This list began as a joke, but the longer I contemplated it, the more depressing its basic concept became. Consider: not only could I easily string together ten of Game’s fruitless attempts to force label executives to release The R.E.D. Album, his followup to 2008’s LAX; I had to make decisions about which ten to include. If you can think of a more damning condemnation of both commercial gangsta-rapper woes and major-label wastefulness, I’m all ears.
For mid-level major-label rappers like Game, keeping your fans satisfied while they wait impatiently for a product you keep desperately promising is right around the corner has become a melancholy fact of life. Unless you currently have at least two Top Ten hits currently floating in the radio-playlist soup, your album is a theoretical construct, no more “around the corner” than universal health care.
Indeed, for major labels, releasing rap albums has become a process frighteningly similar in outline to signing major legislation—months of dead space, a brief flurry of activity and heady promises, then, finally, inexplicable stalls, dashed hopes, and disillusionment. Repeat. There are several well-established coping strategies; for instance, mixtapes made of the latest scraps from the album’s cutting room floor, a cost-eating and humiliating exercise for all involved and the album-release equivalent of showing up with an expensive present the day after you missed your kid’s birthday. Other viable options include: ranting about your predicament on Twitter and wallowing in the sympathy of your followers; or working with any and every producer the label sends your way, in hopes that a Bruno Mars hook will finally bring mercy from the gods.
Game has tried all of these methods, except, it must be said, for pitching unseemly Twitter fits. The ultimate company man, he has kept admirably cool while the years pass by; instead, when asked about the delays in interviews, he responds with aplomb. In the meantime, he has been furiously recording with anyone and everyone, racking up studio-time costs.
It doesn’t help, of course, that Game has the most water-soluble identity in hip-hop; whoever you place him next to is who he will sound like for those three minutes, and despite a discerning ear for quality production, he never sounds at home in his own songs. On some level, his label’s instincts are right: The R.E.D. Album—which is now, for real, coming out on August 23 (or so Game claims)—will tank. The problem is that everyone involved has no idea what to do about it. Consider this list, then, a breadcrumb trail that results when a past-his-prime rapper and a major media conglomerate find themselves locked into a toxic, failed marriage.
1. “It Must Be Me” (released April 2010)
At one point in The R.E.D. Album‘s tortured development, Pharrell was called in for triage work. He was briefly appointed “executive producer,” and by the sound of things, the pair recorded several songs. They traded admiring quotes in interviews: Pharrell called Game “underrated” while Game, with his trademark unsettling zeal, told Complex: “Pharrell will probably executive-produce every album for the rest of my life.”
“It Must Be Me,” a viciously streamlined piece of vintage Neptunes funk, was meant to be the opening salvo in the album’s new rollout, but it didn’t stick. It’s too bad; it was one of the more focused Neptunes productions in ages, a buzzing sine-wave synth approximating the tinny whine of classic G-funk and gut-rumbling bass drums that took care of the bouncing-lowriders part. Game, for his part, fills every inch of available space with his unique brand of face-palming, overcompensating bluster: “It’s two o’clock in the afternoon, I’m bout to roll a Swisher/ Cuz that’s what real niggas do when they at home watching ESPN on a 70-inch flatscreen,” he yells. The song was uproarious and surprisingly hard-hitting, but a chanted Pharrell hook hasn’t translated into a chart hit in years, so the result was just bait for millennial-rap nostalgists like me.
2. “Ain’t No Doubt About It” ft. Justin Timberlake (released April 2010)
“Ain’t No Doubt About it” was designed to be the chirpy, for-the-ladies yin to “It Must Be Me”‘s street-single yang; sadly, both disappeared soundlessly as soon as they were leaked. The problem with “Ain’t No Doubt About It,” as with “It Must Be Me,” boils down to one of carbon-dating; both songs sound like misplaced transmissions from 2003, when the Neptunes were still ruling pop radio. “Ain’t No Doubt About It” is a sunny, syncopated, and instantly dazzling beat that has “Justified castoff” written all over it, and it even has Timberlake’s ersatz, white-boy-soul yowling. Game, sounding painfully unsure what he should be doing here, mumbles something about how his guns “sing like they’re registered to ASCAP.”
3. “R.E.D. Nation” ft. Lil Wayne (released March 2011)
When all else fails, sample a huge stadium-chant and wait for the “oh, I know that one!”‘s to pile up. Cool and Dre, the producer duo who provided Game with “Hate it or Love It” and “Big Dreams,” slowed down Zombie Nation’s massive, bleacher-rattling soccer chant “Kernkraft 400” and hitched up drums, pianos, and electric guitars to it. The result sounds huge enough to justify the gang-riot video that Game earnestly endeavored to get “banned” from BET so he could complain about it (an attention-getting tactic that worked for Kanye’s Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy cover). But the song whips up a fury that it doesn’t know how to take anywhere; I defy anyone to isolate and chant along with any portion of Lil Wayne’s long, rambling chorus hook.
