The Game represents a conundrum many consumers of culture face in the modern day: in the information age, we know way too much about celebrities and their personal lives and everyday emotions. Not only do we have more access to celebs than ever before; they also have more access to us, via emotionally-charged Twitter rants, blog posts, video blogs, DVDs nobody really asked them to make, etc. The Game is one such rapper: a talented MC who is unfortunately known more for his feud with 50-Cent and company than for his actual output. I’m born and raised in California, so when Game first appeared I was appreciating seeing the west coast back on the scene, but the more Game’s personality emerged, the more I distanced myself from him as an artist. Though musically I felt he was talented, and still do, his material has always been plagued by his now-trademark incessant name-dropping and constant whining about his estrangement from mentor Dr. Dre and issues with Interscope and 50.
The R.E.D. Album is like a slow re-structuring of Game’s whole approach to music, though transition is not complete yet. The usual issues still pop up, only peppered in amongst quality music and decent choice of guest stars here and there. The elephant in the room here is the re-appearance of Dr. Dre like a wayward father, providing vocals on several interludes as well as the track “Drug Test” along with Snoop Dogg and Sly, an appropriately West-Coast club banger also co-produced by Dr. Dre along with DJ Khalil.
Kendrick Lamar without question steals the show on “The City” with a stellar verse and hook contribution. “Heavy Artillery” brings us the Rick Ross we’re used to and the Beanie Sigel we’ve been wanting since The Roc fell apart some time ago. “Paramedics” is a frantic joint that Young Jeezy should have probably tried to put on his mixtape from a few months ago, considering his contribution here is better than anything I’ve heard from him in a while.
The mournful “Ricky” has a cinematic feel to it and is probably one of the best tracks on the album, but might have been better if Game had stuck to a specific topic or linear storyline as opposed to just arbitrarily rhyming. “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” provides that storytelling missing on “Ricky” with Game adopting a whole other flow for the time being. This is the stuff of vets; changing up the flow and subject matter adds texture to the project so the listener isn’t hearing the same “look I can rhyme” 16s on every track, but hearing new approaches to keep the interest there. “Born In The Trap” is produced by the legendary DJ Premier, who predictably gets busy on the boards. If only Game could have avoided dropping the name of every single rapper with a record contract on this track, this would have been a highlight.
The Game’s gang affiliation is no secret and is even more prevalent on this album and at the same time it’s even more questionable. On “Red Nation” and “Martians vs. Goblins”, Game joins forces with fellow Hollywood-Blood Li’l Wayne for a bunch of questionable flag-waving (what kind of Blood says “when I’m with my uncle, fuck it, then I’m a Crip too”?). On the latter, Tyler the Creator shows up to spit some trite, unnecessary-expletive-ridden and predictably homophobic shock-rap over what’s coincidentally a pretty dope No-ID track with Game emulating his style to lackluster results. Kind of a waste, in my opinion. “Red Nation” might have been worth a damn if anybody really took either rapper’s affiliation to the Bloods seriously…and if this was ’92 and anybody cared.
Game puts the guns and the bandana away on a few tracks to mixed results. “Hello” featuring Lloyd goes overboard with the “take you out the hood and buy you everything in the world, girl” Captain Save A Ho rhymes, with Game dropping every single brand name he could think of just like he usually does with MCs. Lloyd’s vocals are just way too predictable and terry-cloth soft. “Pot of Gold” featuring Chris Brown is so cheesy it made me uncomfortable, just like when the Game was rocking a red mohawk. I understand the motivation to move units, but there’s a line between mainstream appeal and just making rap songs that sound like they came straight off the One Tree Hill soundtrack. Where The Game does the crossover properly is “All The Way Gone” featuring Mario and fellow emotional rapper Wale, where the rhymes actually compliment the syrupy backdrop instead of sounding copied-and-pasted. I’ve never been a Drake fan, but the pairing with Game on “Good Girls Go Bad”,which sounds like a knockoff Kanye track, is actually not bad.
As far as studio LPs go, The R.E.D. Album isn’t as bad as most people expected and Game might be back on the radar for the time being. You take the good with the bad: the records where the artist is actually spittin’ along with the records where he’s trying to reach the women and the party scene. Though it’s clear The Game hasn’t listened to the criticism over the years and made the changes he needs to, it’s clear he’s putting more effort into making quality music. If only he’d allow us to see more of his lyricism and less complaining, flag-waving and name-dropping, hip-hop heads could begin to take him somewhat seriously, all butterfly tats aside.
Ricky x The Game
The City x The Game f. Kendrick Lamar