Nostalgic for 92: The Game’s Latest Album is a Modern Classic
Ronnie McCluskey reviews 1992 by The Game, an album which sees the West Coast rapper take it back to the halcyon days of hip-hop.
Compton rapper The Game has always striven to make a classic. Idolatrous of Dre, Nas, Big and Pac (especially Pac), you got the sense from the off that he wanted to roll up alongside those larger-than-life luminaries, to be talked about in the same reverential breath.
In reality, Jayceon etched his name in hip-hop’s history books over a decade ago: his 5x Platinum-selling debut The Documentary took the world by storm, helping to usher in the post-Get Rich or Die Tryin’ era. Difficult to believe it dropped in 05 when he was just 25. Today he’s a gravel-voiced West Coast vet, like Dre circa-2001: been there, done that, got the thousand-and-three stories to tell. ‘Came in the game like a red nose pit,’ he raps on However Do You Want It, from latest concept album 1992. Big paws on a puppy, Marlo Stanfield would say. Though this dog’s no longer the scrappy, choke-chained mutt it once was, the fire in its belly still blazes like a red coal carpet.
Cut and paste
1992 is easily Game’s best album since The Documentary, and in fact it probably surpasses that. The Documentary was a thematic scattergun, but 1992 is consistent in tone and execution, a clear-eyed B-walk through a network of ‘90s touchstones: the L.A. riots, Wu-Tang, O.J, The Chronic, Rodney King, Ice-T and Eazy-E. The Game channels full nostalgia and pays homage to the Hall of Famers, but then he’s always pined unabashedly for the glory years. You can imagine him as a willing and snarling foot soldier in Suge Knight’s mob, gleefully egging the 300lb Piru on as he dangled Vanilla Ice from a balcony. Then he’d’ve tossed Big Suge a gang sign while prepping him a fat blunt.
Like many classic 90s albums, Game’s eighth record makes liberal use of well-chopped samples (Marvin Gaye, Soul II Soul, Grandmaster Flash, Toney Fountaine) to strike a recognisable chord. Simultaneously, though, he delivers some of his best lyrics in years: punchy and pugnacious, full of beans yet completely at ease with the hard-won position he’s claimed in the rap game. It’s an album about Compton gang culture, about growing up in the shade of Pac and Dre and watching the nation tear itself apart (sound familiar?). Jayceon’s never been a great rapper – lyrically he can’t hold a torch to his forebears – but he’s always had a flair for storytelling, a knack for selling listeners the dream. He does so again here, adding a modern masterpiece to his appreciable back catalogue.
Only 90s rappers will remember this
Of the 13 tracks, I thoroughly enjoyed 11; even the two that didn’t hit the aural spot couldn’t be described as filler. The record’s theme is established on opener Savage Lifestyle, which starts with a reporter describing a scene from Dante’s Inferno as directed by the Hughes brothers: ‘We can pan over a little bit, look at this right here, this is a Suburban type jeep with a sharpshooter peering outside of the sunroof with an automatic rifle. This appears to be a scene that you might see in Operation Desert Storm…’
As the cool groove of Gaye’s Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) plays, Game raps ‘It’s a trap, it’s a trap, why they ain’t tell us red and blue don’t matter when you black?’, lyrics reflecting both the H.W. Bush era and today’s Black Lives Matter movement. ‘How you call it angels when there’s kings gettin’ beat up? And Gil Garcetti in his office with his feet up?’
Savage Lifestyle is the perfect reintroduction to a period of history that’s often discussed but rarely represented faithfully. In 1992 Game was entering his teenage years and the opener has the wide-eyed quality of a junior stepping into an adult’s world, crunching vials under Converse sneakers. ‘No way to dodge police brutality, selling crack cocaine, making a teacher’s salary…’
Although the scene sketched is grim as fuck, Game’s lyrics are shot through with cheeky humour: ‘White people wishin’ that they was at home, Asians frontin’ like they business is black-owned.’
Black lives and white lines
True Colours/It’s On follows, again opening with a recording – a jaded older hood rat advising another to quit the streets – then Ice-T’s famous refrain of ‘I am a nightmare walkin’, psychopath talkin’…’ Game’s flow kicks in soon enough: ‘My daddy was from Nutty Blocc, my uncle was from Nutty Blocc, my momma was from Hoover, how she end up here cuttin’ rock? Four-year-old on her lap, that was my older sister, photos of Tookie and my father, now you get the picture.’
