Hip-hop is one of the most raw and emotional musical genres, and the same can be said about the video games that it inspires, at least some of them. Also much like hip-hop as a genre, hip-hop games have had their fair share of Vanilla Ices.
We know calling this a “top 10” is stretching it a little bit, as that implies that these games stand out, above all other games. Hip-hop has had much more success as a musical genre than as a basis for video games.
To help frame the list, “Shaq Fu” almost made the cut.
1. Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style (PS1)
Saying that “everyone had their own fighting game back in the 1990’s” really isn’t too much of a stretch, as is proven by “Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style.” You could complete the trials of the 36 chambers in order to save Master Xin. Your weapon: the ancient form of kung fu, known as Wu-Tang. With “Shaolin Style” Wu-Tang became the first rap group to break new ground in terms of mass marketing your brand. While the game may not have been that great, it is the only game on this list to have its own awesome controller.
2. Def Jam (series spanning PS2, PS3, Gamecube, Xbox, Xbox 360, PSP)
No other franchise on this list oozes hip-hop more than the “Def Jam” series. Collectively, over 60 artists and celebrities have appeared over the course of three different fighting games. Spanning the past twenty years of hip-hop, the series let you kick some ass as everyone from old schoolers Funkmaster Flex and Public Enemy, to today’s hottest emcees, like T.I. and The Game. The series has the most complete assembly Def Jam’s classic artists.
3. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas (PS2, Xbox, PC)
The whole story for “GTA: San Andreas” sounds like it came straight out of an N.W.A. song. CJ’s on the streets trying to keep everything together, dealing with crooked cops and doing what he thinks is best for his family. He is in a neighborhood full of problems. Do what you can to survive, all while listening to one of the greatest game soundtracks of all time.
4. Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure (PS2, Xbox, PC)
Anyone who has ever spent a minute on the 4 train north of Manhattan knows that grafitti isn’t just art, it’s a lifestyle, and one that Marc Ecko did an amazing job capturing in “Getting Up.” The game dropped with a ton of street cred; just look at the cast: Talib Kweli, Diddy, The RZA and Adam West. Yeah, Adam West is “street.”
When one of the most loved rappers puts out his own game, you play it. While the gameplay may have been derivative, with a subpar story, you still got to play the game as 50 Cent. It is the best way to see if he is, in fact, “Bulletproof.” (Spoiler Alert: If 50 gets shot enough times, he dies.) After all, it was meant to be an educational experience for the kids.
6. PaRappa the Rapper (PS1, PSP)
If you’ve ever wondered where the phrase “Yeah Dog!” came from, never got a chance to play “PaRappa the Rapper.” Kickin’ it on the PS1 and in the recently rer-eleased version on the PSP, PaRappa’s trying to win the heart of Sunny Funny. There’s no better way to a ladies heart than nonsensical rap. He’s like Biz Markie, but with floppy ears.
7. NBA Ballers (PS2, Xbox, Gamecube)
Everyone knows rappers have the hottest cribs, because they’re living the life. “NBA Ballers” puts you in control of one of the most underprivileged groups in the world, professional basketball players, and let’s you take your baller from the streets to the hills. If you need justification for this game to be on the list, just play a quick game of 3-on-3 at Allen Iverson’s house. (The court’s in his recording studio.)
8. Get On Da Mic (PS2)
For every fan of “Rock Band” that thinks there should be a hip-hop equivalent, they’ve never played “Get On Da Mic.” The game offers you the ability to the MC, and spit some of the greatest rhymes ever written, by the likes of Tupac, DMX, and The Sugarhill Gang. With a total of 40 tracks (unfortunately, all of which are covers) you can live out your wildest hip-hop fantasy in your basement.
9. MTV Music Generator (series spanning PS1, PS2, Xbox, PC)
Most of the games on this list show you what the hip-hop lifestyle is like, but the “MTV Music Generator” series gives you the chance to be a part of it. Basically a sound editing program bursting with different options, the “Music Generator” “games” allow you to record your own samples and even drop your own beats. It’s like being in the studio with Prince Paul, but the studio’s really your basement and Prince Paul is really your kid brother.
If this game had been released, Snoop Dogg would have voiced the lead character, and it would have been written and directed by John Singleton (Boyz N the Hood, Poetic Justice, 2 Fast 2 Furious). The story centered on being a gangster in South Central L.A., trying to gain the respect of other gangs. That sounds like the M.O. of half the hip-hop industry circa 1998. So what if it never came out… it’s still better than “Shaq Fu.”