Keep your album short. Seriously. Rappers, keep your album short. Ten to twelve tracks should do it. Why? Because this “iPod generation” possesses an ever-decreasing attention span, some say, and they just can’t handle listening to proper long playsâ€¦ With all due respect, that’s BULLSHIT. It’s not the length of an album â€“ it’s the “hit/miss ratio” that’s the problem. You see, listeners dream of albums that they can simply leave playing for an hour or more â€“ we used to call them “albums to clean your house to.” But each song has to count, have a purpose, fit in the grand scheme of things, and still be repeatable on its own. It’s a tough ask, and most rappers have simply given up trying. If any artist can justify the inclusion of 90% of their tracks, their album can be as long as they like.
The first time I listened to “The R.E.D. Album” â€“ which is the fourth offering from Game â€“ it felt like it took two days to finish. In reality, it clocks it at a mammoth 72 minutes, with twenty-one tracks (although four of them are Dr. Dre interludes). It’s very long, and what’s worse is that it didn’t seem that impressive. But after a couple of spins, it really started to demonstrate a strength, steel and an impressive “hit ratio” â€“ not hit singles, of course, just strong songs that deserved their spot. And whilst there are undoubtedly certain issues with “The R.E.D. Album,” they are comprehensively outweighed by the numerous positives. For you should know this, dear Reader â€“ The Game has well and truly delivered a fantastic a cohesive, almost cinematic, experience for you to immerse yourself in.
I’m willing to bet, however, Jayceon is going to receive extremely mixed reviews, not to mention public reaction. Why? The length, of course. Sitting through two spins of this is the equivalent of the average running time of a Bollywood movie. Who has time, nowadays? Reviewers tend to have a limited amount of scope, and most people have goodness knows how many gigabytes worth of hip hop, let alone other genres of music, sitting there gathering dust within their hard drives. Why should you even commit to this in the first place? (Sitting through three listens is like watching the whole of “Entourage: Season 7” back-to-back). Well, if you love albums, you’ll appreciate the vast majority of “The R.E.D. Album.” If you have the patience, you’ll receive the reward.
After the short Dre intro, “The City” kicks in â€“ a grandiose, melodramatic and fitting start. It’s worth noting that Kendrick Lamar (who has impressed recently) is simply ELECTRIC on the chorus and final verse, and the host doesn’t let us down either, even if he does deliver a healthy dose of delusional nonsense (he’s the black Slim Shady, top five, etc). “Drug Test” has a very typical Dre sound, and is a solid album track, but it doesn’t really work as a standalone number â€“ the beat is decent, but the flows are slightly disjointed, and it certainly wouldn’t work in a club. The enjoyable OTT shock-tactic “Martians vs. Goblins” features and a simple hook from Lil Wayne, and a pretty funny verse from Tyler, The Creator (who hilariously disses Game’s constant namedropping). The beat is that pure classic West Coast shit, and it leads nicely into “Red Nation” which again features a chorus from Weezy. Featuring a sample from one of the most popular dance tracks of all time (the inescapable “Kernkraft 400”) is a risky strategy, and one that could have worked if the tempo had just been sped up to around 105bpm (it’s currently circa 90bpm). It’s just too slow for that popular sample, and although it works within the album, it could have been much better (plus if it had contained a far less wordy chorus).
After another Dre skit, the superb Cool & Dre beat laces Game and Drake on “Good Girls Gone Bad” â€“ unfortunately the Canadian (with his typically cocky chat up lines) seems misplaced when his “Bad” angle is sandwiched between two excellent (and uplifting) verses from the Compton MC. Next up is another monster instrumental, this time underpinning the excellent “Boyz in the Hood” joint “Ricky” â€“ it truly helps to give an epic feel to the album, with horns, strings and military drums from DJ Khalil working brilliantly. Jayceon gets his story-telling on next with the clever “The Good, the Bad, the Ugly” â€“ it works well as a concept joint, and has the feel of OB4CL2 down pat, with Taylor coming across well, practically acting out the entire song. The end sets up another strong street joint, “Heavy Artillery,” which features Rick Ross and Beanie Sigel, and the subtle beat is perfect, as are the contributions of each MC. It’s impressive stuff so far, and that most certainly continues with one of the standout moments of the album â€“ “Paramedics” isn’t that noticeable initially, but an incredible beat from Maestro propels Young Jeezy into orbit, although Game’s Jeezy impression doesn’t go down as well (seriously, why so gruff?). One of the seemingly weaker moments of the album comes along: “Speakers on Blast” actually has a solid beat from Mars that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “Sir Lucious Left Foot” â€“ so it’s no surprise that Jedi Big Boi turns up. But why does Taylor feel the need to imitate the Outkast legend’s flow?
