Hip-hop legends Jay-Z and RZA and NBA superstar Carmelo Anthony are at the top of their game- but in a different way than you might expect. The icons are taking their talents from the rap studio and court to the chessboard- and all for a good cause.


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As part of a partnership with global creative agency Anomaly, the trio has teamed up with International Chess Grandmaster Maurice Ashley and music industry veteran Chaka Zulu as part of the Black Goes First charitable initiative by auctioning off an autographed custom chessboard. The intent is to raise awareness about implicit bias and to raise funds for the Detroit City Chess Club, one of the largest, longest-standing, predominantly African American competing youth chess clubs in the U.S.

The goal of Black Goes First is to inspire a new generation of players to fall in love with the game by building confidence in and access to chess for Black youth, in hopes that they may one day join the ranks of the most skilled players in the world and reach the pinnacle – becoming a Grandmaster. Currently, out of 1721 Grandmasters, only four are Black.

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Ashley points out that “chess is a game that demands that we truly stop and think about how our minds work and how our thoughts affect reality. The idea of turning a traditional chess rule on its head to illustrate the critical issue of unconscious bias is a powerful way to initiate much needed discussions on this important topic.”

Anomoly’s efforts hope to use chess to change social and racial dynamics, noting that “in chess, there is implicit power behind the first and most consequential rule: White goes first. This means White gets a leg up on the game commonly referred to as the “first move advantage.” This rule also represents the unconscious bias and unwritten (and sometimes written) rules in society that directly oppresses and suppresses the Black community in our daily lives, restricting education, access, and opportunity.”

As for the involvement of hip-hop artists and those adjacent to the hip-hop community such as Anthony, Zulu points out that hip-hop culture has a love affair with the game of chess and they’ve been intertwined for years. In my home, we’ve always played ‘Black Goes First.’ The music, the game, and the culture build character and critical life skills that are required for the progress and survival of Black youth yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

The predominantly black, 14″ x 14″ x 1″ board is made from a matte black composite stone. The rule change, engraved in stone, faces each player, front and center.

The auction goes live on June 17th ahead of Juneteenth via BlackGoesFirst.com.

Black Goes First Chessboard
Black Goes First Chessboard

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