August 24, 2010
My Gut Reaction: The Game - LAX (August 22, 2008)
Troubled young rapper Jayceon Taylor, who used to be known as The Game until he dropped the article recently, released what was to be his third and final major label album LAX in 2008. But in order to understand the project on its own terms, it's best to rewind a bit.
After signing to Interscope Records and lucking into a contract with Dr. Dre's Aftermath vanity label (an agreement that only happened after Interscope head Jimmy Iovine was debating whether to drop the young upstart or keep him, ultimately convincing Curtis Jackson to take him under his wing in an effort to guarantee record sales), The Game alienated damn near every single person that had ever worked with him, as he has a tendency to take even the smallest petty beefs seriously. His debut, The Documentary, sounded entirely different from his follow-up, The Doctor's Advocate, and that not just because Dr. Dre had nothing to do with the latter project: as he gained more experience in our chosen genre, he tried his hand at actually writing songs, as opposed to the simple shit-talking that became more and more prevalent on his mixtapes. Failing that, though, Jayceon resorted to what he knew best: dropping pop culture references within a sea of insults and threats, and wrapping those elements around a poorly-conceived hook.
LAX was to be Game's final contribution to the cause merely because he felt that he had nothing more to say, so if you could please ignore his multiple mixtapes after the fact and the upcoming The RED Album, he would appreciate it, thanks. In that respect, he pulled out all the stops, doing his best to gather an all-star motley crew of collaborators from all over the hip hop spectrum (but not those from his past: although they garner many a mention on LAX, neither Dr. Dre nor anybody from G-Unit make appearances, which isn't all that surprising). He even managed to score a minor hit and move some units. However, LAX was poorly received from critics and most of Jayceon's own fans, who used LAX as their reason to stop following their hero, who was supposed to be bringing West Coast gangsta rap into the new millennium.
So why is this a Gut Reaction post and not a regular review? The easy answer is that I didn't care about LAX when it dropped. I followed Game's career via his mixtapes (which, at this point, were winding down from the numerous attacks on G-Unit and Curtis Jackson specifically), but the songs that actually hit radio airwaves were not very interesting to me. The fact that the overexposed Lil' Wayne, who still garners approximately seventy-six blog posts a day even though he's in prison, appeared on the hit song "My Life" was probably also a factor, if I'm being honest with you two: the moment his Auto-Tuned voice hit the chorus, I changed the channel with a quickness.
As such, this is the first time I've ever listened to LAX. Am I going to like it? It's too soon to tell, but odds are that you two will already know my answer.
1. INTRO (FEAT DMX)
You know what's a fantastic idea? Taking an obsolete rapper, placing him up front, and forcing him to spout religious bullshit that could potentially alienate a good chunk of your audience. Great work, Earl. You can crawl back into your cave now.
2. LAX FILES
Jayceon leads listeners to believe that LAX Starts off with a sobering meditation on death, even going so far as to ask everyone to imagine how he felt when he was in his coma (the one from which he woke up and decided to rap, without any consideration for that career choice occurring beforehand). J.R. Rotem's slow-rolling beat even adds to that imagery (save for the air horn). But then The Game threatens anybody and everybody who even thinks about going into his hood. Mixed messages are common in Jayceon's work, but this is one of the most blatant examples. It appears as though he even threatens Larenz Tate at one point. And then he calls himself Starface, in a reference to the tattoos he has on his face. In the words of Amy Poehler and Seth Meyers: really?
3. STATE OF EMERGENCY (FEAT ICE CUBE)
Game spins a yarn about “a hood n---a with no direction”, but that description also applies to this J.R. Rotem-produced track, which is so aimless with its narrative that it might as well be Richard Linklater's Slacker. (Although I like Slacker, so that comparison doesn't really work for me.) I see that Jayceon invited one of the godfathers of West Coast rap to the party and then immediately assigned him coat check duites: Ice Cube only provides half of a hook (half!), and he has to suffer the dual indignities of Game disrespecting his “Once Upon A Time In The Projects” for personal gain and the shout-outs to his former Westside Connection coworker-turned-sworn enemy Mack 10. This was pretty forgettable.
4. BULLETPROOF DIARIES (FEAT RAEKWON)
Wins the award of the most surprising and yet most pointless collaborative effort on LAX. (I'll try not to get started on the fact that the “bulletproof” half of the title should actually apply to Ghostface Killah and not Raekwon, thanks to Bulletproof Wallets.) Unlike poor Doughboy on the previous song, the Chef actually gets to spit a verse, one which sounds decent enough but would come across clearer with better production. The Game is obviously thankful that Rae returned his calls, as he spends his first verse referencing random Wu-Tang Clan trivia (his mention of The RZA's pointy rings made me laugh), but ultimately this song should have been a lot more interesting. This doesn't bode well for the rest of LAX.
