Jelly Joe feat. Wish Master
From: Narc, 2005 (PS2, Xbox, PC)
When the original NARC came out in 1988, it was very clearly meant to be a tongue-in-cheek send up of the United States’ over-the-top rah-rah “war on drugs” campaign of the time, where bicycle helmet-wearing narcotics officers named Max Force and Hit Man literally exploded drug dealers with rocket launchers. The game’s soundtrack further confirmed this, from the pseudo surf-rock main theme (with a fantastic cover by the Pixies – yep, the actual Pixies) to the Game Over tune with “D-d-d-don’t shoot! Y-You’re busted!” repeated over and over again in that charmingly fuzzy 80’s video game way over machine gun sounds and maniacal clown laughter.
Then came the 2005 reboot, which completely missed the point in every conceivable way. This time around, you were dirty cops who would regularly treat yourself to the drugs you were confiscating – and not for any complex story-driven reasons, basically just for the hell of it to experience fun effects like running faster, hearing trippy 70’s music, or giving the NPCs big Jester heads. And as for the game itself, imagine the on-foot portions of Grand Theft Auto III – only worse – applied to an entirely on-foot action game. The one thing the 2005 Narc actually did have in common with the 1988 original was that the game’s theme song perfectly reflected the game’s tone and vibe.
Best worst lyric: When we learn, while being informed of what each of the letters in N.A.R.C. apparently stand for, that the “A” stands for “assholes.” Because why wouldn’t it?
“Slam City Theme”
From: Slam City with Scottie Pippen, 1994 (Sega CD, 32X, PC)
(Song starts at 6:12, though I encourage you to watch the whole video if you’ve never seen this wonderful game in action).
First a Midway game, and now Scottie Pippen: man, Chicago just hasn’t represented rap in video games very well. In the 90’s, a handful of NBA players decided that being in regular boring old NBA basketball games wasn’t cool enough and decided to star in their own separate games. Some at least went the basketball route – Pippen, Charles Barkley – and some, well, didn’t – Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal. However, given how Slam City with Scottie Pippen actually played, one could argue that it had about as much in common with basketball mechanics as Shaq-Fu did.
Slam City was an FMV game which essentially meant you watched a grainy video and occasionally pressed buttons at random times, and maybe something good would happen, maybe something bad would happen, and just as often, maybe absolutely nothing would happen. So you sporadically hit directions and buttons while watching your avatar play a one-on-one game against a few over-the-top stereotypes of 90’s urban attitude and, if you were “lucky” you eventually take on the man himself. Outscore Pippen, and you win respect, a bimbo, a contract to…something, and this slammin’ (see what I did there?) track performed by Scottie himself.
Best worst lyric: “Ain’t nobody trickin’ stickin’ Scottie Pippen.” You have to hand it to him – at least he didn’t go for the more obvious rhyme of “Pippen” and “trippin’.” Although I think people were more buggin’ than trippin’ in ’94.
“Unknown From M.E. (Knuckles’ Theme)”
Marlon Saunders and Dred Foxx
From: Sonic Adventure, 1999 (Dreamcast)
Sega’s games – like a lot of Japanese games of the 90’s and into the 00’s – had soundtracks that were often full of cheesy 80’s-sounding rock with plenty of synth and wailing guitars, sometimes with a little jazz mixed in. After hearing Knuckles take to the mic in Sonic Adventure, I wish they would’ve stayed with the bad rock.
We all remember the awe-inspiring opening segment from Sonic Adventure and how that was frequently used to show off how powerful the Dreamcast was. To be sure, Sonic Adventure was a visually impressive game throughout – it just wasn’t the non-stop adrenaline rush that Sonic games typically were and that the intro sequence seemed to promise. But I don’t mean to rag on Sega or jump on the already well-worn backlash against the Sonic Adventure games. It was their first (finished) full-fledged Sonic game in 3D and they were still figuring out how to make Sonic work in three dimensions, so they tried some things – some that worked, and some that didn’t. What definitely didn’t work, however, was Knuckles’ rap song. Admittedly, the rapped verses are actually a welcome respite from the absolutely painful sung verses, so at least there’s that for what it’s worth. Also, that trademark Japanese game soundtrack rock (and jazz) is still present, so that’s another slight win for the song that it’s at least not some weak beat that someone whipped up on a computer in an hour like the other songs on this list. Sega was clearly proud of the song, though, as Knuckles was back with a whole new track for Sonic Adventure 2. It was slightly better…although that isn’t saying much.
Best worst lyric: “You can call me Knuckles. Unlike Sonic, I don’t chuckle – I’d rather flex my muscles.” Damn, that’s cold. And we thought Shadow the Hedgehog was the most gangsta character in the Sonic universe.
“Fugitive Hunter Theme”
So Solid Crew
From: Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror, 2003 (PS2, PC)
After 9/11, we all had the urge to punch Osama Bin Laden in the face. Well, the folks at Black Ops entertainment took that feeling and decided to build a game around it, and two years later they released Fugitive Hunter: War on Terror (known as America’s 10 Most Wanted in Europe). The game was a poorly built, otherwise forgettable FPS that gained way more attention than its quality deserved due to its premise of having you capture real-life figures including Saddam Hussein and Bin Laden. But what really had people take notice was how you went about capturing your enemies: Once you found them, you’d drop the gun and the game would completely transform into a fighting game where you had to literally punch and kick Bin Laden and company into submission.
As ridiculous of a premise as it was, it could’ve maybe been salvaged if there was at least a sense that the developers were in on the joke and made this game as a mockery of all of the Toby Keith “we’ll put a boot in your ass, that’s the American way!” jingoism of the time. But it didn’t feel that way at all – it seemed to be very much of that spirit, only using a hip hop vibe instead of a Lee Greenwood one. Which you can hear for yourself in the game’s theme song.
Best worst lyric: Turning the word “fugitive” into a verb – “fugitizing.” It was the best noun-turned-made-up-verb in video game history until The Witcher.
James W. Norwood, Jr
From: Donkey Kong 64, 1999 (N64)
Yeah yeah, everybody has heard this one, and unlike the others in this piece it was likely meant to be so-bad-it’s-funny on purpose (the writer of the track later claimed as much, though it’s always easy to say that after the fact. Ask Tommy Wiseau). Still, you can’t have a list of video game rapping without including this iconic tune from Donkey Kong’s sole N64 outing. It is no secret that Shigeru Miyamoto was never the biggest fan of Rare’s take on his beloved ape, and who knows, maybe DK Rap was the last straw – Nintendo and Rare’s long time partnership would only survive a few more years after the world first heard this song. Although Nintendo couldn’t have been too terribly embarrassed by it, as it was heard again as stage music in several subsequent Super Smash Bros. games as well as playable in Donkey Konga.
Best worst lyric: Come on, as if there is any question what the most notable line is in this track:
“His coconut gun can fire in spurts. If he shoots ya, it’s gonna hurt!”