Def Jam Rapstar Preview

For all the homeboys and homegirls.

Imagine me – an Asian-American born and raised in middle-class white suburbia whose ears did not follow the new music of the ‘90s, but rather classical symphonies and Lite FM hits my mother played on the car radio – peering into the world of rap from behind red velvet ropes. There I was at Konami Gamers Night wearing a black flatcap, a blue The North Face backpack, and a polyester zipper sports jacket, about to step over the ropes and red carpet into a sectioned-off enclave of golden curtains, black leather couches, a bottle of champagne chillin’ (literally and figuratively) in a bucket of ice, and model chicks with frizzy afros, slammin’ hoop earrings, and hot pants. Out of place, surely I was. But man, was it classy.

[image1]Stepping aside the issue of my physical and most certainly cultural displacement, though, one point of clarity: Def Jam Rapstar has nothing to do with the awesome Def Jam fighting franchise (and by “awesome”, I mean more Fight for New York than Icon). This doesn’t mean Def Jam isn’t rollin’ with the brawling genre anymore, but that they’re expanding the brand name by going back to their roots which are all about the songs. Really, a karaoke title based on Def Jam makes a whole lot more sense than a bunch of rappers fighting like some mixed martial artists in a fantasy street brawl anyway.

Def Jam Rapstar has a lot of style based around a simple package. While it could be described as “Karaoke Revolution Rap Remix”, it’s better to be specific on which school of rap it represents, and from the looks of the setlist, they’re going for a more classic, universal, raw hip hop: 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Notorious B.I.G., Wu Tang Clan, and Slick Rick. Then, current stars in the genre like 50 Cent, Young Jeezy, and Kanye West round out the roster. In other words, if you’ve got a party for people who like rap, they should find something they like here (or they’re just wack). Better yet, the music video plays in the background, so you get a visual cue and something for your friends, who aren’t already singing along, to look at.

On censoring, the build shown at the event did take out offensive words, muting them and turning them to the likes of “n—–” (not hard to figure that one out). You can still say the actual words and not be penalized, but the censoring is sure to be blasphemy to rap purists. However, the higher-ups have yet to decide whether Def Jam Rapstar is going to be rated ‘T’ or ‘M’, which partially explains the lack of an announcement of the full song list right now. Of course, I’m rooting for the ‘M’ because that means the rap songs can be real and not some butchered slang words coupled with awkward silences. [Monkey-fighting and Monday-to-Friday brought to you courtesy of the letter M ~Ed]

[image2]Bolded and italicized on the screen is a score based on points and a multiplier for getting a streak of four-measures phrases correctly spoken or sung. It works similar to Rock Band’s system for spoken lyrics, with a circle that fills as the singer says the scrolling words, but anyone who’s tried to sing "Sabotage" by The Beastie Boys in Rock Band knows that the system for vocals isn’t as precise as it could be.

Def Jam Rapstar fixes this by scoring players not only on their timing, but also on their enunciation; because it’s a G Thang, not a G Thing (*shudder*). Along with of familiar pitch lines that need to be matched during the very few parts in rap songs that are actually sung, the spoken parts are accompanied by a ball (a la Disney singalong videotapes) that bounces on top of each syllable like a staccato note. The rhythm, flow, pause, and emphasis of each word lay the foundation of a great rap song. And to ensure that players use the “correct” vowel inflections, the system compares your voice to several concealed voice tracks (both male and female).

But everyone, developer Terminal Reality included, knows that Def Jam Rapstar is really about the players who largely don’t give a shit about the points (you’re not gonna serve anyone here, right?) and how well it can groove the party. Up to two people can rap at once, either singing the same lyrics or trading off parts, which shouldn’t be surprising due to the almost ridiculous number of rap songs that have “feat.” in their title. You can even upload 30 seconds (hopefully, they’re planning on more than that in the final build) of video using Xbox Live Vision to the community site. There, you can review and edit your videos – pop collars and all ‘dat – and rate wannabes, I mean, potential rap stars everywhere.

With the setlist still in limbo, there is wild speculation about your favorite artist, but expect plenty of DLC track packs to arrive on the scene after its release. This isn’t going to replace the Def Jam fighting series, it’s a whole ‘nutha animal, so don’t be a player hater. Check out Def Jam Rapstar when it comes later this winter 2010.

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