Beyoncé? Radiohead? Taylor Swift? Daft Punk? All great musicians, yes, but not quite the single greatest musician of our generation. That honor is reserved for someone so great he verges on fictitious: K.K. Slider.
In a way, it feels blasphemous to claim that the greatest musician of our generation is someone who doesn’t even hail from a music-focused game. It’s not Celes in Final Fantasy VI. It’s not Junebug in Kentucky Route Zero. It’s not the beanie-clad title character from PaRappa the Rapper. It’s certainly not The Beatles in Rock Band, because that would just be cheating, not to mention a misreading of “our generation” as r/lewronggeneration.
And yet, declaring K.K. Slider—the roaming black-and-white dog who’s always playing guitar in Animal Crossing—as the standout artist among a sea of video game icons only seems natural. After all, it’s K.K. whose talent and influence continue to increase over the years, all without an air of pretension or presumption.
Even in the non-video game world, a title like “The Most Influential Musician” comes with constant debate. Is popularity based on the size of a fanbase, or the longevity of a following? Is talent decided by album streams or records sold? Is it determined by the number of instruments played or an expansive vocal range? Often times, the most logical way to measure a musician’s status is by examining their musical skills and their influence on a fanbase. K.K. Slider just happens to excel at both of these.
For the unfamiliar, K.K. Slider is a large-headed dog with white fur, floppy ears, and massively large eyebrows that pre-date the ongoing thick brow trend. He plays a six-string acoustic guitar, the model of which certainly looks like a Gibson. Many believe he’s a Jack Russell.
No matter which of the four main Animal Crossing games you play, K.K. is there, ready to play music for passersby and fans alike. In the original Animal Crossing, he can be found by the train station after 8 p.m. on Saturday nights, sitting on top of a suitcase with his guitar in hand. Later, in Wild World and City Folk, he’s onstage at The Roost cafe, chilling on a tiny wooden stool. In New Leaf, he works at Club LOL as a DJ each night except for Saturdays, when he performs onstage atop a miniature chair beneath disco ball lights. Even in spinoff game Pocket Camp, K.K. can easily be lured to your campsite if you build his modest chair. The reward? He’ll play you his music, and oh what a reward that is.
When approached, K.K. Slider will ask if you want to hear anything. Now’s your chance to request a song if you’re already familiar with his catalog. If not, let him choose, as he usually can’t steer you wrong. Do take the time to hear him out, though. K.K. talks like a hippie, all positive sayings and mellow wording, and some of his quotes are as comical as they are, dare we say, profound. As a wise pup once told me, “Nothing shredded, nothing gained.”
Best of all, he offers you a copy of his songs to keep, free of charge, after you listen. It’s not a social commentary on supporting music piracy, as some players hoped, but it is an anti-capitalist act that K.K. insists upon for the first three games. A beloved artist giving away their music for free? Hey, that sounds like what famous bands do in the real world.
No matter which era of Animal Crossing introduced you to K.K. Slider, he’s the musician who taught you about a new genre of music. There’s no denying the dog’s got range. He goes beyond the usual crowd-pleasers of rock, folk, rap, jazz, and country—though he does play all five of those. In addition, K.K. whips out songs in the style of bossa nova, metal, flamenco, reggae, and bubblegum pop. He’s done ragtime, disco, and soul. Are you feeling a lullaby or waltz? He’s got you covered. Trying to dance to something more upbeat? Let him hit you with a ska or calypso jam.
From the first Animal Crossing game to New Leaf, K.K. Slider’s body of original work has grown from 55 songs to 91 songs. That’s about nine albums’ worth of material. You name it, K.K. has probably written a song in that subgenre. He’s a man of the people, learning every genre for every person—or at least it feels that way. And to top it off, his delivery is continually charming, using vowel-heavy sounds to get across his thoughts, occasionally adding a hiccup-like grunt or a high-pitched howl.
The background music of Animal Crossing became popular on its own for its relaxing effect, and there’s even a Google Chrome browser extension to cue up its hourly songs for that reason. But where the game’s score became a cue to help players focus, K.K. Slider’s music became an opportunity to both have fun and discover new musical styles. An artist with genre range like him is easy to fall in love with.
