Culture To Go: Unleashing The Creative Side of Urban Culture

Within the hip-hop music industry, fourth quarter releases are usually reserved for a label’s top sellers.

Labels recognize the holiday season as a critical time due to music fans’ propensity to consume, gift, regift…whatever.  However, due to the dismal state of the traditional music industry business model, artists, labels, and marketers alike have had to devise new ways of merchandising themselves, some of which suggest that “fourth quarter” approach might no longer bear the same fruit as it did during the height of the CD’s popularity.

As the old adage goes, one man’s problem is another man’s opportunity.  This fall, several prominent game publishers and mobile application developers have aligned themselves with hip-hop culture to allow consumers the opportunity to experience music from behind the boards and turntables. Three titles worth playing (and speculating on) are: “Beaterator” (Rockstar Games), “Hip-Hop All-Star” (iPlay), and the much-anticipated “DJ Hero” (Activision). All three are sufficient and unique, and illustrate how far hip-hop themed creation/aggregation titles have come since the releases of the likes of   MTV Music Generator, Funkmaster Flex Digital Hitz Factory and (who can forget?!?) Pa Rappa Tha Rapper.

Let The ‘Beat’ Build

Despite its unusual (albeit literal) title, Rockstar Games’ “Beaterator” puts an interesting spin on the what-would-be-perceived-as-laborious art of producing: it allows you to use “thousands of loops and sounds made by both Timbaland and Rockstar, and puts the power to make professional-level music at your fingertips in a format that’s portable, accessible and fun”. Legendary producer Timbaland is the game’s endorser/main character, adding some valuable credibility to the game (not that Rockstar has to aggressively chase cool…).  The game, originally announced to be released only for PSP, will also be available as a download for iPhone/iPod Touch this fall.

Watch the demo below:

Developer iPlay’s release, Hip-Hop All-Star, is specifically intended for release on mobile, and is available on several platforms at this time (the hoopla is around its iPhone/iPod Touch release this September). Hip-Hop All Star challenges gamers to “scratch and spin their way to DJ stardom”, and while the premise sounds awfully similar to the popular MixMeister Scratch app, All-Star features original songs from the likes of Busta Rhymes and Kid Cudi as a value proposition to attract and excite hip, savvy Gen-Yers.

The game also has a multiplayer mode (enabled via WiFi), and implements Facebook Connect so users can share their high scores.

Activition’s DJ Hero, the biggest release of the three, has been touted as the most-highly anticipated game of the fall and has been the subject of plenty of attention since it’s unveiling at E3, where the announcement of the superstars associated with its release was made. This addition to Activision’s “Guitar Hero” franchise has spared no expense, enlisting the participation of some of the worlds most genre-bending, relevant DJs. The YouTube trailers & demos have received hundreds of thousands of views, and have created an enormously positive air of anticipation from those who’ve commented.

Netting Out

The sudden appearance of urban music games is no coincidence- it reflects a very strategic move on the joint efforts of the gaming and urban music industries. Gaming, which is generally considered a recession-proof sector, has not been spared the recent economic downturn, and must inject some excitement and anticipation to consumers. Match that with dismal state of hip-hop music sales (this year’s largest-selling hip-hop album is Eminem’s Relapse, which to-date has sold over 1.3 copies almost four months after its release- definitely no short order in this climate, but a small number for him nonetheless), and you have a hail-mary situation that will hopefully prove to be mutually beneficial.

Potential sales and successes aside, the most important thing to realize here is the precise curation that went into these titles. Sure, hip-hop games might be ubiquitous (case-in-point: 50 Cent: Bulletproof, Def Jam Vendetta), but the extent to which they matched the entertainment value with cultural expertise and accuracy for these titles is unparalleled.

Of course, nothing is a sure thing and only time will tell how these games perform in the mainstream, but many will definitely be watching. I’ll be one of them.

Beaterator will be available on PSP and PSN September 29

Hip-Hop All-Star will be available on the Apple APP store September 13

DJ Hero will be available on XBOX360, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation 3, and Playstation 2 October 27.