Whatever you think about The Game, you can’t say he’s not consistent. From the moment he bulldozed his way onto the scene in 2004, it was obvious he had what it took to be a rap mainstay, not some flash-in-the-pan hotshot who soon fizzled out.
From ‘Hate It or Love It’ to ‘Dreams’ and ‘Ali Bomaye’ – the list goes on and on – he’s delivered a constant onslaught of high-quality hits that, for the past 15 years, have become part of hip-hop’s very fabric. There’s a real argument to be had that he might be one of the most consistent artists in music regardless of genre.
So it’s a bit of a punch in the gut to learn that ‘Born 2 Rap’ is – allegedly – to be his last album. Luckily it’s a contender for one of his best. The Game raps with a newfound clarity throughout – never more so than on opening track ‘No Smoke’. Over Travis Barker’s thundering drums, he declares: “They don’t want no chronic smoke with me”. As he revisits various points in his career, he realises that initial hurdles were necessary to get him to where he is today.
The Game invites listeners on a voyage of self-discovery and reflection. From cutting off family members (‘Hug the Block’) to religious ambivalence (‘Cross on Jesus Back’), there’s no moment more powerful than when he addresses death straight-up on the Marsha Ambrosius-featuring ‘I Didn’t Wanna Write This Song’, which sees him pay homage to slain rapper and community leader Nipsey Hussle, who, having been gunned down in his neighbourhood earlier this year, appears posthumously on the instrumentally rich ‘Welcome Home’.
Providing a sense of familiarity, the album often turns to a historic beat or sample. On ‘Carmen Electra’, The Game walks his Chuck Taylors all over D’Angelo’s ‘Devil’s Pie’, while on ‘Gold Daytonas’ he uses Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s ‘Get Money’. And on ‘The Light’ he borrows an idea from Common’s song of the same name, as he samples Bobby Cauldwell’s ‘Open Your Eyes’.
But ‘Born 2 Rap’ isn’t just a library of classic records blended together: it’s a lesson in storytelling, something The Game has never received enough credit for. One minute he’s painting a picture of L.A.s complicated gang scene (‘Five Hundred Dollar Candles’) and the next he’s taking a page out of Nas’ book, creating a sequel to the Queensbridge rapper’s masterful track ‘Rewind’. And, amazingly, after all this time he still has so much fresh material: on the title track he reveals that he would have been dropped from his label Aftermath had Jay-Z not told Dr. Dre that ‘Hate It or Love It’ would be a smash.
True: the track list is a little lengthy. There’s a flawless project somewhere among the album’s 25 tracks, which could certainly do with trimming. But it’s clear The Game has a lot to get off his chest, which begs the question: with so much left to say, why walk away now?