Def Jam Rapstar means a lot for the company, now entering its twenty-fifth year. The house that Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons built has been one of the most influential music institutions in the world, bringing some of the biggest rap and hip-hop artists to the masses. While some would have disdain for the record company, know this: Def Jam is one of the most important record companies ever.
However, there is one area in which Def Jam has not fared nearly as well: music games. While old news to most gamers, the music industry seems to finally have taken a liking to these games. Def Jam is no different, and with Def Jam Rapstar, they hope to bring hip-hop music to the gaming set. Previously ignored in favor of rock, Def Jam Rapstar is an attempt to bring hip-hop to gamers, especially considering previous attempts, like Get On Da Mic, were such a floundering mess. Konami, who is publishing Def Jam Rapstar, had the game on display, and was more than happy to bring awkward journalists up to the front to rap. Follow the jump for my time on stage.
Def Jam Rapstar (PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii)
Developer: 4mm Games/Def Jam Interactive/Terminal Reality
To be released: Fall 2010
Now, anyone who has rapped with Lips, Rock Band, SingStar, Karaoke Revolution, Disney: Sing It!, Guitar Hero, or any other singing game, knows that there is usually something wrong with the experience. For example, the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” in Rock Band is a weird mess. You either know the song or not, and without the pitch indicator, rapping is as weird as it can get. Another problem is that in most singing games, the technology for pitch is spot-on, but recognizing lyrics? Well, that leaves a lot to be desired.
Def Jam Rapstar attempts to solve this problem. Yes, there is a pitch line going along with the lyrics (when it is necessary). Rihanna, for example, uses this well in T.I.’s “Live Your Life.” Pitch is as simple as it has always been. Rapping, however, works with a bouncing ball. Syllables are broken up, and words are spaced out to perfectly time with the actual rapping. A white ball bounces with each syllable, so it is actually a bit easier to keep rhythm and time with what is being said. It’s nothing too revolutionary, but it is a lot more helpful than I expected.
Another new feature is the game’s phoneme detection technology. Def Jam Rapstar is designed to better understand the enunciation of players, unlike the silly humming of lyrics in Rock Band or Lips. No, I didn’t really notice an improvement. No, this will not make a huge difference to people who just want to have fun and screw around. However, for those who care about the “lyric percentage correct” at the end of a song, they should be pleased as punch.
Another nice feature is that songs can be played in shorter versions like in Lips or SingStar, and in songs where there are two parts, each player takes a separate part in “Duet mode.” Songs that don’t have separate parts, such as Kanye West’s “Gold Digger,” offer battle modes where players compete for the highest score. But scores almost never mean much in music games, so it is clear that 4mm Games, Def Jam Interactive and Terminal Reality really just want to get two people up, singing and rapping together. Nothing is worse than someone who is uncomfortable performing in front of others, and having a friend to share in the glory (or shame) is always a blast.
Like you would expect, the visuals were not exactly the focus of the game, but the developers have brought the most style to a music game since The Beatles: Rock Band. Menus are bold, classy and distinctly urban — more P. Diddy than Puff Daddy — and the songs run with full music videos playing behind them. It’s a nice feature, and I hope they can run them across the board, DLC included.
There is some useful peripheral support going on with Def Jam Rapstar. If you have an Xbox Live Vision Camera or a PlayStation Eye, you can set up the camera to record your performances, and then upload them to the Def Jam Rapstar Web site to be viewed later. Online multiplayer is fully supported, and if you have the cameras, you can sync up and watch each other perform as you play.
I was not shown a full list of artists set to appear, but you can expect all the heavy hitters to show up. Lil’ Wayne, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Snoop Dog, Young Jeezy, Tupac, Dr. Dre, Slick Rick, the Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan, MIA, Eminem and T.I. were just a few artists that I heard. Expectations, along with the huge support of Def Jam, seem to indicate there is going to be a strong offering of music. Over 40 songs are promised to be on-disc.
I had an utter blast with Def Jam Rapstar, and believe me, I almost never listen to rap. I’m a wannabe hipster, complete with snap-button plaid shirts and an iPod rocking Bon Iver and Ray LaMontagne. The closest I get to hip-hop music is an “ironic-but-totally-not” appreciation of Lady Gaga. It’s that bad. However, Def Jam Rapstar, rather than creating an imposing experience for someone who only chose to sing “Gold Digger” because it was in an episode of Glee, was instead really easy to get into. Even Lips, which I love, feels more intimidating than Def Jam Rapstar.
Sure, I’m as white as it gets, but everyone around me and I were having a blast. I feel like an outsider when it comes to hip-hop, but I never felt this way during my quick time with the game. If this feeling of fun and appreciation for the source material can be maintained, Konami, 4mm Games, Def Jam Interactive and Terminal Reality can expect a solid music game fans of Def Jam and hip-hop will surely be able to appreciate.