Like many of the tracks on 1992, True Colours/It’s On chronicles a nightmarish but all too familiar Compton story, a world in which drug-dealing gangbangers toss cashed-stuffed Louis V duffels into station wagons and zombified uncles sniff cocaine off their nephews’ highchairs.
F*ck Orange Juice plays over the oft-sampled beat from Ice Cube’s Check Yo Self (The Message Remix), Game spitting some of his best bars on the record: ‘White Bronco through the city like El Chapo, gettin’ my dick sucked as I pull up at Del Taco.’ He also cracks a belting joke at Simpson’s expense: ‘Beat a murder, went to jail for some football cards, I can’t go out like O.J!’
Young Niggas is probably the best song on 1992. It tells a tale of two knot-headed Compton males who formed an alliance as kids. ‘His momma was a fiend, he ain’t heard from his pops, used to share my clothes with him all the way down to his socks.’ The pair’s teenage years are charted brilliantly, though no doubt Jayceon likes to exaggerate, embellishing details to create a better story: ‘Niggas turned twelve, 92, we was headed to the seventh grade, runnin’ round stealin’ cars, dreamin’ of the better days, duckin’ strays, catchin’ fades, tryin’ to make it through this maze, teachers out here smokin’ jays and wonderin’ why we misbehave.’
Inevitably, the duo wind up claiming different gangs, one repping Crip, the other Blood: ‘Now we walkin’ through the halls like we don’t even know each other.’ They’re soon scuffling, Game pistol-whipping his erstwhile homie with a chrome, after which he’s put under sentence of death. ‘Two weeks passed and graduation came around, I was walkin’ through the quad, .45 under my gown…’ Like ghetto gunslingers, they have a shootout in the school, though it’s left to your imagination whether Jayceon actually dropped a body as an eighteen-year-old (Spoiler: he didn’t).
The record simply doesn’t let up, its stranglehold continuing till the end. The Soundtrack is an atmospheric ode to Game’s idol Dre (‘The soundtrack to the ghetto was The Chronic’), However Do You Want It a funky throwback, Baby You reminiscent of addictive singles of the early 00s that had normally thuggish rappers eulogising their queens (Jason Derulo appears uncredited, so you already know how this sounds).
Challenging Young Niggas for best track – it certainly has the best production – What Your Life Like frames Game casting his eyes over his well-publicised feud with a certain Queens rhymer: ‘I listen to Dipset, want Cam and Jim to squash it, but how can I say that when I ain’t made up with Fif yet?’
We all know what Game’s life is like now – like 99% of rappers, he repeatedly tells us how lavish his day-to-day is – but being a concept album about his coming of age, we hear lyrics describing past trials: ‘Listenin’ to Illmatic, in my grandmother’s attic tryin’ to spit above average.’ Course, this being The Game, you can’t mention Nas without also praising Makaveli: ‘Sheddin’ tears when Pac died, swimmin’ in money like the Rothschilds.’
One of the reasons 1992 works is because the starkness, cultural benchmarks and humour are intercut so expertly, coalescing without any blurring of lines. So you get references to drive-bys and robberies, broken friendships and beefs, then jokes like ‘I done wore a two-piece tux on Jimmy Kimmel, then came to the hood and whooped your ass like I was Kimbo.’ It’s been a dozen years since The Documentary but Game’s lost none of his machismo.
The record ends with bonus track All Eyez, a Scott Storch-produced collaboration with Jeremih. There’s a warm vibe to this one so it should probably be considered separate from the preceding tracks, which are pretty much all circumscribed by violence. (Come to think of it, Baby You sounds more like a bonus track too; nonetheless, the dyad of summer-ready ballads provides some yin to counterweight the gang-banging yang.) All Eyez has Game wooing a female with every grand gesture he can manage: ‘Horse and carriage, señorita, Snapchat dog filters live from Ibiza.’
Jayceon’s had some ups and downs since The Documentary. Sophomore effort Doctor’s Advocate was hot, but the trio of albums that followed were pretty forgettable. And while 2015’s The Documentary 2 & 2.5 had high points, safe to say they were well-padded with filler. 1992, however, is a genuine return to form, a bold and memorable concept album brimming with anthemic bangers. Get it heard.
Best song: Young Niggas
Best bar: ‘Reciting Method Man while my celly just sit there, niggas know I been on the Wu before Ric Flair.’