Greetings, all. It is I, Speed on the Beat. Now, as you may know (based on some of my posts), I’m a big video game fan. I’m talking from NBA 2K to Ico to Modern Warfare 2 (still one of my favorite COD games), and everywhere in between. One thing that tends to get overshadowed in video games when people discuss them are soundtracks. Yes, there’s applause when renowned composer Hans Zimmer works on Call of Duty, but what makes up the musical selections often gets cast aside in favor of graphics, story, and so on? Now, because this is a hip-hop-oriented website, I’ll only speak on five soundtracks (and one obvious honorable mention) that I’d consider to be some of the greatest that have a hip-hop flavor to them. These are in no particular order.
One of the middle-era games for the ill-fated Sega Dreamcast (it was released in 2000; the Dreamcast was discontinued in 2001), JSR breathed the essence of hip-hop. In the game, you controlled graffiti artists who were protesting against the System, all while breaking, roller-skating, and jamming to some pretty sick tunes, with a lot of breakbeats, instrumental hip-hop, and (on the North American version), a Jurassic 5 track. It was Tony Hawk Pro Skater if it were designed by Zack de la Rocha and SEGA. There were even rival gangs that seemed like something out of a trippy version of Breakin’ or any of those other old-school hip-hop movies. The sequel, JSRF, continued this ride.
(Specifically the Radio Los Santos and Playback FM playlists)
Radio Los Santos
Now to be fair, almost any GTA game could’ve appeared on this list, but SA‘s soundtrack, which is chocked full of 1990s gangsta rap goodness, stands heads above other GTA soundtracks. Plus, the soundtrack allowed for moments like the ones I described in my SA vs. GTA V post a while back.
(Snippets of the soundtrack)
NBA 2K13 had the Hov-executive-produced soundtrack, featuring “The Ruler’s Back.” NBA 2K14 featured Kendrick Lamar and Big K.R.I.T., along with “Started from the Bottom.” And NBA 2K11 featured Ron Artest spitting heat (hey, look, another athlete-turned-rapper). But, there was something about the fact you could hear Eminem, Yelawolf, indie rap, and rock all in one place that keeps me coming back to 2K12. That, and the fact that the system’s not as buggy as 2K14 (seriously, 2K, get you s#!+ together). Oh, and it had Kurtis Blow.
(Remix of “Who Shot Ya”)
Now the game itself was pretty much Jet Set Radio without the funkiness that made JSR a must-play. But, what it lacked in bright colors and cel-shaded graphics, it made up in authenticity. The game itself wasn’t that great, but it was “authentic” and added a sense of realism to what JSR created. Plus, it featured songs from Talib Kweli, Biggie, Mobb Deep, and other classic acts, hip-hop and otherwise. Hell, the soundtrack featured Nina Simone. What other game have you heard that’s featured Nina Simone?
(C-N-N and M.O.P. – “Stomp the Sh*t Out Ya”)
No list of hip-hop-based soundtracks would be complete without mentioning this series. While the series saw its quality decline with each release, the music was always on point. Plus, the first game in the series, Def Jam Vendetta featured Christina Milian, DMX with the ability to do piledrivers, and Uncle Face himself, Scarface (along with Ludacris, who appeared in the entire series).
Honorable Mention: The PaRappa series. Mentioned in a previous post (and one of the first “cool” hip-hop-based video game characters), the PaRappa the Rapper series was part Dance Dance Revolution, part trippy hip-hop parody, but still managed to skate the line between parodic homage and lampoon without crossing it. I can’t really put into words how wacked out the plot was, but it managed to be a classic game. Even if its graphical style may remind you of early episodes of South Park. Also, for bonus points, the girl of PaRappa’s dreams was voiced by Donny Hathaway’s daughter, Kenya.
There are others, as always, but I’ll save some of them for another post–maybe even a “Worst VG Hip-Hop-Centric Soundtracks.”
Until next time.
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