Undoubtedly, Game’s fourth full-length has experienced one of the most public release sagas in music history. Which probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed his career. This is the guy who’s widely referred as bi-polar in a half-joking manner by the hip-hop community, who’s dissed and apologized to Jay-Z so many times we’ve all lost track. He’s the guy who gives incendiary interviews as if they were his job proper, as if his penchant for lighting fires and burning bridges was more necessary to his rap career than rapping itself.
Then again, he’s also the guy who’d try to broker peace between Tyler, The Creator and Chris Brown because beef is played out, then fantasize about throwing Rihanna in front of a train or setting fire to a tied-up Lil’ B on “Monsters vs. Goblins”. Oh, and let Tyler sneak in a diss about Chris’ bleached-blonde haircut on the same track. On the same album that features Chris Brown on the lead single. So, again, one shouldn’t be surprised that the story behind most of these tracks is somewhat public knowledge through twitter rants and interviews, and neither should one be surprised at the schizophrenic nature that pervades much of the album.
After all, where Beyoncé recorded around 80 tracks for her latest album and we only received the music her label deemed in demand, Game has given us practically everything he committed to tape. What started with the Red Room mixtape in spring of 2010 to hype the album quickly spiraled into the Brake Lights tape that fall, the triple-disc Purp & Patron released this past January and, as if in commitment to excess, a tape called Hoodmorning released on the first of August, mere weeks before the album proper. And yes, all of them featured original production with original features and original rhymes.
When all’s said and done, roughly 120 tracks have been released from the sessions for this one album, surely an unprecedented level of label circumvention that says some confusing things about Game as an artist. What allows him to flood the streets like that, and how much did it cost him? Does he care, at all? As listeners, did we really need that much music from him in the first place? I’m not sure it speaks to anything other than Game’s blatantly narcissistic nature as a person, let alone artist, but it’s certainly a notable aspect of R.E.D. Album‘s story as it’s an even more diverse, scattershot release than 2008’s L.A.X..
At times, this characteristic serves Game for the best. The aforementioned “Martians vs. Goblins”, offensive and full of untruths as it is, is his most exceptionally fun track since “Hate It or Love It”. Elsewhere, his creativity flirts with new heights on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” wherein he’s trapped in an interrogation room responding to unasked questions, slightly adjusting the chorus each time it comes around to reveal more of the story that got him incarcerated in the first place.
There’s also “Ricky”, which finds Game trying to compare himself to the gunned-down character from Boyz n tha Hood, pointing out 2Pac and Biggie embodied him fully and he can’t go out the same way, and “Born in the Trap”, a DJ Premier assisted joint wherein Game compares himself to quite a few hip-hop artists who rose out of gang/trap culture to success on a mic. These tracks aren’t as successful as “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly” are in concept, but they’re definitely enjoyable, particularly “Ricky” with one of the more impressive productions on an album full of ear-opening sounds.
The main problems with them, which appears most obviously on the album-opening “The City”, is Game’s insistence on not only putting himself in the company of giants, but claiming he may in fact be better than them. When he borrows Eminem’s list of top five rappers, replaces Eminem with himself and Jadakiss with Jay-Z (who, remember, is his favorite target to attack), and then later claims he’s the best MC the west coast has ever seen while apologizing to Snoop Dogg, it smacks of laziness due to Snoop being absent from the list of five greatest MCs while Tupac gets a mention. This kind of thing is pretty common throughout the LP, but it’s not the weakest link holding R.E.D. Album back from being equal to his Aftermath debut, The Documentary.
No, that’d just be Game himself. Because one rarely gets an impression of who that is. When Game teams with Tyler, The Creator he pretends he’s in Odd Future and raps just like Tyler or Hodgy would. When he teams up with Young Jeezy the music sounds like a Young Jeezy song and Game sounds like a Young Jeezy fanatic. When he raps with Big Boi he forces his flow to sound like Andre 3000.
“Hello” finds him teaming up with Lloyd, except it feels like a sure-fire hit lifted from Lloyd’s overlooked King of Hearts and transformed into the very definition of unnecessary female-oriented filler. Given the opportunity to rhyme on a fire-hot DJ Premier joint, Game can’t help but dust off the Nas impersonation he perfected on L.A.X. It’s not so much a case of complexity as is so often used to explain away the contradictory sort of performance provided by most rap albums. It’s just schizophrenic, and more importantly a tactic that often leaves Game regarded as an extra on his own album.
It also leaves the album without much of a clear vision, because Game is always considering the token sound expected of his featured artists; in fact, it often feels like he’s bought a track out of their catalogs and inserted himself into it. When the opposite occurs—such as the carefree, flirtatious Drake verse that follow’s Game’s very heartfelt, warm “Good Girls Gone Bad” opener—Game immediately follows suit, acting like he should be conforming to his guest’s standard rather than the other way around. Forget Drake’s laughable line about loving a girl like Ninja Turtles love pizza—though it must be said…really, Drake?—it’s Game eschewing his own song’s original concept about domestic violence in favor of a typical bad bitch/nice girl dichotomy only because Drake didn’t get the memo.
But perhaps all of this is to be expected of an album recorded by a guy who felt it reasonable to give us a hundred tracks littered with big names in front of and behind the mic free of charge, who thought rhyming for 300 and later 500 bars with nothing but disses was not only a good idea but something anything other than hardcore fans would be on the edge of their seats for. Here’s a guy who probably abuses his skip buttons in real life, who can’t imagine why anyone would listen to an album from front-to-back in the first place and thus scatters his music across the internet and devises as many genre experiments as possible for his album proper. Indeed, R.E.D. Album makes the oft-considered mistake of mainstream rap albums in including love songs that feel entirely out of place on such a gangsta-centric release, and then compounds the issue by sticking all four of them in sequence.
Those of you who enjoy the skip button as much as Game must will surely get your reps in during that segment here. But for those who don’t, you’ll find yourself listening to a spotty, occasionally brilliant album from an artist I would have considered washed up three years ago, and one worthy of being considered his best overall work since his debut in 2006. The fun, focused attitude of Documentary is absent, as is the Dre-obsessed depression of Doctor’s Advocate.
A lot of what initially made Game an intriguing artist is missing from this release, replaced instead by fleeting moments of great music and extended periods of mediocrity or whackness. I suppose if you scooped up all those mixtapes I mentioned earlier, you could trim yourself a really nice 15 or 17 track LP out of it all. But then you’d have to ask yourself why the majority of your selections came for free, and whether you should have ever purchased this album in the first place.