Rappers don't retire anymore. They make songs for video games.
Atari has announced the soundtrack for "Driver: Parallel Lines," the fourth installment in the publisher's top-selling car-chase game. Developed by England-based Reflections Interactive, "Driver" is an adventure set in New York during the '70s and the present. The soundtrack will feature 73 tracks from those two eras, throwing licensed music from David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Blondie into the game's first half and Louis XIV, Kaiser Chiefs and the Roots into the second.
Amid that musical avalanche will be 11 original songs, including a pair each from two hip-hop pioneers, Grandmaster Flash and Public Enemy. Like Rakim, recently tapped by Atari for the title track to "Getting Up" (see "Marc Ecko's Spray-Paint Video Game Ends Rakim's Musical Dry Spell"), the rappers involved with "Driver" date back to hip-hop's earliest, most revolutionary days.
"This is something I've always wanted to do," said Grandmaster Flash, who teamed up with his producing partner Demo for the songs "You Will Pay" and "Get Out of My Way." "As a creator of this whole art-on-the-turntables, that's what we do. We take elements from one area and connect it with another. So to be able to connect these tracks to these pictures was right up my alley."
Flash has lost more than a few quarters in his day to classic arcade titles like "Centipede," "Pac-Man" and "Space Invaders," but he mostly leaves the gaming to his kids. "I'd seriously be getting my ass kicked by a 7-year-old," Flash said of any proposed cross-generational match-up.
Flash's home isn't the only place where a rapper finds himself on the other side of the gaming gap. One of the Public Enemy tracks on the soundtrack, "Narcissistic Fix," includes a simple message from another rap dad to his son: "Now when's the last time you read a f---ing book?"
That comes from Professor Griff, Public Enemy's former "minister of information" (whose fierce pro-Nation of Islam comments got him fired from the group in 1989) and the man behind both of Public Enemy's soundtrack contributions. Griff claims his 15-year-old son is obsessed by video games. "He's like the game-crazy guy," said Griff. "The things I have to go through as a parent to pull my son away from a game — it's ridiculous."
Griff was happy for the work but wanted to throw something into the song to rattle even the most zombified gamers. "The addictive nature of the game kind of pulls you in," he said. "So can I say something — one, two lines that are positive — to say, OK, now that you've spent four hours on the game, can you go read a book and educate yourself?"
Griff admits he's a gaming novice, saying he missed out on the trend during Public Enemy's late-'80s glory days because he was too focused on black power and consciousness-raising. "There wasn't no games dealing with the revolution," he said.
But when Atari came calling for the group to contribute to "Driver," Griff dug into his digital vaults of old Public Enemy beats and vocals to stitch together a pair of new songs.
Griff reached out to the rest of the group for feedback, but there was little to be had. He e-mailed Flava Flav and tried unsuccessfully to call Terminator X. He did get Chuck D on the phone. "Chuck said, 'Good job,' and I'm like, 'Come on, dude, tell me about the song. What did you think?' " Chuck said he liked the songs and left it at that.
Flash and Griff's distance from today's gaming culture may make them unlikely contributors for a video-game soundtrack, but their outsider status has also given them a fresh perspective. Flash immersed himself into the "Driver: Parallel Lines" story, focusing on the main character and his frustrations with the prison stint that acts as the game's midway point and divides its two eras.
"I kind of became him," Flash said of the character simply known by the initials T.K. He described an extensive series of e-mail and in-person briefings he got from Atari representatives to learn about the plot and find the appropriate mood for songs. That left Flash with an observation about how music fits, or fails to fit, into today's games. "A lot of times I can hear there's not a marriage," he said. "It just happens to be a hot scene or a hot game with a hot record but not definitively a marriage between the visuals and the music." He hopes his two songs are the exception.
And Griff's take? He's wondering about the ways hip-hop is used in the industry. "What other kinds of games can we make that feature the talents that hip-hop artists have to offer?" he asked. "Is it always gonna be the driving, shoot-'em-up, bang-bang kind of games?"
He still recommends people play the new "Driver: Parallel Lines," which will be available for PS2 and Xbox on March 14. After that, he suggests they read a book.
Original songs featured in "Driver: Parallel Lines":
- Audio Bullys - "Rock Till I'm Rolling"
- Arthur Baker - "Everybody Reverberate"
- Grandmaster Flash - "Get Out My Way"
- Grandmaster Flash - "You Will Pay"
- Life Savas featuring Vernon Reed - "Driver"
- Mylo - "Muscle Cars" (remix)
- Paul Oakenfold - "Addicted to Speed"
- Public Enemy - "Narcissistic Fix"
- Public Enemy - "Now What U Gon Due"
- Suicide - "PopTheBlue"
- Yeah Yeah Yeahs - "Sealings"