We’re still a month away from the next Quarterly Report, but the Game’s “It’s Okay (One Blood)” is turning out to be one of my favorite singles of the year, despite any weird ambiguity about whether he actually wants to shoot Lil Jon and a couple of lyrical clunkers (“26 and so is the dubs,” “Louis Vuitton belt buckle”). It’s got this pitched-up intensity that I’m not hearing from too many rap singles lately: the searing Junior Reid sample, the barked threats, the enormous drums, everything piercing the air like Bomb Squad sirens. The rap-single-as-manifesto is an increasingly rare thing. Single choices have come to look like connect-the-dots career-planning, a sort of obligatory step that people just have to do before they get around to releasing their own brand of cologne or whatever. One of the reasons that “What You Know” stands out so far ahead of everything else is that it was evidently made by someone with something big at stake: T.I. needed to claim the undisputed biggest-guy-out spot or else risk herbing himself with all his king-of-whatever posturing, so he did it, and he made it look easy. Musically and culturally, “It’s Okay (One Blood)” has virtually nothing in common, but it shares with it a certain urgency. The rap landscape has changed enormously in just the 21-month period since The Documentary came out, and Game absolutely needed to assert his own primacy, to slap aside all the drama that’s been swirling around him ever since and make it clear to everyone that he was not going to calm down or fade away anytime soon. In a way, the Game’s soap-opera career has made him an underdog even though his one album sold really well, and that a weirdly enviable position. He gets to play the loner now, to become the sole figure striking out against the huge and corrupt massed forces. The video for “One Blood” has been out a few weeks now, and it’s really good: bright-and-hard lighting, quick-cut editing, Junior Reid wailing from a ranch-house rooftop. But I wish it had done without those shots of Game rapping with an army of dudes behind him; they send the wrong message. The thing is that Game doesn’t have an army of dudes behind him, and that’s what makes him interesting. He shouts out Dr. Dre constantly, but we don’t even know if Dre’s taking his calls. He’s been moved from Aftermath to Geffen, and I don’t even remember the last time a big rap album came out on Geffen. He’s got nobody in his corner. And so I wish the video had stuck with the early shots of Game standing alone, walking through a desiccated neighborhood, sitting on a curb while grass sprouts up from the sidewalk behind him, perching on a cemetery wall on a bright and sunny day and staring off at the sprinklers running, one guy ready to take on the world.
I loved The Documentary, but I didn’t start actually liking Game himself until he released “300 Bars N Runnin'” the fifteen-minute mixtape harangue where he just went off on his former G-Unit compatriots until he ran out of words. Other than “Like Father, Like Son,” it was the first indication that Game could be more than a passionate cipher, an ornament for million-dollar beats. It had an endearingly naive excess to it: Game refused to edit himself, refused to allow any doubt to creep into his voice, refused to temper his dejection in any way. 50 Cent absolutely bungled the handling of the dis track, acting like he was John Kerry and Game was the Swift Boat Veterans, and that was the first real evidence of a serious chink in the G-Unit armor, maybe the beginning of the end for them. Since then, Game has learned how to sharpen the force of his anger, how to whittle his dis-tracks down to, like, six minutes. And now Game is curiously enough, a better rapper than anyone on G-Unit with the exception of Young Buck (unless we’re counting Freeway, and we’re not). At this weird historical moment, Game is a better rapper than 50 Cent, Billy Danze, Lil Fame, Prodigy, Lloyd Banks, Havoc, Hot Rod, Spider Loc, or Tony Yayo. (Buck, for his part, has gotten so good lately that I’m starting to think 50 Cent is intentionally holding back his album for fear of being overshadowed.) And on “One Blood,” he even made the totally disingenuous claim that he wasn’t beefing with 50 Cent, the first glimmer of hope he’s given that this whole G-Unit beef is just a chapter in his life, not his entire reason for being. We should be so lucky.
Today is a slow post-holiday news day and all, but it’s worth mentioning whenever Game releases a mixtape track with the word Bars in the title. But “100 Bars,” his new track, is a depressingly bland volley in Game’s neverending personal war. After “300 Bars” and “240 Bars,” it’s relatively brief even with its terrible hook, and it’s more about 50’s extremely vulnerable proteges Lloyd Banks and Spider Loc than 50 himself. Even for an unapologetic vulture like me, it’s hard to muster much interest in anything Game might have against those guys, especially since he’s lingering on tired-ass bullshit like the debunked Banks gay-porn rumor and 50’s relationship with Vivica Fox, no quotable lines on the whole mess. The weirdest thing is that there’s not a whole lot of hunger in Game’s voice; he’s finally got the self-assured stride that most king-of-whatever rappers eventually develop. It’s not a good look for him. Game’s whole thing works when he’s fighting impossible odds. When he starts to rap like he’s already won, he loses his power. Until he starts running around with LL Cool J, though, there will be hope for him.
Voice review: Greg Tate on the Game’s The Documentary