“This is All City Chess Club FYI: Asher Roth, B.O.B, The Cool Kids, Charles Hamilton, Blu, Diggy, J. Cole, Wale, and Lupe Fiasco”
The tweet arrived on timelines with no further explanation. 140 characters of mystery, but just seeing these names alongside each other was enough to make a young rap fan combust into a thousand metaphors. The word would spread fast through blogs and retweets one late night in April, 2010. I remember the feeling, it was as if Lupe had stepped into the wheelchair of Charles Xavier and was announcing the latest students who enrolled in the School for Gifted Youngsters. In his first interview after the revealing, he called the supergroup the making of a new vanguard. It was believed that this was the making of something new, something vast, something out of a dream.
The list of artists takes me back to when the blog era seemed to be at its climax. The guys who once had mixtapes on NahRight, freestyles on 2Dope, music videos on OnSmash, and mixtapes on every big site from Karen Civil to DJBooth were starting to get recognized beyond the pages of the web. The dark days of Nas' premonition that hip-hop was dead were receding in the rearview as hope was seen on the new faces that had arrived as beacons of light for rap’s future. Lupe had sought out the ones that he saw as kindred spirits and recruited them for his chess team.
“They kinda put us in the same family of MC’s whether it be the hipster rappers or the nerd rappers…Since they putting us in a box, might as well own the box. And write our name on the box and paint it the color we want it.” - Lupe Fiasco, HipHopDX Interview
Unlike Slaughterhouse, the supergroup comprised of four established emcees who saw the power in coming together as a single entity, All City Chess Club was 10 different rappers with 10 different schedules to take into consideration. B.o.B was dominating the charts with the inescapable, catchy jingle “Nothin On You” and the release of his debut album, The Adventures of Bobby Ray. He was the most commercially successful new artist, being the latest from Atlanta to trailblaze into the mainstream. He was also the member who had worked most with his fellow chess mates - songs with Asher, Charles, J. Cole and Lupe could all be found online. When he spoke of the group with MTV in 2010, he clearly stated, “Basically, the whole concept of it is to have a project, a freelance project, that’s something fun and creative.”
Charles was also asked during an interview about the ACCC and he stayed tightlipped, giving no information into the collective. He was the artist in the strangest place in his career - dropped from Interscope with his debut album leaked online. His name was slowly getting away from being a talented artist to someone surrounded by antics. The collective was a second chance for Charles to reintroduce himself.
The only other member to really speak on the group would come from a new member that was brought on later - Mickey Factz. He spoke with Vibe Magazine about hearing Lupe announce him as a member on a radio station and how he humbly accepted the offer through Twitter. He was seen as a natural fit - a rapper revered for his lyrics and an outlook that just naturally fit with the other members. His eagerness made you believe that something could be coming.
“J. Cole had sent me some beats. We’re supposed to get in the studio soon. As far as Diggy, we’ve been corresponding through managers...whenever they decide to really go hard with [All City Chess Club], I'm down. I just want to be a part of something that stands for something. And I feel like this does stand for something.” - Mickey Factz, Vibe Magazine
Mickey’s addition came a month after the long awaited “I’m Beaming” ACCC remix that featured everyone except Wale and J. Cole. It was a strong representation that all the members weren’t just picked for their names, strong verses that would be a rap genius' wet dream deciphering all the bars, and more importantly, proof that the group was real and releasing music.
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The “I’m Beaming (Remix)” would be the first and last offering that would come from the massive collective. The years have came and went with no update. So much time has passed that the audio from Lupe’s Hip-Hop Nation interview on the subject is a dead Usershare link, to search for it is nothing but a trail of broken links and dead blogospheres. Even the original tweet is no longer available on Twitter, the only proof of its existence is the archives of the few blogs that have kept their lights on and a few screenshots that you might find when floating across the web. It’s been six years since the group was unveiled and the once dream team has become a collection of what could have beens and careers that played out in every variety and shape imaginable.
As I mentioned, at the time B.o.B was the safe bet for mainstream star status, but he's since undergone an interesting transformation, from swan diving into the mainstream to placing a barricade around it. His recent stance against the industry, clones, and flat Earth theories have made him the talk of Twitter but his music isn’t being received the way it once was. Bobby Ray is still going on adventures, they’re just done further away from the spotlight, and something similar could be said for Blu. In 2010, with Blu's Below the Heavens becoming an underground classic, Lupe called him the only rapper who scared him, but over the last few years his struggle with mental health in 2015 made the most headlines. Just like Charles Hamilton, we hope that he is getting well in health first and then the music can come after.
Similar to B.o.B.'s trajectory, Asher Roth went from proclaiming his love for college and putting frat rap on the map to falling completely back from the the mainstream. He's now more likely to be found rapping with The Roots than about college, but he’ll likely be remembered most for the music that came when the most eyes watched him, and you could place The Cool Kids in the same category. Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks were the coolest kids rapping since the '80s. They had style, a sense of fashion, internet rappers that made it offline. They were the duo to watch, but a bad label situation pumped the brakes. Chuck and Mikey are now focused on solo careers, occasionally coming together but mostly focused on themselves. While the group is no longer together, their influence is everywhere.
Wale is one of the few Chess Club members to still be both active and commercially relevant. He’s been consistent throughout the past six years, releasing albums, mixtapes, and singles, which places him in the same successful ballpark as J. Cole. Back then I wouldn’t have believed Jermaine would become the biggest name from the group. In 2010 he was struggling to find the right single to get the label behind his album, now he’s selling out Madison Square Garden and going platinum without any features on the album.
On the opposite side of that coin, while mixtapes kept his name on the blogs and running through the underground, no big singles, album or labels catapulted Mickey Factz to the next plateau. I'm still awaiting his Achievement album, which will hopefully finally see the light of day this year, but I've long since stopped holding my breath for Diggy Simmons. The most surprising member of the collective was just beginning to earn some respect on his name in 2010, his viral freestyle of Nas “Made You Look” took the web by storm, but after signing to Atlantic Records and releasing the cringe-worthy “Copy, Paste” he fell completely from my radar. He's still rapping, but he's no longer a rapper.
Last but not least, Lupe Fiasco. Six years ago he was flirting with the idea of retirement, hated his label and had just released the long awaited yet controversial Lasers. Music industry politics can be draining, it appeared Lupe was different somehow. His prowess as a lyricist was still in a universe of its own but the music didn’t hit the same way it once did. Last year’s Tetsuo and Youth was the first project I thoroughly enjoyed by the Chicago native in sometime. Sadly, both supergroups that Lupe had formed - CRS and All City Chess Club - were exciting ideas that were never fully executed. Trying to make music with just Pharrell and Kanye might be even more difficult than trying to coordinate with ten artists on the rise.
Lupe once described the group as, “The kids who wouldn’t necessarily be the basketball team, they would probably be the Chess Club if we was in high school. And I was like ‘Yo, we all from different cities. We the All City Chess Club.”
That says a lot about where most of them ended up. In chess, I’m certain there’s a league for the extraordinary, the best are acclaimed and loved, but they will never be bigger or more famous than the ball players. Their genius might not be appreciated by the whole world, but they can be Gods of their own kingdoms who influence that next great player.
I look at All City Chess Club similar in a way. In the mainstream they might be known but in the underground, they’ll live forever. If you search Twitter, people are still asking about the group, wanting to see the group come together once again. The worth of your legacy is based on who you inspire, and these are artists who will be remembered by many for all they have done, for all they will do, and even for all that never was.