Somebody's running a game on us. And the 586,000 people who copped Compton newcomer The Game's debut LP The Documentary, during the first week of its release are the pawns in this ... game.
When I began writing this piece in late February, The Game and his mentor, labelmate and G-Unit comrade 50 Cent were partners in crime. Then things fell apart. Apparently the world isn't big enough for two HGICs (Head Gangstas In Charge).
After 50 made some on-air comments about Game not giving 50 enough credit for the success of The Documentary, threats were made, a few shots were fired and the Rev. Al Sharpton called for a national boycott of Rap music that promoted violence.
Shortly thereafter, 50 and The Game held a news conference announcing their truce and became friends again. Now both are more popular then ever. And that's just the beginning.
I hate to gloat, but I saw this coming.
About a year ago, I went on a rant about how The Industry would create a "bigger, badder, meaner, more thugged-out" gangsta rapper than 50 Cent who, at the time, was enjoying the runaway success of 2003's Get Rich or Die Tryin' (see "Keep Making Cents," issue of March 3-9, 2004).
We had made it to the end of the year, and it was beginning to look like I was wrong, until I saw the cover of the January issue of VIBE Magazine. Out of the shadows of Compton steps The Game with more tats, gats, crack and bullet holes than a Scarface DVD.
The Game's overt affiliation with L.A.'s Bloods gang (complete with tear drop tattoo beneath his left eye) and his five bullet wounds provide just the type of street résumé that would propel him to the top of this year's Next Big Thug list. He virtually worships the late NWA rapper Eazy-E and even big ups Snoop Dogg (a member of a Long Beach-area Crips gang) -- significant in the fact that outside of the realm of Hip Hop they would likely be sworn enemies. Who said Hip Hop couldn't bring folks together?
When you get right down to it, The Game's multiple tattoos, crack sales and uncanny ability to cheat death make him little more than a West Coast franchisee of the 50 Cent brand. Lyrically, however, one thing that distinguishes The Game from 50 is his subtle references to subject matter not normally heard on an album of this type. Lyrics about the Black Panthers, the LAPD/Ramparts scandal (which many believe played a part in the murder of the Notorious B.I.G.) and "Black Wall Street" (also the name of his entourage) are layered between tales of gangs, guns and riding on "dubs."
In several published interviews, The Game also alludes to his intentions to put a portion of his earnings back into the city of Compton, which might indicate that he is following the Sean Carter method of dumbing down to gain mass appeal.
So maybe there's hope. But even these glimmers of light aren't enough to cast shadows on the criminal themes dispersed throughout the Game's 18 track debut, including the hypnotic, Timbaland-produced "Put You On the Game" where our Compton tour guide promises to "... show you where the Bloods at, where the Crips at ... where they flip crack." I'm sure every 14-year-old Hip Hop fan knows the words by heart. Perhaps I'm taking this too seriously, you say. After all, it's only ... a game.
While neither The Game nor 50 are likely to end up on anyone's "Greatest 100 Lyricists of All Time" list, their outlaw mystique helps create a larger-than-life persona sought after by record companies and ad agencies, as though in order to make it in ... the game, a bullet-ridden body and a criminal record are prerequisites.
While young men are buried by the thousands in cities across the nation, The Game and 50 continue to lash out at rival rappers (apparently their list of lyrical targets alone could fill this column) and promote their former lifestyles as gangsters and drug runners. Once the video shoot wraps, they're able to drive away in the plush comfort of their customized Range Rovers, Hummers and Escalades.
Meanwhile -- like deer caught in the limelight -- we're left holding the bag.
So, does The Game really want to be down? Perhaps he should take a stroll through our city streets and talk to young men about the perils of a self-destructive lifestyle. Imagine the horror on the faces of the higher-ups at Aftermath/Interscope as the urban myth they helped to create begins to unravel right before their eyes.
Just think: a multi-million dollar record label beat at its own ... game.
Now, that's gangsta.
KEVIN BRITTON writes about Hip Hop music and its impact on popular culture. His column appears monthly in CityBeat.