I’ve been looking back at the first conference paper I delivered, nearly 2 years ago, at a really great event about musical subcultures and their portrayal in media. The paper was largely unconnected with my Ph.d. thesis, and there are some glaring flaws in it, but it deals with some things I’ve been thinking about for a while, and could probably have some sort of point to make if I tightened it up, trimmed the fat and made the arguments more explicit. That draft paper is available here, but I think I probably summarize the main points more clearly below. My writing has improved at least slightly from years of supervisors shouting “be clearer dammit” while hitting me with their belts. So feel free to follow the link if the waffle below interests you, but it’s probably not important to understand what I’m getting at. In fact, the original paper will probably cloud the issue. At the time, the main point I was trying to make was that predominantly “white” musical subcultures seem to enjoy a more naturalized place in gaming culture . Even when a game isn’t explicitly \METAL/ – like Brutal Legend or Rock Band – dark fantasy games like Skyrim, Dishonored, DMC, plus pretty much every post-apocalyptic game (due to the references to punk fashion drawn from 80s-90s films of the genre) readily appropriate elements of punk and metal influence into their world building and character design. Whereas hip-hop has generally had a more marginalized place. For example, there was the fuss some metallers made over the decision to include hip-hop on the Twisted Metal soundtrack, and a lot of sneering at Marc Ecko’s “Gettin’ Up” when it came out. Games like Afro Samurai or Wu Tang: Taste The Pain are generally of niche appeal and slip under the radar, and if you go to any gaming events like an expo or a LAN party the ambient soundtrack is generally heavy rock and dance with the occasional pop track thrown in for taste-trolling.

The trouble games have with incorporating hiphop culture in an authentic way is partially down to the social-makeup of dev teams; their own tastes (generally being, if not white, at least middle-class and suburban) mixed with their discomfort with depicting anything that might be criticized as being a negative “ghettocentric” portrayal. It also comes from the fact that fantastical elements like dragons, magic vikings and dystopian cyborgs are more readily visible in the “mainstream” of punk/metal (in lyrics, album art and magazines) whereas hiphop tends to focus on social reality (obviously there are the Kool Keiths and the MF Dooms but its not unusual to see these dismissed as “backpacker” hip-hop for nerdy white kids).
Because angry white music has generally focused on expressing the internal emotional world through grand metaphors, its iconography spills more readily over into the larger-than-life scenarios presented in games, whereas the more well-known rap music has been more concerned with the here-and-now, meaning it (and references to it) only seem to find their ways into games about gangsters, fast cars or street football/basketball. Parappa_one And before you come at me with “but PaRappa the Rapper, but Jet Set Radio!” I’d like to refer you to a comment from a friend:

“A scant minority of games does not a norm make … PaRappa retains its uniqueness because of the music style (rap and hip hop), which means that it’s not the norm. If it was Parappa the Geetarr Playa, nobody would remember the game to this day, because it’s so normal.” 

Good point IMO.

BTW, if you want to get to the meat of the draft article, I recommend skipping to page 8, where you will find a sweet rundown of enemies in 1980s-90s Beat ‘Em Ups and how they all had mohawks (because that was totally threatening and rad).