Most people don’t associate rap music with chess. But Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA is a master of both.
Next week, the rap star will pair with local nonprofit organization 9 Queens to host WuChess Fest at Hotel Congress.
“The event is to help promote chess awareness and change the stereotype that people have about chess and chess players,” says Jean Hoffman, co-founder of 9 Queens. The event will offer free prizes, matches, a speed chess tournament and face painting.
Later that night, RZA will take the stage at the Rialto Theatre as his alter ego, Bobby Digital.
RZA, who learned to play chess at age 11 but only recently just started taking it seriously, says the game is extremely helpful.
“It was about two years ago when I really learned about the analytical power chess has,” he says in a phone interview. “The game of chess is like a swordfight. You must think first, before you move.”
It was after discovering chess as a learning tool that RZA created WuChess, an online community for players to meet and compete.
“I thought it would be a helpful tool for young people and realizing what chess can add to a community; to think before they act spontaneously. I decided it could be a good outlet for all walks, for all minds to get the chance to gather and sharpen their minds.”
Hoffman, too, sees the benefit of having chess introduced to a community.
“Chess is a great educational tool proven to raise test scores and help self-confidence,” she says. “It can also help people learn social life skills and teach kids how to think. It’s cheap, fun and when introduced can really make a difference.”
RZA agrees with Hoffman and says the game is especially important for people in urban communities.
“They find themselves in situations needing to think quick. And they don’t properly think,” he says. “I think chess helps develop people’s thought process. People need to stay out of jail, not commit crime and young ladies not get pregnant. You need to think.”
But don’t expect Hoffman and RZA to do a lot of thinking against each other in a battle of sponsors.
“I don’t want him to beat me, but I’ll play him if he challenges me,” Hoffman says with a laugh.
RZA wants to make sure that people understand that chess is not about winning and losing.
“It’s about the skills you get from it. That’s more important than winning and losing.”
After the tournament, RZA will step away from the chessboard and become Bobby Digital, his bold, genre-blending alter ego, who will perform at the Rialto.
“I think Bobby Digital has more freedom and is more uncontained, and I think you will see that,” he says. “The RZA has a few lyrics, mixed in with the rest of the members of the Wu-Tang Clan here and there but Bobby Digital is the whole thing.”
IF YOU GO
What: WuChess Fest, a free family chess festival.
When: 4-7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Hotel Congress, 311 E. Congress St.
Info: 622-8848, hotelcongress.com
What: RZA in concert as Bobby Digital
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: The Rialto Theatre, 318 E. Congress St.
Price: $23 advance, $24 day of show
Info: 740-1000, rialtotheatre.com