Game: The Ecstatic
Game tells DX about reuniting with Dr. Dre while chasing down DJ Premier, refusing to get "murdered on his own shit" and the '70 Chevelle that got away.
It's less than two weeks away from Game's thirtieth birthday. Few seem to realize that the youthful, energetic, and once death-defying rapper is reaching that benchmark in his life. But then again, looking at Ice Cube, Dr. Dre or Snoop Dogg, do gangsta rappers ever really grow old anyway?
If there's one sign that Jayceon Taylor is closing out the third decade of his life, it's his happiness. Speaking with HipHopDX on the evening of November 18 (seven hours prior to publication), the once evasive, sometimes confrontational and always outspoken rapper beams with a confidence and a care in his words. Yes, he still curses like a sailor in a tone reserved for a sidewalk executive, but Game isn't out to offend anybody this time around. Instead, just as the acronym for his R.E.D. album indicates, he just wants to re-dedicate himself to Hip Hop.
The father of two touches upon his recent reunion with one of his mentors, Dr. Dre. He explains why he refuses to "get murdered on his own shit" and why he's chasing down DJ Premier for a pan-am collaboration that he hopes will set Hip Hop ablaze. Two years removed from considering retirement, Game is smiling in the face of adversity. And this time it's sincere.
HipHopDX: I want to start where our last conversation left off, I think it was June, 2008. At that time, you weren't even sure you were going to make another album at all. But you told me, if you were, it was going to be D.O.C. - Diary of Compton. You were talking all these legendary guests and this theme. Maybe that still is a plan of yours, but at what point and why did it evolve to the R.E.D. album?
Game: The way it happened...I was starting to work on D.O.C., right? But, like I told you last time, in order to record The D.O.C., I need to be in the studio with D.O.C., with [Dr.] Dre, with [Ice] Cube, with Snoop [Dogg] - 'cause it's the Diary of Compton. I really want it to sound like...like, after you finish listening to The D.O.C., which will probably be recorded and put out by the end of my career, at some point, when I can get in with those guys and really focus on that project. I want you to feel like you're from Compton after you hear it. You felt everything that I felt and knew everything that I knew; I want it to just sound like you were me. I want you to feel like you grew up with me. You're from Compton [hearing Eazy-E for the first time]. I want you to be on The Diary Of Compton. I want it to be that intimate and that crazy. So to pull off that concept, the key elements were missing at the time when I started the album, so I stopped that project.
[What I was working on], the fans just started calling it R.E.D. for some reason, I don't even know. I had [previously] said that I would re-dedicate myself to Hip Hop, and they just took that and was like R.E.D. - rededicated. I went along with it, man. It's just crazy how God works, 'cause the album is about 80% done. It's just fantastic. I found my groove again, not that I lost it. I've always figured out how to re-invent myself in Hip Hop with all these albums. This album is gonna be classic, I swear. This is my favorite album since The Documentary. The Documentary wasn't even my favorite album; my favorite album was The Doctor's Advocate because I know what it took to put that album out, get it out and go against Interscope. Beefin' with 50 [Cent], it was hard to get that album out at the time, but I did it. I went against all odds and I proved people wrong. That, to me, is my favorite album. But lyrically, as far as albums being conceptually great from beginning to end, [The Documentary] was classic. This R.E.D. album is gonna be that. It's raw, man. It sounds like a first album. Only it's not a first album.
DX: From your catalog, the records that really stand out to me are "Dreams" and "Ol' English," joints like that. You've always been able to keep it emotionally gangsta on records in a way that streets respected. In 2009, Kid Cudi and Drake have gotten a lot of credit for really writing and rapping about issues like self-doubt, depression, family troubles and so on. Meanwhile, guys like you, DMX, 2Pac, Scarface and Joe Budden really were doing that for a while now. As you were going in that path five years ago, do you think it came at a cost, and how do you feel about it being so embraced now?
