Torii MacAdams doesn’t know how to play chess
It’s not Tony the Scribe’s fault I have mixed feelings about Minnesota rap. There’s something about the region’s facade of homespun earnestness that’s never seemed applicable to my life. (I was probably the only white, angsty teenager without a favorite Atmosphere song.) But I can appreciate lyricism, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity, even if my own work has been known to lack all three of those qualities.
Tony the Scribe’s “Checkmate” epitomizes the better nature of the Upper Midwest–plainspoken and self-effacing. The conceit of the song, as the title implies, is a series of extended chess metaphors, less GZA than Washington Square Park hustler, just talking some shit in the shade of an elm.
Tryna’ keep that nice act up
On that dark horse ridin’ while my knights act up
On some ‘Fuck a bishop’–they ain’t never seen a black square
And how they gon’ tell me that I gotta keep a path clear?
When asked about the single from his forthcoming EP, Mixed Blood, Tony replied:
“The night before I headed back to California for school, I had a bunch of friends over to kick it one last time. Halfway through a bottle of whisky, I got an email from ICETEP with a beat, the first draft of what would become ‘Checkmate.’ I checked out of my own party and spent the next two hours writing the first verse. When I finally finished it, almost everyone was gone, and I was too exhausted to think. Still, I had trouble sleeping that night: chessboards appeared every time I closed my eyes. Checkmate.”