On the Come Up

Who’s that on the M-I-C
Lyrically it’s Doctor B
Not Master P, but I’m still OG
Gotta get this paper casually

I first met Dr. B in a decidedly out-of-place Golfland arcade in sleepy, suburban Castro Valley, CA on a rainy day some four years ago, for a Capcom vs. SNK 2 tournament he was running. He stands at a lanky six feet or so, which is inconveniently tall for a stand-up arcade cabinet, and in the dim, garish lighting of the arcade, he looks kind of like Dave Chappelle.

The local scene has long since faded from its past weekly tournament glory, and the arcade has fallen from its once competitive heights to be reclaimed by bored high school kids who want to show off their Dance Dance Revolution skills, but Dr. B, also known as Brandon Chaney, has refused to follow suit. One moment he is in Pomona, CA for CVS2 national championships, the next he is coincidentally walking behind me at a Buca di Beppo in downtown San Francisco. Maybe a few months later he’s in Oregon. Or finishing art school. Or, in this case, recording tracks with his hip hop crew, Superior Tek.

We bringin hip hop back
Energetically and medically
we patchin s**t up
from the abuse of mediocre n****z rappin s**t up

Superficially, it would seem that hip hop and videogaming are very different beasts; certainly the predominant media image of the former is black and the latter is white. But our world is ever so much more complex than our crude racial designations will admit, and Eminem’s success is by now just as much a fact of life as Vivendi’s upcoming 50 Cent: Bulletproof. But while Snoop Dogg, 50, Def Jam and other prominent hip hop heads have found themselves faithfully exported to the world of PS2, crossovers the other way have not been quite so common. Except for MC Frontalot, who spits his own brand of “nerdcore” rap, authentic representations of gamers in hip hop have been few and far between. Enter Superior Tek, a group of guys named Dr. B, Crescent-X, Oliverian, LAX Tactics, Nef, Brood and Beneficial, who collectively manage to game without being too geeky and rap without being too gangsta.

Spider web, spider sting,
do your job, hey
we reppin’ the bay and it’s S-T-K
we straight from the west but we not Kanye

“We grew up playing fighting games,” Dr. B tells me. “All our lives playing games like Street Fighter 2 and Bloody Roar. Me and Crescent-X have been best friends since high school, and we always did music, so we just fused that s**t together. We met LAX through another guy we met playing Capcom vs. SNK 2 at the campus arcade, and he had a friend named Beneficial who made beats.” He pauses for a second and continues, “You remember Oliver from Sunnyvale [Golfland]? The guy who was hella good at CVS2?” I nod tentatively; I remember seeing the name on a few sets of tournament brackets somewhere, but it’s been a while, and I can’t attach a face to the name. “Yeah,” Dr. B continues, “he’s [STK member] Oliverian. He’s our ghost producer, kind of like Chad from the Neptunes, just in the background.” His excitement – whether about hip hop or about being interviewed – is gradually growing. Without being prompted, he exclaims, “It’s our love for music and our bond to video games and each other keep us motivated to make it to the top! You can quote me on that, just for starters.”

Blast like Goku
I flow so true
Lyrics that go through
you and your crew

Later, Dr. B mentions that he had just spent a recent weekend in Las Vegas for the Evolution 2005 National Fighting Game Championships. Unlike previous years, where those in the know might only know of Dr. B for his unorthodox tactics, this year brought Superior Tek together, in classic hip hop style, as a promotion team on the sinful streets of Vegas, selling the album to club-goers and competitive gamers alike. “We played at Club Ice, we freestyled with fans in the streets and in the lobby of the MGM Grand…we won Evolution by letting them feel our vibe,” he says to me.

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This is the new breed of gamers, here; consider Superior Tek as representative of a growing population that is just as comfortable playing Final Fantasy or Madden 2006 and just as comfortable rapping about women and money as they are about Marvel Comics or Halo 2. The rap game is just as visceral as a game of Street Fighter to them; they’re about sick combinations, whether it’s mixing verses and beats or hitting that M. Bison custom combo consistently. They are discriminating gamers, and the industry best take notice not to slap 50 Cent on the cover of a PS2 game and simply expect it to sell like GTA does. Just because they do hip hop and fighting games does not mean that they are guaranteed to like Def Jam Vendetta. In other words, these guys are living proof that the worlds of hip hop and gaming are becoming ever more relevant to each other in a way that seeing Xboxes on MTV Cribs simply cannot convey.

I dodge Robocops, this ain’t OCP
rockin a nice outfit so the hoes see me
these n****z ain’t ready best be-lieve me

That isn’t to say that some people haven’t picked up on this. While Electronic Arts may not have the greatest music choices in their games sometimes (please refer to any hockey game ever; maybe that’s why people weren’t too sad to see them skip a year), they do own their own record label. Next Level Music, a business venture allegedly developed after Universal Pictures approached EA for permission to use the Medal of Honor orchestral theme in the Seabiscuit movie trailer, is set to turn one year old in a few weeks. For better or for worse one of the American gaming giants is somewhat cognizant of the relationship between gamers and their music.

But what is far more impressive than EA throwing their weight around is the presence of something like Yosumi RecordsVideo Game Breaks and Sound Effects Volumes 1 and 2, which neatly packages assorted samples. These include old-school Super Mario Bros. to not-quite-so-old-school Shenmue, with a little bit of everything in between. I don’t think I’ll be hearing any Metal Gear Solid remixes on the radio any time soon, but at least it’s there.

Alpha, Beta
Swisher, Sega,
Halo, Madden,
Make it happen

Superior Tek are still relative newcomers to the hip hop scene, and their album belies that fact. Even a casual music listener can tell from a few minutes with their promotional album, Level Up, that their beginning tracks feel forced in both production and lyrics. At their best, though, they show promise in both facets of hip hop music, something that can only be learned by those who are willing to study everyone from Kool Herc to Kanye West.

If Level Up is any indication, we can expect that Dr. B and the rest of the Superior Tek crew are taking their rap game into training mode, just like any seasoned fighting gamer, and dissecting their beats and flows with scientific precision. “It doesn’t matter what we use,” Dr. B tells me. “Our newer material uses elements from gaming, rock, techno, et cetera. We’re soul music gone futuristic.” Street Fighter or hip hop, these guys are playing to win. Take heed, all. Gaming and gangster are now coming hand-in-hand.

Check out Superior Tek at http://myspace.com/SUPERIORTEK

Pat Miller has been doing this for way too long.

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