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Is this the most important game of the year?

Opinion: Tim Ingham's no Rapstar - but he knows a game-changer when he sees one...

I'm the Big Boi of the 'burbs; the Common of the commuter belt; the Talib Kweli of the greater Hertfordshire area.

All of these things are true. In front of my mirror. With no-one else in the vicinity.

But in reality, I'm abysmal at rapping.

I know, I know. It belies both my uniformly Anglo Saxon appearance and the fact I refer to my front room as a "lounge".

To look at me, you'd think I'd rival Easy-E for sleazy rhymes - Straight Outta' St Albans. But alas. 'tis not my forte.

Like professional football and messy, expletive-laden public break-ups, hip-hop is something I love being entertained by - but am rubbish at pulling off myself.

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So, we can safely conclude that 4mm's Def Jam: Rapstar - released in early November on 360, PS3 and Wii - probably isn't the game for me.

Its line-up might be pitched perfectly between revered (Public Enemy, Nas) and frolicsome (Nelly, Ja Rule); Yank (Method Man, Outkast) and Brit (Wiley, Dizzee Rascal), but I doubt I'm going to be able to bring much to the party. Unless it's got a high-pitched 'feat.' bit. I'm quite good at those.

For those that can 'spit' (ahem) with skill, however, the game's shaping up to be a winner. I got a sneak peek recently, and 4mm, along with publisher Konami, have done a solid job of recreating the bullet-proof SingStar mechanic - without the shoddy 'where's my favourite feature' frustrations of other mic-based rivals.

It works, it's been put together smartly, and there are plenty of bling-encrusted virtual trinkets to win the favour of a huge chunk of its target audience.

But Def Jam: Rapstar's potential importance to the video games market goes far, far beyond these plaudits.

This is a million miles more than mere decent party fare: It genuinely could represent a bona fide revolution for online gaming.

To understand where I'm coming from, you first have to realise that Rapstar isn't your normal multiplayer title. It's not going to war with Call Of Duty, Halo or even SingStar. To get what 4mm is aiming for - but coyly avoiding discussion of - you have to think much, much bigger than that.

Deep breath: It's going after YouTube. Yep. That big. And it's got some serious ammo in its holster.

Sure, it's a titillating party game - and I've no doubts it'll provide plenty of festive mirth in tipsy sitting rooms (sorry, lounges) over the next couple of months.

But it's also an all-singing, all-rhyming social network; one which people are set to take very seriously indeed.

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Why? Because not only does it work brilliantly, it offers young artists an entirely new route to potential stardom.

Pre-fab, blink-and-you'll-miss-'em pop starlets have the X-Factor. Lank-haired indie bands have the underground circuit, stuffed with get-rich-quick A&R suits.

But hip-hop? That's got battles. It's the most confrontational of all the music genres. It's often what makes it so thrilling - and perfectly suited to online video games.

Where MCs previously threw out their hottest cuts (can I get away with 'hottest cuts'? I'm sticking with it) into the pissing in the wind free-for-all of YouTube, Rapstar offers them a focused platform. Where they previously had to head into sweaty clubs to take on - and be judged by - the best in the business, now they can do it from their bedrooms. And where they previously had to keep their fingers crossed that someone from the industry might - just might - spot their talent from the bar, now they have Def Jam watching them on a screen.

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