NEW YORK — One of them makes clothes for a living. The other rhymes. But at the Virgin Megastore in Times Square late last week, fashion mogul Marc Ecko and legendary rapper Rakim were both hawking a video game, the graffiti adventure "Getting Up," and dropping hints about where their careers might take them next.
The man some consider to be the greatest MC of all time confessed he hadn't played "Getting Up" yet but was quick to endorse a game in which he collaborates on the title track with Talib Kweli. Rakim also said he liked the idea of a game taking him back to a time when graffiti didn't wash off New York subways.
"Back then we didn't really understand what was going on," he said of the graffiti scene. "It took people from outside to look in and understand we had a whole movement going on. Being able to take part in it now is a beautiful thing."
"Getting Up" is designed to bring that world and that culture back, casting the Kweli-voiced Trane as a burgeoning graf writer who hopes to tag the highest reaches of the city New Radius. With climbing abilities reminiscent of gaming's Mario or Prince of Persia, he sets out to lead a resistance movement against a repressive city government (see "Designer Marc Ecko Says Graffiti Game Mixes 'Star Wars,' 'Style Wars' ").
Rakim said he leaves gaming mostly to his sons these days. But he did reminisce about simpler times and simpler gaming like the old Atari and ColecoVision and a love of "Pong" that had him knocking "two lines and the little ball back and forth all day."
The song with Kweli, "Getting Up Anthem," is Rakim's first original song for a game but, he hopes, not his last. He also said he's hoping to end an album dry spell that dates back to 1999's The Master.
An aborted collaboration with Dr. Dre behind him, Rakim said his new album will be called Seventh Seal and will drop later this year from his new independent label Ra Records. He teased that a single could be out within two months, but for now he's still scouting for guest artists. "At this point in my career I wanted to reach out and show a lot of artists love that have been giving me love," he said, declining to name names.
As Rakim talked up his musical future, Ecko reveled in his new hat as game maker. "I'm in love with the medium," he said, immediately delving into how the creation of "Getting Up" has inspired him to try to add even more style to gaming. "I want to take this medium into a much more understandable place. I feel it's just too geeked out right now. It's dominated by code rather than ideas. I want to be a guy to shake things up a little bit."
Ecko says he was particularly pleased by finally being able to launch "Getting Up," a game whose concept has been festering in his head since the late '90s and that has been bedeviled by forces both from the outside and from within. The game had initially been set for release in September but was delayed past the lucrative holiday shopping season because it wasn't quite ready. "There's no handbook on how to make games," Ecko said. "The code wasn't there."
He said the version of the game that had been on track for September was too hard. "It made the assumption people would read the manual," he said. He brought in some extra hands and made the opening bits of the game more obvious, adding a dollop of text and tweaking the level design to make for a smoother experience.
As for the outside forces, Ecko has come to promote "Getting Up" as a rebel product. The designer wore a sweatshirt that reads "Blame Video Games." If one does read the manual, the fine print sarcastically thanks Peter Vallone, the New York city-council member who issued a statement in September blasting the M-rated game. "From what Atari's putting out," Vallone had said in the statement, "it appears they want to make crime exciting and to teach children how to get away with breaking the law."
At Virgin Ecko said he was preparing to send copies of the game to Vallone and other political critics like Senator Hillary Clinton and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He doesn't expect any of them to dig too deep into the game. "They're too old," he said. "They have too much gray hair on their head. Culturally, generationally, they are disconnected, they don't understand the medium."
Despite or perhaps because of the attacks from the critics, he hopes the game will do well enough to inspire a sequel. He wants new versions on handhelds and next-generation systems, although he revealed that he might go even bigger. "I'd love to take it to an MMO," he said, suggesting a future for massively multi-player games that would eschew the fantasy or sci-fi trappings of a "World of Warcaft" or "City of Heroes" for an online playground of high rises, spray paint and hip-hop culture.
"Getting Up" went on sale for Xbox and PS2 last week.