Art by Mikko
Will Hagle’s not Snapchat friends with D’Angelo Russell.
In the span of a few days, Bompton, #Brexit, and #BrandonIngram have solidified the incomprehensible desire of people around the world to return to what they perceive as previous greatness. Nationalism has swept England, YG’s brought G-funk back, and the Lakers might actually be good again. I know nothing about basketball or British politics, but this is what people tell me to be true.
What I do know is that, while the world’s attention was focused elsewhere, The Game put out another new album. Streets of Compton is technically the soundtrack to an A&E show—the type of album that can only exist in the same world as the Game of Thrones and Hamburger Helper mixtapes. But because it also has to occupy the same world as Dre’s Compton, The Game knew better than to phone it in. Artists from Compton have precedents to uphold, especially when they know their stories are going to be heard outside their 10 square mile city. The music has always been better than any NOISEY or A&E study of it.
From Straight Outta Compton to Still Brazy, Compton rappers have been filling albums with that type of civic self-reflection. Depending on the era and the artist, the report has been different. N.W.A. was the 60 Minutes exposé that shook the world. Kendrick was the college dissertation the world wanted to understand. YG is the Periscope live stream, a depiction of the city now. And quietly, with the release of Streets of Compton, The Game has slipped into the role of reliable historian.
To be clear, The Game has always been Compton’s lyrical librarian. His entire career and tattoo regimen was built on pop culture references to his city’s musical lineage. He’s just never done it this straightforwardly, this officially. “Death Row Chain” is basically an elementary school lesson on West Coast rap, complete with a timeline of Dr. Dre’s involvement and allegations that Baby Lane killed 2pac. On “Support Compton,” he describes his hometown as a city where people “sit back, get their hair braided and analyze Kendrick” and “buy a pair of Beats just because they fuck with Dre.” That’s not unusual filler for a Game hook, but the album’s classification as a soundtrack inherently strips away any doubt as to its intent. He’s writing with the docu-series in mind.
Perhaps the best testament to the Game’s sustained talent, and to the richness of Compton’s musical history as a whole, is that this album is actually listenable. “Gang Signs” is obviously designed for transitional b-roll of blue and red, but it sounds like a real song rather than one that was forced by film production. The time in which the Game was a regular radio artist feels as distant as a decentralized Europe, but The Problem and Boogie-assisted “Roped Off” is as viable a single as any. “Like Me” is classic Game, a nostalgic track packed with past tense “I used to” storytelling. “Can’t Wait” is a reverse double entendre—essentially “Me and My Girlfriend”… AND TWIIIINS!—masking violence with sexuality in a clever twist of words that remind you just how much the Game can do.
Streets of Compton isn’t the only notable Game project of late. The Documentary 2 and 2.5 were both released within the last year, both better than decent. There’s also “All the Way Up,” the Westside Remix and the completely different Power 106 Breakfast Bars freestyle.
On the former, Game is sandwiched in between Snoop and E-40, two of the most reliable old rappers from their respective Californian hemispheres. Game’s place alongside them, coupled with the rest of his latest output, suggests he’s sliding into a comparable role. He may never have become the Dre he wanted to be, but his lyrics were always buoyed by steady skill, his songs occasionally punctuated by flashes of brilliance. We didn’t keep listening to him when he left the airwaves, but we never really consciously stopped. It’s like we’ve all had a collective bout of highway hypnosis. And now, maybe, it’s time we heed the words of another rap soundtrack and snap back to reality.