The last few decades have given us countless memorable video game soundtracks, and many of those tunes are no doubt burned deep into our memories. Whether it’s the unmistakable 8-bit bloops from the opening bar of Super Mario Bros., or the lush orchestral arrangements of the The Legend of Zelda, it’s hard to argue that any video game music is more universally recognized than classic Nintendo games.
Several composers have worked on Nintendo games over the years, but Koji Kondo, Hirokazu Tanaka, and David Wise have certainly cemented their place in video game music history: Kondo for his extensive history with Nintendo that includes countless work on Mario and The Legend of Zelda, Tanaka for his iconic work on Metroid, Dr. Mario, Earthbound, and other staples of Nintendo history, and David Wise, who worked for Rare, but whose innovative work on the Nintendo-published Donkey Kong Country series has its own cult following.
With many current artists growing up with these games as a staple of their childhoods, it shouldn’t be surprising that these maestros have had a direct influence on popular music. Below are some recent tracks that wouldn’t exist without these three legendary video game music makers.
Sweet Valley – “One”
(Based on: “Title Theme” and “Great Fairy Fountain” by Koji Kondo, from Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Sweet Valley is the electronic project of Wavves frontman Nathan Williams and his brother Joel. They’ve described their sound as “a Bermuda Triangle-like place, where cannabis crumbs, spilt beer, record dust and that mysterious shit you had to blow out of game cartridges all collect.” Their songs include a ton of sampling, and very creatively borrow from the classic N64 game Ocarina of Time.
Sweet Valley – “The Great bay Shines”
(Based on: “Sheik’s Theme” by Koji Kondo, Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
BADBADNOTGOOD – “Title Theme / Saria’s Song / Song of Storms”
(From Zelda: Ocarina of Time, by Koji Kondo)
Toronto groove masters BADBADNOTGOOD paid a jazzy tribute to a few of Koji Kondo’s Zelda masterpieces on their first album BBNG.
Hirokazu Tanaka also performs live electronic music under the alias “Hip Tanaka.” His sets feature remixes of a lot of his classic Nintendo tunes.
“The music in Metroid, I feel personally, was very different to the music in other games of the time,” composer Hirokazu Tanaka explained on the games 30th anniversary last year. “The sense of an individualistic sound design is very strong. I received some criticism about the lack of melody, or how dark it sounded, but I felt I adhered to the tone of the game’s story as I composed.”
El-P – $4 Vic/Nothing but You+Me (FTL)
(Based on: “Metroid Title” by Hirokazu Tanaka, Metroid)
One of the heaviest hip hop producers sampling one of the heaviest video game soundtracks of all time. Even in 8-bit, the music from the original Metroid totally captured the overwhelming terror of the game’s world. Composer Tanaka has said that the popularity of the game’s soundtrack was a surprise to him.
“The fact that a piece of music containing only three notes has remained with everyone for so long is really surprising to me. I think it’s because that even before the music was in place, the game world of Metroid was fascinating.” El-P used part of the main Metroid theme for the amazing climax of his incredible album Cancer 4 Cure.
Blank Banshee – “Eco Zones”
(Based on: “Aquatic Ambience” by David Wise, Donkey Kong Country & “Water Temple” by Koji Kondo, Zelda: Ocarina of Time)
Nobody likes water levels. But Canadian musician Blank Banshee, who was partly responsible for pioneering the Vaporwave genre with his 2012 album Blank Banshee 0, might make you change your mind. His music samples old school video games extensively, and this track makes use of two famous water levels: one from Donkey Kong Country, and the water temple music from Ocarina of Time on Nintendo 64.
Childish Gambino – Eat Your Vegetables
(Based on: “Aquatic Ambience” by David Wise, Donkey Kong Country)
Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, also sampled the water music from Donkey Kong Country on this track, a b-side from his 2012 mixtape Royalty. The song was produced by Chemist, who samples video games frequently. Glover loved the vibe of the beat, and didn’t even realize where it came from until fans started losing their minds about it online.
D.R.A.M – “Cha Cha” & Drake – “Hotline Bling”
(Based on: “Star World” by Koji Kondo, Super Mario World)
D.R.A.M. managed to make this 16-bit tune sound absolutely badass when he sampled the music from the Star World in Super Mario World on Super Nintendo, and even threw in a few coin sounds for good measure. Here’s the original for reference:
Drake was accused of ripping off the beat from “Cha Cha” on his single “Hotline Bling,” and the similarities are undeniable.
But Drake actually sampled this Timmy Thomas song from 1972 for the “Hotline Bling” beat, which still sounds remarkably like Koji Kondo’s Star World theme.
Lil Yachty – “Run / Running”
(Based on: “File Select” by Koji Kondo, Super Mario 64)
Rapper Lil Yachty hits you over the head with nostalgia with this song which samples the file select screen from Super Mario 64. His rap style is not for everybody but you can’t deny this beat.