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Published on September 13th, 2019 | by Jerry Doby


Don’t Hate the Playaz or the Games: What Hip Hop Can Teach Us About Gaming

“Rap” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Antonio Rull

Hip hop can teach us a lot about the world. From the roots of black culture to the beauty of rhyming couplets, the musical genre is a veritable treasure-trove of knowledge. Perhaps one of the more interesting nuggets of information you can pull from this treasure chest of tacks involves gaming culture. When you flip through the history of hip hop, there are plenty of offerings; from video games to poker, rappers seem to have a love of gaming in all its forms.

Ghostface shows his poker face

In fact, as well as offering a form of entertainment, many of the tracks provide an insight into what certain games are all about. From their looks and feel to the rules of engagement, the lessons are often in session when you hit the play button. An obvious example of this comes from the back catalog of Ghostface Killah. Jumping on the poker hype train in 2006, Ghostface teamed up with Shawn Wigs to give us a masterclass in cards and, of course, life as a hustler in the track, Pokerface.

‘You gotta know how to play your cards, have a mean poker face,

‘And know an ace deuce can take out your pocket broads,

‘This is no-limit hold’em, you gotta know when to fold’em…’

Of course, most people looking to learn the basics of casino games will use more traditional methods. For instance, when you go online, real money slots guides are there to give you a detailed overview of the genre. From a rundown of the top slots to the ways you can win, the value of hidden bonus rounds and what free spins involve, guides like these will have you playing like a pro in no time. However, for the lyrically minded, the sage words of Ghostface Killah and his peers can be a unique way to learn some new tricks.

Life’s a gamble but you’ve gotta play the game

If you look beyond Pokerface, Big K.R.I.T told us in 2013 that life is a gamble. While he’s not the only person to have said that, his track uses poker, craps, and roulette to get his message across.

‘Russian roulette table, I gotta bet safer,

‘You gotta know when to fold your cards,

‘When you ain’t able to reach into that dash when that,

‘Jackal up and flashed that…’ Big K.R.I.T spat in 2013.

For those not in the know, professional gamblers take something known as bankroll management seriously. By sizing their bets in accordance with the money they have available to spend, players are aiming to mitigate their risk. In life, that’s also something you also need to do, according to Big K.R.I.T.

Rappers embrace the sampling game

Of course, it’s not all about games where lady luck is involved – video games have also inspired the hip hop community over the years. From lyrical references to musical samples, classic gaming motifs have found their way into the genre. Unsurprisingly, Jay Z has led the way in recent times with a throwback to a Sega classic, Golden Axe. Wanting to add something extra to Money, Cash, Hoes in 1998, Jay Z sampled the Thief’s Theme from the axe-wielding Sega classic of 1989.

In an even more obvious nod to the video gaming world, Statik Selektah borrowed bars from the 80s hit, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. One of the most popular boxing games of its time and still regarded as an arcade classic today, Tyson’s eponymous game provided the melody for Selektah’s 2007 track, Punch-Out. As with all samples, Punch-Out’s melody provided a nice touch of nostalgia in amongst a symphony of modern hip hop vibes.

Play the game of life with hip hop’s finest

Naturally, we’re not saying you’re going to become the next gaming phenomenon like Lee Young Ho (aka KT FlaSh). However, hip hop’s many references to games do provide unique insights into worlds you might not have otherwise known about. Yes, you might have heard of poker, but did you know hand selection is an important part of the game? Well, if you listen to Ghostface Killah, you will. Again, it’s not enough to see you compete against the best bluffers in the world like Doyle Brunson and Phil Ivey, but there are snippets of information in there that could inflame your imagination and inspire you to play something new.

So, what are we saying? Well, if you’re looking to broaden your horizons, hip hop may have the answer. Beyond the motifs of money, women and the thug life, there’s a playful side to the genre. So, the next time you’re looking to reflect on things or simply tune out to the world around you, remember that life’s a game and the world’s biggest hip hop stars know that.

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About the Author

Editor-in-Chief of The Hype Magazine, and internationally published arts & entertainment journalist. Member of the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture as well as the United States Press Corps.

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