two blood transfusions and was literally a day away from dying when I was called to the hospital. Had I gone to work that day, or put off going in I would not be writing you now.

I contracted a separate infection of the potentially fatal MRSA staph  a few months later. I had to go to the hospital again because it was on my face and with it came a horrible case of impetigo- but I recovered. The process was strange because the infection took a lot of my energy. Nevertheless I beat it.

In the meantime, I was posting on our instagram @realhiphopchess and teaching at the UFC Gym in San Bruno plus teaching at Zaytuna College as head instructor of jiu-jitsu and chess. I began working on a book called A Dead Man's Diary. It's about how my near death experience impacted my personal philosophy about life. I went through some dark days.

In truth, I had gotten a bit depressed, and unclear on who I was initially. But after that I became supremely focused and motivated. I had to use all of the tools from HHCF (which worked thankfully), plus my jiu-jitsu, plus my closest friends and family members, plus therapy and taking a class on stoic philosophy to make sense of what I had endured. Plus a lot of reading new things..

In the course of it all I lost my personal love for chess. Everything about the game seemed lifeless to me. I was playing and losing. But the losses were not resonating. I didn't care. I was not seeing dynamic forces engaging on the board. My chessvision had been altered. I traveled a bit. While in UK I played a game and for the first time the entire board felt wholly dead. For the first time the board was not radiating with life. It was just glass and stones. The positions were irrelevant.

I realized at that point that the game had not changed. I had changed. Keep in mind the entire time this is happening- I'm STILL TEACHING. I'm at juvenile halls, high schools and colleges. I realized chess was not the issue. I was. So, I've went on a deeper journey inside my mind. I understand now why the game became dead to me. Within weeks my love for the game had returned. The board and pieces were breathing again and full of life. As I unlearned to relearn new opportunities arose in the space of education and mentoring. Everything I went through started to make sense.

In the meantime I focused on the Bishop Chronicles Podcast at www.bishopchronicles.com . It now has more than 100 episodes!  (thanks to Mike Relm and the good people over at www.PharcydeTV.com! Visit the site right now to heard incredible interviews and conversations about the fusion of Hip-Hop news, chess, martial arts and health and fitness trends. I'm talking about valuable stuff to keep your body in good shape and your mind sharp. In every episode there is a section showing you how to use chess, jiu-jitsu and Hip-Hop to improve yourself. But mostly, it's just be being silly with my friends. This is like NPR meets VICE. That is the vibe.

1. How Niccolo Machiavelli impacted the strategies of Tupac Shakur.
2. I have in depth conversations with entrepreneurial rappers like Mista FAB.
3. I even talked to MMA legend Ralph Gracie about the current state of the UFC.
4. There was a super deep talk with Stanford Philosophy Professor Greg Watkins,
5. Simon Purkis, CEO of  Purling London (maker of cool designer chessboards selling for 10K!).
6. Tribute show remembering the life of rapper Juice Wrld and a look at why our kids are depressed.

You can subscribe to iTunes, Spotify, Mixcloud and Libsyn to get the full rundown of the shows. It is always funny and informative (appropriate for teens and up).

In 2020 the goal is not to merely feel better. We intend to help you actually be better. New folks on the team, new events and new knowledge from the #hiphopchess army will be coming at you soon.

The HHCF Official Page is down right now. It is being revamped. Look for its relaunch and big announcements coming soon. Super soon.

Long story short: I missed you, but I'm back- let's go be great. 

For more on HHCF please follow us on Instagram @realhiphopchess (the impostors are out- begun the clone wars have) LOL.

To learn more about Bishop Chronicles follow us on Instagram @bishopchronicles !

If you would like to contact me directly about HHCF inquiries or speaking engagements email me at abanjoko@gmail.com! (serious inquiries only)....






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