5. MY LIFE (FEAT LIL' WAYNE)
This song, which was one of the singles, begins with a violent thirty-second skit that obviously wouldn't make it to radio airwaves. Two things that annoy me about this song: guest Lil' Wayne's overuse of Auto-Tune on the chorus, and The Game's heavy use of pop culture references that make up the majority of his verses. (“I ain't no preacher, but here's my Erick Sermon”? That shit doesn't even make sense, son!) The original version of the song, readily available on the Interweb, featured a second verse that many interpreted as a direct shot at Eminem. He should have left it in: I don't think The Game would ever win any sort of battle with Marshall, but that would have made the track (which was a hit, sadly) far more fascinating than what we ended up with. Also, we wouldn't have ended up with the Erick Sermon line, as that was a last-minute switch-up.
The Game turns in his attempt at providing the theme song for Oliver Stone's Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (my God is that a goofy title), failing to understand that Wall Street is located in New York and not California. Foiled again! Jayceon's ode to the almighty dollar can't help but sound hopelessly generic: there are only so many ways to talk about money without coming across as derivative. Cool & Dre's beat (those guys are still around?) wasn't completely horrible, although the vocal sample repeating the song's title straddles the line between passable and grating, but Game wasn't even trying to come up with anything clever. Hell, even the song's fucking title is nondescript.
7. CALI SUNSHINE (FEAT BILAL)
I get it: Game really loves his home state. But so do a lot of people, such as Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg (also known today as the King of the Gummi Bears). Why hasn't there ever been an ode to fucking North Dakota? You guys need to get on that shit. As to why Jayceon chose to kick off a California anthem with some facts about Jazze Pha and Curtis Jackson, two artists (using that term loosely here) who have no Cali ties, I'm not sure, but he ends his second verse promising to help any rapper (that he actually likes) get their chain back after they are inevitably robbed underneath all of that California sunshine. Bilal, who contributes only the poorly-written hook, fails to convince anybody to hop on a plane and visit the Golden State.
8. YA HEARD (FEAT LUDACRIS)
The goofy beat, which I imagine came to fruition after one of the engineers accidentally spilled his Shasta on the equipment, and the guest appearance from Ludacris help “Ya Heard” establish itself as both the best song on LAX. Thus far, and as completely and entirely disconnected from the rest of the album as humanly possible. Jayceon still hasn't figured out how to write a verse without the crutch of name-dropping, which means these songs will sound even more dated next year than they do today during my first listen, two years removed from its original release date. But this could have been worse, although I'm still convinced that Game has lost his way since The Documentary.
9. HARD LIQUOR (INTERLUDE)
Didn't Game have an unreleased Dr. Dre-produced song called “Hard” or “Hard Liquor” hit the Interweb around the time The Documentary dropped? Because I'm almost certain that he uses that exact song in the background during this useless skit (that also seems to feature Nas for some reason). I hope Andre received some royalties for this shit...oh wait, nobody really bought LAX. Oh well, carry on.
10. HOUSE OF PAIN
Game sounds like both Dre and Nas on this track. Considering the fact that Dre and Esco don't really sound anything alike, this was quite the feat in the art of mimicry, no matter how inadvertent it may be on Jayceon's part. DJ Toomp's beat isn't bad at all: a better rapper (for instance, Xzibit) could have turned this shit into something good. Game manages a decent enough performance, but I'm growing tired of him hitting all of the exact same points on every fucking song.
11. GENTLEMAN”S AFFAIR (FEAT NE-YO)
The Game's requisite “song for the ladies”, in that he spends the track's duration describing various sex acts he would like to perform on your girl and her friends, pretty please? Crooner Ne-Yo gets more screen time than one would anticipate, but that isn't any sort of endorsement: other artists have made far better sex raps. J.R. Rotem's beat is par for the course, in that it sounds as plain as the rest of LAX thus far. Jayceon should have his ear for beats checked.
12. LET US LIVE (FEAT CHRISETTE MICHELE)
At this point, Jayceon seems to have realized that he has come nowhere near providing the audience with anything resembling an entertaining album, so to rectify this, Game hires Chrisette Michele, the go-to R&B hook singer of the week, and utterly wastes her. The lyrics on here are all ugly, causing the audience to desert, and the Scott Storch (that guy's still around?) , among his worst ever, doesn't help much. At least Game explains why he isn't actually upset with Mobb Deep and M.O.P., even though they got lumped into his tirade against G-Unit because they were, well, a part of G-Unit at the time. That was oddly mature of him.
13. TOUCHDOWN (FEAT RAHEEM DEVAUGHN)
“Radio” Raheem turns this sexual excursion of a song into his own effort: The Game's gimmicky verses (which are decidedly not about football, although Eli Manning scores a mention for some reason) are quickly forgotten with the passage of time. Actually, everything about this song sucks, so I'm surprised that I've used so many words on it. Moving on...
