By Dionne Smith, Community Editor
Portland is known for being a large pool for new ideas, artists and creative minds, so it was the perfect place for James Grant, a DJ by the name of XHALE, to set up a club for people that are both hip-hop enthusiasts and enjoy a good round of chess.
The Hip-Hop Chess Club meets every third Monday in Local Sprouts Cooperative with Grant at the head of it all. Grant has done some DJing for the Monday of the Minds, a community hip-hop showcase, as well as appearing as a guest DJ for Rap Night at Aura. Grant says that throughout the hip-hop community he heard the idea of a hip-hop chess night bouncing around and thought it was a great idea. According to Grant, the reason the idea was being bounced around is because there are other hip-hop chess clubs in neighboring states put together by Universal Zulu Nation, a hip hop awareness group. Grant hopes that they will have an official affiliation with Universal Zulu Nation.
When he started working at Local Sprouts in August he thought it was the perfect place to set up the club. To get the event going he first presented it to the other staff. Grant stated that they are always open to new ideas. He also talked with people from Universal Zulu Nation to receive their blessings to take the idea they started and spread it to Maine. The club is non-profit, so any money he does make from the club goes directly into buying more chess boards and for advertising.
Grant originally got his start with music by learning to play the guitar, eventually working his way up to recording and songwriting, which lead him to work with digital and electronic production. Roughly five years ago is when he brought his turntables and rekindled his previous passion for hip-hop he had as a child. He originally began performing as an MC, but was able to finesse his DJing through Monday of the Minds.
“I had a little bit of knowledge beforehand but I really went in not knowing a whole lot and through the experience of playing two events a month I started to get get good at it and build a following,” Grant said. His DJing work gained him more fame than his MCing and he was able to gain an even bigger following all together.
Throughout the night, Grant will play half of one of his many favorite album’s instrumental tracks, and the other half will be all his originals. He is aiming to have more and more of the instrumental songs that are played be original work. He also offers a spotlight for local producers and plays their instrumentals as well. There have only been three meetings so far but each one has had a great turnout, though Grant wants to expand his advertising to try and draw in a younger audience. “It’s really more of a youth program, trying to give kids something constructive to do and teach them about hip-hop and music,” Grant said.