Grand Theft Auto changed my life. Not because the games got me robbing, stabbing, and running over prostitutes, but because, as a 20-year-old guy, it has directly shaped my musical taste.
The latest game in the series, Grand Theft Auto V, drops today and takes place in a fictionalized version of L.A. The music is predictably amazing, featuring curated music from Flying Lotus, Twin Shadow, Wavves and Soulwax, plus new, unreleased songs from those folks as well as A$AP Rocky, Tyler, The Creator and The Chain Gang of 1974. (The trailer's at the bottom of this post.) It's also a good chance to look back at the two incarnations that most shaped me, Vice City and San Andreas.
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City
Setting: Fictionalized 1986 Miami.
Plot: The main character, Tommy Vercetti, was part of a drug deal gone bad and has to get back the money he lost.
Influential Music: Psychedelic Furs, Michael Jackson, Human League, Blondie, Tears for Fears
It goes without saying that I was waaaaay too young to be exposed to this game. (Nine, but who's counting?) But believe me, Mom and Dad, it's a good thing I was, because my music taste benefitted. At the time my ears were filled with the sounds of Blink 182, Linkin Park, Smashmouth, Britney Spears and the like. But a decade later I can trace a direct line from what I discovered from the game to the music I love today.
When I first tuned in to Vice City radio I heard “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, and it was off to the races from there. I was drawn to the new wave and synth-pop station station Wave 103, and I'd never heard anything like it. Driving down the palm-tree, neon-lit boulevards with “Sunglasses at Night” by Corey Hart playing was a great rush. I wanted more. This naturally led me on an insatiable quest to find all the best synth-pop and new wave I could.
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Setting: A fictionalized version 1992 California/Las Vegas known as San Andreas.
Plot: Carl “C.J.” Johnson returns to San Andreas to find his mom has been murdered. He also learns his former gang has fallen off, so he sets about righting things.
Influential Music: N.W.A., Ice Cube, 2Pac, Dr. Dre, Public Enemy
All of the early-'90s rap in San Andreas planted the seeds of my love for hip-hop. I was vaguely familiar with Snoop Dogg and Tupac and the others were in 2004, but I didn't quite grasp why they were so important.
Radio Los Santos exclusively played West Coast gangsta rap, and that gave me just what I needed as a starting point to dive deeper. From the first time I heard tracks like N.W.A.'s “Alwayz into Somethin'” and Snoop Dogg and Dre's “Deep Cover,” I was hooked on gangsta rap and G-funk, and I didn't want to hear anything else.
It sent me digging through dad's collection to find any and every classic rap album I could get my hands on, from Straight Outta Compton and The Chronic to It Takes a Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, and everything in between. It's safe to say I'm a better man for it, and I owe it all to the Grand Theft Auto series.
Now, if I could just get my road rage under control…
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