Jay-Z is Afraid to Fight
Bring em out bring em out
Other than the NBA Live games, Def Jam: Fight for NY is the only video game I've played with any regularity over the past couple of years. One obvious reason is that it's fun. The moves aren't particularly hard to master once you get a feel for the flow of it, but they're hard enough that's pretty easy for me to beat any of my friends' asses at it when they come over. The special moves are completely ridiculous in a defying-the-laws-of-physics sort of way, and the punches and broken bottles and blood-splatters actually look like they hurt. Whenever you bang someone's head into a concrete wall or slam a car door on their head, you keep expecting it to get old. It never does. The other reason I keep playing the game is the virtually endless recombinations of possible fights between B-list rappers, some of the most random shit you could ever hope to come up with. Havoc vs. Bonecrusher? Mack 10 vs. FamLay? Memphis Bleek vs. Elephant Man? We also get a liberal sprinkling of "hip-hop celebrities" who mostly don't actually have anything to do with hip-hop: Henry Rollins, Carmen Electra, Omar Epps, Danny Trejo. And there's the usual roster of made-up characters, most of whom are based on utterly laughable racial stereotypes. The game's story mode is some utterly ridiculous shit about controlling the streets or whatever, and I love that it doesn't involve solving any puzzles or making any decisions. You just fight guys, win, and then get money, which you spend on ugly sweatpants or iced-out chains or whatever. It's good times.
The one big problem with the game is that it doesn't have any pairs of rappers who have been actively beefing at any time throughout history. The game would be a lot more fun if you had Canibus and LL Cool J to play around with, or maybe if you could have Joe Budden DDT the Game. The closest you can come is weird little proxy beefs, rappers who haven't ever directly addressed each other but who probably don't like each other by association: Prodigy against Fat Joe, stuff like that. Remember that one T.I. mixtape when Scarface said that Lil Flip wasn't from his neighborhood? Well, now Flip can finally get his revenge against Scarface, but that's still not particularly exciting. The game is awfully light on actual rap stars: other than maybe Ludacris and Busta Rhymes, most of the biggest names are famous-for-being-famous types, rappers who don't do much actual rapping these days: Snoop Dogg, Method Man, Ice-T. And even though the cover of the box says Def Jam, a lot of what was then the label's active roster is missing: LL, Cam'ron, Ja Rule, Jay-Z.
So I got pretty amped when the early reports of the Def Jam game, Def Jam: Icon, started coming out. The game has a terrible name (the word Icon does not connote violence in any way whatsoever), and apparently there will be a feature where walls of flame or whatever will come up in time to the beats playing in the background, which sounds really hokey and dumb. The game is going to be coming out on PS-3 and Xbox 360, and I'm not going to be able to afford either of those things unless I find a thousand-dollar bill on the ground sometime in the next couple of months. But there's one big reason I'm really amped to see how this game turns out: it looks like EA Sports has actually invested in a roster of rappers who are actually popular and relevant now, not the old string of washed-up vultures. Or, that is, they invested in probably the single biggest rapper right now: T.I. He and Big Boi are the only new names confirmed. But then, if they went ahead and sprung for T.I., there's a pretty good chance that they've put some thought into this thing. And if Big Boi is in the game, there's at least a half-decent chance that Andre 3000 will be in it too, and that would be hilarious. More to the point: if there's a roster of A-List rappers, we'll finally get to stage some epic battles. T.I. and Ludacris are already confirmed, so it'll be fun to play out the quickly-squashed beef that happened when they traded barbs on an early version of Young Buck's "Stomp." And for a second there, it seemed possible that we'd finally get to have Nas fight Jay-Z, which would pretty much justify the existence of a fighting game with an all-rapper cast just by itself. But MTV dashed my hopes earlier this week when it reported that Jay-Z wouldn't be in the game because of some bullshit about preserving his cool. Jay is the president of Def Jam; he's synonymous with the company, and that means he should be contractually obligated to take part in goofy cross-promotional stunts like this. He's apparently an unlockable character in the new NBA Live game, which doesn't even make any sense. Nobody wants to see Jay-Z play basketball. We want to see him beat some ass. Maybe he's just afraid that people will have too much fun using, like, Bubba Sparxxx to completely thrash him. But I'd say that this is more disappointing than the last three leaked Kingdom Come tracks combined.
Voice review: Nick Catucci on Def Jam: Vendetta
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Village Voice's biggest stories.