Like anything that starts to get a whole lot of success and recognition, hip-hop has gotten the video game treatment for decades, yet with few exceptions, nearly nothing of note has come from it. But that didn't stop Dylan Garsee and Nick Hanover from teaming up to take a look at ten of the more notable hip-hop video games that have sprung up since the '90s.
Rap Jam: Volume One (1995)
Nick Hanover: Rap Jam: Volume One was a game released in 1995 for the SNES that had a lot going for it, as you can clearly tell by the fact that it brazenly called itself Vol. 1 (there was never another volume) and the prestige granted to it by being published through that legendary game studio…Motown Games. Yes, THAT Motown, which had a video game division that only ever released two titles, Rap Jam and…Bebes' Kids, which apparently only existed in order to make Rap Jam appear better in comparison.
Dylan Garsee: Was this the Wiseau Films of games?
Nick: Almost. This is the actual The Room of video games, though.
Dylan: Uh, don't you mean the Citizen Kane of video games?
Nick: Same thing, really.
But the important thing to keep in mind here is that neither The Room nor Big Rigs have a cast that features the likes of Coolio, House of Pain, LL Cool J, Queen Latifah, Naughty by Nature, Public Enemy and Warren G. But Rap Jam did. And that's just volume one.
As far as we know, Volume Two simply had a cast so great that our puny human brains couldn't handle it. I imagine that cast featured a hologram Tupac.
Dylan: The fifth dimension of games.
Big Freedia's Booty Battle (2012)
Nick: Dylan insisted that we include Big Freedia's Booty Battle on this list, and since I know better than to get between him and Big Freedia, I caved. So Dylan, how about you explain Big Freedia to our loyal readers.
Dylan: Big Freedia is a 6'5" transgendered New Orleans resident that is responsible for the genre of hip-hop known as "sissy bounce". Imagine if "Him" from the Powerpuff Girls decided to pursue a rap career instead of villainy.
Nick: In case you were confused about what “sissy bounce” what might be, Big Freedia and Vice teamed up to make an entire game devoted to the dance, where you take part in a DDR-style battle, with your choice of multiethnic characters in thongs. Big Freedia blasts in the background as you match the moves on the screen to get your character to bounce harder and faster. It starts simple, then gets hard as all fuck, and soon you’re frothing at the mouth and you wake up a day later to a nonstop loop of the video for Diplo and Nicky da B’s “Express Yourself.”
Dylan: Big Freedia constantly tours the south, so much that I have seen her 5 times in the past year alone. But to the outside world, she may seem a bit…daunting. Of the times I've seen her, I've seen her dancers get slapped in the asshole multiple times, an obese drag queen in fishnets with the word "precocious" written across her ass do the splits, and Ryan Gosling twerk. Most people can't handle the booty. Big Freedia's Booty Battle condenses the madness into a nice broth that the average video game player can handle.
Nick: Which begs the question: would a “twerk” video game just involve you controlling Lady’s face as she pouts while bending over a stool?
Dylan: You just have four $1 bills. Where you put them is up to you. It doesn't matter where though, because lady will always be disappointed. Becuz her pussay be yankin.
DJ Hero 1 & 2 (2009-2010)
Nick: Dan Charnas's history of the commercial evolution of hip-hop The Big Payback also functions as an investigation of the way hip-hop's cultural elements have been appropriated by the mainstream. Weirdly, that book does not venture into the world of DJ Hero, a game that featured behind the scenes work from highly reputable DJs like DJ Shadow as well as legendary emcees like Jay-Z and Eminem in order to allow white families everywhere to feel like they were rockin' the wheels of steel.
Dylan: But, like Kia Shine and Riskay before it, DJ Hero bombed and was quickly forgotten.
Unlike Guitar Hero, which took seven games to get completely forgotten.
Nick: Yes, DJ Hero was a bit of a flop when it came out, but that's probably because air guitar is an actual past time that existed before Guitar Hero while exactly no one air DJs.
