If you’ve jumped through the hoops necessary to listen to Kanye West’s new album The Life of Pablo, you may have recognized samples from classic games like NBA Jam and Street Fighter II (“Perfect!”) sprinkled throughout the album. These are just the latest examples of a well established crossover between video games and hip hop.
That’s not surprising: Most hip hop producers are young, and most young people have played video games. When sampling, you sample what you know, whether it’s a Motown song your parents loved when you were young or the Nintendo games you played over and over again with your friends.
While you can find innumerable examples of hip hop samples from famous franchises like Sonic the Hedgehog, Mortal Kombat, or Mario, we wanted to take a moment to focus on the deep cuts — obscure games that nevertheless found themselves repurposed into rap beats.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: We’re talking about hip hop here, so pretty much all of these videos feature objectionable lyrics. Press play at your peril.
A$AP Rocky: “Jodye”
Samples: “Destruction” from Breath of Fire IV
“Jodye,” off of A$ASP Rocky’s Live. Love. A$AP, is one of the more popular songs off this list. It’s also almost entirely based off of the song “Destruction,” from Breath of Fire IV — a surprising revelation given how dark and moody the track sounds. While the Breath of Fire series isn’t truly that obscure, the franchise has gone so long without an entry that it bears inclusion here.
Cage: “Grand Ol’ Party Crash”
Cage was a member of the now-defunct label Definitive Jux (run by El-P of Run the Jewels fame). This track, off 2005’s Hell’s Winter, was produced by DJ Shadow and uses a famous vocal sample from the arcade game Sinistar. Released in 1982, Sinistar was the first game to use stereo sound, a huge leap forward at the time. To flaunt this technical innovation, the game featured mocking vocal samples from the titular villain Sinistar. His taunts “Run coward!,” “Beware, I live!,” and others would blare out of the machine every time he appeared in game, and periodically during the attract mode.
Jedi Mind Tricks: “Spaz Out”
Kameo: Elements of Power was an action-adventure game developed by Rare (of GoldenEye 007 and Donkey Kong Country fame) for the Xbox 360. The game was generally well-received and is currently available via the Rare Replay collection on the Xbox One.
Fat Joe: “Take a Look at My Life”
Samples: “Login Music” from Navy Field
Hip hop fans know Fat Joe as a legend in the Bronx rap scene. But what the heck is Navy Field? As the name implies, it’s a naval strategic warfare game with MMO elements. This symphonic, string- and horn-heavy track smacks of a Dipset production, and it works as both an in-game track and a solid intro on Fat Joe’s 2002 album Loyalty.
Chris Travis: “Fuck the World (9:11 P.M.)”
You wouldn’t expect a sample from an anime “visual novel” about building relationships to show up in a rap song, but here we are. Clannad follows Tomoya Okazaki and his interactions with five different girls in high school. We’re not sure if Memphis rapper Chris Travis has actually played the game, but we’d like to think so.
cLOUDDEAD: “JimmyBreeze (1)”
The Goonies II is actually a bit of a misnomer. It was a sequel to the Japan-only The Goonies game on Famicom, and not actually related to the plot of the movie’s unproduced sequel. In any case, the game’s signature song is an 8-bit rendition of Cindy Lauper’s “The Goonies r Good Enough,” and it makes a brief appearance in”JimmyBreeze (1)” from Oakland art rappers cLOUDDEAD, off their 2001 self-titled album.
Diplo: “Diplo Rhythm feat. Sandra Melody, Vybz Kartel, and Pantera Os Danadinhos”
Samples: “Main Theme” from Platoon
Here’s another appearance by a movie tie-in game, this time the NES version of Oliver Stone’s Platoon. While the game did a miserable job relating to the movie in any meaningful way (capturing the psychological horrors of Vietnam is a tall order with 8-bit hardware), the soundtrack was pretty solid — demonstrated here by “Diplo Rhythm,” off Diplo’s 2004 album Florida.
Bone Thugs-n-Harmony: “Crossroad”
Samples: “Bad Ending” from Eternal Champions
Sega’s Eternal Champions, which hit the Genesis in 1993, is a mostly mediocre fighting game remembered mainly as one of the first games to feature R-rated gore. But as Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Crossroad,” off their 1995 album E. 1999 Eternal, shows, there’s something special about its soundtrack. This is a song that wouldn’t be out of place in a 16-bit version of the Godfather. The Bone Thugs play masterfully against its minor-key melody on the track, which is the only one here to reach #1 on the Billboard charts.
Meek Mill: “Money Ain’t No Issue feat. Fabulous and Future”
Guilty Gear Isuka was a middling installment in the 2D fighting series that flopped its way onto the PS2 back in 2003. The game’s baroque metalcore soundtrack doesn’t seem like obvious hip hop source material, but Meek Mill manages to make something of it on this song from his 2013 mixtape Dreamchasers 3, going as far to sample the song’s almost comically overdriven guitar.
Spark Master Tape – “Castles and Towers”
Samples: “Deep Cover” from Hotline Miami
While not technically an original video game cut, Sun Araw’s “Deep Cover” was made famous by the psychedelic murderfest Hotline Miami, which features one of the best gaming soundtracks in recent memory. Spark Master Tape samples the song’s siren-like pad to make a rap song that evokes the game’s drug-hazed spirit, reinforced by the rapper’s signature down-pitched vocals.
Com Truise: “Norkuy”
Samples: “Tear Stained Eyes” from Snatcher
Although “Norkuy” isn’t a hip hop track, the way it incorporates sounds from the cult hit Snatcher, which has one of the best video game soundtracks of all time, warrants a special inclusion. The game’s music is all over the place, echoing the gritty ambiance of Vangelis’ Blade Runner score while making nods to jazz, techno, and much more. Com Truise chops up and throws some crazy swing over, of all things, the flamenco guitar lick from “Tear Stained Eyes.”
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