4. “Bottles And Rockin’ Js” (released June 2011)
A Lex Luger-produced track with guest verses emailed in from Busta Rhymes, Fabolous, and Rick Ross—nothing quite conveys the stench of major-label rap desperation as acutely in 2011. In 2006, grabbing a cut-rate Runners track (the duo who produced Ross’s breakthrough “Hustlin'”) was the quickest and easiest way to signal “I need Hot 97 to notice I exist.” In 2004, it was a Scott Storch beat. Now, post-B.M.F. and Flockaveli, Lex Luger’s trademark oscillating synth sweep means one thing: “Help me, world; I am trapped.” Side note: the way Game says “Bottles N’ Rockin’ Js” on the hook, it sounds suspiciously like “Bartles and James,” which gives a distinctly Lonely Island feel to the whole affair.
5. “Pushin’ It” ft. Robin Thicke (released June 2010)
Another tentative stab at the silky ladies’ jam, this time with square-jawed clothing-rack Robin Thicke along for the ride. “You bring the L.L. outta nigga,” Game coos, while Robin Thicke breathily whispers giggle-worthy come-ons like “I’m pushin’ it/ Back door/ Gonna elevate you to the top floor.” The backing track is suitably velvety and insinuating, and T.I. even stops by to drop an indistinct but still casually masterful guest verse.
6. “Krazy” ft. Gucci Mane (released October 2009)
It is well-established that Timbaland long ago priced himself out of the reach of all but the most successful rappers. So how Game, stranded in the buzz-vacuum wilderness he has been trying to escape for two and a half years, managed to procure this fantastic beat is a mystery. It’s the sort of dizzying thing you expected from Timbaland when he was still working with Danjahandz; a twirling carnival of synths, acid-rock guitar blurts, and lightly syncopated clapping. However, “Krazy,” like all these songs, lags five minutes behind the rap zeitgeist, surfacing long after Gucci Mane went on his memorable tear of adjective-named mixtape tracks (“Weird,” “Wonderful,” “Gorgeous,” “Awesome”). Timbo’s own rapped verse is also an inescapable issue; when he offers the gentlemanly query “Can I lick your pretty pink raisin?” I am seized by the instinctive desire to cry for an adult.
7. “White Soft Porn” ft. Asher Roth, Tyga, and Mars (released January 2011)
A winningly ridiculous conceit (“We don’t gotta fuck/ I’m talking white soft porn” goes the cooing talkbox chorus), a convincingly rendered ’80s R&B jam, and the just jaw-droppingly gross invitation to “put your butt on my moustache” all add up to the most distinctive song Game has released in this long, doomed campaign. It’s too profane and too silly to be an actual “hit,” but it did hint at the goofball that occasionally peeks through Game’s wearyingly generic tough-guy bluster.
8. “Slangin’ Rocks” (released April 2010)
Scoop DeVille is the West Coast producer behind Snoop Dogg’s hypnotically minimal “I Wanna Rock” and Fat Joe’s “HaHa (Slow Down).” His beats have a throwback tang to them, so it makes sense that he brings Game back in touch with his Compton roots. “Slangin’ Rocks” chops up an Eazy-E vocal sample and threads it through a clanging beat that manages to sound both complicated and massive.
9. “I’m The King” (released January 2011)
“I’m The King” is a stoned midtempo amble with a lazy, sing-song chorus about Patron and weed—in other words, it’s an off-brand Wiz Khalifa imitation. One can imagine a more versatile rapper doing something good with the catchy, insistent loop, but Game is mostly stuck stuttering in place; you can actually hear him trying to land a catchy chant.
10. “Pot of Gold” (released June 2011)
Game’s latest attempt, “Pot of Gold,” surfaced just last week. It is a maudlin power ballad, featuring the ever-delightful Chris Brown. The finger-picked acoustic guitar beat sits somewhere queasily between Nas’s “The Message” and Whitey Ford Everlast’s “What It’s Like.” Game goes soulful, reminding us that the only thing funnier than blustering tough-guy Game is thoughtful, meditative Game. Witness the song’s grave-faced opening couplet: “There’s a mother out there right now, bout to have the next Lebron/ Searchin’ for a pot of gold like a leprechaun.”