Before I get started here, let me just say that west coast gangsta rapper The Game is one of my favorite rappers. I don't know if I'm more enchanted with the story from which he rose to fame or with his verbal linguistics -- or a combination of both -- but this guy is talented.
So imagine my glee when months ago he dropped "Big Dreams," the grand-sounding, thumping track with requisite braggadocio lyrics that normally comprise lead singles on rap albums. The anticipation factor for his third album, "L.A.X.," due out in a week, was at an all-time high.
Starting off with a triumphant declaration -- "I'm free as a muthaf*ckin' bird, I swear!" -- I just knew that L.A.X. was going to continue where 2006's "The Doctor's Advocate" great music left off.
But I was again surprised when last month the new album's track listing leaked online with "Big Dreams" mysteriously missing from the list of songs.
And then I heard a slew of other songs that were rumored to be on the new album, none of which I was truly impressed with, and I began to dismiss on the album before even listening to it in its entirety.
So even when I sat down yesterday to listen to the album, I was already approaching it with a sour mind state, expecting The Game to become the latest casualty in the war against inconsistent emcees who just can't seem to sustain a career in rap.
Starting off with a prayer insisting to the devil that "we rebuke you in the name of Jesus" -- ironically preached by DMX, the same person who's life seems to have been overtaken by the devil -- my hopes of hearing a good album were slowly but surely fading away.
The intro is followed by "LAX Files," a slow, piano-heavy homage to his hometown. And while the lyrics are interesting, the man who wails on the sleepy-sounding hook did his darndest to make my eyelids heavier and heavier.
And since the word on the street is that Ice Cube has recruited Game to be the newest member of Westside Connection after Mack-10 got evicted from the group, it is only right for Game to feature Cube on the album. Right? Well, at least in theory, since the song, "State of Emergency," which is not very moving at all and chock full of an annoying funky worm, sounds better suited for a mixtape.
Then is the obligatory east coast collaboration with the once-classic and now under achieving and near irrelevant Raekwon, which sounds very forced and lacks chemistry, not to mention not very easy on the ears. Game and Rae trade unbelievable gangsta tales to no avail, and my finger is dangerously close to my iTunes eject button.
Of course this album is littered with Game's penchant for name-dropping, but as a friend told me last week, every good rapper has his or her own trademark, and name-dropping just happens to be Game's. If we're not over the name-dropping by now, we never will be. So we may as well just enjoy the rapper and his music for what they are.
But then the album's latest single, "My Life," featuring Lil' Wayne, cues up, and it's obvious this is the real starting point for the album. Weezy does his best T-Pain impression on the hook while Game devotes three verses to the trials and tribulations of life.
But with all the Hiphop album cliches out of the way (big name and opposite coast collaborations), the rest of the album plays much more like what I expected -- a west coast opus celebrating his hometown, complete with witty and sometimes even poignant lyrics (I'm in my drop top Phantom on Wilshire Boulevard/ We can't find Biggie's killers so we gave Puffy a star"), complemented with quality music courtesy of mainly Cool & Dre, Nottz, DJ Toomp, J.R. Rotem and Scott Storch.
"Ya Heard" is a genius west coast version/reworking of Nucleus's "Jam On It," and features a rejuvenated-sounding Ludacris, who trades in the movie set for the more familiar surroundings of the recording studio.
But the album's crowning moment comes on "House of Pain," a sinister-sounding beat over which Game welcomes his listeners to Compton, Calif., Game's place of origin: "My pops wasn't around, so this bastard bleeds California from the cradle to the casket/And I won't stop riding for my coast, n*ggas keep talkin bout my bread, we gon' make toast."
Even the album's commercial efforts work well and don't come off as forced, thanks in part to the Dr. Dre-inspired production (especially apparent on the Ne-Yo-assisted "Gentleman's Affair"), over which Game has always thrived.
Other noteworthy tracks include "Let Us Live" and "Letter to the King," Game and NaS's quasi-dedication to the Black leaders whose sacrifices so often go forgotten, and includes the memorable line: "The word nigger, is nothing like 'n*gga'/ Don't sound sh*t alike, like Game, like Jigga/ one came before the other, like aim, like the trigger. ... If Dr. King marched today would Bill Gates march? I know Obama would but would Hillary take part? Great minds think great thoughts/ The pictures I paint make the Mona Lisa look like fake art."
The album wraps up with the head-scratching continuation of DMX's sermon that began the album, taking away from the good note that this album otherwise musically ends on.
This album deserves way more than just a quick listen, as it gradually gets better and better as it progresses, an appropriate metaphor for Game's career. He keeps threatening retirement, but if this album is all well-received as his other two were, expect more growth and an even better album next time around.