An Extensive 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 basically every rapper active in the early 2000s, through to Dr. Dre releasing his first music in over a decade through GTA Online earlier this year. Rappers love video games, and video games love rappers. It's a relationship that goes both ways too. Hip-hop is full of references to video games and video game consoles—whether it's Lauryn Hill rapping about the ColecoVision, Eminem professing his love for The Legend of Zelda, or JAY-Z name checking the Sony PSP. These are some of the most notable (and surprising) collisions of rap and gaming.
In his 1994 hit Juicy, The Notorious B.I.G. reflects on how success has changed his life and drops the most famous video game reference in hip-hop history. "Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis," he raps. "When I was dead broke, man, I couldn't picture this." But Biggie wasn't the only rapper to give Nintendo's 16-bit console a shout out. In Friday by Ice Cube, taken from the soundtrack of the classic 1995 comedy, he raps: "Smoking indo, playing that Super Nintendo, hear a rat-a-tat-tat on my window." Skepta also name checks it in his 2011 track Mike Lowery. "Been producing since Mario Paint on the Super Nintendo," he raps, referencing the game's famous built-in music sequencer.
As for the Genesis, Sega's 16-bit contender gets a few shout outs too. In Nosetalgia by Pusha T, taken from his 2013 debut album, Kendrick Lamar raps: "Smokers repeatedly buying my Sega Genesis, either that or my auntie was stealing it." Busta Rhymes references it in his 1997 track Get Off My Block: "The presence of a small-time, I diminish and blemish his," he raps. "I'ma play ya ass out 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 grandma would spoil him. "She always got me things that we couldn't afford, the new Js and Tommy Hill in my drawers, Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64."
The N64 also gets a shout out in Whiz Khalifa and Curren$y's 2009 mixtape How Fly. "Still rockin' GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64," Curren$y raps on The Check Point. "Sayin' they don't make 'em like this anymore." Eminem's reference to the console in Murder Murder, a track from 1997's quadruple platinum Slim Shady LP, isn't quite as nostalgic. Referencing the N64 selling out rapidly across America at launch, he raps: "Smashed 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: "I ain't never felt this shit before, it gets me sore, I reminisce on us playin' Nintendo 64."
But nothing in the history of gaming is referenced more in hip-hop than Atari. In Never Change by JAY-Z, from 2001's The Blueprint, he raps: "Before the streets robbed me, wasn't educated properly, well fuck y'all, I needed money for Atari." In Rock Co. Kane Flow, from De La Soul's 2004 album The Grind Date, the late, great MF Doom raps: "For fam like the Partridges, pardon him for the mix-up, battle 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 many more.
But it's not just big hitters like Sega And Atari that feature in the rap lexicon: the relatively obscure ColecoVision gets some love too. 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'd visit, playing Donkey Kong Jr, Venture, Roc' N Rope, games I thought was dope while my moms was watching soaps." Lauryn Hill also raps 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 have rapped about ColecoVision too.
Sony has also made a big impact in hip-hop. In 101 FM by Little Simz, from her 2019 album GREY Area, she raps: "We used to have dreams of getting out the flats, playing PS2, Crash Bandicoot, Mortal Kombat." In his track ADHD, Kendrick Lamar is less nostalgic, lamenting how his generation uses drugs and video games as a distraction from reality. "Who gives a fuck? We never do listen, 'less it comes with an 808 (a melody and some hoes), PlayStation and some drank (technology bought my soul.)" And if that's too deep, there's always Playboi Carti's track Slay3r from 2020: "I caught a body and went on vacation. She suckin' my dick while I was on the PlayStation."
As for Xbox, Tyler, the Creator references Microsoft's console in multiple songs. In 2013's Colossus he raps: "Wish I had a basement meant for me 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." In Her, a track from his 2011 debut studio album Goblin, Tyler raps: "Sit in my room for days and play Xbox with piles full of wet socks? Fuck that." 50 Cent also mentions Xbox on 2003 track High All the Time: "Stash box, Xbox, laptop, fax machine, phone." And on 2010 track Breakfast, avid gamer Curren$y raps: "Xbox web browser, downloaded an updated NBA roster, played an 82-game season."
Other console references include Lil Wayne's Shine from 2000: "You don't wanna put your vehicle next to us, 'cause all of our vehicles we dress 'em up, with television, Dreamcast, DVDs." Boys, a 2018 track by Lizzo: "Ayy, boy, whatcha say, boy? You tryna play coy like a Game Boy?" Grime MC by Kano, from his 2017 album London Town: "Move in the blazer on through the corridor, shine every rave and play Commodore 64." Oh My God by JAY-Z from 2006: "Please G-O-D, save me from the black parade, release me, my life like Grand Theft Auto, PSP." And on Nintendhoe, a 2018 track by Doja Cat: "Bitch I'm annual flossing, VVS, yeah I play Animal Crossing, 3DS."
It's fair to say consoles are a popular reference point for hip-hop artists, but what about the games themselves? The Legend of Zelda gets a few shout outs. In 2015 track Tip Toe by Lil Yachty, he raps: "Linking shit like Zelda, so boy respect your elders." In So Far by Eminem, from 2013's Marshall Mathers LP 2, he makes it clear he has no time for modern games: "My apologies, no respect to technology, but what the heck's all of these buttons? Hell with PlayStation, I'm still on my first man on some Zelda. Nintendo, bitch!" Zelda also features in the outro of Obie Trice's 2013 debut album Cheers, on which Swifty McVay raps: "Been searching for you longer than the Legend of Zelda."
GTA's influence on hip-hop can't be understated either. On the track M.E.N. from Bugzy Malone's 2015 album Walk With Me, he raps: "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 eventually become Use This Gospel from his album Jesus Is King, Ye raps: "Grand Theft Auto, we in a game, Grand Theft Auto, we all the same, money ain't real, time ain't real." GTA also gets a shout out from Run the Jewels in 2013's Pew Pew Pew. "I could kill your ass today," raps Killer Mike. "But right now I'm playing Grand Theft Auto." Lil B, Waka Flocka Flame, and Tyler, the Creator have also referenced it.
In a 2006 track called And He Gets the Girl, Lupe Fiasco describes an awkward conversation between himself and a cheerleader he's attracted to: "I love Final Fantasy, I hate first-person shooters, me too." In WordPlay by Logic from 2010, he raps: "In the booth from dusk till the sun up, that Super Mario flow, I always get the one up." On Held It Down, a track from 2017 mixtape Merry Christmas Lil' Mama, Chance the Rapper raps: "Crash Bandicoot and some Spyro, put all that shit in my bio." In LUST by Kendrick Lamar, from 2017's DAMN, he raps: "Sip some lean, go get a pistol, shoot out the window, bet your favourite team, play you some Madden." The list is basically endless.
As video games continue to dominate the mainstream, the references to them in hip-hop—now the most popular music 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 nerdy references to Sega and Nintendo have effortlessly crossed the cultural gulf. No other genre of music has such a close connection with the medium, and long may it continue.
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