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Hip Hop Video Games: the Def Jam series.

A Hip Hop 50th birthday observation of Hip Hop’s influence on the gaming world with the Def Jam fighting game series

By Joe PattersonPublished 9 months ago 4 min read

In March of 2003 I was hanging out with my god brothers on a weekend night. While we were watching tv, most likely B.E.T. at the time this video game trailer came up on a commercial break to whatever we were watching and it just struck me because I had never seen anything like it. The preview was filled with a bunch of big name Hip Hop artist including: DMX, Method Man, Redman, WC, Scarface, Ludacris and Joe Buddens and they were all fighting against each other in a backdrop that was reminiscent of a mix between a WWE video game and an installment of Mortal Kombat.

The name of the video game in the trailer we were watching was called Def Jam: Vendetta, a new multiplayer fighting game from the video gaming distribution company known as EA Games (Electronic Arts) that was inspired by the legacy of the legendary Hip Hop record label Def Jam Records.

Def Jam: Vendetta

So apparently EA Games and Def Jam Records linked up with each other and decided to make a Hip Hop inspired wrestling game. It wasn’t really a surprise that such an idea took shape given EA’s history with making successful fighting and wrestling games, but I don’t think anyone really ever gave a lot of thought as to whether rappers would be featured on any of them. The thought certainly never crossed my mind and I’m a big EA Games fan. I have to say that I was very infatuated with this game. Every time a new trailer for it dropped I studied it from top to bottom, I even remember the main two songs that played in the two most memorable trailers for the game: both of the songs were from DMX. One was “Party Up” and the other was “X Gon Give It To Ya”.

Interestingly enough this is actually when I learned what it meant to be signed to a record label because I wondered why all these specific rappers were on the game with the exclusion of certain other big rappers and the reason why is because the featured rappers of the game were all signed to Def Jam Records. After seeing the behind the scenes making of the game, as well the highlights of the gameplay I was super excited for the game, much like all the other kids around me who were big Hip Hop fans. The problem for me was I was an Xbox kid and the game wasn’t made for the Xbox console as opposed to PlayStation and Game Cube, so I was bummed out about that. The disappointment of not being able to purchase Vendetta quickly faded away at the arrival of its 2004 sequel: Def Jam: Fight For New York.

Def Jam: Fight For New York

Now how do I describe this game? I guess with a simple oh…my…goodness. Fight For New York is easily one of the greatest games ever. It was bigger than its predecessor in every way. The story was bigger, it had way more superstars of Hip Hop from Def Jam as playable characters, the gameplay was more versatile and the graphics were top notch for the time. The game was also grittier than its predecessor, considering that the first game was teen-rated, where as Fight For New York was mature-rated.

Fight For New York

The sweetest part of the deal for me was the fact that the game was formatted for Xbox so I could actually buy it. I got to play the game for the first time when my older sister’s boyfriend let me play his on his Xbox at his house and I just remember being mesmerized by this game. Seeing the game’s graphics and hearing the voices of my favorite rappers and I controlled them playing the game was fanboy joy like never before. Eventually my dad bought the game for me and when he played it with me he was hooked as well. This game had everyone talking in a way that made Vendetta look forgettable. No one was surprised at the largely positive reception that the game received. For me personally the game is one of my top three favorite games ever.

It would be three years before fans got another Def Jam game and that game came in the form of Def Jam: Icon.

Def Jam: Icon

With the lasting impressions of its predecessors everyone had high hopes for this third entry in the series. Me and my friends watched the trailers for the game over and over and it seemed like they were all we could talk about. Though it looked very promising, the game actually ended up being a let down. Though the graphics were better, the gameplay quality had lessen in versatility, there were less playable characters, even though there were some noteworthy new additions to the series and even the story mode fir the game was dull in comparison to the epic Fight For New York.

Def Jam: Icon gameplay

Even with the disappointment of the third entry in the series, the Def Jam franchise was still iconic overall. It left a lasting impression that satisfied gamers and Hip Hop fans and to this day it still stands as a testament to the range of Hip Hop’s impact in its 50 years on this planet.

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About the Creator

Joe Patterson

Hi I'm Joe Patterson. I am a writer at heart who is a big geek for film, music, and literature, which have all inspired me to be a writer. I rap, write stories both short and long, and I'm also aspiring to be an author and a filmmaker.

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  • Emily Marie Concannon9 months ago

    Wow, really cool! I didn't know there was a hip-hop-inspired Xbox game!

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