14. ANGEL (FEAT COMMON)
Not many albums would have the balls to feature both Ice Cube and Common in cameo roles, mainly because those two artists play to wildly different audiences. (I'm sure the past beef between those two had nothing to do with it.) Lonnie Lynn actually gets a verse, though, so he wins again! His inclusion only seems to occur so Jayceon has an excuse to branch out and talk about Chicago instead of California, but this Kanye West-helmed track isn't that bad, mostly because Common goes out of his way to adapt to his host's surroundings.
15. NEVER CAN SAY GOODBYE (FEAT LATOYA WILLIAMS)
AN artistic gamble that blows up in our host 's face. After a heavy-handed explanation as to what the song is about (the deaths of 2Pac, The Notorious B.I.G., and Eazy-E), The Game uses one verse for each late rapper, pretending to actually be those guys during their last moments of life. Bonus points for sticking with the theme, as his random name-dropping actually makes sense on here, and it helps set the scene accordingly. The song was ultimately too creepy to work for me (and Game's Biggie imitation was appalling, especially as he chooses not to mimic 2Pac and Eazy: is this the beginning of the second phase in the East Coast/West Coast war?), and I feel it will sound polarizing for the two of you, as well.
16. DOPE BOYS (FEAT TRAVIS BARKER)
This appears to be the only track on LAX with a sound that grabs you immediately. I anticipate the instrumental (crafted by a committee featuring 1500 or Nothin', DJ Quik, and Travis Barker himself) eventually being uses to score movie trailers and sporting events, Fort Minor-style. Lyrically, however, the song is an incoherent mess, as the topics range wildly from taking a sly potshot at Dr. Dre (this man absolutely knows how to hold a grudge) to, if taken literally, fucking a girl through her bellybutton, Tommy Wiseau-style. (Because rap lyrics are always supposed to be taken literally.) The hook is also not very well thought out: it's obvious that Jay-Z's “Roc Boys (And The Winner Is...)” was the main inspiration, but Jayceon and Barker (hip hop's second drummer of choice, the first one being ?uestlove) only half-remembered the opening line of the chorus and Sweded the rest.
17. GAME'S PAIN (FEAT KEYSHIA COLE)
The first single, I think: it may have also been called just “Pain” before Game's narcissistic urges took over. There isn't much talk of any sort of pain, though: “Game's Pain” touches only on the history of hip hop as viewed through our host's limited perspective. Keyshia Cole's chorus is technically proficient, but terrible nonetheless, mainly because there is no soul behind her vocals: she was merely a singer-for-hire on here. Actually, the more I think about this shit, the more it pisses me off: what the fuck is with the misleading title, Jayceon? I knew he was an asshole, but resorting to such misdirection was a low blow. (Of course, I fully admit that I may have missed the lone mention of a scuffed knee or something.)
18. LETTER TO THE KING (FEAT NAS)
For the final song on LAX, The Game ditches any idea of subtlety and speaks directly to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in an attempt to be serious, a tactic that sounds false coming from the same guy who spent the rest of the album threatening to kill his enemies, rape their women, and partake of their foodstuffs. This kind of song works much better for guest star Nas, who seems to be embarrassed to be in the same musical category as our host, but he does what he can. I don't know what caused Game to turn all socially conscious all of a sudden, but I trust that this probably won't be happening much in the future.
19. OUTRO (FEAT DMX)
Hey, DMX collected two paychecks for his work on LAX. I hope that money goes to good use, and not to cocaine or pocket-sized pit bulls or some shit.
There is a deluxe version of LAX that features a few extra songs, one of which was even released as a single (“Camera Phone”, featuring Ne-Yo once again), but I don't have that one, nor do I care to. I think what I listened to was plenty.
THE LAST WORD: Much of LAX sounds so vapid, empty, and soulless that it's hard to tell if The Game was simply fucking with us or not. LAX is a study of disconnection: specifically between the different tracks themselves and between Jayceon and reality. He claims to be widely hated in hip hop and lashes out at anybody who he believes to have wronged him, although (a) he has not reached the same levels of success after burning bridges with Dr. Dre and Curtis Jackson (although he has started the reconciliation process with the former, I understand), and (b) for someone who claims to have no friends, a whole lot of motherfuckers sure made it a point to make guest appearances on here. It's actually quite amazing how much these songs fail to mesh with one another, considering that he's saying the exact same bullshit on nearly every track. The Game is a competent enough rapper, one who I enjoy listening to on occasion, but on LAX he puts almost zero effort into his rhymes, letting his pop culture references and random threats speak for him like an unnecessarily gangsta episode of VH1's I Love The '80s. Musically, he needs to gain the confidence needed to tell his producers “no”, as most of the beats fail to leave a mark, even while the song is still playing. Game is capable of writing interesting verses, but that isn't evident on LAX. I almost wish this really was his final album, just so he would go the fuck away, but alas, we aren't that lucky. Pass.
If you really want to read more of my thoughts on The Game, click here to proceed.