Two years ago I saw the Wu Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah perform at the UK music festival, All Tomorrow's Parties. There, in a sorry venue at the heart of Minehead's Butlins, carpet sticky with beer from so many bleak cabaret nights, Ghostface performed to a packed room of largely white, middle-class music buffs and scenesters.
When the rapper invited girls in the audience to the stage to dance behind him, he was joined by a group of bookish hipsters wearing plaid skirts and tortoiseshell-rimmed glasses, bumping and grinding with Ghostface's entourage in a scene of palpable awkwardness, one it seemed that nobody involved had quite thought through.
It's not that Ghostface's audience was being ironic. Quite the opposite: at least half the room was mouthing along with his rhymes, hi-fiving after each chorus and blap blapping after each song climax. But even so, there was a collective gasp of horror when the rapper politely asked if there was anyone in the audience who wanted to join him on stage for an impromptu rap battle. Oh bollocks, we thought. We are about to be found out.
After what seemed like a lifetime of silence, a gangly kid in skinny jeans tentatively raised his hand. A faintly concerned smile broke out across Ghostface's, er, face as the crowd hustled the young man forwards toward the stage. We were caught somewhere between relief that someone had answered the rapper's call and keen terror that this young man was fronting and about to embarrass everyone.
Boom, clack. Buh-boom-boom, clack. The room holds its breath. The boy, well aware of the pantomime scene he is now a key player in, lets out a Disney villain laugh and, bar four, launches into a majestic pitter-patter rhyme, all London twang and lithe eloquence. Like a featherweight boxer he bounces around Ghostface, whose smile is now as broad as his shoulders in the face of this unexpected talent.
It was a magical moment. And it's one that, in part, you can now recreate in the comfort of your own living room, courtesy of Def Jam Rapstar.
There's no denying that Konami and 4mm Games' latest entry in the rhythm action movement benefits from its uniqueness. PaRappa the Rapper aside, rap games are hardly the commodity that rock games have become, so even if the execution of this title were poor, it would still have value as the only destination for amateur rappers to ape the hip hop greats.
Mercifully, while the game has issues, 4mm doesn't merely rely on its scarcity to provide value. We're a long way from the spit and polish of Harmonix's latest titles here, but it enjoys a workmanlike competence, fills a niche and, thanks to some smart community features, may even help launch a career or two.
As in any music game, much of the heavy lifting is done by the song list, and here Def Jam's deep pockets and contacts yield a bumper harvest. Particularly impressive is the gamut of UK artists featured, with tracks from London grimesters Devlin, Wiley and Chipmunk, not to mention classics from older UK rap artists, such as Root Manuva's classic Witness the Fitness, So Solid Crew's 21 Seconds To Go and Dizzee Rascal's Mercury Music Prize-winning Fix Up, Look Sharp.
For players who prefer their hip hop US-flavoured, tracks include the mainstream hits of Kanye West and Nelly as well as vintage cuts such as Public Enemy's Fight the Power, Run DMC's Run's House, Beastie Boys' Brass Monkey, Dr. Dre's Nuthin' But a "G" Thang and Salt-N-Pepa's Push It. It's a varied and impressive soundtrack, and with a slew of desirable tracks already on the Rapstar store for purchasing (including Flo Rider's Low), there's a baseline clutch of music here to justify the entry fee.
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