1992 by THE GAME

It starts with “Savage Lifestyle,” which is a break from what we usually hear from The Game. It doesn’t celebrate a lifestyle of drugs and gangs. It still kind of makes excuses for it, blaming the L.A. riots on Bush and a corrupt government, but it seems more self aware than past Game tracks. It’s recognizing the explanation: Rampant poverty breeds rampant anger. But at the same time, when he says “we live savage” he seems to be a little…Sad?…about it. Is Game maturing?

Yet, at the same time, he’s running the promotion for this the way he’s always done it–by ramping up a violent beef with another rapper, this time Meek Mill. Pest Control is one his stronger battle raps, showing a lot of the old fire and grit that made him famous.

The track isn’t on 1992, but nevertheless, the album still feels more like a mixtape than an album. In fact, most of the songs begin with someone else’s work–accappella versions of 1990s hits like Ice-T’s “Colors,” C.R.E.A.M. by Wu Tang Clan, and even Soul II Soul (remember them)? I want to say this is one of the most interesting rap albums I’ve heard in a long time, in the sense that it’s true folk music. Despite the initial tributes on every track, Game doesn’t do his usual thing on this album, which is to say it isn’t a name-dropping tribute to the kings of raps who came before him. Instead, he seems to finally be comfortable with his place in the rap world: He’s as good or better than Ice Cube, Snoop, Dr. Dre, Nas, and all the other rappers he reveres. If success is album sales, he’s more successful than most, having more platinum albums than 50 Cent and owning his own independent record label.

Despite how honest and powerful the album is lyrically, 1992 doesn’t really have a single. Then again, maybe it’s not supposed to. Not too many rappers make albums anymore, but that’s exactly what this is. It starts with timepieces about the L.A. riots and OJ Simpson, then moves into “Young Niggas”–a song about Game’s early childhood, and the first really powerful song on the album. And then, ultimately, it starts to move into adulthood and success on the song “Soundtrack” (with Erykah Badu, and a song Meek Mill actually worked on with him), and, inevitably, to “92 Bars,” Game’s latest dis track and a powerful attack on Mill.

In short, this isn’t Game’s best album. He’s still never outdone his first. But to be able to make a record with wisdom in the same gangsta style he used as a youth is quite something–Jay-Z couldn’t do it, he instead moved on to rap about being a success. Ice Cube and Ice T have fallen off, and haven’t been musically relevant in years. Game is still true to his roots, and hasn’t evolved–but he has matured. Lyrically, 1992 is definitely one of the top 3 Game albums. I’m not going to say Game is the first rapper to mature and release a much more introspective record. Nor is he the first rap folk singer. Game has never been first at anything. He’s a product, not a producer, and an expert, not a pioneer. He’s mastered the art of rap, and he’s still at the top of his game, and 1992 proves he doesn’t even need a radio-ready single to do it. Oh, and real recognize real: Not a single guest rapper. All Game.  (Okay, Jeremih appears on the last song but, to be honest, that cut feels like it doesn’t even belong on this record.)

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