A look back at what made Def Jam Vendetta such a classic – Black Girl Nerds
Hip-hop started composing the soundtrack of various game releases more often in the early millennia, and by the time Need for Speed: Underground 2 was released in 2004, you could find at least one hip-hop soundtrack. -hop in almost all major game releases. Famous rappers had already appeared in various video games by this time, starting with Rap Jam: Volume One in 1995 and Wu-Tang Clan: Shaolin Style in 1999, a sports game and a fighting game respectively.
Examples like these showed that rappers and record labels were committing to, or at least contributing to, the video game industry and its growth. However, a video game dedicated to hip-hop culture, not just individual artists, but including fashion, music and slang, was not created – until 2003 when Def Jam Vendetta was released. . It was truly a fantastic game that allowed players to compete against other rappers in real or imagined beefs and settle their differences in wrestling matches.
The game’s development cycle is quite peculiar as it was not initially conceptualized as a hip-hop centered game with wrestling elements. In 2000, wrestling games were big sellers, and some of the genre’s best-loved titles came from Japanese game developer AKI. The studio was working on WCW Mayhem 2 for PlayStation’s best-selling console, the PlayStation 2, with Electronic Arts as the game’s publisher.
Unfortunately, WCW went out of business in 2001 and development of the game stopped immediately to avoid possible licensing issues. So Electronic Arts ended up with a pretty decent game engine developed for WCW Mayhem 2 but no games to use it on. Around the same time, Def Jam label president Kevin Liles noticed that an increasing number of tracks were being licensed to the gaming industry.
So the two got in touch, and Liles soon launched a hip-hop-themed game at Electronic Arts. And so, Def Jam Vendetta was born and released in 2003 for PlayStation 2 and Game Cube. It was an absolute success by any measure. Admittedly, it had a very limited roster of characters, with only 11 actual playable rap artists, including Method Man, Ghost Face Killah, and many more, like Snoop Dog. This paled in comparison to the wrestling games that AKI was used to developing, not to mention that it also lacked various gameplay modes and features, like cage fighting.
But none of that mattered, and for gamers who love video games and hip hop music, this unprecedented game release was more than enough. For starters, this timeless classic gave every rapper their own arena that matched their personality. For example, Ludacris fought in an arena full of scantily clad women, while DMX fought in a junkyard arena more suited to a Ruff Ryders aesthetic. But aside from all the combat – which was masterfully crafted, by the way – the game’s biggest selling point was its narrative.
Players take control of the game’s protagonist on a journey to take down a local crime boss, D-Man, and his gang of Def Jam fighters and “win the girl’s heart” in the process. As players progressed through the story, they became more famous, and the ladies of Def Jam Vendetta would flock to their side or even fight each other to be the protagonist’s girlfriend. When two girls are about to fight, the player will choose the one he wants to win and then control her in the ring.
If they’re skilled enough and their choice wins, a piece of Gallery will unlock, featuring a photo of the real woman the video game character is based on. Money is earned by winning matches and spent on clothes and accessories for the protagonist or to buy lingerie and nightgowns for his girlfriend. Or you can spend money to increase the character’s skills and stats in the ring. It really was an awesome game, with one downside: the real Def Jem artists weren’t playable in story mode.