Exclusive: Def Jam Rapstar Hands on

Growing up in a neighborhood congested with the likes of a diverse community in the Bronx, I was exposed to relatively all kinds of music. From the Caribbean sounds of reggae, salsa and merengue that my foreign neighbors and local bodegas continuously diverted outside their windows and stores at high volume, to the resonance of modern day tunes, music always penetrated my every day life alongside my hobby of gaming.

Although the assortment of different music was rampant in my neighborhood, one form of music was what catered to the growing youth. It was a fast growing genre that took poetic chanted lyrics and merged them with rhythmic beats. It was the very form of music that created legends like Tupac, Notorious B.I.G. and Jay-Z, and it is the very genre that Def Jam is taking and redefining on next generation systems.

DualShockers recently got invited to get an exclusive sneak-peek at Def Jam’s upcoming game Def Jam Rapstar – the first and true Hip-Hop game of its kind – over at 4mm Games here in New York City. We met up with Devin Winterbottom and a few folks from 4mm Games and the Def Jam Interactive team and were shown an early build of what people, Hip-hop fans especially, should definitely be excited about next year.

The industry has recently been flooded with all sorts of music simulation games. From Guitar Hero, DJ Hero and Rock Band – all of which use peripherals to model musical instruments to simulate the performance of music, to games such as SingStar and Lips which give off a karaoke-like ambiance, these forms of entertainment have recently provided gamers with a new means of interacting with music and games in a profoundly unique way.

However, although these games were indeed revolutionary in their own right, many felt a bit displaced due to the confined genre of music that it catered to – Rock. Albeit the games were somewhat stimulating, they really didn’t offer much variety in the choice of music one could personally relate to with regards to taste.

Def Jam Rapstar offers both Hip-Hop enthusiasts and gamers a new palate of distinct musical interaction by offering players the ability to rap and/or sing to their favorite songs (old and new), and the freedom to explicitly share their lyrical talents with a community which will be set in place at launch.

When we first entered the room in which we were going to exhibit Rapstar, we were greeted by a handful of the folks working on the title from both Def Jam and 4mm Games. The gargantuan TV held the gaze of the game’s menu as we took our seats and began to discuss the fundamentals of Rapstar. Both Joel and Al tested the early build of the game, which is still in its developmental stages, and began to rap along with songs like “Nuthin But a G Thang” by Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre, and “They Reminisce Over You” by Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth. Joel tried his hardest to mimic Snoop Dogg as much as possible, even though it was impossible due to his Anglo features and short stature. Being that I know for a fact that Joel practices in his bathroom mirror, in a towel, while holding a brush to his mouth to just about every song he thinks is awesome, I had a feeling he was going to do fairly well. He did tear it up on the mic, as did Al, when they went off on their respective parts. Goes to show you how far practicing in front of a fogged mirror can take you.

Me? I stood on the sidelines taking notes and making fun of them. I didn’t want to grab the mic and spit the craziest shit ever. I would have caused the entire building to implode, destroying countless months of work that 4mm and Def Jam have worked so hard on. I definitely didn’t want to be on Def Jam’s and 4mm’s shit list on a holiday season.

Def Jam Rapstar, like almost every other game that incorporates the use of singing, uses a system in which the player follows lyrics displayed on screen with the help of the “Rap Hammer” which provides assistance with accuracy and timing. Singers will have a pitch meter that will determine how accurately they’re hitting the notes shown on screen to display their godly vocal skills, or embarrass themselves amongst friends. We experienced just how accurate the system was when Blackspot, one of the guys showing us the game, began to sing Rihanna’s part in T.I.’s “Live Your Life” – a song that he utterly murdered along with Devin Winterbottom, who was undertaking the role of rapping. How the game didn’t stop just shut down is seriously beyond me. But it clearly displayed that even though you’re not Eminem or Celine Dion, you can definitely enjoy yourself either soloing it, or with some friends around to make fun of you.

Unlike most of these games, though, which use the Phonics system that checks for a tone of voice, 4mm Games developed their own software from the ground up in order to provide a much more sophisticated method of actually understanding words, rather than humming them (which just about every game, aside from this one, does); You don’t speak the words out while rhyming or singing, you pretty much fail. This adds a broader sense of realism to the game, while providing a much stricter rule of “no bullshitting.”

