This story is part of our new Hip-Hop: ’73 Till Infinity series, a celebration of the genre’s 50th anniversary.
Rap culture and video games are intrinsically linked, entwining together for the last several decades. One inspires the other, one features the other, on and on, from Biggie Smalls and his Sega Genesis to Megan Thee Stallion stomping on hoes so hard that Mario tokens fall out.
But what are some of the best video game references in rap? What are the best ways rappers have cleverly thrown a nod to their favourite game or character into a song in such a manner that you can’t help but make a face of appreciation when you hear it? Sure, Travis Scott was in Fortnite, but he’s not on this list because he doesn’t have any good video game-related lyrics. Sorry, Travy.
To get on this list, I’m looking for references that feel natural like these games and consoles are actually a part of the rapper’s life. Many of the artists here are also gamers—some of them have streamed themselves playing their favourite games, while others point to getting certain consoles as a sign that they made it. One song on this list even rips the Super Mario Bros. theme for a beat, though you can’t find it on Spotify for that reason. There’s a wild amount of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter references in rap, too, but they’re not the only games that have made it into your favourite rapper’s songs.
Here are the 20 best video game references in rap music.
Megan Thee Stallion, “Pressurelicious”
I’m stomping out hoes so motherfucking hard / I’m knocking out Mario tokens
One of the newest songs on this list is also one of the best. I think Megan Thee Stallion’s second studio album Traumazine didn’t get the attention it deserves, and songs like “Pressurelicious” prove my point. Sometimes references can feel shoehorned into a verse, but Megan effortlessly shifts from real hot girl shit to warning other hoes that she can beat your ass so hard that Super Mario currency will fall out. Megan is a gamer (she’s a big Mortal Kombat girly), so this is one of those references that feels well-earned. Stream Traumazine.
Danny Brown, “30”
Came a long way from extension cords in the window / Borrowed neighbour’s power just to plug up the Nintendo
Danny Brown is one of the more unique modern rappers, with a memorable voice and tone that rocketed him to fame after he released a series of mixtapes in the 2010s. Brown is also an avid gamer—he used to stream Persona 5 on Twitch and would wax poetic about which character he’d romance. “30” is a song off of Brown’s second studio album, which Spin called the best rap album of 2011, and this Nintendo reference is tucked away amongst an impressive feat of lyrical gymnastics (in which Brown’s voice rapidly shifts pitch and tone in such a way you’d think he had another rapper doing a guest verse). Give it a listen.
Lupe Fiasco, “Gold Watch”
I love Street Fighter II, I just really hate Zangief / Only Ken and Ryu, I find it hard to beat Blanka
“Gold Watch” features a very interesting The Propositions sample that some people don’t vibe with because it’s a woman’s voice repeatedly yelling. But if that doesn’t bother you, then add this song to your rotation. Lupe was definitely one of the most nerd-coded rappers of the 2010s—he was big into skateboarding culture and claims to have “Japanese tendencies” in this song (whatever that means). This is a hilarious reference because it really does sound like Lupe is just frustrated with Street Fighter II and is maybe hoping someone can help him beat Blanka. I love it.
OutKast, “Skew It On The Bar-B”
I’m sorry like Atari who’s the cousin to Coleco / Vision, caught a RICO, back on the streets like Chico
I love when rap samples seemingly random shit. Would you think a Henry Mancini (an American composer and flutist) song would fit well with OutKast’s ATL rap stylings? Well, it does. That flute in the background? Sheesh. And before you even realize how good the beat is, Big Boi drops the video game reference. By the time you get to the chorus, you are fully living inside this beat, and then Raekwon’s verse comes in to up the intensity. This one’s a keeper.
Doja Cat, “Streets”
We play our fantasies out in real-life ways and / No Final Fantasy, can we end these games, though?
You may know this song best as the audio for a very popular TikTok thirst trap format, but it’s also just a good-ass song. Doja may not love her major studio releases (she’s reportedly going much more rap-focused for her upcoming album and drew ire a few months ago for making fun of her fans who bought these albums), but “Streets” is a great song with a fantastic game reference. Plus we know Doja’s a gamer, as she’s blessed us with some chaotic streams where she plays GTA VI and Little Nightmares. She even rapped a bit of Streets while playing Little Nightmares and yelling at her character during a stealth portion of the game.
