MELISSA BLOCK, host:
What do you get when you combine a founding member of the hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan, a non-profit group called the Hip-Hop Chess Federation and the virtual game firm Chesspark? You get a new Web site called WuChess. Its creators hope to combine gaming with social networking for those people who love hip-hop as much as they love chess. Think that's a small crowd? As NPR's Yuki Noguchi reports, it's not as small as you might think.
YUKI NOGUCHI: Wu-Tang Clan member The RZA says the connections between chess and hip-hop run deep.
THE RZA (Wu-Tang Clan): Music is mathematical. Chess is mathematical. Music has a flow to it. Chess has a flow to it. Chess actually has a hidden harmony to it, actually.
NOGUCHI: In fact, every major city has a park where pick-up chess meets street jams. Jack Moffett remembers a scene from the movie "Searching for Bobby Fischer."
(Soundbite of movie, "Searching for Bobby Fischer")
Mr. LAURENCE FISHBURNE (Actor): (as Vinnie) You ain't got nothing. You sure you've played this game? Maybe you want to go down to Chinatown, play some Chinese checkers. Huh?
Mr. JACK MOFFETT (Chesspark.com): The chess players there are playing, you know, very aggressively. When you see that scene in that movie, you could sort of see the link between the aggressiveness of how those people are playing chess and sort of the aggressiveness of hip-hop music.
NOGUCHI: Moffett runs an online company called Chesspark. Through that, he stumbled upon the hip-hop chess subculture. The idea with WuChess is to create a gathering place where people can jam, talk trash and play chess online. One thing led to another, and he met The RZA, one of hip-hop's original chess kings.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #1: Toad style is immensely strong and immune to nearly any weapon. When it's properly used, it's almost invincible.
Unidentified Man #2: Oh, I'm a give it to ya, with no trivia...
NOGUCHI: The Wu-Tang Clan made its name with rhymes like "Da Mystery of Chessboxin'." The RZA recites a favorite line from another rap called "Cipher."
THE RZA: On sixty-four squares lined up in eight columns, we sit and meditate and calculate life problems.
NOGUCHI: The RZA doesn't just rap about chess. He's actually quite good. After a show, he once set up a board at his dinner table in the middle of a club. He waited as one by one, people sat down across from him. Hip-Hop Chess Federation founder Adisa Banjoko remembers it well.
Mr. ADISA BANJOKO (Founder, Hip-Hop Chess Federation): I watched him destroy - I don't even know how many people he went through. I just sat and watched. And it was crazy - not only how good he was, but how so close some of these people came, and then he pulled the rug out from under them.
NOGUCHI: But The RZA admits he's not as much of an online gamer as some of his bandmates.
THE RZA: GZA plays more online than me, and (unintelligible), they play online every day. They play each other. They can be two blocks away and they'd be online playing each other. I'd rather go to your house, you know what I mean?
NOGUCHI: On the WuChess site, members instant message each other. Eventually, it'll likely include a way to exchange or recommend music. It costs $48 a year. Most Internet startups offer services for free, funded by advertising.
Wharton Business School Professor Kevin Werbach sums up WuChess's risks and potential awards this way.
Professor KEVIN WERBACH (Wharton Business School): Once you start charging anything, then people have to have some confidence level that they're going to get some value out of it. That's a hurdle. On the other hand, what you get in return for that is you get cold, hard cash from the user up front.
NOGUCHI: WuChess has relatively few startup costs. Chesspark already had the game software, and The RZA himself is a marketing machine. Through the Hip-Hop Chess Federation, he participates in youth chess tournaments. He's kicking off a tour sponsored by WuChess, and he and other celebrities promise to play on the site often.
The RZA says taking hip-hop chess online is about more than just making money.
THE RZA: You know, I played a game against the editor of the New York Times not too long ago, who is actually a master himself, who beat me, but was pretty impressed with my game. So this - you know, this - meeting these kind of people, these people that never would walk in my neighborhood, I never came to their neighborhood or we never would thought that we had this common thing, we're finding something common through chess.
NOGUCHI: So all you chess nerds, listen up...
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #3: 'Cause I'm a man, no matter what the name, they're all the same - pieces in one big chess game.
Unidentified Man #4: Yeah.
NOGUCHI: Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.