WHAT MADE THE GRAND THEFT AUTO SAN ANDREAS SOUNDTRACK SO ICONIC?

Jak Alan

January 19th 2022

Last year I wrote an article on why 2002 was an iconic year for dance music in video games. It caused a lot of discussion amongst my friends about what game has the best licensed soundtrack of all of time.

A selection of games kept coming up repeatedly, including Tony Hawks Pro Skater, Need for Speed and Gran Turismo, but since the GTA Remastered Trilogy being released a few months ago (albeit to a lukewarm reception), I am going to write about Grand Theft Auto San Andreas and what made it so iconic.

It’s important to remember that San Andreas was released in 2004, which was seven years before Spotify and one year before YouTube. Radio was more relevant than ever at the time of release. So when a game that has 10 different radio stations containing over 160 different licensed tracks is released, that was sort of a big deal.

Firstly, the game is set in the year 1992 and the cities are loosely based on sections of California and Nevada. Los Santos is based on Los Angeles, San Fierro on San Francisco and Las Venturas being on Las Vegas. The game has a strong West Coast setting, which is reflected in the soundtrack.

Everyone had their favourite in-game radio station, but let’s start with Bounce FM. Bounce FM was hosted by George Clinton, singer and songwriter for the Parliament-Funkadelic collective. In layman’s terms, he’s a pioneer for the early funk-soul movement and has the perfect voice for radio, so we’re off to a great start.

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There are 17 tracks on Bounce FM, but one of the most important in my opinion is ‘Funky Worm’ by Ohio Players. The track contains a distinctive ARP synthesizer sound, which you can hear featured on countless West Coast hip-hop and g-funk classics. Most notably at the time, ‘Serial Killa’ by Snoop Dogg and ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ by NWA. This sound alone is an iconic West Coast sample and really captivates the time and setting of the game. You’ve also got tracks from Rick James, Kool & the Gang, The Isley Brothers, Roy Ayers and The Gap Band, what more could you want?

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Next up we’ve got Radio Los Santos, which plays West Coast hip-hop, with tracks from the likes of Eazy E, NWA and Ice Cube, which is funny since one of the main characters in the game ‘Ryder’, has a striking resemblance to the founder of NWA, Eazy-E.

It’s almost impossible to not see how much West Coast hip-hop has influenced the game. There’s an argument that another character ‘Sweet’ is supposed to be based on Ice Cube and ‘Madd Dogg’ could be based on Snoop Dogg or Nate Dogg too, but let’s not digress!

You’ve also got tracks such as ‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’ by Dr Dre, ‘Check Yo Self’ by Ice Cube and ‘How I Could Just Kill a Man’ by Cypress Hill. These classic tracks add yet another layer of authenticity to the game, and are perfect for cruising through the streets of Los Santos in a lowrider.

Playback FM is another hip-hop station and it’s hosted by the legendary Chuck D from Public Enemy, It features tracks from more hip-hop heavyweights such as Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, G and Brand Nubian. My favourite tracks on Playback FM include ‘Rebel without a Pause’ by Public Enemy and ‘Children's Story’ by Slick Rick (which was later sampled by Montell Jordan in 1995 in ‘This is How We Do It’).

Mastersounds 98.3 is another funk and soul station, which features tracks like ‘Express Yourself’ by Charlies Wright, (the original version, not the NWA Version, although the NWA version is played on Radio Los Santos). You’ve also got ‘Low Rider’ by War and ‘The Payback’ from James Brown, the Godfather of soul, too. In contrast to Mastersounds, CSR 103.2 plays contemporary soul radio station, with more of a Motown influence, with tracks like ‘Motownphilly’ by Boyz II Men and ‘Keep on Movin’ by Soul II Soul.

Don’t be fooled though, the games soundtrack isn’t exclusively hip-hop, funk and soul. You’ve got K- DST, a classic rock station hosted by Axl Rose (the frontman of Guns and Roses), which has tracks like ‘Slow Ride’ by Foghat, ‘White Wedding’ by Billy Idol and ‘Woman to Woman’ by Joe Cocker. Which was later used by Tupac and Dr Dre in their 1995 single ‘California Love, released just after Tupac was released from prison.

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Don’t be fooled though, the games soundtrack isn’t exclusively hip-hop, funk and soul, you’ve got K- DST, a classic rock station hosted by Axl Rose (the frontman of Guns and Roses), which has tracks like ‘Slow Ride’ by Foghat, ‘White Wedding’ by Billy Idol and ‘Woman to Woman’ by Joe Cocker. (Which was later used by Tupac and Dr Dre in their 1995 single ‘California Love’, released just after Tupac was released from prison).

You’ve also got Radio X, which plays modern and alternative rock. It plays tracks like ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ by Guns and Roses, ‘Killing in The Name’ by Rage Against the Machine, ‘Hellraiser’ by Ozzy Osbourne, ‘Fools Gold’ by The Stone Roses’ and my personal favourite, ‘Pretend We’re Dead’ by L7.

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K-JAH West is a dub reggae station featuring tracks from Shabba Ranks, Barrington Levy and Black Uhuru. You'll hear tracks like ‘Cocaine In My Brain’ by Dillinger and ‘Don’t Let It Go To Your Head’ by Black Harmony, perfect for a slow ride across the San Fierro hills, or a cruise down to the Santa Maria Beach to the south of Los Santos.

Alternatively SF-UR plays house, acid house and techno, and includes the iconic ‘Your Love’ by Frankie Knuckles, ‘Voodoo Ray by A Guy Called Gerald and ‘Pacific’ by 808 state, which are perhaps more appropriate for a ride through the deserts and canyons to the west Las Venturas.

Last but not least you have K-ROSE which plays country and western and features tracks such as ‘All My Exes Live in Texas’ by Whitney Shafer and ‘Louisiana Woman, Mississippi Man’ by Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn. K-ROSE is often overlooked and underappreciated, but given a large area of the map is countryside and farmsteads, it’s only realistic that there would be some kind of country and western following throughout San Andreas. I honestly began to feel like somewhat of a hillbilly after going on a crime spree in a tractor around Flint County whilst listening to K-ROSE.

Overall I believe it’s fair to say that the radio stations of GTA San Andreas really do have something for everyone, it has amazing music from legendary artists and radio hosts like George Clinton, Chuck D and Axl Rose.

Rockstar obviously did their homework too, every track within the game is from 1992 or earlier. Each track is perfectly suited to the setting and atmosphere of the game in one way or another, which in my opinion makes it one of the most iconic video game soundtracks of all time.

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