"Street Fighter" References in Hip-Hop, An Absurdly Detailed Investigation

From Lupe Fiasco to Nas, Action Bronson to Just Blaze, the fighting game's become a core part of hip-hop.
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From Lupe Fiasco to Nas, Action Bronson to Just Blaze, the fighting game's become a core part of hip-hop.

On February 16, Lupe Fiasco broke the internet. It wasn’t because of a surprise album or even a “Control”-esque verse announcing himself as Chicago's new king. It wasn’t due to some radical, political stream of tweets on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. All Lupe did was win a match in Street Fighter but this wasn’t some casual match in the arcade against one of his fans. This was against Daigo Umehara, king of fighters, Street Fighter champion, considered to be one of the best, if not the best, to ever touch a joystick (pause).

The match came into fruition through Twitter. Mark Julio with Mad Catz offered Lupe a chance to battle Daigo in the new Street Fighter V and he accepted with a very Lupe reply. Just Blaze chimed in that Lupe would be taking the L, pretty much anyone and everyone in the fighting game community sincerely believed that a massacre would be broadcast. Lupe winning one round would be great, winning a round would be a miracle, winning the entire match wasn’t even a probable thought. But he did, in a best-to-three bout that was streamed online, Lupe did the impossible. You can watch for yourself and decide. In the aftermath, spectators have accused Daigo for throwing the match and even believe that the match was staged in Lupe’s favor.

Staged or not, the match put a huge spotlight on the fighting game and its community. Not only did expert tournament players tune in but also casual gamers and hip-hop fans. There's been a bit of an uproar on Twitter amongst some notable names in the rap industry lately. Lupe, Just Blaze, Wale, Mickey Factz, and Joe Budden have all been vocal about their ability to play. Trash has been talked, I would love to see a tournament be put in motion to decide the best Street Fighter in rap. (The rumor is that Ne-Yo is the industry's best kept secret.)

Street Fighter and hip-hop may not always cross over on the sticks but the two cultures collide quite often in the music. Everyone knows of Ryu and Ken, Chun-Li and E. Honda, influence from the games and characters can be found all over the industry.

By 1994, Street Fighter II, released in 1991, was one of the biggest video games in the world. So what happens when anything takes over the mainstream? Cheesy, live action movies. It’s the inevitable curse of popping that Future forget to mention. Street Fighter the movie was released two days before Christmas in ‘94 starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Commercially, the movie was successful, very successful, but like most movies that capitalize off the height of a movement fans and critics weren’t pleased with their adaptation.

One positive thing that was born from the release was the Street Fightersoundtrack, an album release by Priority Records that’s mostly rap driven. Rappers like Ice Cube, Ras Kass, The Pharcyde, LL Cool J, Craig Mack, and Public Enemy are all featured, even MC Hammer and Deion Sanders have a track together. The most recognizable song had to be “One on One” by Nas. Vintage Nasir, his vivid storytelling is excellent as he capture the lost art of the one on one brawl. He raps, “I brawl with Blanka, caught Bison in thinker,” a reference to the video game. Complex placed Street Fighter 3 on their top 25 best Hip-Hop Movie Soundtracks of All-Time, don’t expect to see the movie on any best of list.

Due to his victory, Lupe will go down in Street Fighter history for beating the best, hoax or not. Even before the bout, Lupe was one rap artist I viewed as a casual gamer, but he’s actually the first rapper I remember hearing make reference to Street Fighter in a rhyme. On “Gold Watch” he raps, “I love Street Fighter 2, I just really hate Zangief, Only Ken or Ryu, I find it hard to beat Blanka,” the line took me back to battling the eccentric, green beast that would roll into a ball and lunge himself at his opponents. I could envision his electricity shocking me brutally in the stage corners. Lupe knew that struggle and so did I. Since then I connected Lupe with Street Fighter, the line would come to mind anytime Ken, Ryu, Zangief, and especially Blanka were played. Insane to think that same rapper would beat a legend considered one of the best to ever play.

Lupe isn’t the only one, though, rap is full of lines and lyrics from the franchise. Gaming isn’t as nerdy as it use to be, don’t be surprised if you hear the hardest trap rappers shooting Hadoukens or wishing for thighs thick with nice kicks like Chun-Li. It can get corny but there’s been a few gems delivered in the mix. Joell Ortiz cleverly raps on Prhyme’s "Microphone Preem," “Meet fire, street fighters when these pens writing’, Shady, you go through us to get to Em, Bison.” It’s a cool play on names, M. Bison is well-known as the big boss that you battle at the game’s end but you have to fight through his team of skilled fighters if you hope to reach him. That’s how he views Eminem, for any rappers trying to reach him will have to go through Slaughterhouse first.

Action Bronson has one of my favorites, “You get slapped upside the mouth by the Zangief look-a-like.” Now, I haven’t seen their pictures side by side but the idea is hilarious. Plus, Zangief is a wrestler and we’ve all watched Action in action. His body slams are mean, his off stage throw is nice, Bronson wouldn’t be a bad addition to the franchise.

