How ‘NBA 2K’ Bridged the Gap Between Hip-Hop & Gaming

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The bustling streets of New York City provided both the stage and audience for A Boogie wit Da Hoodie and Swae Lee on Thursday (Sept. 7), as they parked themselves across the newly-assembled TSX Stage to play NBA 2K24 on an 18,000-square-foot billboard.

As Boogie and Swae sauntered into the plush designated gaming area inside the heart of Times Square, Detroit Pistons guard Cade Cunningham, tennis star Frances Tiafoe and digital marketing director for 2K Games, Ronnie 2K, were awaiting them to test their gaming prowess. For an hour, the five men huddled around the XBOX console, playing a single-game elimination-style tournament in front of New York City pedestrians, hoping to win the coveted iced-out 2K chain and, most importantly, bragging rights for the night. (Cunningham ultiamtely took home the top prize.)

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“I think it’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Ronnie 2K on rappers’ affinity for the storied sports gaming franchise. “[Hip-Hop] has shown us so much love, and we show it right back by trying to create opportunities with the way we release music. It makes sense about athletes wanting to be rappers and [how] rappers wanna be athletes. It never speaks truer than in 2K, because if they can’t physically play, they can play in the digital world.”

First developed in 1999 by Visual Concepts, NBA 2K was released in November 1999 with cover athlete Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson. Over the years, NBA2K became a favorable video game franchise because of its sleek gameplay and its scintillating soundtracks. The 2K franchise previously enlisted rap heavyweights such as Jay-Z, Pharrell and Travis Scott to executive-produce their playlists — later taking things further by inviting artists like Lil Durk, Lil Wayne, Jack Harlow and Quavo to become playable characters in the game. Last year, J. Cole became the first rapper to land on the series’ cover.

NBA 2K has become an influential platform where basketball and hip-hop culture intersect, creating a place where fans can enjoy the best of both worlds,” says David Kelley, director of partnerships and licensing at 2K Games. Our goal has always been to be a global platform for music discovery for our players. We want to both honor the culture that came before but also push that musical culture towards what’s next and upcoming, just like how NBA basketball has always done the same for hip-hop.

The previous night, 2K set up a launch event for the game in Brooklyn, where they laid out the welcome mat for many hip-hop stars, such as Boogie and Swae Lee, to experience the game in advance. 2K enthusiasts got the best of both worlds, experiencing a collision course between watching NBA stars like Cade Cunningham and Tim Hardaway Jr. compete on the gaming console and watching rappers such as Lil Uzi Vert grace the stage to perform some of their biggest hits.

For Swae and A Boogie, 2K entered their lives pretty young. “When I first fell in love with NBA2K, I was a little kid, like 11, 12,” relays Lee after his first-round loss to Boogie. “We had all the early games. Me and brothers been on that. We had four controllers. So we all played and be on the same team versus the computer.

Like Swae Lee, Boogie’s love for 2K stemmed from competition, especially after winning a $20 bet against one of his friends.

“I fell in love with 2K my first time winning money off the game. I won $20,” remembers Boogie, who lost to Cunningham in the tournament finals. “When it comes down to 2K, we was playing since like 2K14. “Now that we doing things [different in-game features] like MyPlayer, and go into the park, we get to see all the cool add-ons that make the game fun.”

Besides the gaming experience, it’s the music in 2K that once again reigns supreme. This year, the NBA 2K24 Soundtrack features over 50 artists, including A Boogie, Lil Wayne, Central Cee, Ice Spice, Burna Boy, and more. The music collection will grow weekly, as fans can expect new songs to be added to the soundtrack every Friday. Def Jam Recordings partnered with 2K this year to kick off season one of their soundtrack by adding past and present hits ranging from Rick Ross’ “Hustlin” to Armani White’s “Goated” to bolster the audio experience.

“The soundtrack has always been such an important part of the NBA 2K series,” says Kelley. “We’ve built the union by continuing to innovate our soundtrack over the last 25 years of the series, including bringing in global talent – both established names and hot up-and-comers, partnering with global record labels to bring new artists to new audiences, in-game crossover series cards and so much more. Fans can now even experience exclusive drops of music in-game before it goes live on streaming services.

Released last Friday (Sept. 8), the late Kobe Bryant graces this year’s cover, after previously being featured in NBA 2K21, NBA 2K17 and NBA 2K10. Three editions are available for fans: the Kobe Bryant Edition for $69.99, the Black Mamba Edition for $99.99, and the 25th Anniversary Edition for $149.99.

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