In 1998, Codemasters and Jester Interactive created Music: Music Creation For The PlayStation―a video game that simulated an authentic music-making experience on the popular gaming console. Released solely for PlayStation, the music-making program provided gamers and music enthusiasts with 50 pre-recorded riffs and 300 sampled instruments to develop loops and mix them on a 16-track sequencer―along with an array of other audio editing options. Codemasters and Jester's music maker was more advanced than the ambient dolphin from the game Fluid and packed twice the music creating intricacies of the ‘97 rhyming game PaRappa the Rapper.
Visually, the graphics aren't stunning and the style is far from sophisticated. This wasn’t a game for eyes like Sypro or Final Fantasy, but a program for ears and the inner creative spirit. Music Creator never made it to the United States—the game was exclusive to Europe, but only for a year. In 1999, Music 2000 hit retailers, an updated sequel with a North American release, but the game was given a different title: MTV Music Generator. My research didn't uncover a connection with the music television channel, but the name alteration was appropriate for a '90s generation raised on TRL.
MTV Music Generator received IGN’s glowing Editors Choice honors with an excellent 9.0 score. The review reads like a gamer who has such an admiration for music that having the two crossovers is nothing short of a gift from the Gods. With the ability to sample from CDs and a deeper level of song crafting—including 3,000 instrument sounds and 1,500 riffs available—as compared to its predecessor, reviewer Doug Parry stated, “These last aspects totally justify MTV Music Generator as a powerful, legitimate music program that rivals far more difficult $1,500-$3,000 products of the same ilk. Of course, this $45.95 product is the only one of its kind on PlayStation.”
Since I didn’t have a PlayStation growing up—my household had an affinity for Nintendo and its shroom-eating, princess-saving plumber— MTV Music Generator wasn’t a game I was aware of. It also didn’t have the acclaim of Solid Snake or Crash Bandicoot and received far less fanfare than Jack & Daxter or Tekken 3. The series had a fair amount of success, though, eventually being ported over to Xbox and Game Boy. Funkmaster Flex was even part of the 2003 edition.
The game's final version, released in 2004, was Generator 3: This Is The Remix, but by then it was easier to download music making programs than it was to buy a new game. Although thanks to improvements with each rendition, the OG MTV Music Generator quietly played a part in giving some of hip-hop’s biggest future sonic explorers their first taste in tinkering with making beats.
Before TDE, music industry success, or even the availability of adequate equipment, Ab-Soul and Top Dawg in-house extraordinaire Sounwave knew each other through a homie who paired the two together. Soul recalled in a 2012 interview with The FADER how Sounwave, at the time, was producing his beats on a PlayStation game. Sounwave didn't just learn to produce beats, he mastered MTV Music Generator; the Digi+Phonics producer's first major placement was with Bishop Lamont over a beat he made on his PlayStation.
It’s hard to believe that playing a video game could lead to a record traveling from a living room television set to the radio. Even more astounding is how Sounwave caught the ear of TDE president Punch thanks to MTV Music Generator:
Going back, how did you first fall in with TDE?
"Through the president of the company, Punch. We were just on friend terms, he didn't even know I did music but one day he stopped by my house and heard me making something on MTV Music Generator. He was like 'Dog! You're actually kinda good!' His cousin Top Dawg was looking for a producer at the time and said I should come through. I came through, [Punch] introduced me, I played Top a few records and he thought they were dope." - "Beat Construction: Sounwave"
When Ab-Soul rapped, “I had a Sounwave beat tape trying to beat Drake,” it’s likely those beats were made on one of the world's most renowned gaming consoles.
He wasn’t the only rapper placing his bars over PlayStation-made production, either. Big K.R.I.T. is also a well-known user of the program. When Krizzle was in the early stages of his blog recognition, he was very vocal about being unemployed, lacking income and unable to purchase beats. He did have enough for a $50 game and the patience to master an unusual method of creating. “If you can make a beat on that shit you can make a beat on anything,” he hilariously proclaimed in an interview with GoodFella Radio.
Unfortunately, during the beat-making-on-a-video-game-console days, gaming systems weren't built like modern day computers. As a result, one of the biggest complaints about MTV Music Generator was that gamers (and semi-professional producers) didn't have enough memory and RAM to save, export and then record over the track. The setup alone required a television, tape recorder and a karaoke machine, but this patchwork setup was all a part of the drive to rap and produce by any means necessary.
