The world of professional poker and hip hop often go hand in hand. Those who make it in either industry deal with unknown variables and high stakes on a regular basis. But where there are guts, there’s glory — and there’s plenty to be shared by successful poker pros like Phil Hellmuth and rap gods like Jay-Z.
In the early 2000s, professional poker changed for two reasons. First, many tables went online, meaning more people could play in a low-stakes setting. Second, popular tournaments like the World Series of Poker were broadcasted around the world, building interest. Though popular since the 70s, poker (Texas Hold’em in particular) became a part of pop culture.
As such, many rappers began incorporating the game into their lyrics. Though some artists mention bluffing and card values in their lyrics, one of the most common shoutouts to the card game is strip poker mentions. Oddly enough, the daring variation on poker isn’t a new fad.
In fact, strip poker dates back a century when the topic was covered in silent films, though some suspect the game goes back to poker’s first days. In the early days of strip poker, clothes were shed to comp the value of chips. Today, thankfully, chips (ceramic and virtual) are the standard wager.
Aside from strip poker, rap artists also focus on the value of those chips and the battle to win them. As mentioned above, both rapping and professional poker are high stakes and high rewards endeavors. Let’s take a look at five of the most interesting poker mentions in the last twenty years.
“Congratulations” comes from Drake’s third mixtape, which was released in 2009 and was part of the artist’s meteoric come-up. Most fans will recognize songs like “Best I Ever Had” and “Successful” from the album, which contributed to the album’s success on the Billboard Hot 100 list.
In “Congratulations,” the rapper mentions being able to call a bluff. The lyrics read, “I see nothing from afar but I’m far from nothing / Put on your poker face, I’ll pull ya card if you’re bluffing.”
Ghostface Killah’s “Pokerface”
As one of the legendary members of Wu-Tang Clan, Ghostface Killah put out this track on his sixth studio album. Released in 2006, More Fish features a long list of guest artists and producers, from Kanye West to Mark Ronson to MF Doom.
In “Pokerface,” Ghostface Killah starts off with a mention of the World Series of Poker, which was being televised quite a bit during this period. However, the entire song is an interesting exposé to the card game. Ghostface references knowing when to fold, the value of having a good poker face, and what it’s like to be a big chip leader.
He starts the song off with, “This is why the World Series of Poker / Is decided over a no-limit poker tournament / Players, pros even, can’t handle the pressure of the game / They consider no limit the only pure game left.”
Kendrick Lamar’s “Vegas”
This unreleased track emerged early in Kendrick Lamar‘s come-up in the early 2000s. This, again, coincides with the launch of online poker and the global broadcasting of WSOP. In “Vegas,” Lamar covers a lot more than poker, reflecting on the city’s lifestyle.
Throughout the song, he mentions playing craps and blackjack. He ends with the lyrics, “I’m a cash in on this last poker chip / You can bet.”
Though this doesn’t quite fall under a post-2000s hit, Jay-Z’s song for the film Streets Is Watching is worth a mention. The rapper makes an astute reference to poker hands, which aren’t often referenced compared to strip poker and poker face shoutouts.
He raps, “Both shows sold out your colisseum, eighth wonder / locked rap for three summers, poker faces with the aces under / phase one of the takeover, the break’s over.” For those who don’t know, aces are the highest-value card in the game.