Dylan: DJ Hero, unlike Guitar Hero, was actually challenging, and was more along the lines of Harmonix's earlier games Amplitude and Frequency.
Nick: It didn't help that Activision was under massive pressure with DJ Hero, with early projections expecting the game to sell nearly two million units. Even though it underperformed, it was nonetheless determined by the NPD that DJ Hero made more than any other new intellectual property in the year it was released.
Dylan: I have yet to see a South Park parody of DJ Hero though.
Nick: True, but does South Park have DJ Jazzy Jeff?
Dylan: I think the main reason DJ Hero bombed was because of its sever lack of DJ Baby Bok Choy.
The 300 lb Chinese baby with aviator sunglasses who spins his records with his ravioli hands.
Parappa the Rapper (1997)
Nick: As far as rap games go, Parappa the Rapper is
the true OG, appearing in 1997 on the PlayStation, where it was a pretty big hit. Essentially a rhythm game with a story, the game puts you in control of Parappa, who battle raps his way through six stages with the help of his teacher. The raps in the game are reminiscent of the golden age of hip-hop, with lots of demands that everybody dance and a weird number of food references. Also, you’re trying to win the heart of a girl who is part flower named Sunny Funny, so there’s that.
Dylan: All of the dope backpackers I know rep only three rappers: Immortal Technique, Rakim, and Parappa. I actually have no idea. Growing up and being the whitest person not only in my town, but in the world, Parappa the Rapper was the only exposure I had to rap until, oh, I don't know, The College Dropout. And look at how awesome I am now! I've seen Big Freedia seven times!
Nick: I don’t think you’re alone in Parappa being your first hip-hop exposure. Despite its sunniness and all around kid-friendly aesthetic, the game does have an excellent soundtrack and Parappa has even started to spring up again in games like PlayStation All-Stars. A game that Dylan and I may spend a little too much time with.
Dylan: Has it been long enough since we've last played PAS? I need to beat you as Raiden again.
Nick: Fuck you, Dylan.
Afro Samurai (2009)
Nick: Afro Samurai the anime is a bit like a blaxploitation spin on Samurai Jack, so it's only logical that the show's creators would draft the RZA to score the series. That role carried over to the video game adaptation of the series, but because the RZA is an incredibly busy motherfucker, he handed the bulk of those duties over to some of his apprentices.
Dylan: The RZA was too busy with The Man with the Iron Fists to deal with anything else
Nick: Actually, he was probably too busy making the soundtrack for the live action Afro Samurai movie that never happened.
Dylan: Why didn't this happen?!
Nick: Because the world is a horribly unfair place, Dylan. But at least you have a hack and slash Afro Samurai to play, comforting you as you settle into your snuggie for the evening.
Dylan: That is only a temporary fix for a permanent problem.
Nick: Speaking of the RZA…remember Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style?
Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (1999)
Nick: The important things one must know about Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style are that it ain't nothin' ta fuck wit, and that its "story" is heavily dependent on FMV sequences.
Dylan: Could a game be more 90's? Bloody fighting violence? Check. Wu-Tang? Check. FMV sequences? Hell yes.
Nick: Better still, the story of the game is a bit like a fucked up hip-hop take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with the Wu-Tang Clan functioning as the turtles and their fallen master Xin standing in for Splinter. Except everything is resolved through Mortal Kombat like bouts.
Dylan: Of course it is.
This was back when Clinton was president, and life was good.
Nick: All we had to worry about was making our way through the 36 Chambers intact in order to see Master Xin smile one last time.
Dylan: Just like Rockwell painted.
Nick: But you know what's even more '90s? A sassy basketball game featuring hip-hop icons.
Like, say, Rap Jam.
Dylan: That was quite the segway
Nick: Actually, this is quite the segueway:
Dylan: I hate you.
