This story is part of our new Hip-Hop: ’73 Till Infinity series, a celebration of the genre’s 50th anniversary.
If you’re the type of person who uses competitive fighting games like say, Street Fighter, as a way to unwind after a stressful day, you have something in common with Grammy-award-winning R&B singer Ne-Yo. In fact, the singer told Kotaku that his love for Capcom’s fighting game series runs so deep that he brings his PlayStation 5 along with him on tour so he can hone his skills and, more importantly, use the game to decompress so entitled fans don’t get dragon-punched in real life.
Speaking with Kotaku, Ne-Yo said he’s been playing Street Fighter since before he graduated high school in 1998. That’s long enough to have experienced the halcyon days of arcade Street Fighter, when folks would line their quarters up on an arcade cabinet and play sets with one another IRL. Those days may be gone, but now, the award-winning artist plans on starting up his own Twitch channel to stream himself playing Street Fighter 6 after his The Gentleman tour wraps up.
But he’s not waiting until the tour has wrapped to start getting some game time in. Ne-Yo says he’s started a new personal tradition of bringing his PS5, which is a massive console btw, on tour with him so he can get his game. As a “traditionalist,” Ne-Yo mains the series’ poster boy, Ryu, who just so happens to be his favorite character. Racking up victories with Ryu doesn’t just help keep Ne-Yo’s fighting game senses honed, it also helps him relieve any stress that comes with meeting unruly fans while he’s on tour.
“As you can probably imagine, I live a somewhat energetic and active life [and] deal with a lot of people all the time. Most of my fans are really cool [but] every now and then you come across that jerk. You come across a person that’s just really entitled and you need a moment to decompress after all of that. I take my gaming console with me pretty much everywhere I go and it is the reason that I don’t slap people, basically,” Ne-Yo told Kotaku. “I get on [Street Fighter] and anybody that I wanted to slap, I just have Ryu toss a fireball and I’m good.”
Despite the PS5’s ridiculous size, Ne-Yo says it’s never been a struggle stowing the Sony console into a backpack and lugging it around with him.
“It’s not heavy anymore,” Ne-Yo said. “I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m accustomed to the weight that it’s not a problem.”
And it’s not just Street Fighter he plays when he squeezes in a little game time. He revealed that he’s big into other fighting games as well, saying he’s “partial” to Tekken, is “really excited” for the upcoming Mortal Kombat game, and even “really dug” playing a bit of Jump Force before the anime cross-over fighter shut down its online services 2022. Basically, if he’s not playing an adventure game like Final Fantasy XVI, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, or Marvel’s Spider-Man, he’s getting into fighting games.
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Ne-Yo has humbled famous musicians in Street Fighter
Aside from humbling folks that he tours with and being humbled in turn in online SF matches (Dhalsim players can be particularly troublesome for him, while Zangief mains are typically a cakewalk), Ne-Yo revealed that he’s played, and defeated, rappers Wale and Lupe Fiasco in Street Fighter V.
“I was playing Wale in Street Fighter regularly for a little while. He just finally got tired of losing, so he stopped playing me,” Ne-Yo said. “There was a point in time where Lupe Fiasco was supposed to be like really, really good at Street Fighter. I played him. He’s decent.”
According to Ne-Yo, Lupe Fiasco beat a musician who themselves had a reputation for being really good, leading folks within the industry to regard Lupe as an amazing Street Fighter player. That is, until Ne-Yo baptized him.
“I played him. He’s good. He’s not amazing, but he’s good,” he said. “Yeah, I beat him.”
Although Ne-Yo says he doesn’t know of any other artists who bring their consoles with them while they’re on tour, his door is always open to any and all challengers online or IRL. “If there’s anybody out there that wants to smoke, I’m around.”
Because I’m an instigator, I asked Ne-Yo which artist he’d love to challenge in Street Fighter. The Arkansas-born recording artist replied by saying he’d love to face Chris Brown.
“I don’t know if Chris Brown plays [but] I can imagine that he might just because he’s kind of a guy after my own heart in regards to martial arts, anime, and all of those types of things,” Ne-Yo said. “But if he does in fact play, I would love to test his ability.”
I can imagine quite a few people would like to fight Chris from the clan Brown, in Street Fighter.
Ne-Yo really digs how Street Fighter 6 changed the game
Recently, Ne-Yo has dipped his feet into playing Capcom’s latest fighter, Street Fighter 6. While he’s “digging” the flow of the game so far, he’s still getting accustomed to its movement and all its new bells and whistles.
“[Capcom have] definitely taken the street element of Street Fighter and ramped that up. I think it’s a cool thing that they’ve done. I’m trying to get into the whole adventure game part of Street Fighter. It’s not something that I’m accustomed to with Street Fighters, so I’m kinda wrapping my head around it,” Ne-Yo said. “With Street Fighter, you kind of just wanna get straight to the fighting. You wanna learn the combinations [and] get your strategy together before you get online and get embarrassed.”
Street Fighter 6 has more of a hip-hop vibe than V did, one that comes through in the streetwear of its fighters and the color-splash graffiti imagery of its parries and finishers. Street Fighter 6 also features an open-world RPG mode called World Tour where players can create their own fighter and learn moves from their favorite characters. While many players have used SF6’s character creator to put celebrities like Ice Spice into the game, Ne-Yo doesn’t have time for all of that and would rather just get to his next conquest.
“I love that they’ve put that detail in the game where you could basically create anybody with the sliders but I feel like that takes a little bit more patience than I have to sit there and go ‘Okay, wait, let me adjust the forehead.’ Like, that’s a whole lot,” Ne-Yo said. “I just wanna kick somebody. Lemme kick somebody.”