Hip-Hop is set to hit the semi-centennial mark in 2023, and Hip-Hop Wired and our brother site Cassius Life are coming together to celebrate the moment while focusing on the genre of music’s influence on culture. There is nothing Hip-Hop does not touch, whether it be alcohol, clothes, or food. This post focuses on Hip-Hop’s love for video games and the franchises that rappers have loved and continue to play.
Video games’ presence in Hip-Hop is no secret. Your favorite rappers will drop some bars referencing video games in their songs every chance they get.
Rappers who use their music to document their early struggles pointed to video games being either a luxury at the time growing up poor or a means to keep them off the streets and out of trouble.
One bar immediately comes to mind is the Biggie Smalls‘ “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis when I was dead broke, man, I couldn’t picture this,” on his iconic track “Juicy,” off his debut album Ready to Die.
On ScBoolBoy Q’s “Hoover Streeter,” he rapped, “Grandma said she loved me, I told her I loved her more, she always got me things we couldn’t afford, the new Js and Tommy Hill in my drawers, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, see GoldenEye was away at war.”
Now you can’t visit a rapper’s studio and not see a classic arcade cabinet or console where the musician can pick up the sticks and enjoy a break outside the booth.
In the gallery below, we show love to the video games and established franchises that have become beloved by rappers throughout the years that span genres of games.
Photo: Kevork Djansezian / Getty
1. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
In the late 80s and the early 90s, Mike Tyson took the sports world by storm as he viciously knocked out his opponents in the ring. So it made perfect sense, at the time, to make him the face of his video game. In 1987, Nintendo linked up with Tyson for Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for the Nintendo Entertainment System, a home version of the arcade hits Punch-Out!! and Super Punch-Out!!.
You would be hard-pressed to find a home that didn’t have the NES cartridge sitting inside the console with players trying to take underdog Little Mac on his journey to professional boxing greatness.
On your quest to become champ, you face contenders like Glass Joe, Soda Popinski, King Hippo, Super Macho Man, Great Tiger, and Piston Honda, who each have different special techniques you have to avoid while figuring out their patterns to defeat them. Some even had weak points enabling Little Mac to score one-punch knockouts.
Once you beat those guys, it’s time to face the legendary black trunks and black boxing sneakers-wearing Mike Tyson. He was no pushover and was considered by many to be one of the most challenging video game characters to defeat.
2. Double Dribble
Another sports game that you would more than likely find a rapper’s home is Double Dribble. This wasn’t Konami’s first basketball video game, but it is the video game company’s most popular.
Double Dribble arrived in arcades in 1986 before being ported to the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1987. It was ahead of its time thanks to its fast-paced basketball action and the in-game dunk sequences, a first for sports video games, and the signature sound when you shoot a 3-point shot.
3. Tecmo Bowl/Tecmo Super Bowl
Before Madden NFL took over the football video game world, Tecmo Bowl was king. Tecmo Bowl started in arcades in 1987 before coming home to NES consoles in 1989.
When it reached North America, it was the first game to feature the NFLPA license, and of course, who could forget the unstoppable Bo Jackson, who was the running back for the Los Angeles Raiders and was arguably the most op cyber athlete ever.
Tecmo Bowl would come back even stronger with the release of Tecmo Super Bowl, the first game to be licensed by both the NFL and NFLPA.
Fans loved the game because it kept the fun Tecmo Bowl gameplay but added a season option, injuries, and those cool animations when you scored a touchdown, intercepted a pass, sacked the quarterback, or made a spectacular catch.
4. NBA Jam
Oh my, he’s on fire!
NBA Jam, the 1993 successor to Arch Rivals, took the arcades by storm when it arrived in 1993. Instead of made-up hoopers, the game featured two stars from your favorite NBA franchises.
Acclaim would bring the game to home consoles where players would enjoy the no holds barred NBA action where players can push opponents without consequences, do outrageous dunks, and hit three points bombs way before Steph Curry arrived in the league.
The game was also unique in that it only featured two-on-two action with teams of five players to choose from, initially three in the arcade version.
One person noticeably absent from NBA Jam which was the highest-earning arcade game at the time was Michael Jordan. Due to his marketing agreement with Nike that didn’t allow him to be a part of the NBPA’s licensing deal, his absence in the game was felt.
But, developers tried their best to make up for it by giving players the ability to input codes for hidden characters like formers US President Bill Clinton, his wife Hillary Clinton, Will Smith, Larry Bird, and more.
5. NBA Live
In October 1994, the basketball video game world took a giant leap when EA Sports dropped NBA Live 95. Yes, EA dropped other great basketball games like Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs, Bulls versus Blazers and the NBA Playoffs, and NBA Showdown, but NBA Live 95 was a game-changer.
Unlike its predecessors, NBA Live 95 was much faster and felt more authentic to the NBA experience we witnessed during those games we watched on NBC.
NBA Live 95 laid the groundwork for future basketball simulators by introducing a dedicated sprint button, detailed player ratings, instant replay, offensive-defensive strategy, and of course, those alley-oop dunks that get a rise out of you have you talking trash every time you pull one off.
For many years, NBA Live would be the premiere basketball video game franchise until NBA 2K dethroned it.
6. Mortal Kombat
Street Fighter II was the king of fighting games, but Mortal Kombat had its sights on the throne and damn near took the crown.
When Mortal Kombat hit arcades in 1992, it brought a level of video game violence gamers had never experienced. On top of pulling off special moves, these wonderful fatalities allowed players to punctuate a match and brutally kill their opponents.
The game became an instant hit in arcades, and, of course, the energy was the same when it came home to consoles. When you rolled up at a friend’s house, the studio, it would be a safe bet you would see a Mortal Kombat cartridge, primarily the Genesis version, because it was the only one with the classic code that allowed blood to be in the game.