"But the true disappointment, which should come as no surprise, is that you can only save seconds of audio before you run out of memory entirely. And the more self-sampled audio you use, the fewer library riffs you can slip in.You'll realize right away that the ideal setting for intense music creation is not the 2MB RAM PlayStation." - MTV Music Generator review
Like any other fossil from the past, the stories artists tell about their early days can take you back to a completely different era. Iman Omari can recall walking through Blockbuster and seeing an old copy of the video game for $10. Blockbuster is a video rental dinosaur in 2017, a reminder that even the most convenient empires can fall to time, but it’s relevant to Iman’s path to producer-hood―a cheap game bought by his mother captivated his mind before Fruity Loops.
Lex Luger, Jonwayne, Hudson Mohawke and Amerigo Gazaway all touched the controller before they ever downloaded production software on a computer. Lex was making interpretations of “Drop It Like It’s Hot” on MTV Music Generator 3 before emerging as one of the leaders of trap music in Fruity Loops. Red Bull Music Academy has an excellent piece on the accidental creation of Fruity Loops and its success throughout the music industry.
There’s a section where it cites the MTV Music Generator for its interface and how the two served as a bridge for artists from one program to the next:
"In fact, producers often came to FL by way of actual video games, having spent hours on games like Music Creation For The Playstation in the early 2000s. Hudson Mohawke, Skream and Jonwayne all graduated from Playstation loop-making to FL. Considering Image-Line’s origins in games, I wondered if that element of the software was perhaps intentional. Dambrin is quick to dismiss the idea, though he admits that the graphics of the software perhaps maintained a video game feel. (Hudson Mohawke once referred to his surprise at how widespread use of the software was because he’d long assumed it to be “a toy program.”) Whatever the reason, FL owes a lot of its success to its game-like qualities. Not only was music-making democratised in the ‘00s, the centuries-old ways of how music was learnt and composed were upended by a generation of kids that had grown up with video games." - Laurent Fintoni
Sledgren, one of the renown architects behind some of Wiz Khalifa’s most noticeable headphone scorchers, was a huge gamer in high school and that love for games naturally led him to a video game that was also music-making software. Cardo, another popular producer that got his start working with Wiz but has exploded far beyond the Taylor Gang weed circle, also utilized the gaming software when he was just beginning to take music-making seriously. Cardo was rapping at the time, and just like K.R.I.T. he lacked the funds to afford beats, so he created them on the game system. When he would play the songs for people, the beats would garner more of a reaction than his rhymes.
“We started making beats from there and burned them on this CD recorder we had. It was very bootleg but it worked for us. After that everybody was saying I should be doing more producing than rapping – not saying I was a weak rapper, but I was making some dope shit so here I am,” Cardo recalled in a 2012 interview.
Two years away from its 20th anniversary, MTV Music Generator is now a dated program. The game was a convenience in terms of pricing, and a tool to hone, learn and improve before investing in (or pirating) newer programs. Yet, Bombay still keeps the game as part of his production equipment wheelhouse. The DJ/producer was behind the boards for Blu’s entire 2014 Good To Be Home album, a project produced mostly on Music Generator and Reason 5. The ancient saying about the artist making the tool has been the under-arching theme of this piece, but no one quite embodies it like Bombay. Even the most highly-trained ears can’t tell the difference. And besides, the end result will always take precedence over how the music was made—especially when it's an irresistible soul slapper.
Fast forward to present day, a world where an instrumental made on an iPhone application found a home on Kendrick Lamar’s latest head-spinning opus, DAMN. “Pride,” produced by GarageBand enthusiast Steve Lacy, represents an age evolving forward, a time where smartphones are growing into devices that can be used for music creation that stands outside of Fruity Loops and Logic, Ableton and Reason. Steve is 18 years old. Being so young, his connection to technology is different, as are the mediums he can explore. It seems natural for him to gravitate toward and find appeal in options that appear a bit unorthodox to the norm, as video games once were to a whole generation of producers.
MTV Music Generator has mostly been left in the past, with the PlayStation, floppy discs and MediaOne. With cracked versions of Fruity Loops easy to obtain and the rise of cellphone music creating software, the next wave of producers will likely create tomorrow’s sound on an iPhone 10 and not the PS4. Still, it’s rather astounding how a generation of beatsmiths began by holding a controller before clicking a mouse. What makes producers so fascinating is their ability to discover new ways to create based on whatever is available at the time.
True creators aren’t held back by what they lack, they’re able to see potential where others would see limitations. From pencils on lunchroom tables to video game programs, producers who see sound with innovation and ingenuity continue to defy conventionalism.
By Yoh, aka YohRappa the Writer, aka @Yoh31