canuckeh's Def Jam Rapstar (Xbox 360) review

May or may not be how Ruff Ryders roll

Fuck you Activision. Fuck you for pumping out so many soulless Guitar Hero games and Band Hero games that you ruined the rest of the music genre. Because of your inability to pace the release of your wares, we now find ourselves with a disenfranchised public that lost their passion for matching coloured notes on a preset highway. It’s a shame, because it’s not like other developers have stopped thinking about cool ways to make people sing and dance like the dweebs we are. Take Def Jam Rapstar for example.

We finally have a proper, functioning rap game! An entire genre, maybe the most popular genre in the United States (I think), gets its most proper video game representation since the based-on-a-true-story masterpiece Def Jam Vendetta. And I’ve heard no one utter a word about Rapstar. Why? Is it because the people with actual hip hop talent are already hard at work on their personal Youtube mixtapes? Did last year’s Rock Band audience get sick of humiliating themselves singing and move on to humiliating themselves to death in Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood online play? Are people adverse to giving Russell Simmons some money? Because I’m not!

 This is not Def Jam Rapstar.
Rapstar is essentially a graded karaoke experience. A music video plays in the background, you are charged with the task of producing the lyrical stylings. The game is scoring your efforts based on timing and perceived accuracy of the lyrics, along with the occasional pitch-based sections ala Rock Band. Like with Rock Band, you learn quickly that it is more important to match your pitch with the meter on-screen than it is to imitate the singer. I lost many, many points for trying to recreate DMX’s gravelly voice during the Ruff Ryders Anthem. Likewise, you are performing the censored music video versions of each song, and I don’t think the game takes too kindly if you decide to uncensor them. Again, I lost many points for refilling the Ruff Ryders Anthem with n-words. Or maybe it’s because the game just knows I’m not black.

But otherwise, the tech for scanning your microphone skills is very strong. If you are audible, pace out your breathing and have a strong familiarity with the song, you will do great. And let’s be honest here, kind readers. Whether you have talent or not, rapping is just fun! Maybe people are too scared to do rap karaoke for fear that they will be ambushed in a dark alley later today, or inspire Tupac to spiral around in his grave. But like any music game, it takes a degree of courage (or lack of dignity) to step forward, and the social rewards can be so worth it.

The soundtrack in Def Jam Rapstar is great. The game covers a wide variety of classic and contemporary hits. East side, west side, old school, new school, crunk school, Computer Technology School for Auto-Tune, all well-represented. Except for perhaps a lack of Jay-Z, you’ll find many iconic favorites within the game. (And the HOVA’s too busy watching Knicks games, or going in and out of retirement, to think about video games.) The online store has been pumping out a sizable quantity of downloadable tracks if you wish to expand your repertoire of beats. My one complaint? About five or six songs need to be unlocked in career mode. Always an uncool move in a music game.

I spent most of my playtime in Party mode, which lets you rap to any song at your heart’s content. I think there’s an option for multiplayer duets, but I couldn’t find a willing body that wanted to be the Redman to my Method Man. Ch-pow, anyone? Career mode has you playing songs to earn star…I mean microphones. There are a few challenge modes, like being asked pulling off a specific verse or a series of songs. But really, you’re only playing Career mode to unlock objects.

 This guy would fuck shit up in Def Jam Vendetta.
Such as more opportunities to humiliate yourself. If you have a Vision Camera or Kinect, the game will record your performance. And you can take 30 seconds of your performance and edit it to your heart’s content. You can add audio or colour effects, insert random stickers of hip-hop objects like dogs or necklaces, and other crazy items unlocked in the career mode. You can also forgo the whole “singing other people’s songs” bit and use one of several predesigned beats for a freestyle. This doesn’t serve any official purpose other than a chance to show off to the world your love of 8 Mile, or general love to make an arse of yourself.

You can then upload your musical prowess to the game’s server for all to see. Well I think you can; as of this writing, I haven’t been able to successfully upload a single video. Maybe the world hasn’t forgiven Canada’s hip-hop scene for Snow. I don’t know. At the same time, you will derive great pleasure going to the Def Jam Rapstar server and checking out some hilariously bad rap videos from a 90% white userbase. If you love watching posers unknowingly embarrass themselves, and who doesn’t, then you will be in for a treat.

So this is the tale of two experiences. One, Def Jam Rapstar is the first great dedicated rap karaoke experience, and I think that will appeal to many people. Two, enough of the wrong kind of people have clued in to this and made the online community a comedic gold mine. If either of these facets interest you, then it’s worth telling Activision to fuck off and buy this game.

4 stars 
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Other reviews for Def Jam Rapstar (Xbox 360)

    FINALLY, a music game for hiphop-heads 0

    No matter what your taste in music, most of the music rhythm games these days have your needs attended to - except if you're into hip-hop and rap. Some might argue that titles like Singstar has the odd rap song here and there, but these are generally just your generic karaoke classics, but if you've got a real love of hiphop, you're pretty much forgotten about ... Until now. Def Jam have taken a step away from their fighting games to fill the gap with their hiphop music game, with the self-expla...

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