That explains why fans have taken it upon themselves to archive every aspect of K.K.’s work. After all, he’s a vagabond of sorts and doesn’t have time to do it himself. The Animal Crossing Wikipedia catalogues every original song he’s recorded. Songs that never made it into gameplay, like “K.K. House,” a dance club bonus track on the official City Folk soundtrack CD, have been uploaded by fans to YouTube. Someone even created a K.K. Slider concert, stringing together an hour’s worth of material and turning up the reverb to give the songs the effect of bouncing around an open venue.
The discreetness with which K.K. discusses his private life, if indeed he discusses it at all, only increases his allure. Like other celebrities who avoid the spotlight, like Beyoncé or Frank Ocean, K.K. knows it’s more important to push boundaries with his music than to flaunt his social life on the regular, or to even be spotted at all. Perhaps that’s why K.K. can’t be found at just any time of day in Animal Crossing, or why so little is known about him. He’s comfortable keeping the attention off of himself, going so far as to eventually acknowledge his birthday but never actually celebrate it. (Classic Virgo.)
By now, it’s time to zoom out of the game itself to refocus on Kazumi Totaka, the human behind K.K.’s magic. Totaka is the real-life composer who has penned countless Nintendo tunes, from Mario Paint to Wii Sports, and is the sound director of Animal Crossing. When it came time to name K.K. Slider in the original Japanese version, the game’s designers riffed off Totaka’s name and dubbed the dog Totakeke.
There’s no easily accessible footage of Totaka playing K.K. songs live, save for that middle-of-the-woods moment announcing Pocket Camp. He did lean into the idea that K.K. is an animal caricature of himself at the 2003 Mario & Zelda Big Band Live concert, though. When the host picked up a guitar for Totaka to play, fans in the audience yelled out, “Totakeke!” Laughing, Totaka sat on a chair, crossed his legs in the style of K.K., and briefly posed.
It’s easy to see why K.K. Slider was based off Totaka. At his best, K.K. Slider is a true virtuoso without the usual ego that comes with the title. At his worst, K.K. Slider is the everyman musician, a guy who will happily play you a song on acoustic guitar but is content playing to nobody all the same. Perhaps that’s why it’s so easy for players to see themselves in K.K.’s shoes… er, paws. If he can try out different music genres with ease, then why can’t you?
This leads us to the nonstop influence K.K. has had over serious musicians and wannabe students. It begins the way most music lessons do: playing cover songs, furthering your understanding of an instrument by learning to play another musician’s work. Pull up YouTube and it’s easy to find various fans covering Slider’s repertoire with solos. Some attempts are genuinely impressive. Others struggle. No matter what, they’re having fun — and likely trying their hand at an instrument they wouldn’t otherwise play, at least not often.
Then come the full-on jazz band covers. Instead of looking up tabs for guitar, you have to transpose the original song and arrange a version that works for each instrument in the band. Every time I stumble across one of these, I can’t help but think about how many strangers would ask the name of the song if they heard it at a jazz club.
From there, K.K. Slider’s influence quadruples in size by way of cover songs in the style of K.K. Slider. For over a decade, fans have been studying K.K.’s catalog and expanding it to include every corner of the popular canon. Using the tones of his iconic instrumentation and his individualistic singing style, a slew of musicians have turned K.K. Slider into an artist who’s cataloguing every hit, good or bad, from this century.
Honestly, it’s hard to pick a favorite because of how many artists he’s covered: Daft Punk, A-Ha, Outkast, Smash Mouth, Nine Inch Nails, Drake, Mac DeMarco, Lady Gaga, Animal Collective, Radiohead, Ice Cube, Anamanaguchi, Gorillaz, Coldplay, ABBA, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Dragonforce, Toto, The Killers, and, of course, Rick Astley.
One fan has gone full video game inception specifically, covering the Buck Bumble theme, Undertale hit “Megalovania,” Castlevania jam “Castle Killer,” that haunting Doki Doki Literature Club song, Portal’s “Still Alive,” and the Super Mario Bros. 2 theme. It’s all perfectly replicated in K.K. made-up language, too, even though it’s often hard to decipher. (Now’s the time to slam that closed captioning button, folks.)
