Nothing has ever been a better teacher, indoctrinator or prophet for the godly sounds of hip-hop, than NBA Street Vol. 2. Bold claims, but the wide eyed gleam of excitement from a ten year old when he learns about a genuinely amazing genre of music does not lie. Such a ten year old was me in the Christmas of 2003, when I unwrapped one of the most influential presents I have ever received. My hip-hop loving father had given me NBA Street Vol. 2, a game which should be included in the bible of hip-hop.
The whizz of the game disc whirled inside my chunky, yet suave, silver PS2 resting on the cream carpet of a top floor flat in Stoke Newington. As the iconic EA Sports Big appeared on the screen, the saxophone which followed drew my immediate attention. T.R.O.Y. had introduced himself to me. If you cannot remember the first time you heard Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth - They Reminisce Over You, allow me to explain to you mine. The saxophone’s golden howl planted the seeds of music’s breadth within my soul, knocking down the boundaries of the music box within my mind which confined the limits of acceptable and cool instruments to the triumvirate of a drum, guitar and piano. I was learning about hip hop from what was only the title screen of the game. What wonders lay ahead as I delved further into the Street of NBA and uncovered an array of dirty beats which would accompany my characters’ journey from lowly street ball player, who couldn’t hit a 3-pointer, to a destroyer of hoops with a 720 spinning dunk taking on a team of Michael Jordan, Michael Jordan and um… Michael Jordan.
Some songs weren’t just chosen for their merit as classics only; there’s that witty fella who must have decided Black Sheep - The Choice Is Yours would accompany the character selection screen due to its aptly fitting name. So well it worked too, making the supposedly simple task of selecting a playable baller into a wondrous scrolling adventure. The first lyrics uttered “Here they come yo, here they come” as more and more players arose from the depths of the screen to be chosen. Yes, here they do come, here they do: but who to choose!? “This or that? This or that?”, Black Sheep verbalised the inner dialogue running wild in my mind but brought me no closer to settling on any of the choices I had in front on me. “This or that? This or that? This or that? This or that?” Before I could even select, the beat dropped and Andres "Dres" Titus completely threw me from my task at hand. My favourite rap bars ever? Just maybe. Nobody can look past the inventive nature of his lyrics, mixed with the raw delivery in his flow and tone. Who doesn’t know about "Engine, engine, number nine. You know, the train on the New York transit line. Now, what do you do If my train goes off the track? You pick it up! Pick it up! Pick it up!"?
When Black Sheep released me from my hype, and I finally chose my team of three, we could eventually step onto court. Even as the game loaded, EA Sports had enlisted Just Blaze to provide some instrumentals to allow slowly loading transitions to sound like a dope set. Weeks flew by as the game and its soundtrack dominated my life. At times I was unbeatable; I was a king in the game, a real underground NBA star. Yet, every now and then, there were times where I became a normal human again. 8 points down with no gamebreaker* in sight, I needed to change my fortunes, I needed inspiration and help. This I found in the lyrics of Nelly. Not only were Nelly and the St. Lunatics unlockable and playable characters, but his tune Not In My House roused and energised. One such moment was against the team of triple Jordan’s. 20-12 down, Chicago Bull’s Jordan lines up for that game winning 3 pointer as he looks for nothing but the net. It was at this moment that Nelly came to my rescue, with his timely, and again so aptly named song, Not in My House. His words of “Not in my House, You might catch me on the road, But not in my house, It won't happen oh no oh no, oh no, oh no, oh no.” brought me new life. Up soared my character with a mammoth block, repelling the ball with the force of Thor so that it sailed all the way to centre court. This court was my house and that three pointer was just not happening! I did go on to lose the match 21-20 but it was a close fought affair in which I unveiled a universal truth, Nelly inspires, even if I did fail to complete the comeback.
* (note. A gamebreaker was a super shot you could make when your skill bar was charged enough)
With Lords of the Underground also donning an impressive array of classics, you can see NBA incorporated some real hip-hop heritage. Whilst to call every song on this soundtrack a classic would be overstated, to deny that each track is an absolute gem is a crime. The funky beat of Nate Dogg and Eve - Get Up fitted a game of b-ball impeccably while MC Lyte - Ride With Me sounds so beautifully menacing it kept the energy pumping, increasing the intensity of every match. Each song brought its own special style of hip-hop and added to a compelling compilation listen.
It is no understatement to say that this game truly inspired me. A mixed race child influenced by his black heritage, I rocked a big Afro for the next two years to mimic the strong black characters in the game. NBA also brought about a knowledge of good music which grew as far as my curls did. I was released into the jungle of a new genre that extended significantly further than the generic pop which I loved at the time. It brought about an appreciation for delving into the catalogues of different music myself and following what I thought was ‘cool’. It brought me and my father even closer because I could talk about things he loved without taking direction from him. The pure joy mixed with bewilderment I saw across his face when his ten year old son shouted “Boom shaka laka yo here comes the Chief Rocka”, in celebration of expertly sinking a piece of rubbish in the bin will forever be ingrained in my mind. “Where’d you learn about Lords of the Underground?”, my dad asked unknowingly. “NBA Street Vol.2” I replied, “The game with the greatest sound track ever.”
Words; Tai Kolade