It’s getting like Oprah out this piece. Used to be all you knew about a young MC was how dope he sounded on the track. Or not. Nowadays you get uploaded holmes’s whole backstory chapter and verse before the single or even a cameo drops. That quaint history of Hoover Crip Mom’s criminal escapades, multiple exit wounds, and near-death comas once reserved for rhymes and myths now gets peddled before the fact, like the next line of Xboxes or some sheet, in order to build the gate.
Has there ever been a more aptly named MC than the Game, who arrives in his swaddling clothes right at hiphop’s tipping point, its ongoing transition from street hustle turned gold to vertically integrated multinational capitalist tool. How telling is it that after listening to 18 tracks on mi hombre’s debut, The Documentary, the verse that sticks out is “If my Reebok deal isn’t finished soon/I’ll still be rocking these Air Nikes”? But hey, that’s me, who these days is on this commodity-fetishism of hiphop culture tip like a fly on a spreadsheet. You may be more moved by how he wished he’d told Puff and Big about the Ramparts scandal, a reference to LAPD thugs in Shug’s employ many believe were responsible for Big’s murder and whose on-the-job deeds inspired Denzel’s amateurish-by-comparison Training Day character.
The Game elegizes Easy, Tupac, and Big, even lovingly hails Nas and Puff enough times to let you know there’s no East-West beef happening here. His new friends and handlers Dre, 50, and Eminem also get frequent lyrical pounds. If Eminem sounded too apologetic on his latest, the Game is a bit too thankful. This tendency reaches its apogee on the track where he reveals that his dreams of getting with Mya were emboldened by 50’s anything-but-virtual episode with Vivica. Pathetic or innocent? Who knows with a cat who reports that he’s only been rapping for a year, like we can’t tell from his breath control and stilted flow. One who also knows there but for the grace of Dre go I and who’s careful to give Jimmy Iovine a shout-out. Point blank Cheo Coker’s Vibe cover story on the Game is more compelling than his debut because the Game’s less engaging as a rhymesayer than as confessional journalistic fodder. His tales of surviving gunshots extend the dead-man-walking trope 50 Cent borrowed from Tupac’s mythos. Then again, I’m an oldskooler who likes his MCs, no matter their bent or content, to bring more musicality and wit to the table than how they’d never fuck Mariah even with Ashanti buttnaked in the bed with her because that bitch got a forehead as big as Tyra’s. His routine is so pro forma thug-blustery that not even one of 50’s singsong choruses can save the opening “West Side Story.” In his new video, Fitty and Dre’s screen presence damn near push him out the frame.
The Jewish grandmother in me chides, Why be so hard on a young man who gives up a life of gangbanging for music and becoming a credit to his set? And truth be told, just when I think the Game’s rhymes are about six degrees from totally artless comes “Start From Scratch,” where this plaintive, verge-of-tears quality magically enters his delivery, and I’m thinking now if he lyricized the story he told Coker of his father sexually molesting his sisters in that voice we’d have a revelatory hiphop milestone and psychic damage. Rather than a rep-building, played-out retread of gangbang reveries set to so-so def beats by this hiphop minute’s latest multiplatinum matinee thug-idol for the girls-gone-wild set. So take comfort in this. With a No. 1 album, there’s always the sequel, in which a Fortune 500 version of the Game can truly deliver on his promise of dropping his guard and bringing some kind of new jack Dr. Phil gangsta realness.