For more than 30 years hip hop and gaming have quite literally grown up together. While video games have inspired many famed rap verses throughout time, hip hop has also been an inspiration to video games by shedding light on esports and educating the masses like never before.
Esports has been on the rise for the past seven years, but its legacy spans back to the 80s when Walter Day created Twin Galaxies to track new record scores in arcades. As video games progressed to a more dynamic form of competing, companies like Major League Gaming and other regional leagues around the world helped organize competitors in the sport of video games.
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, a pro-gaming phenom, known for his highly watched streams on Twitch, appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last year and stated that, “Drake made video games cool again.” Many gave Ninja backlash for his statement, but there’s an underlying truth to his point. When Drake and Ninja teamed up to play Fortnite back in March of last year, the stream broke records. Their collab blew up media sites everywhere, and the attention came not only from gamers but non-gamers as well, as companies and media that never before covered video games made note of the collaboration.
This publicity zeroed-in on a market that was believed to be primarily young white males according to previous research of this wide perception, yet the collab showed that major black stars in hip hop, such as Drake, Travis Scott and more, actually play Fortnite and other video games. The large misconception of the so called “urban” gamer is labeled with stereotypes that male gamers of color are mostly interested in sports and shooting games, which is false. Before Drake and Ninja's huge splash of publicity showcased hip hop joining forces with esports, hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco graced the fighting game community (FGC) by attending various tournaments and competing against legendary Street Fighter player, Daigo, in a promotional match.
As the sport of competitive gaming has grown, intermissions between games have started to mirror large sporting events like the Super Bowl, with star-studded performances from some of the top hip hop acts in the industry. During the Overwatch League Grand Finals, DJ Khaled performed at the Barclays Center,while Logic's performance at Epic Games’ E3 Fortnite Party took over the entire Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum with Fortnite Festival atmosphere.
Hip hop’s affinity for video games is not a new found love as hip hop artists have included video games in their rhymes since the late 80s.. From the classic Notorious B.I.G. line “Super Nintendo, SEGA Genesis, when I was dead broke yo’ I couldn't picture this,” to The Lady of Rage, Joe Budden, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and more. Wu-Tang Clan even claimed video games as one of the pillars of hip hop.
There have been numerous video games that collaborated with or were influenced by hip hop, such as ToeJam & Earl (Sega Genesis), Parappa The Rapper (PlayStation), the Def Jam series, DJ Hero, 50 Cent's Bulletproof, Def Jam Rapstar, Wu-Tang Shaolin Style and Rockstar's GTA series, to name a few. In addition, sports game developers, like EA Sports and 2K Sports, have helped to keep a relationship with hip hop artists by featuring their music. This is mainly to appeal to a specific demographics of players.
Aside from the collaborations, partnerships and performances, many hip hop artists have taken heed to the growth of esports, even investing in team ownership. Drake and Scooter Braun (Justin Bieber's manager), for example, partook in a heavy acquisition stake of 100 Thieves, an esports team and lifestyle brand founded by pro-gamer player, Matt “Nadeshot” Haag. In addition, Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, a mogul and artist, invested in an esports high school program platform, PlayVS, which gives high school students access to competitions and scholarships.
Since the birth of hip hop, it has become a global wave of influence amongst various industries and entertainment. Its impact on video games through esports has played a major role in various marketing campaigns to reach new markets and push through misconceptions of what the average gamer is. To see a known hip hop artist share their love for a competitive video game builds a bridge for investors seeking to jump into a new market. This ups the ante for a larger prize pool, partners to show other markets can collide, and most importantly, to a demographic that may have thought they wouldn't belong to.