Madden 25 comes out today, and you’d think it would have everything a dork who likes playing pretend football could want. The game’s received positive reviews. There are new bells and whistles to try out. (Okay, basically, it has updated rosters.) And there’s the opportunity to play online and lose by 30 to a foul-mouthed 13-year-old.
But I’m a little disappointed. Last year, EA Sports eliminated the rap-and-alternative soundtrack the game had for the last 10 years, changing to an orchestral score. The Madden soundtracks were never all that great, but they made me nostalgic. Back in the golden age of Madden in the early-to-mid-2000s, many games not only featured a soundtrack. They had hip-hop songs about Madden.
Whether a custom theme song or a remixed version of an already existing track, Madden games from 2000 and 2004 brought us seven wonderful Madden raps. Madden 04 was the heavyweight here, with five remixes. One can debate the perils of re-writing your art for commercial purposes, but everyone can agree there are literally no artistic downsides to redoing a song about video game football.
In honor of Madden’s 25th anniversary, here’s a look at the seven songs that blasted out of off-campus apartments last decade.
Killer Mike feat. Andre 3000 – “Akshon (Yeah!)”
Game: Madden 04
Originally on: 2003’s Monster. The original features both members of Outkast.
Representative line: “Defense don’t slack/ Pushing your line, cracking your quarterback/ Laying that wood, he’s flat on his back”
Number of references to Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game”: 5
Killer Mike’s Madden edit of “Akshon (Yeah!)” is the “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang” of the genre, sounding more like an actual album track than a single edited in promotion of a football game. The edits are seamless: “K! I! L! L!” is replaced perfectly by “Madden oh-four.” Somehow, the original track references two actual football players–Michael Vick and Santana Moss–but they don’t make the cut for the edited version about football. Even with the references to a nearly decade-old Madden game, this track would make good entrance music for any good football team. So, not the Jets.
Ludacris feat. John Madden – “Madden 2000 Theme”
Game: Madden 2000
Representative line: “Just bruised and beaten, all black and blue/ And it’s been like that since Madden 92”
Number of references to Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game“: 8, plus an “EA Sports, it’s in the game” intro and a John Madden outro where he says, “Welcome to the new millennium of football.”
Ludacris raps about Madden 2000 with the love he usually reserves for a woman’s ass, and we are all luckier for it. Even the chorus (“What you want? The rock in the palm of my hand! What you got? I got John Madden!”) is a great call-and-response worthy of an actual album track. This song was actually how America outside Atlanta was introduced to Ludacris, as it predated his major-label debut.
Bone Crusher – “Never Scared”
Game: Madden 04
Originally on: 2003’s AttenCHUN! The original features Killer Mike and T.I.
Representative line: A tie between “Everybody doing the wave to get amped for the team/ It’s the heart of the battle, the American dream” and “It’s prime time, Sunday night/ We made the field goal, everybody get hype!”
Number of references to Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game”: Astoundingly, 0
Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared” remix wins the award for most-toned down from the original. The chorus goes from “So I’m outside of da club and you think I’m a punk/ So I go to my loaded TEC-9 that’s off in the trunk” to “It’s football time, once again it’s on/ So everybody out of your seats and start to get crunk.” While an official Madden remix, Bone Crusher was smart to make the song about football instead of the video game itself. It lives on at high school and college football games 10 years later. Hopefully no fans take the song to heart and attempt to do The Wave, the worst of all fan traditions.
The Roots – “Rock You”
Game: Madden 04
Originally on: 2003’s Phrenology
Representative line: “We will rock you/ Eagles will rock you, Giants will rock you/ The Falcons will rock you, the Titans, Saints and Vikings will rock you/ Texans will rock you, Dolphins will rock you”
Number of references to Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game”: 5, plus two references to “the game” (as in Madden NFL)
Leave it to The Roots to put a message in their remixed track for a multi-million dollar football video game. Philly’s Black Thought comes squarely on the side of the oft-derided Eagles quarterback at the time, declaring “Yes, I must confess, I’m like the Donovan McNabb of this, I’m one of the best.” For Philadelphia, this is about as heated as political debate gets. He also references Jerry Rice, Brian Dawkins, every NFL team and rhymes “a Madden 2004 exclusive” with “hard-hitters with real short fuses.” Art.
The Federation – “Mayhem”
Game: Madden 04
Originally on: The Madden remix predates the song’s release on 2004’s The Album
Representative line: “I do this Madden like the blind do Braille/ With my eyes closed, monkey just showing my tail”
Number of references to Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game”: 18, plus “I juke left and I shake right, hit a spin move I’m pressing O”
If you’re going to make a song about Madden, go big and write a boast track about how great Madden is. It’s a less artful attempt at what the Roots did, but there is a lot to love. “If I was on offense, I would be a Packer/ But I am on defense, so I am a tackler” is delightfully clumsy, and the track blows away the rest in number of Madden references. It’s the Brett Favre iron man streak of songs.
Red Cafe – “May I”
Game: Madden 04
Originally on: Promo CD/vinyl, 2003
Representative line: “You know the process, forward progress/ When Brett Favre, throwing that ball it’s no contest”
Number of references for Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game”: 1, though Red Cafe also says “the Mike Vick spin move is essential,” which is true of Madden 04
This Madden remix is bold. The verses are changed to football-related terms, name dropping Favre, Warren Sapp, Keyshawn Johnson, Jerry Rice and Ricky Williams. But, aside from “shit” being censored, the chorus is exactly the same. “The late night shift on some late night shit/ While ya momma ain’t home” must mean all-night Madden sessions at a friend’s house.
Pharoahe Monch – Madden 2002 Theme
Game: Madden 2002
Representative line: “The All-Madden free safety tracking ya pass/ We hate artificial surface, love natural grass”
Number of references to Madden, EA Sports or “It’s in the game”: 8
This isn’t as much of a banger as the Ludacris theme, but it gets bonus points for referencing the most-difficult game setting of the Madden video game. Plus it’s so epic: The opening line is “Unravel the world of John Madden 2002.” Fitting for a game this important.