The 2K Sports formula could serve as a model for any video game manufacturer trying to earn street cred. First, recruit a top-caliber DJ or indie label — 2K’s stable includes Dan the Automator, Matador Records, and now, DJ Z-Trip — to produce a lethal, testosterone-infused soundtrack that could hold its own as a compilation, while functioning as a videogame appendage. Then, pay ludicrous amounts of money to a roster of indie rappers — or art rockers like Yo La Tengo — to create sports-themed songs appropriate to the game (last year’s rap-centric NBA 2K7 included Slim Thug’s “I Love This Game,” Rhymefest’s “Bang the Ball,” and Fabolous’ “Ball ‘Til You Fall”). Or, buy the rights to such blistering cuts as Nirvana’s “Breed” — which appeared on the 2K7 Major League Baseball game.
This year’s All-Pro Football 2K8 soundtrack, produced by famed Los Angeles DJ — and erstwhile “godfather of the mash-up”— Z-Trip, sounds, in all honesty, a lot less musical than its NBA forerunner. Perhaps that’s appropriate. Maybe football is just a rougher, crustier, bloodier, less mellifluous sport than basketball, and thus requires music that sounds as savage as the theme. The lineup on 2K8 features a bevy of venerable old-school and underground rappers — among them Rakim, Chali 2Na, Dead Prez, and Aceyalone — often coupled with grating, guitar-heavy rock tracks by the Deftones, Clutch, or Rush. In most cases, the tracks that cohere best musically — such as Natural Self’s funky “I Don’t Need This Trouble” — have the least to do with football; while sportier, adrenaline-charged cuts like Dead Prez and the Deftones’ “Locked and Loaded” seem more suitable, but make you want to bang Z-Trip over the head and enjoin him to please take the Linkin Park out of his CD player. Taken as a whole, the album has little to offer for hip-hop heads, or even for a Z-Trip enthusiast. But for an NFL videogame, it’s probably about right.