Game: People say things like "Hip Hop is messed up," and it's this way and that way, but what you need to realize is that there's nothing wrong with Hip Hop. It's just evolving, and you need to evolve with it or else it's gonna shake you and you're gonna become a has-been. Me, I change with the times. Whatever Hip Hop is, I try to make my music a little bit more up-to-date without losing who I am as a lyricist, as a person and as just someone who existed in Hip Hop with you and the rest of the world.
I love Drake, man. Drake is of substance. I think he's gonna be around for a while. I wish he would hurry up and put out an album, 'cause dude is great. I remember when I first came out and there was no [Young] Jeezy. Then Jeezy came around. I like the buzz rappers. I like when you hear a buzz, and then you see the bee. I love when you hear the buzz, then you see the bee in action makin' honey. It's crazy. I seen Jeezy do it. I'm seeing Drake do it, and I like when that happens. I appreciate those guys. They're of substance and they're part of my band of brothers in Hip Hop.
Me, back then, I didn't really think about the risk or the consequence. That was just rappin', man. I was just doin' what I do best, and tell the world about certain situations and give them a piece of me.
DX: You're one of the only guys I get excited about when you're featured on somebody else's record. I can use examples in Rick Ross' "Push It (Remix)", Sheek Louch's "Think We Got A Problem" and Snoop's "Gangbangin' 101." You always treat those verses like they were on your albums. Where does that come from in your work ethic, and is it something that you think you demand of guests on your projects?
Game: I don't want to say anything to offend any other rappers and their albums. But it seems like whenever I call somebody for a feature, I've just been lucky enough to fuckin' have them bring their A-game. Like most notably, Common on [L.A.X.]. I called Common. I was like, "I got this record called 'Angel', and Kanye [West] did the beat." All he said was, "Yo, I'll be there in an hour. Angels? I write about angels all the time." Common came in the studio, dog. I pulled [the instrumental] up. He heard like two minutes of it, then he went into the booth. He was done in like 45 seconds. He shook my hand, and he bounced. I swear to God, man, with people I get on my songs, I don't know what I do or how they feel about me, but it must be something cool, because they bring out their A-game.
I remember, it must have been the beginning of 2001...I'm riding through Compton in my old ass [Chevrolet] Caprice. I had a '96 Caprice. I'm ridin' through Compton and I heard Nas say [on "Ether"], "And Eminem murdered you on your own shit." That line just stuck with me. I never wanted anyone to eat me up on my records, and I never wanted them to eat me up on their records. The reason why I call myself Game or the reason why you can understand I'm Game is 'cause I can always emulate any rapper's style. I can't do Busta [Rhymes] and I definitely can't fuckin' do [Ludacris]. But as far as [Notorious B.I.G.] and Nas and [Jay-Z], I can emulate those styles and make 'em my own. So when I get on records with artists that are my friends and that I favor, I can just jump in their lane and try to do it better than they do it. That's not sayin' I can do it better than them, or I am better than them - it's just Hip Hop. It's competitive, like basketball, football, fuckin' golf. I just try to exceed expectations every time.
DX: You mentioned the '96 bubble. Along with Dr. Dre and King Tee, I've always thought you've had one of the most interesting wheel-hands in Hip Hop. From the videos to the photo-shoots to the XXLMag.com piece about the Impala with the bad engine, I respect the car talk. In your life and all the cars you've owned, what's been most personal to Game?
Game: Aw man! The most personal to me, out of all the cars that I've ever owned had to be this fuckin'  [Chevrolet] Chevelle. I sold it, man, and I've been kickin' myself in the ass ever since then. I had it in the "Put You Onto Game" video, if you've ever seen that. That car was crazy. I bought it from Omaha, Nebraska. It had one owner. It only had like 15,000 miles on it. That motherfucker would go!
I sold it to this guy, that kept pressing me. Some white kid from San Diego wanted to buy it for like $90,000 and I sold it, 'cause he had the cash. Two days later, I was tryin' to get it back. No. He would not give it back. If I ever had a car that I would want to be buried in, that was fuckin' it, man.