The Hip-Hop Dance Experience (2012)
Nick: Neither of us have played the recently released Hip-Hop Dance Experience, but how could we resist a game that bills itself as “the first authentic hip-hop dance game” and features the douchiest track list of all-time? Chris Brown! B.o.B.! Jay Sean! Naughty by Nature?
Dylan: Oh, you jest, but I see nothing funny about a game that features GOD DAMNED R. KELLY AND "RETURN OF THE MACK" up in the track list.
Nick: Basically, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience is a DDR-style game that grandmas everywhere purchase for their kids because they’ve heard that hip-hop thing is cool with the kids these days, but they’re afraid of all the interesting rappers. It even features modes like “Power Skooling,” which us normal folk call a “tutorial,” and “Dance Marathon,” wherein the game forces you to dance until you presumably drop dead.
Dylan: "I'm so tired, The Hip-Hop Dance Experience. I miss my family, and I think I've been fired. Please, let me go, I beg of you!"
"NAH, NIGGA, KEEP DANCING TO IYAZ 'FORE I MURK YOU."
Nick: I would totally watch a Portlandia sequel to the BSG episode where Carrie and Fred can’t stop playing The Hip-Hop Dance Experience.
Surprisingly, though, the Amazon reviews for this game are decent, other than the odd claim here and there that the game lacks the “fun quotient” of other Just Dance games. Which proves that Flynt Flossy is in fact correct when he states “White people they love to dance [to hilarious Wii rhythm games with questionable soundtracks.”
Dylan: The "fun quotient of Just Dance" might be the whitest thing I've ever heard.
Nick: This coming from a man who wondered whether he should run across the street to try to kiss Judah Friedlander, because “he once kissed Liz Lemon and if I kissed him that would mean I kind of kissed Liz Lemon too.”
Def Jam Vendetta(2003), Def Jam Fight for New York (2004), Def Jam Icon (2007)
Nick:: When you think of things that go perfectly with hip-hop, you probably think of graffiti, breakdancing, maybe even kung fu flicks. But what you really should be thinking is "professional wrestling," or at least that's what Def Jam's series of video games wants you to believe.
Beginning with Def Jam Vendetta in 2003, the iconic hip-hop label set about forcing the worlds of wrestling and hip-hop to combine in a way that's only slightly less awkward than Kanye and Two Chainz splitting verses.
Dylan: This was the first game I ever hate-played. Wrestling games aren't really my forte, but I will play anything that will allow me to body slam DMX with Christina Milian.
Nick: Christina Milian isn't just an opponent, she's your character's girlfriend, making things all the more bizarre. And that's true regardless of which character you pick– white trash former soldier, black superbike racer, Japanese thug, random DJ, they all get the exact same story. But you've mentioned the primary appeal of the series, which is its hilarious roster of guests.
The first game stuck to Def Jam recording artists, but the sequels went above and beyond in recruitment, drafting actors as well, like Omar Epps, Danny Trejo and Carmen Electra in Fight for New York while that game's sequel, Icon, minimized the wrestling elements but did allow you to acquire girlfriends after you accumulated a certain number of points. You know, just like real life.
Dylan: That's why I post on Reddit so much. Maybe I can trade in my karma for a boyfriend
And hopefully that boyfriend will be Jadakiss.
Nick: I think your only option at this point in time is Frank Ocean, Dylan.
…who is a Def Jam artist, not coincidentally. Just sayin’.
Dylan: I remember when Def Jam: Vendetta first came out, and the now defunct Official Playstation Magazine released a cover for every character in the game. They announced that over 150 different covers would be released in the issue before, and I prayed I would get DMX, because I was 12 and just as awesome as I am now. Instead I got Sean Paul.
It felt like Santa Claus died in my chimney as he was delivering my coal.
Nick: If I remember correctly, that was the exact pull quote that graced the cover of the game.
