A Rare Breed Part 2 – Nintendo Nation talks to Grant Kirkhope

Last time Mr. Kirkhope explained starting work at Rare, his inspirations, Banjo’s quirk and ended with an exhausting rant about the issues of modern game composition that caused him to pass out due to lack of oxygen. A splash of tap water and a few prods later saw him come to with surprising urgency. On with the talk!

Page 1 – Banjo voice acting, The DK Rap and Nintendo’s censors.
Page 2 – Favourite soundtracks of game and film, and further issues with game music.
Page 3 – The challenges of game composition, words of advise, and ‘Kirkhoping’.

Nintendo Nation – Where were we? Oh yes, Banjo. The game featured some rather unique gibberish when the characters spoke, did you do all that by yourself or did everyone at Rare chip in?
Grant Kirkhope – I did a bit of it, a little bit of it. I think I did Mumbo, and I think I did Bottles in the end. I did the Bottles sergeant major in the second game. Thinking back it’s hard to remember because we all did a lot of stuff. Chris Sutherland who was the lead programmer on Banjo and DK64, he voiced Banjo and Kazooie. Steve Mayles did quite a few.

But it was all because some characters had lots and lots of samples that they would randomly select, and it did take a long time to get that to work. It did sound awful. I’m not saying it sounds great now, but it sounded a lot worse when we first tried to do it!

So Banjo and Kazooie had a lot of samples. No, Kazooie did, Banjo didn’t have many because we couldn’t get Banjo to sound right with samples so we put in one or two or three and set it so we’d have a random pitch it would select as it went along, so for Banjo it would select a sample randomly and select the pitch randomly, and that’s how they generated that kind of gobbledegook.

I do think it was Tim Stamper’s idea in the first place, I can’t quite remember, but I know I spent quite a lot of time pulling my hair out trying to find samples that would work for different creatures and that. So yeah, that was fun to do and frustrating at the same time.

NN – Ok Grant, it’s about time we talk DK Rap

GK – Of course. What can I say?

NN – Let’s go right to the beginning, give us a brief background on the rap.

GK – Because at the start of the SNES Donkey Kong Country there was kind of an old version DK to the new version DK at the start of that game we wanted to do the same thing with DK64. It was George Andreas, who will be forever named for this, that wanted to do that. I think at the time it was that Run DMC/ Jason Nevins remix thing, ‘That’s the way it is’ or whatever it was called, that track, so that was in his head I think because he’s quite a fan of that music.

So I said ‘ok look, let’s try to do a DK Rap, that’d be quite funny.’ So he’d write the lyrics and I’d write the tune and backing stuff. I just got a drum loop going, fiddled with it a little bit, and him and Chris Sutherland were the rappers. The chorus was kind of a bevy’s beauties of Rare staff – I think it was Gregg Mayles, Steve Mayles, Ed Bryan and Chris Peil that did the ‘D K! Donkey Kong!’ Bit in the chorus. I just sat and recorded it all.

I thought it was hilarious at the time. Y’know, I thought it was hilarious that everytime a different DK character was mentioned in the verse every character had a different instrument. So Chunky had Timpanis because he was heavy, Diddy had an electric guitar verse because he played electric guitar, and the funny one, Lanky, had a Trombone and so on. So the idea was that when their verse came round their instrument would play in the background so to speak. And we thought that was hilarious, y’know, ‘ho ho ho, isn’t it funny’ etc.

“I think [the DK Rap] is a bit like Abba…”

But unfortunately when it finally came out everyone thought I was having a serious attempt at writing some kind of really great rap song, which unfortunately I wasn’t at the time! So my hilarious joke sort of backfired and didn’t go down very well at all.

But I have to say that it was so bizarre that Nintendo picked it up and used it in quite a few other games, and a very famous Japanese rapper remixed it really seriously!

NN – The Smash Bros remix is rather in depth, yes.

GK – Yeah! And I saw a video of some pop show in Japan where this real credible rapper, a really serious dude in the scene, was doing the DK Rap! So I was thinking it was a bit bizarre that he went that way, but I was flattered that he wanted to do it at all really!

So it’s bizarre that it’s turned up in other forms really but I have to say that I think it’s one of those tunes that everyone completely hated but I think over the years it has come back into fashion a little bit.

NN – You’re absolutely right, investigating the Rap on YouTube shows a largely positive opinion of it.

GK – Yeah, I think it’s a bit like Abba, the way they’ve kind of come back into fashion over the years. The DK Rap has become quite likeable these days! I’m glad that people take it for the funny thing it is, and it’s very nice for them to like it of course but I think it’s one of those talking points – it’s always funny for me to talk about the DK Rap and I don’t mind at all. It’s one of those huge games and I get the piss taken out of me all the time for the DK Rap! It’s quite nice that people still remember it really!

NN – There was one little alteration Nintendo made of course; did it annoy you that all the Hells became Hecks?

GK – That was funny actually, I got that all the time with Nintendo. In fact I got a couple of things in Banjo Kazooie like that…

In the graveyard when you spit an egg into the pot at the grave there’s a ghostly voice that says ‘Thank you’, and that’s me going ‘thank you’ low down, and then I just pitched it low down, but they were convinced that I was saying ‘f*** you’! And I said ‘for god sake, do you really think I’m going to put that into a Nintendo game?’ And it went round and round and round and I had to do this sort of really elaborate ‘tttthhhhhaaaaank yyyooooooooou’. So in the end that kind of got by.

And I couldn’t believe they complained about ‘one hell of a guy’, I just thought that was the most ridiculous thing. Of course with the middle of America, the sort of Bible belt, they don’t want to alienate anybody, and though we got it past in the end we thought it was ridiculous. We knew we were working at a company that made broad appeal games, and we liked making broad appeal games – it was great fun to talk to the kids and all that – so we would never do something to offend. So it was a bit bizarre, but there you go.

NN – we’ve talked voices in Banjo, but is it true that you voiced DK in DK64?

GK – It was, yes, I did that. They actually used my samples in later games. I remember getting requests from Nintendo saying ‘please can you send across the DK voice samples’, and I don’t know if they used them but they asked for them. I don’t know if Smash Bros has me doing them but yeah, I was DK in DK64, I was indeed.

NN – So you had to say Ok!

GK – I did, yes. ‘Ok!’ I did it gravelly and I pitched it down, sort of thing.

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