Saigon, “Get Busy”
Attention all haters, get off your boy’s dick / Tell your bitch to come here, she can play with my joystick / Up up down down left right left right B, A, B, A, Start / now tear it apart
I can’t find Saigon’s “Get Busy” on Spotify. I’m sure Nintendo DMCA-d the hell out of it, as the beat is just the Super Mario Bros. music. And that’s a bummer because this is a fantastic example of video games and rap blending together beautifully. That may be the infamous Contra/Konami code with an unnecessary extra “B, A” in there, but I am a little concerned about what Saigon is telling a girl to do to his penis—I don’t think it would feel very good.
Mac Miller, “Ride Around”
New York, Atlanta too / Flyer than Santa’s shoes / She bring her camera through / I’m playin’ Crash Bandicoot
Though this song features some incredibly problematic lyrics, they are indicative of the way rap was back in the 2010s, so I’m just going to try and let that go. “Ride Around” samples the 2001 song “25 Lighters,” and Mac puts his effortless flow on it in a way that further elevates it.
The sly way he slips Crash Bandicoot in there is just so utterly Mac—swaggy, a little nerdy, and so low-key you have to pause for a second and ask, “Did he just say that?” Miss you, Mac.
JPEGMAFIA, “1539 N. Calvert”
Fuck a diss, boy, I’m draggin’ bodies like it’s Metal Gear / I don’t care ‘bout your fucking status, Peggy got no fear
Danny Brown and JPEGMAFIA have a close artistic relationship (they put out a joint album, Scaring the Hoes, earlier this year), and you can see why in songs like “1539 N. Calvert.” JPEGMAFIA has a clear, unique sound and lyrics that oscillate between hard and a little nerdy.
This song is an ode to a Baltimore-based artists’ space called the Bell Foundry that was unceremoniously shuttered back in 2016, and it’s also the intro to his second studio album, Veteran. There are trap elements to the beat, a plinky plinth sound that could fit in well in Animal Crossing, and an absolutely fire Metal Gear reference. This is a great one.
The Notorious B.I.G., “Juicy”
Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis / When I was dead broke, man, I couldn’t picture this
You can’t have a list of video game references in rap without this song. What’s there to be said about “Juicy” that other, more qualified, writers haven’t already put out there? This song is iconic. It’s timeless. It’s “Juicy.”
Rick Ross & Gucci Mane, “MC Hammer”
“Black Batmobile, it’s only new Ferrari / It’s called a Scaglietti, one button like an Atari”
Dude, I love Rick Ross. He consistently puts out the most insane verses, half of which are just him talking about how big he is (physically), or reminding you that his money is dirty but his dick is clean. At one point in this song, he likens taking the top down on his convertible to being circumcised— I’m not sure how you can listen to a Ricky Rozay verse without laughing your ass off. He brings me so much joy.
Anyway, I want to be mad at Ross for the way he pronounces “Scaglietti” here, but the fact that he likens the ignition switch in a $300,000 car to an Atari is fucking hilarious. I love you, Rick, don’t ever change.
City Morgue, “Nitro Cell”
If we ain’t fighting, who the fuck you touchin’? / Empty out your block like, n**** “No Russian”
You can’t find this song on any major music streaming sites, and the group’s connection to 6ix9nine is shitty, there’s no denying that. But, the nu metal energy of City Morgue feels like a good fit for gaming, and the reference to the controversial Call of Duty level “No Russian” makes perfect sense for the edgy duo. Plus, it does kind of kick ass.
Nicki Minaj, “Chun-Li”
Nicki Minaj referenced Chun-Li on a verse before she wrote an entire song and named it after the Street Fighter character, so you know Miss Minaj is a real fan. And “Chun-Li” doesn’t just feature the obvious Street Fighter reference, but includes a nod to X-Men’s Storm, and a lyric that I will never forget: “Ayy, yo, I been North / Laura been Croft.”
I’m not sure why she thinks Chun-Li is a bad guy since she’s the main protagonist of the series, but quoting Al Pacino’s “bad guy” rant in Scarface is damn good. This is the perfect song to listen to while lifting weights.
Soulja Boy, “May Payne”
Grab the Draco, shoot it up like the Columbine / Call up my jeweller, he pull up wit’ ice chains / Two pistols on my hip like Max Payne
I briefly hung out with Max Payne writer Sam Lake during Summer Game Fest, and I really fucked up by not asking him what he thought about the Soulja Boy song named after the most famous video game character he’s ever created.
This is one of those references that you just know came directly from an artist getting really into a video game—Soulja Boy really digs Rockstar’s neo-noir shooter, and he wants you to know that he’s dual-wielding. It’s that simple.