Dylan: "DEF JAM VENDETTA: DESTROYING THE LIVES OF CHILDREN, ONE SEAN PAUL AT A TIME"
True Crime: Streets of L.A. (2003)
Nick: Essentially a rip off of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with a cop for a protagonist instead of an OG, True Crime: Streets of L.A. is a bit of a mess that has one major redeeming factor: if you collect enough Dogg Bones, you get to play as Snoop Dogg.
Dylan: Are we really doing eight other games?
Because this is the only game that matters.
Nick: There are three different endings you can get for the game, depending on how many "good cop" points you rack up by not doing uncop things like running over old ladies and shooting pedestrians. But what I don't understand is how the "good ending" does not feature Snoop Dogg.
Dylan: The good, the bad, and the Snoop.
Nick: It's okay though, because the soundtrack features Snoop Dogg and Snoop Dogg-approved acts like Warren G, Bizzy Bone and Westside Connection. So when you're playing as Snoop, you can be blasting Snoop while Snoop goes and does his Snoop thing.
Which I assume means smoking lots and lots of weed. Preferably with Willie Nelson.
Dylan: This game is now dated, for Snoop Dogg has transcended into his next form: Snoop Lion.
Nick: They're going to cover that in the next sequel for the game, True Crime: Kingston.
50 Cent's Blood on the Sand (2009)
Nick: We don’t really do ranking top 10’s anymore, but is there any question that 50 Cent’s Blood on the Sand is the ultimate in hip-hop gaming? It’s the most arrogant project you could imagine, but that makes total sense given that it comes from 50 Cent, who makes Kanye West look like the symbol of humbleness and virtue. To make it even better, it’s a sequel to 50 Cent: Bulletproof, a game that as far as I know, literally no one enjoyed let alone asked for a sequel to, and which only came about because 50 Cent refused to voice the protagonist of GTA: San Andreas because he would only voice himself in video games. Oh, and did I mention the whole game revolves around 50 Cent trying to get back a crystal skull he was given as collateral after a middle eastern concert promoter stiffed him? Better yet, did I mention he’s trying to get it back from a group of vague terrorists? Yes, that’s right, 50 Cent is all that stands between us and the total domination of the planet by a terrorist cell that needs to rob rappers of their bizarre occult goods.
Dylan: This game is some next level shit. Remember when Get Rich or Die Tryin' came out, and it was called the future of hip-hop? Then The Massacre came out and cemented GRDT's mission statement? Then Kanye outsold him, then Fiddy bought Vitamin Water. And now he makes games that mix bad GTA knock-offs and bad Indiana Jones movies. Truly, the American dream.
Nick: The weird thing is, some outlets actually thought Blood on the Sand was pretty good; X-Play even gave it a 4 out of 5, but admittedly that was at a point when they were swiftly descending into total irrelevance. I think the reality is closer to what Giant Bomb said, which is that the game is “so awful it’s amazing,” though that should be a given since it revolves around 50 Cent fighting fucking terrorists over a crystal skull. But hey, at least it featured 40 tracks by 50 and crew, including 18 brand new exclusive songs he made for the game. Give 50 credit for this: he doesn’t go half-ass on anything, not even his shitty video games.
Nick: Last I checked, Waka Flocka Flame hadn’t been shot seven times, so he’s not quite eligible to be a real life video game character. Also, I just want to point out what a sorely misused opportunity to utilize Vitawater as an in-game recovery item this was. Come on 50! You should have this shit down by now!
Dylan: One of the flavors is straight up called Recovery! Get yo shit together, Fiddy!
Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is studying sociology, and when he's not winning trivia nights at pork-themed restaurants, writing a collection of essays on the gay perspective in geek culture. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can't afford and crying. You can follow him on twitter
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he's the last of the secret agents and he's your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Comics Bulletin, where he reigns as the co-managing editor, or at Panel Panopticon, which he started as a joke and now takes semi-seriously. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd rants about his potentially psychopathic roommate on twitter @Nick_Hanover and explore the world of his musical alter ego at Fitness and Pontypool.