Music is an essential component in any video game. A game’s sonic signatures have the power to imprint a cultural meaning that transcends language. A video game musician can come in many form, as can their art. Super Mario Bros. uses musical themes that vary by levels and power ups. R&B legend D’Angelo offered his talents to track a song for Red Dead Redemption 2’s soundtrack as Arthur Morgan rides back to an empty camp in a huge pivotal moment for the game. Halo’s orchestral theme will forever haunt high school gym locker rooms, as jocks emulate the vocal chants in the showers.
My point being, music can elevate the cultural importance of video games, helping immortalize them beyond their digital confines. Video game music is key, and in this article I aim to address a dreadfully under-discussed subject: who is the most culturally important video game musician?
Elite Tauren Chieftain
Your Level 120 Blood Elf Bard isn’t on this list, but Elite Tauren Chieftain definitely makes the cut. This group of Blizzard Entertainment employees may have changed their band name multiple times to keep up with the evolution of World of Warcraft, but that’s just part of the allure. Their metal contributions have given the player base a musical identity to rally around, and they live forever on as a tank in Heroes of the Storm.
ETC’s musical peak was brought to the hands of then-popular Guitar Hero III as downloadable content, having their single “I Am Murloc” reaching the broader music market. It can be argued that ETC paved the way for Travis Scott and Marshmellow’s live concerts in Fortnite. While the band hasn’t disbanded, there hasn’t been a live ETC performance since BlizzCon 2014 when Metallica closed the show for them.
Edward “Eddie” Riggs
To keep with the metal introduction, lets talk about how Jack Black starred in Brütal Legend back in 2009, enlisting the help of some of metal’s biggest figureheads. Eddie Riggs brought a comical accessibility to the metal scene, creating a fantasy land emulated from metal album art “lore”.
Riggs provided a sense of familiarity and comfort to metalheads, him being a roadie: one of the unsung heroes of all metal shows. Being the “World’s Greatest Roadie”, he elevated his tribe, Ironheade, and unified the heavy metal world to destroy the Big Bad Evil Guy, Doviculus.
Sure, the game was campy beyond belief, but enlisting the services of Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford, Ozzy Osbourne, and Lita Ford provided a major boon to the legitimacy of Double Fine Productions, Inc’s game. Brütal Legend will live forever in the annals of metal, Eddie Riggs serving as the face of the greatest metal video game ever. Even if Eddie Riggs isn’t the most culturally important video game musician, he’s #1 in every metalhead’s books.
Donkey Kong as a character was first a villain in Mario and also in the famous arcade game Donkey Kong. He did go through a redemption arc when his later games afforded him some personal growth. From there, his musical aptitude on bongos has been a key characteristic in his multiple appearances in Nintendo’s catalog of games. Donkey Kong’s talents could also be heard in his own TV show, Donkey Kong Country, where he performs two songs an episode.
Donkey Kong was ahead of the pack when Donkey Kong Jungle Beat created one of the more outrageous gaming accessories, bongos. The instrument provided joy and rhythm training for those not rhythmically gifted. Donkey Konga is also included in the musical video game collection. DK had been so highly regarded as a video game musician, that Nintendo capitalized on his talents, creating those games which slightly predated the Guitar Hero series. Donkey Kong is effectively one of the forefathers of rhythm video games.
Doesn’t matter if it’s a hot take, but Priscilla is the better minstrel. Moving on. This is the search of who’s the most culturally important video game musician, and there is a reasonable enough argument to include Julian Alfred Pankratz, Viscount de Lettenhove, otherwise known as Dandelion.
The Redanian Noble in The Witcher franchise already has status as one of the best minstrels in the Northern Kingdoms. While this should be judged mostly on video game merit alone, it’s Dandelion’s contributions to the video game series, books, and Netflix show that has cemented his place on this list. Dandelion’s voice can captivate a crowd, seduce a succubus, and befriend the stoic lone wolf Geralt of Rivia. Toss A Coin To Your Witcher!
The Legend of Zelda series has always put an emphasis on music in their games, whether it’s iconic themes or inserting instruments into game mechanics. Link may be a boy/man of zero words, but the impact of his musical prowess has vaulted the franchise as a staple of video games, Ocarina of Time being arguably one of the greatest games of all-time.
Link’s musicianship has inspired the inclusion of music in game mechanics for other video games – The Last of Us 2, Mario Party, PaRappa The Rapper, to name a few. The soundtrack alone can elicit a spectrum of emotions, one of which being rage when the Water Temple theme starts its stupid twinkly non-threatening noises.
The inclusion of Link is semi-controversial since he’s not a musician. He had been blessed with the Ocarina of Time, giving him enhanced musical abilities. While the cultural influence is there, many don’t recognize him for his musical abilities. His swordplay is more notable than his conductor’s rod in The Wind Waker and the instruments from Majora’s Mask. It seems also that the games have more pull than the actual character.
Nobody in the history of music can claim they have the musical versatility that Totakeke “K.K” Slider has. His prowess is such, that he effortlessly introduces players to genres they would never listen to otherwise, expanding their musical palate. How does one musician dominate an entire digital market, the Animal Crossing universe, and provide banger after banger ranging from: Bossa Nova, Blues, Calypso, Country, Folk, Metal, House, and many more!
Some say that you can’t please everyone, but K.K clearly can. He also performs solo and in the nude. Usually the trick is to picture your audience in their underwear to avoid performance jitters, but he ramps it up by literally performing in the nude.
His discography consists of over 95 songs now, and should expand further with the inclusion of updates, DLC, and future installments of the popular Animal Crossing series. Over the years he continues to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
On top of the millions of players that inhabit the Animal Crossing world, many also flock to YouTube in the millions and Spotify to stream K.K Slider’s genius, and at least one YouTuber has made a career of creating K.K Slider song covers of iconic real life songs expanding on his musical range. Slider is the definition of cultural importance, providing joy and good vibes to the millions he plays for. He has perfect pitch, and is the goodest boy.
K.K Slider is also the one musician you can rely on to avoid tabloids, and will never disappoint with a world-shocking scandal. The only disappointment he’s ever given is not performing in real life as a hologram to a stadium of adoring fans.
— DevilBombers @ 1312 (@DevilBombers) April 21, 2020
Honorable mentions – Video Game Musician Edition
Travis Scott, Marshmellow, Guitar Hero characters, 50 Cent, PaRappa The Rapper, Lammy, Sona, Pentakill, and entirely too many others.