Aesop Rock, “Babies With Guns”
Bazooka Tooth, zoo-keep the paper route with janky funds and favours / Cradled by twelve empty Zelda heart containers
Aesop Rock was at the forefront of the underground/alternative rap movement of the late ‘90s and early 2000s and has the kind of sound you’d expect to hear on a Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtrack. He’s a Long Island boy, so I’m a little biased, but the way he plays with rhymes and cadence in “Babies With Guns” just to throw in a Zelda reference is gas. Aesop has a cool voice and the beat is vibey and unique, with horns and a groovy little bass that feels like it would fit right in a Tarantino film—it’s just a very good song.
Lil Wayne, “Dough Is What I Got”
Gotta talk about the flow ‘cause you is concerned / Only down-south rapper could’ve been in The Firm / Or the Commission or Wu-Tang, n**** / Tryna tell you I can kick it like Liu Kang, n**** / Got that Sub-Zero flow, how you owe me, ma? / Make her get over here like Scorpion
There was a period in the early aughts when Lil’ Wayne was churning out remixes like his life and career depended on it. His “Da Drought” mixtapes famously featured other fantastic rappers and interpolations of popular rap songs, with “Da Drought 3” remixing “Jesus Walks” by Kanye West, “Down and Out” by Cam’ron, “We Taking Over” by DJ Khaled, and “Show Me What You Got” By Jay-Z, the last of which became “Dough Is What I Got.” The horns come in blaring, and before you can catch your breath, Weezy starts freestyling at a rapid-fire pace, throwing simile after simile out there until he gets to a collection of Mortal Kombat references.
The Lady of Rage, “Afro Puffs”
Now I’m hittin’ MCs like HAAAAADOUKEN! / Ain’t no doubt about it, I’m the undisputed
The Lady of Rage is rap royalty. She’s a crucial part of the genre’s history and one of the most important female rappers of all time. She was a member of a rap group in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, and her voice got the attention of Dr. Dre, who put her on several tracks for him and Snoop Dogg’s biggest albums (Snoop is featured on “Afro Puffs”).
“Afro Puffs” was recorded for the Above the Rim soundtrack and has that special kind of ‘90s groove that would sound perfect playing on the radio in GTA: San Andreas. But it’s the Street Fighter reference that really brings this song home. It was Rage’s biggest hit of her career, and I get it.
Lloyd Banks, “A Pimpin’ Affair”
Yo shit ain’t never gonna pop like ten gold chains / That’s why ya bitch blowin’ on me like Nintendo games
This is a short, rapid-fire freestyle from Banks, which is why you can’t find it anywhere but on YouTube. It has that crunchy sound of something recorded really fast on shitty equipment, giving it a texture that you just don’t find in modern rap. You gotta love the kind of diss that brings in video games to remind a guy that he’s not shit, and connects fellatio to the act of blowing on Nintendo cartridges (which you weren’t supposed to do, actually).
Curren$y, “The Hangover”
The game in my pocket like a Nintendo DS / I left my last one on the jet…
RIP to Curren$y’s Nintendo DS, abandoned on a private jet and lost to history. I wonder what he was playing on it. This is just a brilliant little way to remind people that you’re not only a gamer, you’re also a little forgetful. Same, bestie.
ScHoolboy Q, “Hoover Street”
Grandma said she loved me, I told her I loved her more / She always got me things, that we couldn’t afford / The new Js and Tommy Hill in my drawers / Sega Genesis, Nintendo 64, see Golden Eye was away at war
ScHoolboy Q may be one of my favorite rappers on this list, and “Hoover Street” is a great reminder why. Not only does it sample Spheroe, a late ‘70s jazz-rock supergroup based in France, but it drags you back in time with it as you listen to Q take you through the trials of his childhood living on the West Side of Los Angeles. His uncle would steal from his mother, addicts would find new ways to score, and Q eventually joined the 52 Hoover Crips—but his grandma, despite her money problems, would always buy him video games.
Ski Mask the Slump God, “Bird Is The Word”
My pockets look like it got cancer / Gears of War I got a Retro Lancer / Put the bayonet in ‘em he turned dancer / Callin’ yo bitch my dear like her name Prancer
Ski Mask the Slump God has his fair share of hits and misses throughout his discography and career (he was close with maligned rapper XXXTentacion), but “Bird Is The Word” is absolute fire. The beat gets your toe tapping out the gate, and then Ski Mask’s slightly slurring, playful bars come in. I’m a Gears of War apologist (I played more Gears 3 than I’d like to admit), so I’ll always get excited about a little Retro Lancer love. Plus, there’s a Christmas joke thrown in there, too!
Is there a song not featured on this list that you think should be? Drop it in the comments below.
And if you want, I made a little Spotify playlist featuring all the songs on this list that are available on the music streaming platform. You can listen to it here. You’re welcome.
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