How Hip Hop’s Embracing Gaming Culture

When it comes to video gaming, music has played a central role since day one and not always in terms of providing a soundtrack.

After wrapping up a studio session one evening, the Grammy-nominated rapper 21 Savage found himself unwinding not in a nightclub, but in an online casino gaming platform. “It’s the thrill of the game,” he says, “the same kind of rush I get performing on stage.” 

This is an anecdote that’s not unique in today’s music scene, particularly in the hip hop and rap genres. The intersection of music and gaming is becoming increasingly pronounced, with both hip hop culture and digital gaming informing each other in the realms of entertainment. 

A Symbiotic Relationship

When it comes to video gaming, music has played a central role since day one and not always in terms of providing a soundtrack. In the 1980s and 1990s, classic arcade games like Pac-Man, and later Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, became cultural phenomena, with the competitive nature of these games parallelling the fierce, competitive spirit of vocal battles. During this era of gaming, iconic artists like Run-D.M.C. and the Wu-Tang Clan began to reference video games in their lyrics and aesthetics, highlighting their growing connection to gaming culture.

As technology advanced, the gaming landscape shifted from arcades to home consoles. The introduction of devices like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive brought gaming into households, making it more accessible to a wider demographic of gamers. 

Hip-hop artists, who were now emerging as mainstream celebrities, embraced these consoles as both a way to play games and a means of social connection. The influence of gaming in hip-hop was evident in the lyrics, fashion, and even the artwork of the albums released during this decade. For instance, Wu-Tang Clan’s obsession with martial arts, a common theme in video games, was a significant part of their artistic identity. 

As the 2000s began to unfold, we saw the rise of more sophisticated gaming consoles being released from consumer tech giants SONY and Microsoft, which further deepened the bond between the two cultures. The emergence of online gaming platforms, multiplayer games and remote genres like iGaming created new opportunities for interaction and competition, two qualities that appealed to urban music artists. 

Hip hop entertainers were among the first celebrities to embrace this new gaming culture, often participating in online gaming communities and even investing in eSports teams. For some, like 21 Savage, the online casino genre had the biggest appeal, not just in terms of the array of variants available in games like blackjack, but the relative anonymity that online gaming platforms provided—a rap artist at a brick and mortar casino would draw substantial press and fan attention. Others were first introduced to hip hop entertainment via gaming, as we’ve seen with KSI’s multi-disciplinary career development.

The Influence of Hip Hop on Gaming (and Vice Versa)

Here in the 21st century, renowned hip hop artists have become some of the most influential figures in the gaming world, often using their extensive platforms to share their passion for the pastime. Snoop Dogg’s love of gaming, for instance, is well known. He frequently streams gaming sessions on platforms like Twitch, where he plays a variety of genres. Snoop has even taken his love of gaming a step further by launching his own games label, Death Row Games

audience. The Canadian rapper made headlines when he joined Twitch streamer Ninja for a Fortnite session in 2018— which actually broke viewership records. 

This integration works both ways, even extending into other areas of street culture such as fashion and lifestyle. Gaming references can be increasingly found in lyrics, with artists skillfully weaving gaming terminology and metaphors into their storytelling. Tracks like Logic’s 44 More and even Kanye West’s Stronger feature lyrics that draw parallels between gaming and life. 

The link is apparent in music videos, too, with artists incorporating gaming aesthetics into their visuals. The music video Panini by Lil Nas X is a notable example for its immersive, futuristic gaming-adjacent graphics. Plus, brands like A Bathing Ape and Supreme have taken gaming-inspired streetwear to new heights, with hip hop artists often seen sporting their collections.