Of course, if you think you’re a god at rapping, and know just about every single song in the game, then you can enter “Expert Mode” which will remove all the lyrics from the screen and judge your skills in a much harsher tone – you sneeze, you fail.

One of the great things about Rapstar isn’t only the fact that it finally took the plunge of bringing Hip-hop fans the same excitement that RockBand fans brought… err… Rock fans; it’s also the amount of enticing options made available.

For one, players aren’t limited to the yucky microphones that first-party folks provide (e.g. Lips and SingStar microphones), as the game does provide support for all PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 microphones. Although the game will bring its own microphone that will ship with a dongle that will support two mics, rappers or players will have the eligibility to plug professional (e.g. more expensive) microphones for much richer sounding tracks. That’s right, folks. The better the microphone, the better the quality you’re going to get. Don’t expect to get studio quality sound with a Logitech USB headset.

And speaking of studio sound, each track is kept in its original master state, which means that there is absolutely no compression whatsoever on any track. Players will experience high-quality Hip-hop music at its finest in Def Jam Rapstar. You want to talk about bumpin’? This is as bumpin’ as it’s going to get, ladies and gentlemen.

You will have tracks from numerous labels making an appearance in Rapstar. There isn’t any restriction on music although it is a Def Jam game. This is because this game is apart of Def Jam Interactive and not Def Jam Records; so licensing issues have been ironed out with other record labels and well-known producers that willfully collaborated closely with the game, providing us with some of the best music in the genre.

The early build we saw of the game integrates song with video. As you launch the song of your choice that you want to rap/sing, you will also be presented with the actual video of the song as well. Remember those nifty videos that you saw growing up (or even now) on MTV, VH1 or BET? Yea, they’re in there. You’ll definitely get your chance at nostalgia once you ogle what the game brings to the table, except without that distorted look of 1980’s tube televisions. Each video has been restored – with the exception of earlier videos, which are already in HD – to be as clear as possible. So, there’s no need to get the Windex or anything of that nature to try and scrub off blur like my parents used to do.

Don’t think, though, that this is just a regurgitation of preceding music games, because it seems familiar. Def Jam Rapstar takes interaction to a whole new level. It does have its elements of “gaming” in which players do have the options of career modes and unlockable goodies for you content whores. It does emphasize to create your very own emcee that will model your very own persona and define who you are. But what stands this game out from the rest is the fact that it allows players to interact heavily with an online community.

The freestyle option will be made available for the community to share and display their lyrical prowess with the world. You will not only be able to share your poetic rhymes of whatever you rap about, but players will also be able to record video – using the PSEye or Xbox Live Vision Camera – of themselves while doing it. With unlockable content used as a means to decorate their video, players will be able to upload and share videos with the Rapstar community. Dedicated servers will be up and running at launch, which will handle things like battles, crews, etc. As for multiplayer option, Devin Winterbottom told DualShockers, “Because such a high amount of bandwidth is needed to stream both video and audio at the same time, multiplayer is, at least for now, up in the air.”

Of course, being that this is a game based on music, people will want more in terms of content. DLC has been mentioned and will be made available shortly after the game’s release. What song will be available wasn’t disclosed, but we do know that, out of the box, Rapstar will come included with roughly 40 – 45 songs. We weren’t really allowed to know, per se, the songs that are on that list; but we did get a peek at quite a handful, which we will keep a secret. Rest assured that the Def Jam and 4mm teams do have some good taste in music and that you will, indeed, enjoy what they have whipped up.

Def Jam Rapstar is what every Hip-hop fan has been waiting for. Even as an early build, it showed us that when done right, it can exceed the realm of entertainment and introduce a means of evolution in the genre of music games that will not only perpetuate a mesmerizing and enchanting experience, but will also pave the way for others to interact and share their genius with the world. God knows how many talented rappers are out there. Rapstar will definitely be an outlet to entertain the mass, and, for some, to astonish the world.

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Yaris Gutierrez

Born and raised in New York City, Yaris is one of three co-founders at DualShockers. Gaming since the inception of Nintendo in the 80's, he has grown to avidly appreciate games of every genre, maturing his preference specifically now to third-person action games, first-person shooters and JRPGs. He's a software engineer, father and husband during the day, and mildly attempts to hold onto his "hardcore gamer" title during the evenings. An attempt that he tends to fail miserably at.

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