It’s pretty easy to see why Nicki Minaj is making her much-touted return to hip-hop’s spotlight with a single called “Chun-Li.” Like the popular female Street Fighter character, she’s been the sole representative of her gender in a male-dominated game, yet kicked ass with the best of them.
She’s become a fixture of the genre as well; in the same way you almost can’t reference fighting games without mentioning the iconic, ox-horns-rocking, spinning bird-kicking Chinese reporter/spy, Nicki is a signifier to the mainstream of hip-hop authenticity and rap’s popularity across demographics. On the single cover of her impending comeback track, Nicki even adopts part of the song’s namesake’s striking, signature style: The twin hair buns Chun-Li has never been depicted without in the game’s nearly 30-year history.
Yet, despite some opinions to the contrary, Nicki Minaj is far from the first rapper to reference Chun-Li. Though it may surprise some, hip-hop and video game culture have intersected far more often than just Drake’s recent foray into Fortnite streaming on Twitch. Rappers and producers have not only used video references in their music through samples and clever punchlines, both have appeared in games of their own, like Wu-Tang Clan’s Wu-Tang: Shaolin Style and Def Jam Records’ Def Jam Vendetta and Def Jam: Fight For NY brawlers.