As underground chiptune scenes continue to grow in major urban areas, it makes sense that the retro game sounds would synthesize with pre-existing musical genres. A_Rival's debut album 8-bit Pimp is one such synthesis, and is alleged to be the first chip-hop album ever produced. Chip-hop, as A_Rival defines it, is traditional hip-hop blended with original (not sampled) chiptune music. While 8-Bit Pimp may not be for every chiptune or videogame music fan, the excellent production values on the tracks help deliver a highly polished album that begs to be blasted from your computer speakers or car stereo. Just don't drive yourself too crazy trying to place the source material for all of the 8-bit samples and sound effects — most of them aren't sampled.
8-bit Pimp is a curious album all around. Every track seems to reference a standard hip-hop track type (brag track, dis track, etc) but at the same time appears to mock them. Whether the tracks are intended to be serious or ironic, they are some of the best examples of videogame music inspired rap to date. This said, one of the first things I would recommend upon downloading the album is to prune out the three vocal introduction tracks ("-intro-", "-before-", and "-after-"), which serve no real purpose other than to distract the listener from the music.
After a first listen through, it is abundantly clear that A_Rival's strength lies in fast vocal tracks and staccato lyrical flow. He is a very comfortable and adept rapper, and never once do his rhymes lose clarity due to the speed at which they are delivered. "Go For Broke", "Secrets", and "8-Bit Pimp" all highlight A_Rival's fast vocals and are three of the best tracks on the album. "8-Bit Pimp" in particular is an eminently catchy, fun and bass-heavy track that has a simple chorus and all the makings of a chip-hop anthem, if and when the sub-sub-genre gains more acceptance and fans. "Go For Broke" features a good variation in tempo, dynamics and style which helps the longer verses from feeling like they are dragging on.
Out of respect for his listener's ear, A_Rival recognized that not every track can be as fast-paced and relentless as "Go For Broke" and so a few slow tracks are provided to balance the overall feel of the album. The self-titled track "A_Rival" is a good example of a how confident A_Rival can be behind the microphone when rapping at a slower pace and it incorporates rhymes and references that will appeal to gamers and non-gamers alike. "Higher" is another good example of a slow track working to A_Rival's strengths, although the male/female alternation gives the whole thing a retro-1980s mainstream rap feel which is almost certainly intentional.
"Burn Breather", "Serious Business", and "Last Boss" are, unfortunately, less impressive examples of slower tracks on the album. Despite the repeated Karnov references, the pugnacious theme behind "Burn Breather" feels artificial and at times pretentious. There aren't all that many chip-hop artists currently active in the world, and so one wonders exactly who A_Rival is directing his venom at with this track. "Last Boss" is almost enjoyable at times, but the flat, monotone delivery of the lyrical sections is more sleep-inducing than intimidating, and I found myself hard-pressed not to skip past this track when it came up on shuffle.
Like most mainstream hip-hop, 8-Bit Pimp features a healthy dose of sex and misogyny along with breathy female vocals and orgasmic moans. "Show me Girl" is the faster of 8-Bit Pimp's sex tracks, and is catchy and enjoyable- if a bit repetitious. While I found myself singing along to the chorus, I'm not sure the overall theme of "I don't want to sex with you, I'm too busy playing Street Fighter II" will help break down gamer stereotypes any time soon. "Push it Down" is by far the less subtle of the two sex tracks, and after the flurry of 8-bit innuendos one might be confused as to whether A_Rival is trying to seduce a girl or a new Nintendo cartridge. No matter what your feelings on the content of the track may be, the chiptune beat is one of the best on the album the incorporation of the Konami Code into simulated sex ("Up up to the bed/down down to the floor/left right to hit the spot/left right against the shower door/B-neath the sheets/ Aaaaa") will make any 8-bit gamer smile.
"Cybernetic Mariachi" is the most thematically complex track on the album and features an unexpected use of guitar to deliver a great story track. While it is a catchy and fun song that pays homage to A_Rival's ethnic background, the rhymes feel a bit forced and cheesy at times ("usually I kill muchachos for a fee/ but today I'm fatty hurting for the cash mon-ey"). "Circuitry", which features Mega Ran, highlights the production values of the album wonderfully by featuring good vocal variation throughout. The pace changes and alternations in the levels of vocal distortion add another layer to the track's complexity. I found myself enjoying Random's featured section a bit more than A_Rival's but that may be due to novelty of his voice on the album.
A_Rival's masterful use of chiptune music comes to define the album from start to finish. At once raw and well-polished, 8-Bit Pimp serves as a perfect example of what chip-hop has to offer to fans of videogame music. Unfortunately, the aggressive edge on many of the tracks comes across as forced and- at times- affected, although it isn't enough to distract from the overall quality of the album as a whole. After removing the three distracting vocal tracks from the album for the review, I found 8-Bit Pimp to be well worth the price of the download. While Random's Black Materia continues to generate fan interest in nerdcore music, A_Rival's 8-Bit Pimp proves that a videogame music hip-hop album doesn't need a classic game theme in order to be good.
- intro -
Go For Broke
- before -
Show Me Girl
- after -
Push it Down