A long history of rappers rapping about video games
Hip-hop and video games have shared the same cultural orbit for years – from beat-’em-up Def Jam: Fight for NY with its roster of virtually every rapper active in the early 2000s, to Dr. Dre releasing his first music in over a decade thanks to GTA Online earlier this year. Rappers love video games, and video games love rappers. It’s also a two-way relationship. Hip-hop is full of references to video games and video game consoles, whether it’s Lauryn Hill rapping about ColecoVision, Eminem professing his love for The Legend of Zelda, or the name JAY-Z. checking out the Sony PSP. These are some of the most notable (and surprising) collisions in rap and gaming.
In his 1994 hit Juicy, The Notorious BIG reflects on how success changed his life and let go of the most famous video game reference in hip-hop history. “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis,” he raps. “When I was completely broke, man, I couldn’t imagine that.” But Biggie wasn’t the only rapper screaming at Nintendo’s 16-bit console. In Friday by Ice Cube, taken from the soundtrack to the 1995 comedy classic, he raps, “Smoking some Indo, playing that Super Nintendo, hearing a rat-a-tat-tat on my window.” Skepta also verifies this in his 2011 track Mike Lowery. “I’ve been producing since Mario Paint on Super Nintendo,” he raps, referring to the game’s famous built-in music sequencer.
As for the Genesis, Sega’s 16-bit competitor also gets some shout-outs. In Pusha T’s Nosetalgia, from his 2013 debut album, Kendrick Lamar raps, “Smokers repeatedly bought my Sega Genesis, either that or my aunt stole it.” Busta Rhymes refers to it in his 1997 track Get Off My Block: “The presence of a little beat, I diminish it and stain it,” he raps. “I’ll play with you like a game on my little Sega Genesis.” And in his 2014 track Hoover Street, ScHoolboy Q takes us back to his youth and raps about how his grandmother would spoil him. “She always gave me things we couldn’t afford, the new Js and Tommy Hill in my drawers, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64.”
The N64 was also noticed in Whiz Khalifa and Curren$y’s 2009 mixtape, How Fly. “Always rocking GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64,” Curren$y raps on The Check Point. “To say that they don’t make them like that anymore.” Eminem’s reference to the console in Murder Murder, a track from 1997’s quadruple platinum album Slim Shady, isn’t quite as nostalgic. Referencing how the N64 sold out quickly across America when it launched, he raps, “I broke the window, grabbed the Nintendo 64, when they sell out in stores, the price triples. And in his nostalgic 2013 track Ill Mind 6: Old Friend, Hopsin raps, “Never felt this shit before, it hurts, I remember we were playing Nintendo 64.”
But nothing in the history of gaming is more referenced in hip-hop than Atari. In JAY-Z’s Never Change, from The Blueprint in 2001, he raps, “Before the streets robbed me, he wasn’t educated properly, well shit, I needed the money for Atari. ” In Rock Co. Kane Flow, from De La Soul’s 2004 album The Grind Date, MF Doom’s late rap great: “For a family like the Partridges, forgive them the confusion, fight for your Atari cartridges .” Atari also gets a mention on OutKast’s Skew It on the Bar-B, Lil Yachty’s Get Dripped, Young Thug’s Bad Bad Bad, Trippie Redd’s Matt Hardy 999, CeeLo Green’s Fuck You, 50 Cent’s We Up, Lil Uzi Vert’s Sauce It Up, Young Thug’s Dome, and numerous Continued.
But it’s not just the heavy hitters like Sega and Atari that feature in the rap lexicon: the relatively obscure ColecoVision also gets some love. In his 2000 track Proto Culture, Del the Funky Homosapien raps, “I remember my homie Ed Coats had the most, a ColecoVision, every week I visited, playing Donkey Kong Jr, Venture, Roc ‘N Rope, games that I thought were getting high while my mom was watching soap operas.” Lauryn Hill also talks about it in How Many Mics, a track from The Fugees’ 1996 classic, The Score. “We go way back like some ganja and pelequo, or ColecoVision, my rhymes make incisions in your anatomy.” JAY-Z, OutKast, Killah Priest and Freeway also spoke about ColecoVision.
