Be Specific: Tyrone Norris of Rosetta Stoned on hip-hop and chess

The latest addition to Norris’s ever-growing empire? Chess.

Norris is now giving chess lessons, both privately and as a volunteer through the D.C. non-profit Words, Beats & Life, and has started an interactive chess game for fellow artists on He”ll host a chess event at Bohemian Caverns on April 6, where he’ll go up against Truth Hall of rap troupe Gods’Illa.

Click Track talked to Norris about hip-hop and the mysteries of chessboxing.

I’ve heard that you’ve been playing chess at shows, giving lessons. How did the chess thing start?

Chess is about to be kind of my main thing… Chess is like poetry, like a metaphor for everything. It helps me keep my sanity, so I ended up wanting to merge chess with other things I was doing.

When I started tutoring at Words, Beats & Life, I lost a couple of games to a kid there and I thought, I gotta get back on my game with this. I started pushing myself more, playing more chess. I’ve played at least 1,000 games of chess since the fall. I’ve been playing speed chess really, which is so fast–one minute games, one second increments per move. When you’re moving that fast with chess, you sort of see it through the matrix. I’m just starting to understand chess, even though I’ve been playing it for 20 years.

I think more people should know how to play. It gives me clarity of thought — the same kind I get when I’m freestyling. If my mind is clear — not clear like empty, but clear like freely processing — I can freestyle well, play chess well. The association isn’t random. It’s one of those things that should be cultivated, pushed.

(Checkmate! After the jump)

Tell me how you’re integrating chess with

With right now, that’s kinda being evolved into a game. Right now, two of the things I think it’s important for artists to have are Twitter pages and Bandcamp pages. Twitter is important for promotion and distribution of information, and Bandcamp is important for getting your music up in a good, streamable format. So, any artist who has a Bandcamp page or a Twitter page becomes a pawn. The way to increase their rank to bishop is to play me in a game of chess. You become a knight if you beat me in a game of chess, and if you want to become a rook, you have to beat me in a ranked game of chess.

The ranked games are what I’ll be doing next. You’ll probably pay a fee and if you beat me once, you’re a rook, twice you’re a queen, and three times, you’re a king. And I’ll be offering different user levels that will have different levels of interactivity with the site. If you’re a queen you can host different things, add music videos to your profile…

I’ve heard people call what you’re doing “hip-hop chess.”

There’s no such thing, it’s just chess. “Hip-hop” chess really means just black people playing chess. And I really want people to look up, and go, “What the [expletive] is going on? Why are all these black people playing chess now?”

The number of people who play chess still surprises me. I don’t expect many people to play, but they’ll say, “My dad taught me” or “My uncle taught me.” I think as a black man, chess is an important thing, too. I think all black men should be playing chess, or at least know how.


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