Hip-Hops influence on the world as we know it is
undeniable. From its humble beginnings in Bronx
back in the 70s, Hip-Hops culture has spread to forms of media including
books, television, movies, and now video games.
Major corporations are wising up and cashing in on the art
form to both phenomenal and lukewarm results. From Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style to the more recent Def Jam: Icon, Hip-Hop games are becoming more of a mainstay in the
culture we all know and love.
The genre has inspired more games than some care to admit
(or can remember). The trend really took off in the early 90s with games like Kris Kross: Make My Video and Rap Jam Volume One. While neither of these games was particularly successful, they did get rap artists foot in the door and made game developers realize what a gold mine they could potentially be sitting on.
Infiltrating the Game
The video game industry is mostly dominated by white males.
Hip-Hop games inject some much-needed diversity into the industry while making
games more accessible to people that may have wanted do play, but didnt
because of games that didnt appeal to them. The market of Hip-Hop lovers is
huge; this is why it isnt that surprising that it has found its niche in an
industry that generates $18 billion yearly.
Even games that dont necessarily feature a storyline
revolving around Hip-Hop or an artist still have ample inspiration from them.
Take Midnight Club 3: DUB Edition for example. The game features a soundtrack with numerous well-known rappers, urban locales, and an almost endless supply of add-ons for each players personal whip.
The Grand Theft Auto
series really began making use of DJs talents in their first 3D version of the
game, Grand Theft Auto III. The culture is practically the lifeblood of the series, which is evident from your interactions on the streets between different characters to the music you choose to listen to during a mission. Lets not even talk about the NBA Live or Madden series soundtracks.
Marketing Your Brand
Video games are a medium that have a very wide-reaching
influence in terms of consumers. What better way for rap artists to make money
than for them to inject their being into a game? Say what you want about 50 Cent: Bulletproof (I know I did), but 50 really flexed his marketing muscle here. He promoted his artists, his drink, and his clothing line throughout the game.
Def Jam did the same thing by introducing lesser-known
artists onto their soundtracks through their games and littering their
Create-A-Character modes with Def Jam brand clothing. Hustling has always been
a trademark of the culture, and it certainly shines through here.
Def Jam: Vendetta
Def Jam: Fight For NY
Def Jam: Icon
The Bad and the Ugly
While its definitely refreshing to see people on the screen
that represent raps primary demographic, many games that were spawned out of
the culture tend to perpetuate a negative stereotype of African-Americans. A
good majority of Hip-Hop games involve the protagonist or supporting characters
committing crimes or conforming to an unfair mold that African-Americans have
been placed into for years.
Despite the fact that it was quite possibly the most
successful entry into the series, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas further stereotyped what African-Americans are known for: robbery, drugs and murder. While you cant expect developers to create games about Black men going to college, the fact that African-Americans are portrayed so badly is disinheriting.
Just like with any other sub-genre of gaming, Hip-Hip games
have has their share of titles that could be used as the proverbial weed
plate – Shaq-Fu is the first title that comes to mind. Everyone knows about Shaqs affinity of rap music, as well as his disability to make a competent song. That trend continued over to his video game. Riddled with a poor storyline and even worse controls, Shaq-Fu is often cited as the worst video games of all time.
While there are plenty of horrible games on the market,
thats an accomplishment that you shouldnt exactly be proud of. If Shaq really
wants to know how his a** tastes, he should take a look back at this game.
Long Time Comin
While many rap games have come and gone, there are possibly
more over the horizon. With future titles like 50 Cent II: Blood On The Sand (bet you didnt see that one coming) on the way, we at least know the market for such games is still there. The question is whether or not developers will use and market Hip-Hop in a more creative manner than just sticking to the norm.
Games like Marc Eckos Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure and the Jet Set Radio series are both great examples of this. While Hip-Hop has some mainstream appeal, it has a long way to go in terms of quality and content to get more notoriety in the video-game industry.
Five Hip-Hop Games to
This list is in no particular order, but these titles are
definitely worth checking out if you want to get up to speed with Hip-Hops
latest and greatest offerings.
Def Jam: Fight for NY (PS2, GC, Xbox, PSP)
This game is Hip-Hop fighters Heaven. Critically acclaimed producers AKI got together with Def Jam to create this brainchild. With over 30 Hip-Hop personalities to choose from, few games came close to embodying the lifestyle like this game did.
Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (PS)
Based off of the controversial Thrill Kill engine, the Wu was one of the first collectives to massively market their brand. While the game paled in comparison to other fighters that were out during the time, the Wu-Tang Clan was the first rap group to have their own game, let alone their own Playstation controller.
PaRappa the Rapper (PS)
While this may be one of the more lighthearted entrants,
its still noteworthy. Combining timed button presses with Hip-Hop lyrics,
PaRappa was one of the very first rhythm video games of its kind. The game
garnered enough of a following to spawn its own PSP port, sequel and anime
Grand Theft Auto: San
Andreas (PS2, X Box, PC)
This is the behemoth of the list. San Andreas was the
highest-selling entrant in the GTA series, and with good reason. With a level
of customization rarely seen in video games, SA let gamers roam freely throughout the city while completing the games numerous missions. While it had a great amount of controversy behind it, this West Coast influenced game successful paid homage to one of the most notable eras in Hip-Hop.
Jet Set Radio (DC)
JSR was one of the first games to introduce one of the art
forms of Hip-Hop: graffiti tagging. It was also one of the first entirely
cel-shaded video games. Dropping back in 2000 on Segas ill-fated Dreamcast,
JSR let gamers explore various stages on rollerblades, tagging any and
everything in their path. While sales for the game was relatively low, its
typically regarded as a cult classic. It also received a Game Boy Advance port
and an Xbox sequel.