Rap and hip-hop love Street Fighter and, by association, most 2D beat ‘em ups. This is an indisputable fact. The longest love affair in video game and music history dates back to Hi-C’s 1993 release ‘Swing’n’, the first track to sample Street Fighter 2, but you can still hear the chippy cries of “Hadouken!” and “Perfect!” in everything from Death Grips and Kanye West to Flying Lotus and Drake, or referenced in lyrics by Nas, Nikki Minaj, and Doja Cat.
Rappers and producers have as much fun competing in Street Fighter matches as they do making music out of it. Lupe Fiasco has duked it out with pro gamer and Street Fighter champ Daigo Umehara. At the same time, many more of the biggest names in rap and hip-hop regularly compete in tournaments and religiously follow the competitive esports scene surrounding Street Fighter and other fighting games.
Grammy-winning producer and Street Fighter fanatic, Knxwledge, is one such name – so you can imagine his delight when Capcom producer Shuhei Matsumoto asked him to remix six tracks for Capcom Fighting Collection, a 10-game bundle of Capcom arcade classics. Even better for Knxlwedge, music from Hyper Street Fighter 2 was included in the list of games that he got to flip.
“I’m still trying to fight off these butterflies and tears,” Knxwledge tells NME over a call. “It’s just a dream, man. This is literally my favourite game series. I’m still bugging out.”
If Knxwledge ever found himself in the middle of Ryu’s Tatsumaki hurricane kick, a cyclone of beats would come spinning out of the other end. The man is a mean beat machine – one of the hardest working producers in hip-hop who follows a strict regime of video game playing and beat making, the latter of which involves flipping his favourite pieces of video game music.
“Video game music is fucking incredible, man; it’s just so all over the place,” he says. “It’s literally everything to me – that’s why I love going through these old joints so much. When I go through video game music now, I just hit shuffle on a huge folder that I have.”
While Knxwledge was into video games when he was younger, he struggled to find the time to play regularly, although he had regular access to fighting games on the SNES, PlayStation, and Dreamcast. “That’s where my video game grind comes from,” Knxlwedge tells us.
Being an athlete meant a lot of his spare time was taken up by sports, and being from a religious family meant he also spent a lot of time in church, which he credits for paving his way into music. “I’ve grown up in church playing instruments, so I’ve always had music around and just always wanted to make music,” he continues.
“I remember getting a Sam Ash [music shop] magazine and seeing a 303 [music sampler] in there and somehow got my mum to take me to Sam Ash after church one day. That was the beginning of just making music non-stop. I’ve got a formula, and now it’s just second nature. My attention span is kinda OD; I don’t work on things for too long. I can tell if I’m gonna love it or not within the first two minutes.”
This formula seems to be working. In the last two years alone, Knxlwedge’s Video Game Music Series has seen him create over 200 beats by flipping loops and melodies from video games, compiled through an ever-growing library of obscure video game music spanning everything from Persona and Parasite Eve to Bomberman Hero and Chrono Trigger. This is alongside making beats for other music series such as his Hexual Sealings series, Wrap Taypes series, collaborations and, when he finds the time, albums of his own. But Video Game Music Series is getting the most attention right now.
“The reason why I dove back into video games is because as long as I’ve had music, I’ve had video games,” Knxwledge explains. “Being an athlete meant I didn’t have much time to play while I was at school; I was pretty much never home or never free, but now I’ve got all the time in the world!”
A lot of Knxwledge’s music making is done live on his Twitch channel, where he flips video game samples and streams video game playthroughs (often at the same time) to 6000 followers. Matsumoto is one of the regular viewers, but he’d been a fan of Knxwledge’s music since 2014 and a collaboration between the pair had been planned for some time when Red Bull asked Matsumoto to suggest some names that would be interested in performing at an event promoting Street Fighter 5: Champion Edition (Knxlwedge, Mndsgn, KEIZOmachine! and Olive Oil) in 2020, but COVID had other plans.
“I was extremely frustrated,” Matsumoto tells NME. “These artists planned to perform at the event by sampling Street Fighter sounds and I felt terrible for losing this wonderful opportunity.”
Thankfully for Matsumoto – and for the ears of Knxwledge and Street Fighter fans – another opportunity presented itself when he was named producer on Capcom Fighting Collection, which also includes lesser-known classics, Red Earth and Cyberbots: Full Madness, alongside the entire Darkstalker series and puzzlers such as Puzzle Fighter 2, and Super Gem Fighter Mini Mix.
As Capcom Fighting Collection focuses on arcade releases from the ‘90s, Matsumoto asked sound director Yasuyuki Tsujino to give the music a lo-fi and chill, hip-hop sound selection, making the likes of Knxwledge and Mdnsgn perfect for the mix. In fact, Matsumoto was able to get all of the beat makers who agreed to take part in the Red Bull event to remix music for the game, which features as part of a music library spanning 400 original arcade tracks and new arrangements from Capcom’s in-house band, Cap-Jams.
The level of musicianship on display in Capcom Fighting Collection is astounding. The music for lesser-known series such as Darkstalkers can get lost in the noise amongst the praise for Street Fighter 2, Street Fighter Alpha, Street Fighter Third Strike, and Capcom vs SNK, but Takayuki Iwai’s music for the Darkstalkers series has a lot in common with the jazzy, house and hip-hop vibes of the titles above. Better still, these new arrangements bring that music to life like you’ve never heard before.
“I hope that Japanese players will be impressed by the fact there are such great beat-makers overseas, and I hope that players overseas will be impressed by the fact that there are such great beat-makers in Japan,” Matsumoto says. “I am very happy that we, as a Japanese game developer, were able to build that bridge through Capcom Fighting Collection.”
Matsumoto hopes that he and Knxwledge will be able to work together again at some point in the future. The long-awaited Street Fighter 6 was announced in February this year and hasn’t been afraid to wear its hip-hop influences on Ryu’s ripped sleeves. With a graffiti-inspired art style and a hip-hop tune for the game’s main theme, ‘Not on the Sidelines’, Knxwledge and Mndsgn would be welcome additions to Street Fighter 6’s soundtrack. Now we just need to wish it into existence and the law of attraction will do its thing. It’s an approach that’s worked out for Knxwledge so far.
“I need it. I need it! I’m trying to bring the streets back, it’s pretty much already there, so I’m just trying to make that happen.”
The six tracks that Knxwledge created for Capcom Fighting Collection are only available to fans as part of the ‘bonus’ package for those who purchase the game, which is available until September 30 for digital game purchases, October 3 for Steam purchases, and until stocks last for physical purchases.