Sony also had a big impact on hip-hop. On Little Simz’s 101 FM, from her 2019 album GRAY Area, she raps, “We used to dream of getting out of apartments, playing PS2, Crash Bandicoot, Mortal Kombat.” In his title ADHD, Kendrick Lamar is less nostalgic, lamenting the way his generation uses drugs and video games to distract themselves from reality. “Who gives a fuck? We never listen unless he comes with an 808 (a melody and some hoes), a PlayStation and some booze (tech bought my soul.)” and if that’s too deep, there’s always Playboi Carti’s Slay3r track from 2020: “I grabbed a body and went on vacation. She sucks my dick while I was on the PlayStation. “
As for Xbox, Tyler, the creator references Microsoft’s console in several songs. In Colossus in 2013, he rapped: “If only I had a basement to hide you, we could play Xbox and listen to In Search Of [an album by N.E.R.D., one of Tyler’s biggest influences] and eat donuts.” On Her, a track from his 2011 debut studio album Goblin, Tyler raps, “Sit in my room for days and play Xbox with piles of wet socks? Damn that.” 50 Cent also mentions Xbox on 2003’s High All the Time: “Stash box, Xbox, laptop, fax, phone.” And on 2010’s Breakfast, avid gamer Curren$y raps: “Browser Web Xbox, an updated NBA list, played an 82-game season.”
Other console references include 2000’s Lil Wayne’s Shine: “You don’t want to put your vehicle next to us, because all of our vehicles we dress them up, with TV, Dreamcast, DVD.” Boys, a 2018 track by Lizzo: “Ayy, boy, what are you saying, boy? Are you trying to play coy like a Game Boy?” Kano’s Grime MC, from his 2017 album London Town: “Move in the blazer down the hall, shine every rave and play Commodore 64.” JAY-Z’s Oh My God from 2006: “Please GOD save me from the black parade, set me free, my life as Grand Theft Auto, PSP.” And on Nintendhoe, a 2018 track from Doja Cat: “Bitch I’m annual flossing, VVS, yeah I play Animal Crossing, 3DS.”
It’s fair to say that consoles are a popular point of reference for hip-hop artists, but what about the games themselves? The Legend of Zelda gets some shoutouts. In 2015, Lil Yachty’s track Tip Toe, he rapped, “String together bullshit like Zelda, so boy respect your elders.” In Eminem’s So Far, from 2013’s Marshall Mathers LP 2, he clarifies that he has no time for modern games: “My apologies, no respect for technology, but what is it? Is that all those buttons? Damn PlayStation, I’m still on my first man on Zelda. Nintendo, bitch!” Zelda also features in the outro of Obie Trice’s 2013 debut album Cheers, on which Swifty McVay raps, “I’ve been looking for you longer than the legend of Zelda.”
GTA’s influence on hip-hop can’t be underestimated either. On the track MEN from Bugzy Malone’s 2015 album Walk With Me, he raps, “I got a beanbag in the computer room, all I need now is Grand Theft Auto 6.” In Law of Attraction, a 2019 demo by Kanye West that would become Use This Gospel from his Jesus Is King album, Ye raps, “Grand Theft Auto, we’re in a game, Grand Theft Auto, we’re all the same, the money is not real, time is not real.” GTA also gets a shoutout from Run the Jewels in 2013’s Pew Pew Pew. “I could kill your ass today,” Killer Mike raps. “But right now I’m playing Grand Theft Auto.” Lil B, Waka Flocka Flame, and Tyler, the Creator also referenced it.
In a 2006 track titled And He Gets the Girl, Lupe Fiasco describes an awkward conversation between himself and a cheerleader that draws him in: “I love Final Fantasy, I hate first-person shooters, I too.” In Logic’s WordPlay from 2010, he raps, “In the cabin from dusk to sunrise, that Super Mario stream, I always get that one up.” On Held It Down, a track from the 2017 mixtape Merry Christmas Lil’ Mama, Chance the Rapper raps, “Crash Bandicoot and some Spyro, put all that shit in my bio.” In 2017’s Kendrick Lamar’s LUST of DAMN, he raps, “Sip some lean, fetch a gun, shoot out the window, bet on your favorite team, play you Madden.” The list is virtually endless.
As video games continue to dominate the mainstream, references to them in hip-hop – now the most popular musical genre on the planet – will only become more common. You’d be hard-pressed to find an up-and-coming rapper who doesn’t reference them in some way. Hip-hop may have changed a lot since the days of Biggie and Busta Rhymes, but corny references to Sega and Nintendo have effortlessly crossed the cultural chasm. No other genre of music has such a close connection to the medium, and may it continue long.
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