Wu-Tang faces chequered future

We never thought we'd see the day when an entrepreneurial hip-hop group would branch out into chess.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

It’s not cheap being a rapper these days: keeping yourself in clothes, women, bling and Cristal is an expensive business, particularly in the current inflationary environment. So perhaps it’s no wonder that The Wu-Tang Clan, a hip-hop group that spends almost as much time making money as it does making music, has just come up with a new way to expand its commercial empire – and it’s the most improbable one yet....

Believe it or not, the rappers have just launched an online chess game (in partnership with the Chesspark social network), where for £29 a year you can ‘bring da ruckus’ board-game-style to other chess-playing Wu-Tang fans (you can even earn the right to take the online fight to actual members of the Clan, which is presumably a bit safer than doing it on the street).

Of course, the Wu-Tang have never been your average hip-hop stars. Ever since they burst onto the scene back in 1991, they’ve made no secret of their commercial ambitions, and have developed all kinds of innovative ways to maximise their earnings. For example, they were the first to fuse martial arts movies with hip-hop, thereby uniting two lucrative cult markets, while individual members have branched out on their own to launch clothing lines and computer games. Fellow rappers Public Enemy may regard us all as ‘pawns in one big chess game,’ but clearly the Clan are ‘true players’ when it comes to business.

But the sudden surge in popularity of chess within the US hip-hop community is not just about its earning potential. According to the Clan, their chess innovation has another, more worthy goal: peace. Gang culture has often sought ways of channelling aggressive energies into more peaceful forms of competition: breakdancing replaced street-fighting in the 80s; something similar was attempted with cricket in LA in the 90s; and now chess might be doing the same in the noughties. According to the group’s website, the online chess project is a way to replace violence with ‘the joy of flexing yer mentals.’ We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

Of course, this isn’t actually the first time that a hip-hop group has lent its support to a popular board game. The Beastie Boys like to wax lyrical about the charms of several such pastimes (notably Boggle, we seem to recall). But we really think this could be the start of a beautiful friendship between manufacturers and legendary music groups. Given their multi-million pound property portfolio, U2 would make a perfect ambassador for Monopoly – while their love of ABC would make the Jackson Five a great choice to front Scrabble. The possibilities are endless...

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