When one K.K. Slider cover song appears, requests flood in for more. From there, some users find themselves essentially ghostwriting songs for K.K. on the regular, like Clay Kramer, the creator behind those Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish covers. Kramer grew up playing piano and guitar as a kid, and now he regularly creates K.K. cover songs as a way to have fun while keeping his skills sharp. He told Kotaku it takes between two and eight hours to create a cover from scratch.
“K.K. Slider’s limited ability to express in tone forced the developers to experiment with pitch to make interesting enough music, and in turn it made him a fun character,” said Kramer. “His vocal samples can be found pretty easily online because someone ripped them from the GameCube Animal Crossing a long time ago.”
“His voice samples are easy to use,” said Kramer. “I like to take it a step further though by minimizing sample delay, utilizing pitch bends and vibrato like a real voice, and even mimicking vocal effects you hear in the original song.” Kramer said that the positive feedback he gets from Animal Crossing fans is the “most rewarding part” of creating K.K. Slider-style music. “It’s just endless positivity and enthusiasm.”
For others, an offhand creation can blow up to the point of becoming a profitable piece of work. Nic Silvestri, the lo-fi beatmaker behind Soundcloud account Overspace, found fame this January when he uploaded a short snippet of a cover of Travis Scott’s massive hit “Sicko Mode,” with K.K. singing the part of both Scott and Drake, including the latter’s apathetic grunts.
After it blew up, garnering over 90,000 retweets, Silvestri decided to cover the song in its entirety, which took a whole day to complete—in addition to the original day it took him to make the first version. Shortly afterward, DJ Cutman of the record label Gamechops reached out to see if he was interested in signing the cover to his label. Silvestri said yes. They uploaded the full version to YouTube, and it quickly racked up over a million views.
Silvestri later went on to create a K.K. Slider cover of “Old Town Road,” which even got original artist Lil Nas X’s approval in the comments. The process is so intense, though, that he’s currently taking a break. “The recreation of the instrumental using only Animal Crossing sounds is always an extremely fun yet challenging process, but the vocals are a bit less enjoyable,” he told Kotaku.
“Since each of K.K. Slider’s phrases sit in a different sampler, the process of laying out vocals for an entire song is very intricate and time consuming,” he said. “There definitely is a different skill requirement, but I think that anyone familiar with music software and the Animal Crossing franchise would be able to do a fine job making their own cover.”
“I do think that breaking down a popular song in any way helps you to understand songwriting better,” Silvestri said. “It really helps you pick up on the little things, and can also make you realize that sometimes simplicity does the job best.”
When people who grew up playing musical instruments acknowledge the difficulty of perfectly mirroring popular songs in the style of K.K. Slider, it relieves some of the pressure from those who didn’t. It serves as a reminder that making music is fun, but it’s time consuming, and finding the needed patience can feel stressful. That’s why Silvestri and others have extended a helping hand by making tutorials. It’s a way to keep the creative community growing, and to act as a mentor when you can’t be there in person to help.
If a musician’s goal is to make music that gets stuck in your head, then K.K. Slider already won. But the Animal Crossing icon takes his role a step further by exploring overlooked music genres, giving his music away for free, putting on regular concerts, and influencing fans to further (or even begin) their songwriting education. He’s a cartoon dog that has done it all, and, with some fan assistance, continues to conquer every corner of the music industry.
He won’t brag about it. Neither will Kazumi Totaka. It takes a swarm of fans, armed with Animal Crossing samples and Garageband or Pro Tools, to break down K.K.’s talent and put his influence on prominent display online. He’s truly the artist that best soundtracks and represents our generation. Even without all of this evidence, his status as a musical icon is already cemented in trophy form anyway in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Look closely at his trophy and you will find an inscription intended to go down in history. “His music is so ingrained in the villagers,” it reads, “that it’s impossible to imagine them living without it.”
We stan a legend, and so do they.
Nina Corcoran is the music editor of Boston’s alt-weekly. For transparency’s sake, please note that hate mail is printed and repurposed to fill cavities she acquired from binge-eating Sour Patch Kids.