Super Nintendo, unfortunately, didn’t allow that.
7. Street Fighter II
Before there was Mortal Kombat, you could find everyone at the local arcade, Carvel ice cream shop, and bodega wasting quarters playing Street Fighter II in 1991.
Street Fighter II eventually made its way into homes and, by 1996, became one of the most popular games in homes, with 6.3 million SNES cartridges sold.
The game was extremely popular in Hip-Hop circles and arguably is among rappers’ most referenced songs. Lupe Fiasco is an avid Street Fighter player, and when he was not dropping albums, the Chicago rapper was actually participating in tournaments showing off his playing skills.
8. John Madden Football / Madden NFL
Now known as Madden NFL, EA Sports once again shook the video game world with John Madden Football when they brought it to the Sega Genesis in 1990.
Like Tecmo Bowl before it, John Madden Football did not have the benefit of the NFLPA or NFL license to make it an accurate NFL simulation, but it did provide football fans with a fantastic game to play.
It would eventually gain the NFL license in 1993, bringing your favorite NFL team or teams to the game and, finally, players in Madden 95 after adding the NFLPA license. The acquisition of both rights meant something from the games had to be removed, noticeably the hilarious moment when the ambulance would rush onto the field to pick up an injured player running while running over other players.
Madden NFL would become a behemoth in the sports video game world after it outright bought the exclusive rights to use the NFL’s teams, stadiums, and players in a video game because it honestly feared the growing competition from the NFL 2K franchise.
Madden NFL, despite its flaws, is beloved among the Hip-Hop community, with rappers such as Ludacris making exclusive songs for the game and having huge fans in other rap stars like The Game, Bow Wow, Chris Brown, and Snoop Dogg, who displays his passion for the game during streams where he does hilarious express his anger when things don’t go his way while playing.
9. NBA Street
At a time when NBA Jam was put on ice, EA Canada and NuFX decided to fill that void with 2001’s NBA Street on PlayStation 2.
Published by EA Sports BIG, the game took the NBA action to the streets or the hardtop, and guess what? Michael Jordan was in the game.
NBA Street became insanely popular, selling 1.7 million copies on the PlayStation 2 while featuring an insanely Hip-Hop heavy soundtrack, so it’s no secret the game became beloved in Hip-Hop circles.
10. Def Jam: Vendetta
This is a no-brainer, a wrestling game featuring your favorite rappers? Of course, this game would be on the list. The game would also spawn a sequel called Def Jam: Fight For New York.
The games featured Lil’Kim, Snoop Dogg, Method Man, Ludacris, Ice-T, N.O.R.E., Memphis Bleek, Fat Joe, Funkmaster Flex, Busta Rhymes, Joe Budden, Keith Murray and more.
11. NFL 2K
NFL 2K was another that started out on the Sega Dreamcast and featured Randy Moss on the cover and who many consider one of the best cyber athletes ever, not named Bo Jackson or Michael Vick.
After the demise of the Dreamcast, NFL 2K would find life on the Xbox and PlayStation 2 and dropped NFL 2K5, which many said was better than the Madden game that came out that year and only cost $20.
NFL 2K5 spooked EA so much that they quickly gobbled up the NFL licenses for an insane amount of money, making Madden the only football video game on the market.
12. NBA 2K
NBA Live laid the groundwork, and NBA 2K took the rock and ran with it. The NBA 2K franchise first burst onto the scene on the Sega Dreamcast and featured NBA Hall-of-Famer Allen Iverson on multiple covers.
The game eventually arrived on other consoles and delivered basketball fans an even better basketball video game experience than NBA Live, thanks to the incorporation of ESPN’s presentation.
NBA 2K is now THE premiere basketball video game franchise and works closely with Hip-Hop by incorporating artists’ music while introducing players to new acts. Of course, your favorite rappers also spend their free time trash-talking to each other online and meeting up in The City, NBA 2K’s online hub.
13. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Call of Duty is THE biggest video game franchise on the planet right now, and the game that helped it become a global phenomenon was none other than 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
The franchise has since blown to epic proportions, spawned numerous sequels, a separate free-to-play game, Call of Duty: Warzone, a popular mobile game, and features athletes, movie stars, and Hip-Hop artists in their ads regularly.
14. Fight Night
Outside Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! there wasn’t a great boxing game until EA Sports blessed us with Fight Night in 2004.
The game featured plenty of professional boxers not named Floyd Mayweather Jr. and delivered an authentic boxing match feel.
One big fan of the franchise was iconic producer Just Blaze, an avid gamer in the Hip-Hop world and filmed plenty of videos handing all trash talkers who wanted the smoke a virtual fade.
Fight Night, unfortunately, was put into early retirement following 20122’s Fight Night Champion, but who knows? Maybe the folks at EA are working on bringing it back.
15. Grand Theft Auto
Grand Theft Auto is one of those franchises immersed in the Hip-Hop world. 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III took the GTA franchise to new heights, and the Hip-Hop world took notice.
Also, while out committing all kinds of crimes and embarking on zany missions bopping to the Hip-Hop station just made all the sense in the world.
2002’s Grand Theft Auto: Vice City would further pull us into the GTA universe, but Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas proved how much Hip-Hop influenced the game. CJ, a fictional Grove Street Gang member, is one of the most beloved video game characters ever.
2008’s Grand Theft Auto IV was well received, leaving many to believe it is criminally underrated, but now, it’s 2013’s Grand Theft Auto V that is still the talk of the world.
GTA V has become one of the highest-selling pieces of entertainment in the world, spawning two re-releases and countless numbers of DLC for the online component.
It’s so popular in the Hip-Hop world that Dr.Dre, who still hasn’t dropped Detox, is in the game and has his own storyline.
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