California rapper The Game came to fame primarily working with the likes of Dr Dre and 50 Cent’s collaborative group, G-Unit. Since then, he’s fallen out with the latter, made amends, and struck out on his own, with ten studio albums under his belt, and a career spanning over a decade.
An instance of this is his most recent project, Block Wars, which came out on Friday, July 29. It’s his second soundtrack album, with the first being June’s Streets Of Compton, the backdrop to his documentary of the same name. This one’s for a smartphone game application, of course, titled Block Wars. The music, generally, is violent, very much suiting the nature of the game, which predominantly deals with guns and gangs.
The opening track, “Block Wars”, opens with a skit, an angry one that takes aim at his detractors before a hail of bullets. The backdrop tinkles an eerie melody, and the aggression of a coiled snake ready to spring attack mercilessly and with venom.
These combine for something that’s quite intimidating, the theme to coming upon the wrong side of town. The Game’s rhymes, and sound, are seemingly like the utterances of a West Coast Nas. Rich in tone and loaded with expert street rhymes, there are at least a few points of comparison between the two to mention.
Then comes “Freeway”, which also has that same tinkling vibe, and although imbued with melancholy it seems almost spiritual, ethereal. This is set amidst occasional scratches and what sounds like a rewinding effect. The latter sounds like being pulled back to square one, having made long strides to your goal, only to be put back to start of the board game of life. Game almost sings his hook, giving it a nursery rhyme vibe gone bad, kind of thing.
Track three, “Get High”, has what sounds like bass synthesiser crawling the blocks Game raps about. It really claps, and he recites all his favourite marijuana emcees and detailing his personal smoked out exploits. Quite a funky one in comparison to the two preceding it.
Following track, “Alameda”, has a hard, industrial drum sound with lyrics straight from the heart. It’s almost like a touch of mourning in the backdrop, walking down tough streets all on your own, vulnerable to the world. Only once you overcome certain individual struggles can you meet friends and family on the other side and tackle the rest of life’s issues.
“Gutter” sounds like the song you’d hear at a house party, one with a preponderance for playing certain styles of hybrid rap. Daresay his attempt at trap music. In it bottomless bass is infused with wayward keyboard lines as Game boasts his red rag pedigree.
The lone cameo piece on the album, “Uzis And Grenades”, features Lorine Chia. This, of course, is more or less, bar what seems an anonymous feature on the album opener, the only track with a notable cameo. She has raps laced with a certain, perhaps Jamaican, patois.
Like being transported to ghettos outwith the First World. No shoes on your feet in Trenchtown, sort of thing. The backdrop in this one is like the one prior, just a tad more futuristic in melody. Deep, ringing bass punctuates rattling and clapping drum. The sound of violence rings out in the closing moments of the track.
With “Lights Go Out”, there’s a deep and authoritative beat. Stomping with strings and big production commanding the backdrop, Game has a real growl in his voice, like the delivery of, say, DMX or Tim Dog. He namechecks Eminem and, funnily enough, you could also compare his delivery to the aforementioned’s The Marshall Mathers LP era, venomous with a will to inflict words of pain.
“Run It” has an almost dissonant feel to it, as if to convey drab, hopeless street life. The delivery of his raps has a real swing to it, syncopating and dancing over the top of the track. It’s not the first song on the soundtrack that seems to end as quickly as it began.
The very direct “Bullet With Your Name On It” comes across as it’s titled. This has what appears to be a horrorcore rap vibe to it, haunted with the impending doom of a bullet placed where you’ll die the slowest of deaths. There’s a cyclical aspect that sounds like the distant yelps of pain as someone’s shot in the gut and left to die a slow and painful death. The lyrics seem to incite riot, or, in a more revolutionary sense, an uprising of ghetto dwellers against oppressive forces. Topical in many ways, especially in the States.
Closer, “Murder”, has doom incurring slabs of keyboard, crawling into a slow, hypnotic beat. Thematically it seems, being the conclusion of the overall concept, like Armageddon; that judgement has arrived. Clapping, incessant drums arrive, which, in turn, build to a crescendo before the doom resumes. It’s very cyclical, like, as said before, starting advanced and then being dragged to square one.
The cycle of poverty, destitution and desolation, arguably. The closing moments of this closing track, even the hook, are hypnotic; the singsong raps of a rapper locked in that particular game of life, though even with the fortune and fame to leave it all behind.
The album delivers much as you’d expect, in terms of genre and from where the music, generally, hails from. That of uncompromising, West Coast gangsta rap. It certainly doesn’t reinvent the wheel, yet it’s a refreshing aside from all the autotune, singsong rap that’s so prevalent of mainstream hip-hop, these days.
Highlights are “Freeway” and “Murder”, primarily because of what seems like the clever repetition of themes. Starting with second track “Freeway”, there’s the sense of having to start at square one, despite all your best efforts to move forward. Even his name, The Game, further connotates the board game metaphor. Then, as the soundtrack concludes, again this theme is resurrected.
This, time though, is conveyed differently, with the words and backdrop seeming, in the mind, to show the cycle of poverty. Two apt and smart ways of conveying very different issues, but just showing how similar in process they are. Ending up dragged back to where you started, after all, is very similar to going round in circles.
Disappointments, and there aren’t too many to be fair, are “Gutter” and “Run It”. Particularly frustrating is “Gutter”, as it’s too unlike the other tracks to fit in. Yes, it offers diversity, arguably, but seems a commercial compromise.
Like deliberately putting in a track for the ‘clubs’, whereas most else on the soundtrack is hardcore with smatterings of street intellect and associated pearls of wisdom, like the aforementioned Nas. Maybe the game itself necessitates it, some of the game taking place in said clubs? After all, many rap music videos seem to take place in dancehall scenarios. Music to suit the scene, you could say.
Moving on, with “Run It”, it’s to do with track length. There are a few short ones on this soundtrack, but this one definitely evokes something being finished before it’s started. In some ways considering the latter, it’s like there’s really only one track surplus to requirements.
Being short doesn’t make a track bad, it just makes it feel unfulfilled. Yet, on the other hand, you’re less likely to get sick of a track if stops short of what’s expected. If you were to go down that line, you could say similar things about tracks like “Get High” and “Lights Go Out”.
The Game, perhaps the biggest Compton rapper in the mainstream, bar Kendrick Larmar generally speaking, has put together something very thematic; something that no doubt suits the nature of the game’s soundtrack. No pun intended. The Game’s Block Wars is out now, purchase it from iTunes here.
Words by Andrew Watson