Hip-hop and chess may seem like an unlikely pair. But a new club has combined the two in a way that’s educating young people about the art of chess and the art of making music.
The Hip-Hop Chess Club celebrated its grand re-opening Tuesday at Flip 'N' Styles, a barbershop on Milwaukee's south side. Even from the rear of the shop, you could hear the echo of ODB’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya hit you as you walk through the doors.
Flip 'N' Styles is the new home for the Hip-Hop Chess Club. The shop’s owner, Felipe Martinez, was more than happy to open his doors for the cause.
"If we don’t do it here, or not just here, but in general, where else would it be?" he says.
Formerly in West Allis, the club is returning to Wisconsin after a brief hiatus. More than a dozen kids, parents and volunteers are excited to see the comeback.
You might wonder how hip-hop and chess can exist in the same space. Well, Raquel “Rockz” Aleman says they complement each other, and the kids and teens who are involved can learn skills from both.
"We like to bring the hip-hop element because it’s something that the kids feel like it gives them movement, they feel it. It’s something that kind of awakens their soul," she says. "They hear the soulful beats, we encourage them to write, we encourage them to produce if they want to learn. It’s just art. We just want to give them that art that they don’t get in the schools, they don’t get in their video games."
A couple of the teens even entertained the crowd with raps while chess games were still going strong.
The club uses chess to reflect real life.
"We bring chess to kind of bring that more intellectual side. We feel like chess is a big deal in life because it makes you think two steps ahead like, 'OK, if I do that, what’s gonna happen?' And we want kids to start having those critical thinking skills," Aleman explains.
Aleman is one of the club’s three coordinators. The others are AV Blade and superego.
The Hip-Hop Chess Club originated in Rhode Island in April 2017. Aleman says it was her mentor, Eric “Krook Rock” Mercado, who started it there and planted the seed in Milwaukee. Other groups have also popped up in Michigan and Connecticut.
Part of the club’s mission statement from its Rhode Island Facebook page says the club was started “mainly for the purpose of bringing knowledge and intelligence back to the essence of hip-hop like it was in the golden era.” And that “adding the energy and creativity of hip-hop brings more excitement to the process of learning the complex game of chess.”
The Hip-Hop Chess Club is all volunteer supported. Although adults are more than welcome to participate in the club, Aleman says the target demographic is young people ages 11 to 19.
She says the hope is for them to realize that if they need somebody to talk to, about anything, the club is a resource.
"Simply even like, 'How was your day at school today?' A lot of parents are working three jobs; they’re not able to talk to their kids or they’re just stressed out. There’s a lot of single-family homes, there’s a lot of drugs, there’s a lot of gangs, there’s a lot of violence and I feel like this is a great avenue for kids to really get connected into a different world."
Aleman says she thinks the club helps the adults to better communicate with the young people while making them comfortable enough with authority that’s meeting them at their level.
Ray was one parent who was there enjoying the music and a couple of games of chess with her two children, Mikey and Serenity. It was their first time visiting the club, and Ray says it was her own love of hip-hop and her growing interest in chess that made her bring her kids.
"I think they’re going to understand better culture, getting involved with their neighbors, better communication skills, enjoying good music, keeping it positive and just being fruitful, productive people," Ray says.
And Serenity says she gets a kick out of playing against mom: "I like that I can get my mommy’s pawns."
Ray sees the Hip-Hop Chess Club is increasing interactions between diverse people in Milwaukee.
"We’re all so beautifully different and we all come from different backgrounds, and creeds and experiences. I definitely believe if we come together in a positive force, we can really make a great impact," Ray says.
The Hip-Hop Chess Club meets at Flip 'N' Styles every Tuesday night from 6 to 8 p.m.
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