Thus ends the first “half” of the album, as the next three songs are aimed more at the ladies. Lloyd’s near eunuch-like performance on “Hello” at first comes across as bland and out of place. But after a few spins, it emerges as a genuinely excellent track for the girls, and whilst it probably won’t threaten the charts anytime soon, it’s expertly put-together. Mario takes the hook duties on “All the Way Gone” â€“ although one suspects that this was probably supposed to feature Usher, and it’s not quite as good as “Hello” but will still probably please the intended target market. Chris Brown, in the midst of a genuine comeback, turns in another solid chorus and combines well with the Futuristics (themselves killing it right now) â€“ “Pot of Gold” is thoroughly professional, though one can’t help feeling that Eminem would perhaps have made more of it. After another Dre skit, we’re into the home straight. Boi-1da helps that epic feel flow with a great beat from “All I Know,” and you just start to realize how wonderful the production is on “The R.E.D. Album.”
That doesn’t let up, as DJ Premier joins the party with “Born in the Trap” â€“ it didn’t seem to have the right chemistry, but the Royce da 5’9″ joint “Second Place” is squarely to blame. Royce and Primo combined for that incredible number on the Detroit MC’s recently “Success is Certain” offering, and “Bornâ€¦” pales in comparison at first. However, the track is still wicked as Game takes a broader subject matter to task, and though no classic, it’s certainly worth the wait. The classy and underrated “Mama Knows” features a hook from Nelly Furtado and jazzy beat from The Neptunes, and whilst many would have just lost interest by this point, it’s a subtle reward that works well within the album structure. Conceptually, it also helps to set up the final song proper on “The R.E.D. Album” â€“ the lovely “California Dream.” Yes, of course Game has done this before (and arguably better, too) on “Like Father, Like Son” from his debut album. But this time, it’s an ode to Taylor’s daughter, and it’s still the perfect way to end the album.
I fear for “The R.E.D. Album” â€“ simply because the length is off-putting and there’s a distinct lack of big singles. Whilst you could argue that it’s so committed to being a genuine long play that singles don’t matter, it’s undermined by Game’s insistence on bragging about selling five million copies of his debut album. The truth is that “The Documentary” only sold that amount because of hit singles, plus being heavily assisted by 50 Cent, Dre and super producers like Kanye and Timbaland. This won’t sell anything like those numbers, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a good album. In fact, this is a GREAT album. The wonderful thing is that, whilst Jayceon has many faults, he at least takes album-making seriously. That “L.A.X.” was so lax is even addressed here (he recognises that critics called it “average”). But his fourth album is most definitely worthy of recognition â€“ it’s cohesive enough, flows well, he really goes hard lyrically, it contains multiple concepts and, importantly, has a high success rate over seventeen tracks proper. Of course people will rate some higher than others, but a case could be made against two or three songs, maximum (assuming one has genuinely listened to the whole thing a few times). There might not be many true classics, but Game seems to favour consistency above all. And yes, criticism could also be leveled against the West Coast rapper for being too accommodating a host to his guests, especially when he starts spitting like some of them for no good reason. But fortunately that is few and far between â€“ he knows his limitations and has gone out of his way to craft an epic album that will probably fly over too many heads. If there had been some big singles, fewer guests and more of Jayceon being himself, this could well have been a real classic. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t cop it, enjoy the hell out of it, and declare “The R.E.D. Album” a worthy addition to his canon.