I was 13 when Notorious B.I.G. died, in 1997. I was playing a game of nine-ball with my friend. We were watching MTV. "King Nothing" by Metallica was playing when they broke in with the news. I had no idea who the man was, just that he was a rapper who got shot. Like that Tupac guy that was gunned down on the Las Vegas strip the year before. I asked my friend, who was a bit more into the hip hop scene, who he was. "He was a pretty good rapper," was all he had for me.
A couple months later, my friend and I would disavow that short conversation ever happened. Even hinting we weren't Biggie fans from the very beginning was social suicide. Before he died, rap was already cruising along, a star rising after Tupac's death. After Biggie, MTV and the music industry marketed the emerging craze into a lifestyle supernova. Puff Daddy was everywhere, even in my white, suburban home. By the MTV Video Awards later that year, every teenager in America was hooked on hip hop and rap. Tossing posthumous accolades Biggie's way during the awards was just icing on a very well planned marketing cake. The concept of the "rocker" was dead, and Biggie's "gangsta" memory killed it.
It certainly wasn't coincidence when my friends in the courtyard started talking about an esoteric rapping game Sony just released. Entitled PaRappa the Rapper, you milled about a cel-shaded town as a street-talking dog who visited his animal buddies and freestyled with them. In order to rap with PaRappa's friends, you'd mash buttons in time to their "flow," with the musical journey spanning numerous beat timings and styles. Rather than following the violent gangsta rap paradigm, PaRappa rapped an encouraging story of self confidence and self reliance, all the while demanding extremely good rhythm.
If anything, PaRappa the Rapper was gateway hip hop. The concept of letting a teenage kid wrap his digits around an album written by a former crack dealer in New York City was a foreign one to a lot of parents. But a dog singing songs to alligators was just so... Disney. How dangerous could rap be if it was delivered by a puppy in a cute hat?
And so flowed PaRappa. The little guy was my buddies' key to cool, and the neighborhood copy roamed from house to house as we all sang along to catchy tunes rooted in a culture we were stealing from impoverished urbanites 2,500 miles away. The success of the first title not only made way for a sequel, it established the rhythm game genre and paved the way for games like Dance Dance Revolution.