5 video game references in pop music
Bars of (he’s on) fire in songs and rhymes are more fun than a barrel of Kongs.
But you don’t need a master composer to predict that one would eventually influence the other.
Indeed, once games worked their way out of the arcade and into many homes (and later, pockets), the lyrics of popular music soon followed. A generation of “Space Age Whiz Kids,” as Eagles guitarist Joe Walsh put it in 1983, grew up to be pioneering artists in their own right—and they didn’t shy away from making referencing to their favorite games in their lyrics.
Today we’re awash in musical game references. In the 1970s the Australian electro-disco group Player One turned Space Invaders into a chorus. In the 1980s the duo Buckner & Garcia sang about “Pac-Man Fever.” In the 1990s the artist formerly known as Mos Def rapped about youngbloods rocking PlayStations and the pop punk band The Ataris co-opted an entire generation of game consoles. And since the mainstreaming of the lyrically nimble genre hip hop, well, there are too many to list.
But it’s not so easy to successfully incorporate the names of games and their characters into lyrics. Today, we give some artists their props. Here are five great lines that pay homage to classic video games.
“Cookie Jar” by Doja Cat (2018)
“She record that, Pokémon Go, you Snorlax / Swear they been sleepin' on me”
Snorlax is one of the original 151 Pokémon. When you encounter it in the Red/Blue/Yellow series, it’s fast asleep, blocking the path for you to get through.
Gamers have to play the Poké Flute to awaken Snorlax from its slumber. And Doja Cat is hoping to do the same thing, using her rhymes to alert her haters and people who have been ignoring her.
To go even more meta, Snorlax can evolve into Gigantamax, which literally has a road leading up to a dark forest on its belly. Perhaps Doja Cat is implying she’s willing to take on anything that comes her way, even if it means traveling the hardest path.
“Coming for You” by The Offspring (2015)
“Sold out, blow out, Donkey Kong”
The Offspring dropped “Coming for You” as a standalone single in 2015, and it also appeared on their 2021 album Let the Bad Times Roll. But this lyric goes back much further than that.
In 1994, The Offspring released Smash, which became the highest-selling independent rock record of all time. There’s a track on that album called “Genocide,” which includes the lyrics “Dog eat dog, every day.”
However, lead singer Dexter Holland sounds like he’s saying, “Donkey Kong,” which inspired one of the more fun misheard lyrics out there.
As a nod to the fans, Holland really did write “Donkey Kong” into a song 21 years later. Guitarist Noodles claims it’s referencing the phrase “It’s on like Donkey Kong,” which is clearly just a cover-up.
“Slaughterhouse” by Joe Budden feat. Crooked I, Royce da 5'9" and Joell Ortiz (2009)
"I'm PS4 in HD, and the screen is plasma / You're Atari 2600 with a weak adapter" (Joell Ortiz)
There was a 36-year gap between the release of the Atari 2600 and the PlayStation 4. Naturally, technology has improved over that time.
It’s less common today, but during the prime of the Atari 2600, a wonky cable could cause your game to crash just as you were at the precipice of victory.
This line might need an update 15 to 20 years down the line when we’re up to the PlayStation 8, but for now, it still highlights a stark difference in quality.
“Afro Puffs” by The Lady of Rage (1994)
"Now I'm hittin' MCs like HAAAAADOUKEN! / Ain't no doubt about it, I'm the undisputed"
This track was featured in the 1994 film Above the Rim, and the entire song is a slam dunk.
Right after Snoop Dogg tells her to “rock on witcha bad self,” in the chorus, The Lady of Rage starts off the second verse in style. She warns all comers that if they try to challenge her atop the throne, she’ll knock them back like Ryu’s famous move from Street Fighter, one of the most popular fighting games of all-time.
In the music video, The Lady of Rage is looking at herself in the mirror when she says this line. A good reminder to use yourself as a benchmark for personal growth.
“Rockafella” by Redman (1994)
Are there any more imitators in the house? There are though / Bust like NBA Jams, and you can have Chicago" and "The new stuff / Creamin' brothas like Breyer's / 'He's heating up!'--nah, brotha, I'm ON FIRE!"
Redman is one of the more creative wordsmiths in the rap game, and in “Rockafella” he gives us a double dose of NBA Jam goodness.
Even though Michael Jordan wasn’t on the roster, the Chicago Bulls were one of the most popular teams in the game. They had just won three titles in a row, after all. Redman gifting his opponent the Scottie Pippen/Horace Grant duo is a kind gesture—right before he promptly beats them, anyway.
The second reference (which includes a bonus nod to the delicious Breyer’s ice cream) is Redman’s knockout punch. He hits his second shot and then knocks down the third before you can even blink. And now he won’t miss again.
Have a favorite song that includes a gaming reference? Drop it in the comments.
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