Interview: Rodney Greenblat (Creator of PaRappa The Rapper)

Interview-Rodney-GreenblatKick! Punch! It's all in the mind! These lyrics are all engaved in our gaming past thanks to PaRappa The Rapper's creator, Rodney Greenblat - but how exactly did a renowned graphic artist and his paper-thin rapping dog end up in the video game world?

First of all, how did you get started as an artist and what were your biggest influences?

I started making artwork when I was three years old. My parents somehow knew I was an artist and they gave me a paintbrush, paint, a smock and a little beret. My first works were totally abstract. My first influences were TV cartoons and cereal box artwork. When I was six I learned about Picasso.

How did you get involved with Masaya Matsuura?

When I got to Japan in the early 1990s I met him at a big computer conference. He was a rockstar at the time and I was getting famous from my CD-ROM and children's book projects. Later he was working on a rap music based video game that needed characters and a world. We were also both working for complimentary groups inside Sony Japan, so it was a perfect match. We fell in love and PaRappa the Rapper is our baby.

Can you tell us a bit about the creative process, from the initial ideas to the finished games?

The game production business is a big collaboration, with lots of creative people figuring out how to work with each other. It is a process of defining a role within the group. When I realized I was the character designer I was relieved, because programming and animation are daunting for me. The director and the writer would give me a rough laundry list of characters and settings required. Then I would make sketches, sometimes adding new characters and ideas. Sometimes these new things would be added and sometimes they would send me back to the drawing board. For the character designer, a time comes when the work is done, long before the game is on the shelf. In my case I also designed the packaging so I went on to my new role as package designer at the end of the project.

How does it feel to see your characters come alive once they've been animated and given voices?

It's something like when a marine biologist who has been studying whales his whole life gets to put on a scuba suit and meet a live whale.

Parappa-The-Rapper-Screenshot

PaRappa the Rapper is credited as the first modern music game. Did you set out to create an entire genre?

We set out to do something fun, which is the best approach to any new project.

What was it like making the next game, Um Jammer Lammy? I understand the title character went through several redrafts.

After PaRappa's big success there was much more pressure on our arty team to do something great again. Matsuura relentlessly pushed me, challenging me to make a better and better main character. Finally out of exhaustion I created one of the best game characters of all time, Lammy.

You followed up a boy rapper with a girl rocker, almost the total opposite. What was the thinking behind that - to experiment with a new style, to appeal to people with different musical tastes or was it the idea that any good song is universal?

Matsuura likes to do the unexpected. He loves total opposite. I think that is why he did that.

Tell us a bit about PaRappa the Rapper 2. I noticed you even had a cameo in the game as a news reporter.

For PaRappa 2, we had to work for Sony's much more sophisticated Playstation 2. We made a more sophisticated game with groovy sophisticated music and a sophisticated storyline. It is such a sophisticated game. It was fun doing the voice and character of the news reporter. I tried to be sophisticated.

Rap music and video games often get blamed for corrupting young minds and destroying society. You and Matsuura combined them to make fun games with positive messages. Was the intention to show that these are legitimate forms of art?

As I said we did not have much deep intention when we started, but I think Matssura and I had no interest in violent subject matter. It is mostly peace, love, music and color for us. That's what came out.

Who's you favourite Rap Master in each game? Ever play them yourself?

Yes I played the games many times. Chop Chop Master Onion it the great one. He appears in all the games and is the best.

PaRappa's been confirmed as a Playstation All-Star in their forthcoming "Battle Royale", meaning he'll have appeared on every generation of Playstation consoles. Not only that, but his fame has crossed the barriers of culture and age. What do you think it is about the PaRappa character that's made him so iconic and lovable?

I'm really excited to see PaRappa coming back into the spotlight. PaRappa's dedication to Peace, Love, Music and Color, comes out even in a game where all the characters are trying to clobber each other. PaRappa's power comes from his simple desires, his upbeat humor and hearty endeavor. These are all qualities we all wish we could cultivate in ourselves. To meet a challenging world with an open outlook is noble indeed. Even in the wild chaotic world of "Battle Royale" PaRappa shines out.

What are you working on right now?

Now I am working on the packaging design for Japanese candy "Pocky" special Valentine's day editions. Six new original cute candy characters that will be everywhere in Japan in February. I'm also working on a show of paintings for BCB Gallery. I also continue my role as art's programming director at the Village Zendo here in New York City.

Now here's the question we all want to know - is there any chance of PaRappa 3? Or how about a game starring one of your other characters; maybe PJ Berri, Thunder Bunny or even a Dazzeloids comeback?

I hear this question a lot. It is painful for me to explain the complicated situation of rights and ownership that PaRappa has been through. I have much more hope now that "Battle Royale" will come out. Ultimately it is Sony's decision. I hope in this new spotlight Sony can see beyond the complications of the past, and realize PaRappa's incredible transformative potential. As great as they all are, I think PJ, Thunder Bunny and Dazzeloids will have to jump in the back of Parappa's little orange car when he gets going again. I'm looking forward to that ride.

Thanks Rodney for taking the time to talk to us. You can check out his website at www.whimseyload.com.


Last Updated ( 01 February 2014 )  

Lindsay Robertson

Lindsay is freelance writer, librarian and all-round pop culture junkie. She considers herself a Game Historian (like that’s even a thing!), enjoys debunking controversies and particularly loves any game where girls kick ass. Being Scottish, she can usually be found at the bar.

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