The 2010 iteration of the “NBA 2K” series wasn’t the most hip-hop heavy, but it was an extremely well rounded mix of music. It never feels weird browsing the game’s menus and hearing Kanye West followed by Matisyahu or Santigold. And if it does feel weird, the game balances it out with material from Ace Hood or The Game.
Madden NFL 2004
“Madden” always has a good soundtrack, but 2004 had one of the most exciting hip-hop line ups in the franchise. The acts are a snap-shot of what 106 & Park’s Top 10 looked like back in 2003. Outkast, The Roots, Bubba Sparkxxx, and Joe Budden all supplied memorable records for the hit game. Long time ‘Madden” fans aren’t likely to forget booting up the disc and hearing Bonecrusher “Never Scared” while they browsed the game’s menus, marveling at the Falcon's new uniforms.
Need for Speed: Underground
“Need for Speed Underground” was the first in the complete rework of the franchise. The music was split between rock in-game and popular rap on the menus. Like other E.A. games from the era, Underground’s music functions as a peek at what the world was listening to that year. You have Mystikal, Lil’ Jon, T.I. and even Petey Pablo providing tunes.
Grand Theft Auto : Vice City
“Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” was set in a time when hip-hop, as a cultural movement, was just reaching its infancy. Rap was hardly even named yet. Still, the game had a great mix of old school records that are now considered classic material. Notable contributors were Run D.M.C., Afrika Bambaataa and Melle Mel.
The first installment in the comedic counterpart to the “GTA” games, “Saints Row” had a soundtrack that was arguably better than its more serious competitor. Between artists like MC Lyte, Clipse, Quasimoto, Madvillain and Aesop Rock no one can deny the depth and variety in “Saint’s Row’s” hip-hop selection.
Grand Theft Auto IV
“Grand Theft Auto IV” definitely had an excellent soundtrack, made more so by the niche nature of the radio stations. There was hip-hop, classic hip-hop, hip-house, and a host of other sub-genres that made “GTA IV” as sonically enjoyable as it was in every other category, and worthy of its multiple Game of the Year awards and nominations.
NBA Live 07
Like “Madden” or any other annual sports game, “NBA Live” always comes correct with the soundtracks. “Live 07’s” soundtrack particularly stands out among the “Live” games, and sports games in general. The game has a heavily “conscious” tilt, with artists like Talib Kweli, Rhymefest and Lupe Fiasco. Throw in Gnarls Barkley’s feel-good anthem “Crazy” and you’re left with a truly memorable soundtrack.
Similar to the "GTA" and "Saint's Row" games, "Sleeping Dogs" has a wide range of music available through several in-game radio stations. “Sleeping Dogs” shows underground hip-hop a lot of love, probably the most out of every game in this list. Outside of J Dilla, Jadakiss and Freddie Gibbs, many of the acts aren’t known to the mainstream. That only means the world at large finally got the chance to enjoy the work of artists like Ozomatli, Ninjasonik and Felt.
Need for Speed: Most Wanted (2005)
We’re talking the first “Most Wanted” here. The 2005 hit racing game with music from Lupe Fiasco, T.I., The Roots, and even Juvenile. The 2005 “Most Wanted” probably had the best overall soundtrack out of all the “Need for Speed” games after “Underground,” and that’s saying something.
Tony Hawk: Underground
The Tony Hawk games probably birthed a good chunk of today’s skaters. Similarly, “Tony Hawk Underground” birthed a ton of underground hip-hop fans. Some of the most slept on acts of the ‘90s make an appearance on this game’s OST. You’ve got Aceyalone, Deltron 3030, R.A. the Rugged Man, and even DJ Qbert.
Saint's Row the Third
“Saint’s Row the Third” was where the series finally came into its stride. The “GTA” comparisons largely ceased by the time SR3 released. Still, like the “GTA” games, “Saint’s Row the Third” features a marvelous soundtrack, and a great selection of hip-hop. Quality tracks provided by Mickey Factz, Pharoahe Monch, Wale, and Kanye West.
Def Jam Vendetta
Def Jam Vendetta easily has one of the best hip-hop music in a video game. Launching during a time when Def Jam had multiple charting artists, they matched the game’s grimey atmosphere with highly contemporary music. Method Man, Redman, Joe Budden, and DMX are but a few of the game’s roster of rap talent.
True Crime: Streets of L.A.
Unlike its successors, ‘True Crime: Streets of L.A.” lacked a large selection of music or even radio stations to organize it. That obviously didn’t impact the quality of the music the game does have. The West Coast gets heavy representation in this game, which is only appropriate considering the setting.
Grand Theft Auto 3
“Grand Theft Auto 3” was the first time the vast majority of us ever experienced Rockstar’s charming societal satire. The game’s soundtrack was likewise revelutionary as it was the first time many gamers interacted with a soundtrack as an in-game radio. We all probably remember how Royce da 5’ 9” and Pretty Ugly dominated Game FM.
Def Jam: Fight for New York
“Def Jam: Fight for New York” surpassed its predecessor in every way imaginable, including its robust soundtrack. As many one of the better soundtracks in this list, FFNY put older acts like Big Daddy Kane and LL Cool J right alongside contemporary emcees like Outkast or Xzibit. This game ranks easily among the best video game soundtracks ever, hip-hop or otherwise.
The great unifier of hip-hop’s four elements is the DJ. It’s no surprise then that a game predicated on DJing has one of the broadest and most inclusive hip-hop soundtracks ever. There’s litterally a little of everything here. From popular acts like Jay Z and Eminem, to legends like Grand Master Flash and Afrika Bambaataa - plus fringe artists like DJ Shadow or the Gorrilaz.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Even with the release of “GTA V,” “Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas” remains one of the best games in the “GTA” franchise and still has one of, if not the best soundtracks of all the “GTA” games. Being set in the ‘90s West Coast, “San Andreas” leveraged one of hip-hop’s most sonically appealing sub-genres, G-Funk. That in conjunction with the gritty gangsta raps and groovy R&B of the era made for one of the best listening experiences in a video game yet.
Grand Theft Auto V
It’s almost unfair to include this game, but it’d be equally unfair to discount the work Rockstar put into the musical selection this time around. The game’s soundtrack is superbly nuanced. You have the West Coast classics from the likes of Dre and Snoop that we all expected, there’s something deeply satisfying in seeing the resurgent West’s roster of rappers at work here as well. All of Black Hippy are featured, as well as Tyler the Creator and Game. ASAP Rocky, Outkast and Big K.R.I.T. are but a few of the many talented artists of the new generation.
True Crime Streets of New York
Though not the greatest video game of all time, no game before or since has captured the essence of New York rap to the same degree as “True Crime: Streets of New York” did. Much the foundation of modern rap is present here. A Tribe Called Quest, Slick RIck, Nas, Eric B & Rakim, Mobb Deep, Black Sheep. There’re probably never be as complete a collection of New York rap in a game every again.
NBA Street Vol. 2
Widely considered among the best basketball games of all time, “NBA Street Vol. 2’s” soundtrack was shorter than most on this list, but it makes up for it twice over in quality. The game perfectly married older records like “Chief Rocka” or “The choice is yours” with contemporary work from the likes of Nelly and Just Blaze. “NBA Street Vol. 2” also introduced a generation to Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth’s legendary eulogy “T.R.O.Y.”