Kendrick Lamar Saves The World in the “Hip-Hop RPG” Video Game
“What if you were in some garage and you picked up a cartridge that had something really weird on it, some game that no one had ever played,” says Dominick Rabrun, creator of viral hip-hop/videogame-themed series Hip-Hop RPG. “And you put it in a Super Nintendo, and it’s this incredible game? That’s what this is.”
Escaping the mundane reality of his corporate 9-to-5 in information technology, 27-year-old Dominick Rabrun imagined a world where hip-hop artists would save the future world from post-apocalyptic Illuminati aliens and Kim Kardashian.
In the satirical video-game-simulation-turned-web-series (which would be perfect for an Adult Swim block), Rabrun creates a league of lyrical super friends, led by Kendrick Lamar, and a script full of pop culture references. Using popular talking points within the hip-hop community—such as the existence of the Illuminati and whether or not Lamar was snubbed at the Grammys by Macklemore—Rabrun also brings the exaggerated personalities of artists like Macklemore and Childish Gambino along for the ride. Our heroes get to journey through space and time to the soundtrack of hip-hop’s latest and finest, including Madvillain and Flatbush Zombies.
The overall design aesthetic is a retro gamer’s dream, heavily influenced by Final Fantasy, as well as a blend of elements from anime, Grand Theft Auto and vintage consoles like Atari, Nintendo and Sega Genesis. In a candid conversation, the one-man-art-army discusses the creation of the series and these tips for modern artists.
Use Your Surroundings As Inspiration.
The smallest things around you can serve as your biggest muse. The whole premise of Hip-Hop RPG was built around one gloomy day in February of 2014, when Rabrun was walking in the rain from work.
“I was listening to good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and “Swimming Pools” started playing,” says Rabrun. “I just got this image, and I was like, what if Kendrick is jumping into a glowing swimming pool? What if he deliberately jumps in and just starts sinking? He goes somewhere, and it’s like a portal. That’s how I started.”
Based on that one scene in his head, Rabrun built the entire concept of the series.
Being A Perfectionist Has Its Costs.
Rabrun admits he has an obsession with handling all of the development himself, from the initial ideas all the way down to the execution. A labor of love for the mostly self-taught artist, Rabrun spends about four months tediously designing and constructing each episode while juggling his day job and side animation projects. If he opted to work with a team or had more free time, the production could been cut down to a month.
Even tough on himself as an artist, Rabrun hesitates to delegate tasks to others because he doesn’t want to treat them the same way he treats himself when things aren’t done how he has envisioned them. However, he’s learning and commissioned the help of British artist UjiRocket for animations in the latest episode.
Be open to constructive criticism.
To avoid being trapped in his own mind and perspective, Rabrun enlists a group of people to constantly review his work and offer suggestions. “That really helps me to simplify things when I go far with my ideas,” he says.
Rabrun is also now more receptive to the suggestions of viewers. After posting a previous episode, a viewer expressed discontent with the length of a fighting sequence. After getting over his initial defensive reaction, Rabrun realized the viewer was right and made changes to later episodes. He ended up much more pleased with the result.
Feed your creativity, even if you have a day job.
“I keep feeling like I need to make the jump, like this is what I need to be doing with my life,” Rabrun says. “I come home every day and work on this stuff, but I don’t have enough time for it because I’m at this dumb job.” Nevertheless he keeps pushing and plans to continue to do so until he gains enough of a following to pursue animation full-time.
It’s ok if your art doesn’t immediately make sense to others.
According to Rabrun, patience is the key. “Just trust yourself, mesh things together and go with it,” he says. “That’s the great thing about hip-hop as an artistic medium—it doesn’t care about appropriation.” To him, hip-hop trumps all because of its ability to seamlessly blend together influences of different cultures and genres in a way that just works. “Hip-hop is influenced by the whole world and it can dig where it wants. I’m encouraged by that as an artist,” he says.
Trusting his instinct has worked for Rabrun so far. Ironically, in a twist of fate, Rabrun created the idea of Lamar being trapped inside a cocoon-like mind-worm a year before the release of To Pimp A Butterfly.
Don’t be a slave to clicks.
After experiencing a decline in views, Rabrun grappled with the pressures of conformity and defeat to gain popularity. “Every few days, I think to myself, ‘Why do I keep doing this? Why do I keep this up?'” he confesses. But in his heart, he knew he had produced his best work, and that’s all that matters. “I get proof from people that I’m doing the right thing, that I’m going in the right direction.”
“We shouldn’t focus so much on views and retweets,” he says. “They’re important, but not as important as the content. That’s what’s going to connect with people.” If Rabrun inspires someone to create, that’s enough validation for him.
“You can become a slave to views and it can become the measure of your own self-worth as a creative person,” he adds. “Having someone’s attention is a powerful thing.”
As for what’s next, fans of Hip-Hop RPG can expect MF DOOM, a personified WorldStar and Kim Kardashian to make appearances in Episode 6, coming near the end of the year. Kendrick Lamar and the rest of his rap avengers will also take on “Lucy,” Lamar’s notorious foe on To Pimp A Butterfly.
While you wait, check out episodes of Hip-Hop RPG on Rabrun’s DSC YouTube channel here.