Gangsta's paradise.

The term “rapper” tends to conjure up a number of stereotypical descriptions. Some regard rappers as modern day poets, blessed with an unattainable creative genius, granting them an omnipotent control of the written and spoken word.

Take the celebrated rapper 50 Cent for example. His unrivalled grasp of the English language fathomed such memorable lyrics as, “I’d love you like a fat kid loves cake”, or “Find me in the club, bottle full of Bud”. Clearly, compelling evidence for the people whom firmly reside in the genius camp.

Others, however, deem rappers to be nothing more than controversial role models who frequently degrade women, glamorise drugs, and use one too many curse words. An excessively critical analysis maybe, but we are talking about stereotypes here.

Yet, when the word rapper reaches the inner mechanisms of my mind, the above thought processes simply do not apply. For you see, in 2003, my viewpoint of the dollar spinning, Caddilac bouncing, 20-inch rims riding, ho hollaring industry was forever warped.

Can I Play With Madness?

Suddenly, I found it difficult to recall even basic rap trivia. Was Tupac best friends with Biggie Smalls? Did Eminem really love his mother? Did Dr. Dre even attend medical school? Was DMX part of Degeneration X? Thousands of questions, forever a mystery.

“X gon’ give it to ya, gon’ give it to ya!”

It became abundantly clear that I was slowly crossing into the territory of a mad man. For each time I saw these heroes of the ghetto, I always wound up envisioning the superstars of the rapping world stepping into a square ring, and facing off in a spectacular wrestling match. What the hell was wrong with me?

But then I remembered something. I was relieved to discover that as a matter of fact, I wasn’t actually a lunatic. Something, in my past, was responsible for transforming me into the Vince McMahon of the rapping world.

The origin of my affliction – my twisted pay-per-view scheduling imagination – was suddenly crystal clear… Def Jam Vendetta. Of course! Where else could such a ludicrous and equally brilliant idea have come from? Rap stars and pro wrestling. Not the usual foray of touting 9mm pistols, or ripping on each other through the medium of microphone banter; but wrestling.

99 Potential Problems But Wrestling Wasn’t One

A roster of rap stars from the famous Def Jam music label faced off in the ring, retrofitted with classic wrestling moves, unique taunts and fabulous flamboyant finishers.

The idea, on paper, was absolutely terrible. Yet somehow it worked. Even by today’s standards, the concept behind Def Jam Vendetta is stupider than Vanilla Ice’s extraordinary rap career.

A roster of rap stars from the famous Def Jam music label faced off in the ring, retrofitted with classic wrestling moves, unique taunts and fabulous flamboyant finishers. But that wasn’t what made it great. No, AKI Corporation’s superb wrestling engine was responsible for that.

Last seen in a quartet of excellent wrestling games which graced the N64, AKI’s satisfyingly in-depth gameplay mechanics ensured that the most important feature in Def Jam Vendetta– the actual wrestling – was thoroughly enjoyable. Whether you were powerbombing Method Man, piledriving The Ghost Faced Killah or elbow dropping Ludacris, each encounter was engaging, intuitive and fluid.

Def Jam Vendetta used a largely unmodified version of AKI’s engine, albeit with the inclusion of a few button bashing prompts and a health bar (which were actually to its detriment). Players could perform the same strong and weak grapples, pull-off momentum shifting reversals, and bring the pain with bone breaking and – unique to Def Jam Vendetta – testicle squishing finishers.

For fans of games like WWF No mercy and WCW vs NWO Revenge it was an unexpected revival of wrestling’s finest hour on home consoles. For rap fans, it was a surreal romp housed on a foundation of excellent gameplay, supported by a recognisable  cast and soundtrack.

He ain’t dropping beats. This Big G is dropping elbows.

Fight The Power

Def Jam Vendetta’s storywas just as bonkers as the idea itself. But once again, it was surprisingly entertaining. Essentially, you were tasked with battling your way to the top of the underground wrestling scene with the aim of winning back your ex-girlfriend. To do so, your character had to defeat the proverbial King of the ring known as D-Mob. And he was one tough S.O.B to take down.

Due to the omission of a dedicated create-a-character option, players had the choice between four imaginary wrestlers, each with their own base statistics and specific attributes. The characters were admittedly generic and as vocal as The Legend of Zelda’s Link, which was disappointing considering every other character in the game’s story had the use of vocal chords. The best your character could muster was a flashing of teeth to infer the emotion of rage… scary.

As you progressed through the game’s campaign – comprised of pinning and submitting famous and made up rap stars – stats could be increased, new apparel was unlocked and you could even upgrade your girlfriends.

Come Get On The Ho Train

Yes, Def Jam Vendetta let you pick up arm candy with the titillating bonus of unlocking glamourous snaps of your new piece. However, rather than courting your prospective new flame like any gentleman, your chosen girlfriend would be decided on whoever won a public cat fight as, because you were such a stud, you were always in demand.

You could choose to dump your current girlfriend, forfeiting the opportunity to get more sexy snaps, in favour of adding another notch to your bedpost. Naturally, your ex-girlfriend – the one you’re trying to get back even if your character won’t admit it – isn’t best pleased when she sees you bedding a number of sluts throughout the game. But that ho’s sleeping with D-Mob. So she ain’t sayin’ nuthin’. Yeah, the plot was really dumb come to think of it.

Briggs was slammin’. Proof be trippin’.

Straight Outta Rompton

Def Jam Vendetta offered just enough modes to satisfy after the completion of the game’s lengthy campaign. Although there were a variety of stages to choose from, the game’s longevity was ultimately hindered by the exclusion of special match-types like ladder or hardcore matches. It would have been awesome to suplex Joe Budden off a ladder onto a chair, but alas, players had to be content with suplexing him off the top turnbuckle onto the same old padded ring.

Luckily, each in-game representation of the selected Def Jam stars looked and sounded great. The graphics still hold up today with a caricature style well-suited to the game’s direction and the rap stars’ over the top personas. Each rapper was also voiced by their real life counterparts, spitting one liners before each match began and when they delivered their crazy finishers.

Keep Ya Head Up

Def Jam Vendetta was followed by two sequels, but disappointingly the third of which, Def Jam Icon, abandoned AKI’s unsurpassable engine as the game’s direction changed for a more gritty and quite frankly less favourable experience. The end result has left the Def Jam series in perpetual limbo, unlikely to see the light of day again.

The appeal for a franchise reboot is certainly there as rappers continue to diss each other every day, without actually doing anything about it in real life. Thanks to AKI Corporation and EA, fans around the world finally got to settle some disputes with a 1,2,3 as opposed to a bang, bang, bang. And for that reason alone, Def Jam Vendetta was “nuthin’ but a good thang”.

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