Drake and Ninja’s stream opened the flood gates for rappers to explore the popular video game.
You’re crouched down behind some low quality, unmoving blades of grass. There’s a tree in front of you. As your inching slowly towards it, a striking crash of thunder roars around you. You can’t tell which direction it’s coming from so you sit still and check your surroundings. After a couple of seconds of holding your breath, you relax. You breathe in slowly, calmly, and prepare to move. You think this is easy, this reminds you of – “BAM!” A second crash of thunder, much louder than the first rings through your ears. Looking around frantically now, you panic and start running. The crashes get louder, and louder, until you see the source. A woman with cartoonish proportions is running towards you at full speed with a sniper rifle that’s nearly as big as her, aiming down the scope at you, but, no matter how much she fires it, she can’t hit you. After emptying the clip, it disappears and she pulls out a giant pickaxe. By this time, you’ve already caught her slipping – you attack her with your pickaxe while she tries to move out-of-the-way. A quick lull in the action allows you to pull out your own cartoonish pistol and unload a few choice bullets into her abdomen. Eventually, she bursts into thin air and all sorts of goodies like bandages and a container of shield potion float just off the surface of the ground. You pick up the best of what she has, only to be shot from behind with a shotgun twice. Now you’re finito.
Congratulations! You’ve just experienced your first death on Fortnite, the immensely popular Battle Royale video game that pits you and 99 others against each other in a match of wits, double-crossing, and pure luck. The exhilarating experience tests your mental, reaction times, and camaraderie with your fellow teammates. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience that’s captivated the minds of millions across the world. Twitch, the popular streaming service that lets everyone have a chance at becoming the next PewDiePie, is full of gamers streaming themselves sneaking slowly through sparse shrubbery, holding a sniper rifle in one hand and a map in the other. To see it is to love it. One thing is for certain, it’s here and it’s not going anywhere.
It’s already taken over the video game industry, but it slowly looks to be heading into pop culture as well – hip-hop to be precise. Drake joined superstar Twitch streamer Ninja unexpectedly on March 15, smashing just about every record in the books for viewers in attendance. The addition of Travis Scott only bolstered the game’s appeal to the masses, but then more rappers began to endorse it – honest promo too, not paid placements. Lil Yachty was recorded making a one-of-a-kind play as he sat extremely close to his TV, entranced by what was happening on-screen. Trippie Redd posted a video claiming to be a badass at the game. Somehow, even Soulja Boy jumped into the Fortnite conversation. There’s undoubtedly an intense fascination with the game within the hip-hop community that speaks farther than interest sparked by streamers and casual wonder. In fact, Drake reportedly revealed that he was a fan prior to the stream.
So what’s going on? What is making Fortnite become an integral part of hip-hop in 2018? Is this the Twilight Zone? What if, bear with me here, the reason that rappers are gravitating to it is because it’s a recreation of the music industry?
Rappers often come into the game like babies come into our world. We’re born to our parents and into our community and that’s all we have. There’s no do-overs, no mistakes, everything’s final. We can’t change our initial stat build like you can within a video game. Rappers enter into the game with a world of impressions that people already have of them based on how they got into the spotlight in the first place. No matter what they do, that perception usually endures. This, in turn, often influences the path that their career goes on. Not every path is equal, or fair, but that’s the way that life is.
Fortnite places everyone on the same path, gives everyone an identical starting character save for cosmetic differences, and turns them loose on the world. Everyone starts in a flying vehicle called the Battle Bus – it’s absurd as it sounds – where, whenever they choose, they can jump out and parachute towards any area of the map. From there, chaos ensues. The goal of the game is to become the last one standing, taking out anyone in your way to be the lone survivor at the top. The spoils of victory? The game congratulates you.
In the rap industry, the goal is to survive. It’s a perpetual battle of remaining relevant, avoiding physical and economic deterrence, and not giving a fuck about the media, because, let’s face it, the media only exists to fuck with them. These distractions are the ever-shrinking storm of Fortnite, closing in at pre-determined times to weed out the guys too slow to keep up with the race. While they’re falling into the wayside, only to get eliminated while trying to get back into the race, the rappers are duking it out – sometimes with weapons, other times with just words. The Battle Royale of rap is viscous, with, just like in Fortnite, attacks coming from every which way. Artists like Kendrick Lamar and Future are the constantly moving, careful participants – they’re turning the camera around constantly, not letting anyone sneak up on them. Guys like J. Cole and Lil Yachty traverse the outer edges of the shrinking circle, avoiding useless confrontation while observing the playing field and only appearing when absolutely necessary. Their presence may not always be seen, but they’re always lurking, learning, and catering their play style to the situation at hand thanks to their versatility.
Fortnite’s building feature allows users to create all kinds of properties to shield themselves from bullets, traverse the gigantic map, or just to create cool fort-like structures. The interesting thing about it is that in order for players to build said establishments, they must destroy the environment to obtain the materials. It gives credence to the mantra of through destruction, creation is possible. In rap music, rappers destroy what doesn’t work to build something else. If a situation with a record label isn’t working for an artist, they’ll often get out of it so that they can build a better one. This protects them from other coming to take their spot, enabling them to continue fighting in the perpetual Battle Royale.
Perhaps the best part about Fortnite that adds to its unpredictability is the randomized-loot system that will make sure that no two games are ever the same. The locations of treasure chests and items may often be the same, but what comes out of them is anything but. You never know what you’ll find – there may be a gigantic container of blue liquid called Slug Juice that is hidden inside of a gas station on one play through and on the next, you’ll find some shotgun shells. This capriciousness can be found in the rap game as well. Rappers never know what they’ll get when they enter into the industry, and they use that to their advantage. It adds to the challenge and makes their traversal of the territory that much more interesting.
The beauty of Fortnite lies in its simplicity. Through the complex systems and metagame that constantly changes, at its heart, it’s a simple game with one goal – to be the last man standing. When players land on the ground, they’re prepared to take out anyone in their way to be the number one player. The ensuing match is filled with laughs, close calls, and frustration when things go slightly different from you imagined them to go. Regardless of the outcome, the degree of enjoyment is the same. People keep coming back to it and that’s no fluke. It’s a genius furthering of a concept that PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds brought to the forefront last year.
The rap industry is essentially a Battle Royale that encourages fighting, but lacks one clear winner. Many of the concepts of Fortnite that the game is known for also exist within hip-hop to a certain degree. Rappers even break out into spontaneous dance whenever they want. The game is a rare case of art imitating real life, save for the outlandish, cartoony guns and cheesy video game music. When guys like Drake, Lil Yachty, and Travis Scott hop on the sticks and play Fortnite, they see more than an MMO worth a couple good laughs. It’s the industry, laid out in front of them so that they can easily understand it. If they can understand the ins and outs of this game, it’ll help to master their own place within rap.
Drake and Ninja’s stream opened the flood gates for rappers to explore the game and learn more about the industry. For many of them, it will be how they better themselves as artists – a welcome change from recreating their characters after traumatic experiences. Maybe, Fortnite will be the key to a collective understanding of rap itself surging in waves across the industry. Only time will tell; until then, let’s shoot legendary Hand Cannons and build forts until the last man is standing.