I loved NFL Street. NFL Street 2 was the much anticipated follow-up to NFL Street for the XBOX, Playstation 2, and Nintendo Gamecube. It featured condensed versions of all 32 NFL teams (as of, like, the 2004 season) as well as some past legends (but not anyone too special, for licensing reasons). It also featured one other player.
That’s right. Rapper Xzibit was a playable character in NFL Street 2. In fact, he wasn’t just a playable character, he was the “narrator” of the game, starting from the tutorial. I have fond memories of the rapper (born Alvin Joiner) telling me to tap the X-button to juke. Of course, my eight year old self had never heard of Xzibit, as it would be about a year before I would catch my first episode of Pimp My Ride, but even then, I had no goddam clue why this guy had to be in the game. It wasn’t like he just lent his voice to background information like Bruce Campbell in the Spider-Man games, or played a fictional character like numerous celebrities over the years (my favorite, of course, being Patrick Stewart’s performance as a character who gets killed no more than twenty minutes into Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion). He was Xzibit. The fact that he was Xzibit mattered.
It mattered so much that he was the proverbial boss in one of the game modes. Besides “Own The City” and “NFL Challenge,” there was “NFL Gauntlet,” in which you chose a team and had to beat every other team in the NFL in order to win. But oh wait, I almost forgot. You ALSO had to beat Team Xzibit.
If the meaning of “Team Xzibit” doesn’t immediately occur to you, I understand. It was a team of the game’s best players (like LaDanian Tomlinson, Jeremy Shockey, et al.), sort of like an all star roster. Oh yeah, except that at quarterback was Xzibit.
Obviously, Xzibit has the best attributes of any quarterback in the game, because why even bother lending your voice and rights if you’re going to be a scrub. Additionally, Xzibit provided a song for the soundtrack (side note: I could write a whole different blog about this game’s soundtrack), called “Hey Now (Mean Muggin’)” featuring Keri. This game showcased Xzibit, which is perhaps why it is so strange to look back upon. One would expect a rapper with this special of treatment from a large, successful corporation in Electronic Arts to, I don’t know, be more successful today. Eleven and a half years later and no one remembers or cares about Xzibit’s rap career. In fact, the last place I saw him was on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, and while that’s not a bad way to get checks, I don’t imagine that’s where he saw himself when he walked into EA Sports BIG (the production company behind NFLS2) sometime in 2004.
While still fun every time I decide to pick it back up and play it, the inclusion of Xzibit makes NFL Street 2 feel so incredibly of its time, and not simply because Xzibit is no longer relevant beyond the occasional “I herd u like” meme. Video games simply do not have the absurd tie-ins that they used to. NBA Street V3 — an EA Sports BIG game that was released around a similar time — featured the Beastie Boys as their own team, for instance. Yet, to act like it mattered that Xzibit was in the game from the start is baffling in 2016. As if someone was ever going to start up their XBOX, Gamecube, or PS2, press start, and shout, “Oh shit! No one told be X was in this!”
The only comparable tie-in I can remember is in the ill-fated Sims: The Urbz on Gamecube, in which all four of the Black Eyed Peas are NPCs in a specific area of the game. But even then, they’re just regular folks as far as the game is concerned, as long as you’re willing to make peace with Woo-Hooing with a man named Apl.de.ap. Unlike the Urbz, where the Black Eyed Peas are inessential and were likely put in later in the game’s production, Xzibit is the central figure of the game. The difference between NFL Streets 1 and 2 is that Xzibit is in the second one.
And to the question of why? Seriously, honestly, why was Xzibit so heavily featured in NFL Street 2? I have no clue. EA Sports BIG was discontinued in 2008, so we may never know.