A friend recommended if I wanted to hear some great Street Fighter lines to look into the battle rap scene. I’ll watch the occasional Loaded Lux or Murda Mook video on YouTube but I’m not extremely well versed in the community, but it made perfect sense to incorporate a well-known fighting game into a rap battle. It didn’t take much searching before I came across Chilla Jones vs. Tony D. It wasn’t mind blowing, but I like how Chilla intertwined a series of fighting games in his first round: “My Killer Instinct is so savage, bruh. Lyrically, I'm a Street Fighter; I scold battlers. A Mortal (K)ombating this pen? He's no challenger. I'm way brighter. I need a writer of Soul (C)alib(u)r."

In the battle between Mike P vs Tink Da Demon the crowd went bezerk when he rapped, "I'm so, so, so death to your style, get some new shit, Bars have you up against the wall like the pool sticks, Two ribs, cracked by two fists, Hadouken.” He literally couldn’t continue, but even though he got through the Hadouken they once again reacted when he said, “You can catch every damn thing on the move list, on that Ryu shit.” It took him three tries to complete the rhyme, ending with “You can catch a blue flame from a Shoryuken.” Based on the reaction alone you can tell that Street Fighter bars are crowd pleasers.

In the underground is where you will find plenty of love for the game. NYC’s Wordspit released a nice tribute to the series a few years ago with the song “Joystick Madness.” He takes it back to the thrill of playing in the arcade, where you had to stand beside your adversary, a slightly different experience than playing online. Curbside Jones also takes it back to the arcade with his “Hot Chicks and Arcade Sticks” except a woman is his opponent and she’s no pushover. Atlanta’s Give Em Hell duo Key! and Maco Matto'x single “Street Fighter” pays homage to the fire fist and Hadoukens on the song's hook. Sir Michael Rock’s “Perfect” samples the voice that you hear in Street Fighter when defeating an opponent without being touched, a perfect match. The music video uses Street Fighter’s font in the title and partially re-creates the original Street Fighter game from the character selection to a fight between two 8 bit Sir Mikes.

Nathan already pointed out that Kanye has adapted “perfect” as a verse tag but Mikey was not only on it before him but has been on it since The Cool Kids days. Just listen to the second verse on “A Little Bit Cooler,” what game does he have in his Sega?

Some rappers go further than just a line, their songs are even titled after the game. You can tell that Sean Price knew a thing or two about Street Fighter, the song "Fei Long" is named after the character that was first introduced in the 1993 Super Street Fighter II. Inspired by the real-life martial art master Bruce Lee, Fei Long lived up to the legend he reflected. Sean hilariously rapped, “You make songs with Trey Songz, Fuckin’ liar, kick fire out you, I’m Fei Long,” paying homage to Fei’s signature flaming highkick.

Kool G Rap and Logic Ali named their Harry Fraud collab after Sagat’s signature move, the “Tiger Uppercut.” Wale would reference the move in his “The Eyes of the Tiger,” “Street fighter ho, she had that Tiger uppercut,” rapping from the perspective of Tiger Woods right as his sex scandal is coming to light. Wale also paid homage to Street Fighter’s first lady “Chun-Li” that can be found on the mixtape Folarin. You can hear her voice sampled on the chorus, stacked underneath Wale’s “Yep yep.” And then to get back to Lupe, while his freestyle is over Lil Wayne’s “Fireman,” he comes on the record and states, “I call this Yoga Flame” with Dhalsim voice being sampled. He doesn’t drop any Street Fighter references but after burning the beat to bits, the reason why he calls the song “Yoga Flame” makes perfect sense. If you haven’t listened in awhile I highly recommending a quick revisit back to Enemy Of The State.

Hip-Hop’s love for Street Fighter goes beyond the studio. The Lil Wayne vs. Drake tour was completely Street Fighter themed. Capcom sponsored the tour which allowed them to integrate the game into all their marketing. An app was created just for the tour alone and those that paid for V.I.P were gifted themed trading cards, tote bags, beach towels and snapbacks. The best piece of content was the trailer, it appeared like a teaser for a new game more than a tour.

Just Blaze was brought in to produce the music for Super Street Fighter IV’s commercial. The end result was perfect, a monstrous score to fit the vigorous and powerful energy that the game embodies. Watching characters ready to pulverize each other while hearing a beat that T.I. should be rapping on is a spiritual experience. 

Wrapping up, in 2011, Mickey Factz hosted a 32 person Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition tournament with fans. (Unfortunately the footage that was on YouTube is no longer available. Mickey linked me with the footage of him hosting the tourny and beating the winner!) UK’s Dizzee Rascal rapped over a sample from the game and titled it “Street Fighter,” Madlib sampled Dhalsim on the Madvilliany’s Do Not Fire!” and Redman’s “Lay You Out” should’ve been included in the game. No, better yet, Redman should’ve been in the game.

The list just doesn’t end, rappers and producers love Street Fighter. From the mainstream to the underground, the cultures are constantly colliding. For the first time in history a rapper is representing behind the mic and on the sticks. Only time will tell if rappers will keep the big talk on the timelines or if more artists will step into the tournament ring. If so, they better be ready. Street Fighter isn’t a game to those who love it - just like hip-hop. 

By Yoh, aka Quentin TarantinYoh, aka @Yoh31