In Career Mode you'll have to know your lyrics and nail your delivery to grab all five Mics--the RapStar version of a five-star rating system to judge your performance. Mess up and you're likely to see the "Garbage" of zero Mics or "Wack" of one Mic on your screen. Don't trip homie; you can go back and practice the song by section or lower the difficulty. The difficulty settings don't affect the gameplay; they merely adjust how accurate you have to be with the lyrics and timing.
Being a music producer and emcee, I was able to score high on the timing but would sometimes struggle with the lyrics. If you don't know the words but say something on beat, matching the bouncing ball's rhythm, you still score some decent points--enough to get three to four Mics. This reminded me of being in a studio, writing a verse on the spot to a beat, and then trying to record it. Although I knew what I wanted to say and had an idea of the tempo, I would still stumble on the words.
The bouncing ball can be a bit distracting too. If you don't know the song, it isn't very helpful and might lead to frustration for some players. But you don't have to worry about being punished for not sticking to the "radio-edited" versions of the songs the game uses; it'll still give you the points and accuracy if you say the other lyrics and swear.
Rapstar really hopes to make a name for itself by building up the community. You can battle other emcees by uploading videos to defjamrapstar.com or battle in lyrical "Tweetbattles" via Twitter. They also have competitions going on at Best Buy locations in major cities across the country.
If you're feeling brave, then you can film your performance, edit a 30 second clip, and upload it to the RapStar website to show-off your skills or challenge other emcees. This process was super easy and user friendly, I just plugged in an Eye-Toy Camera and when the song started I could see my performance being recorded in the upper left hand side of my TV.
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Naturally I chose "Nothing But a 'G' Thang" and then picked out the best 30 second clip of my performance, added some effects and visuals, and uploaded it. You need to create a profile on the Def Jam site to store all of your uploaded videos, manage friends and fans, or rival other users. Doing so also allows you to instantly share videos via Facebook or Twitter, and challenge, promote or vote on other videos directly on the site. The only drawback to the whole thing is that it's pretty slow even on a fast connection, but they have a good concept in place.
I also tried my luck at a Tweetbattle after seeing the legendary Underground Rapper Aceyalone battling people and promoting his battles via twitter and hearing a couple different artists talking about it at a studio the night before. You go to the Def Jam Rapstar site and click on a person you want to battle, they accept, and you have two minutes to come up with a 140 character free-style or "diss" rap about the other person. They have two minutes to come back at you, and after 3 rounds the battle is sent to the community to vote on a winner.
Another cool feature, if you're an inspiring emcee who can't get a hold of any original beats, is the free-style mode. The game gives you access to beats from some of the hottest producers in the game to which you can add your own lyrics. Def Jam encourages you to write your hottest bars, record them via the video camera, and load them up to their site. I ripped to 9th Wonder's "The Academy" beat. One thing to note, what ever you load to the Def Jam Rapstar website, they own, so you might want to stay away from dropping the hottest verses you plan for your next album. And who knows, you may end up being the next name on the Def Jam roster. Stranger things have happened.
Whether or not you go from rags-to-riches, there are definitely hours of fun to be had with Def Jam Rapstar. But, like with any other form of Karaoke, it's probably best to have some friends over (and a little bit of liquid courage in you) to truly let loose and get the most from it.