Hip hop and videogames share more than just guns, flashy aesthetics, angry muscle-bound men and good-looking women on display. They're both relatively new types of art, ways of thinking and, for some, ways of life.
For every gangsta rapper verbally unloading clips of braggadocio on whoever he's got a beef with that week, there's his gaming equivalent: the flashy shooter-of-the-month dripping with style, coughing up explosions and unabashedly offering the ability to "pwn n00bs" online, day or night. Gloating is mandatory.
And, no, gangsta rap doesn't define all of hip hop just as big guns and blowing stuff up doesn't define all of videogaming. There are underground, indie rappers like Slug, Cage and Apathy who deliver a more cerebral message - a slice-of-life approach to their music that, more often than not, deals with everyday struggles of heartbreak, poverty or simply that feeling of not fitting in. Not to be outdone, videogames, too, can wander these lonelier, less profitable streets with quirky titles like Katamari Damacy, Okami and - bringing it back to hip hop - the graffiti sim Marc Ecko's Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. They may fly under the radar of mass appeal, but they manage to land comfortably in their niche market.
Where did it all begin? How did these two seemingly unrelated types of media come up from nothing to find each other, fall in love and flourish into the mammoth money-makers they are today?
It all started in the 1970s in the Bronx, New York. The borough had just experienced a mass exodus of its middle class, resulting in the remaining lower-class inhabitants cheering themselves up by formulating a new, more expressive musical sound. Bred from equal parts disco and German electronica (see Kraftwerk's 1974 album Autobahn), the percussive beats of hip hop were foremost about dancing the pain away to break beats, or breakdancing, then eventually blowing off steam with the back-and-forth ping-pong of competitive emceeing, or rapping.
Speaking of ping pong, on the other side of the country Nolan Bushnell's 1971 hit Pong got the ball rolling - well, bouncing - on the coming videogame craze. While it wasn't technically the first videogame, it was the first to make a monetarily gainful splash in the arcade ocean where other attempts had failed. The subsequent success of Space Invaders and Asteroids further supported the notion that people wanted to play videogames - and were willing to pay for them.
It was inevitable that capitalism would take notice of the popularity of both nascent forms of entertainment and see to each one's immediate commercialization. Kicking things off for hip hop was Kurtis Blow, who appeared in a Sprite commercial, marking the first of countless times a rapper's image and sound would be used to advertise a product. Eventually, employing hip hop artists' work in other media - plus the ever-growing storage capacity and fidelity of videogame software - led to the licensing of rap songs for videogame soundtracks, a wonderful way for each media to profit.