Album Review: The Game – L.A.X.

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Last Sunday night, I had the chance to spend some quality time with the newest generation of suburban hip hop youngsters. Having arrived at the Nas show directly from the Cubs game, I took my place in line outside the House of Blues behind a group of six or seven teenagers. The first thing they noticed was my Derrek Lee jersey and they proceeded to inform me that all Cubs players and fans are, in fact, homosexuals. These kids were White Sox fans since, like any self-respecting suburbanite hip hop head, they repped the South Side.  After about thirty minutes, and a staggering number of euphemisms for gay sex, the topic of conversation turned to hip hop.

One of the kids asked me what I thought about L.A.X., The Game‘s new album. I told him that I thought it was all right and that in general I am pretty impressed that the artist continues to put out pretty good albums, considering he is not that great a rapper. At that point, the kids went bat shit. Every one of them considered The Game to be the best rapper out at the moment, and apparently believing otherwise is another offense that qualifies one as a “faggot.” Fifteen more minutes of homophobic laughter. Then we got inside the venue and they begged me to buy them beer.

I hate all-ages shows.

Driving home that night, I began to consider the insane love these kids had for The Game. All at once it occurred to me that Game, in the absence of absolutely anyone else at all, is carrying the cross for the entire commercial West Coast scene. Consequently, just as anyone claiming to be hard in the 90s fell into the Tupac/Death Row camp, anyone claiming to be hard in the 00s falls into The Game’s camp. Which means…The Game is the new face of suburban hip hop suburbia.

All this being the case it seems like there may be no better way to alienate all the hip hop snobs I’m depending on to make my site successful than to say nice things about L.A.X. on Beats Per Millennium’s launch date.  But I can’t help it. I have a soft spot for the Compton rapper. I think that this boils down to two factors:

  1. His best songs sound GREAT when played loudly in my car.
  2. He is an easy artist to write about.

And actually, now that I think about it, the many and complex reasons I love hip hop can be pretty much lumped into those two categories. And this sort of makes Game the microcosm of why I love the genre (though he is far from my favorite artist), so in a sense there is nobody better to review on our launch day.  So if you don’t like it, meet me back here later in the week for my GZA review. For everyone else…let’s proceed…

There really is a lot to enjoy about L.A.X., particularly in the album’s first six tracks. Game continues to have a knack for pulling in guests who are much more talented rappers than he is to spice up his songs, including Raekwon (“Bulletproof Diaries”), Ice Cube (“State of Emergency”), and Ludacris (“Ya Heard”.)

Game’s more upbeat tracks have always been fairly entertaining. His slower songs have been hit-or-miss.  Unfortunately, they usually fall flat on L.A.X. Game has some creative ideas – embodying his fallen rap heroes on “Never Can Say Goodbye” and teaming up with Nas on the Martin Luther King tribute “Letter to the King” – but mostly they just come off forced and not nearly as enjoyable as they could have been.

And I wouldn’t cry if I never have to hear another song about California. I think we all get it already.  Rappers from California are bad asses, just like rock bands from California like to play in the sunshine and have sex.  Thankfully, there aren’t many California rappers left worth caring about. But Game won’t stop writing California songs until he is known as the Anthony Kiedis of hip hop. And California songs don’t get a whole lot worse than “California Sunshine”, a track on which Game boasts that his state has more dead bodies than the Yankees have pennants.  (I checked. It is actually true. More than 39 people died in California last year.)  It’s all set over a delightful (read: nauseating) hook of “California sunshine / in the summertime.” And on “State of Emergency” (admittedly, a pretty good track), Game brings Ice Cube along to tell me that, “California ain’t a state / It’s an army,” whatever the hell that means.

But Game’s moments of geographical pride are from the album’s worst. That honor is probably reserved for  “Touchdown”, the Raheem DeVaughn backed, sort-of love song that includes a sexy line about slipping out of a bulletproof vest. If the title sounds familiar you may be remembering last year’s T.I. / Eminem track that should have been a lot better than it was. I would rather be stranded on an island listening to nothing but that “Touchdown” for the rest of my life than ever listen to this one again. There’s also a song called “Gentleman’s Affair”, which seems to be Game’s attempt at an East Coast balla image or something.  It is not good.

Just as in the past, the greatest successes on this album are when the beats are the best. Game benefits from production by Kanye West (“Angel”, which also features Common) and Cool & Dre (back-to-back tracks with “My Life” and “Money”.) But it seems that every high point on L.A.X. is matched by an equally baffling moment, such as not giving Lil Wayne a verse on “My Life” (he sings only the chorus.)

Also, there is a song called “Dope Boys” that inexplicably features the guy from Blink-182.

Still, L.A.X. is far from a terrible album. It simply lacks the character of his earlier work. The Documentary was a thumping debut that, despite its faults, was an enjoyable throwback to early 90s West Coast gangsta rap.  On Doctor’s Advocate, Game gave us a peak into the soul of a hustler-turned-tortured-artist. Here, he gives us more of the same, but for the first time in his career there is enough lousy material to undermine the good stuff. But as long as he’s got the suburbs eating out of his hand there will always be another opportunity for The Game.

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