DX: 350 engine?
Game: Yeah. Fa' sho', man. That's crazy that you knew that.
DX: One of the biggest stories of the year is you and Dre back in the studio together. I only have one question on that. Dre has many styles. You like words. In your words, tell me what the work you've been doing sounds like. Is it drums, keys, is it big choruses? Is it sparse choruses? What can you tell me, because this is big...
Game: Hey man. I made a vow. You know Dre doesn't really talk about his record...
Game: Nah, I'm just...he don't really talk about his records. Plus, I don't like to do it. You know what Dre's like. I know it. So I'll give it to you, without really givin' to you. When you go in with Dr. Dre, man, be prepared to be at your best. If you're not at your best, and he has the patience, he'll help you get to your best. If Dre doesn't like what you're doing, he'll disappear. You might not see him for a fuckin' year. That's what I'm sayin'. You've got to go in and you've got to be focused. Dre is the epitome of a producer.
When I look at the word "producer," if there was a fuckin' Hip Hop Dictionary, I would see Jimmy Iovine, Quincy Jones, Pharrell, Kanye, and Dr. Dre. Dr. Dre and Quincy Jones and Smokey Robinson, as far as black music, those are producers. Those are guys that can change your fucking life. Those guys can help you. With what they do with their fingers and their guidance, [the music] will put your fuckin' kids through college. I look at them like that. When I go in with Dre, I go in focused. The places we've been going lately is catastrophic. The things I've done for Detox is crazy, and the songs that he's given back to me out of his apprecation and the kindness of his own heart for having me on his record are just crazy, man. Crazy!
DX: Along with that, I interviewed DJ Premier in late 2005. He told me he was a big fan of yours, but that he'd also offered you some advice early in your career. As you talk about producers, you've worked with a lot of veterans - Buckwild, DJ Toomp, DJ Quik - and certainly Dre. That being said, as you talk about rededication of your love for Hip Hop, will there ever be a day when we hear Game on a Premo track?
Game: That's crazy that you say that, 'cause I been tryin' to fuckin' record with Premier this whole album, but he been doin' this Christina Aguilera shit - not to say "shit" like it's wack, or she's wack. She's great; I respect her and her craft. But man! God damn! If I can get with Premier I know I can make one of the best songs of my fuckin' life. Because that's Premier, and I'm Game. I just respect and love his work so much, and I feel like I can do what Nas did to Premier beats. I want a fuckin' Premier beat, but he won't send one. He wants to [make one with me present], but I can't [track him down]. This dude is busy. It's like, "I know you Premier and shit, but I'm Game. I need a fuckin' beat."
It's the same thing I had to do to Pharrell. Pharrell got two tracks on [R.E.D.]. For three fuckin' albums, I've been chasin' Pharrell down. He's been busy, I've been busy, but I finally got in with Pharrell. Now Pharrell understands. He's like, "Damn. Workin' with Game is crazy. This guy's work ethic is crazy and he dope." Now, me and Pharrell are goin' for the next three days, starting tomorrow. If you know Pharrell, you know he just gonna keep recordin' and recordin' and producin' on you. So me and Pharrell hit it off the first time we went in, now we goin' in again.
Premier, man. If you talk to him, man, I need a fuckin' Premier beat. It's almost frustrating, 'cause I know he gonna make me something crazy, and I know I'ma body that mothafucka. I just need it. I need it. Put that shit in bold print. [Laughing]
DX: Speaking of bodying tracks, what would you say is your proudest verse to date?
Game: My proudest verse is a verse that you have yet to hear. I've got a song on my new album, and it's called "Ricky." When you hear it, you'll understand why it's called "Ricky." This song is #2 on my album, just so you know, and everybody who's reading your work [knows too]. When you hear this song, it's my best work. When 'Pac said "this is the realest shit I ever wrote," this song is monumental. It'll be a west coast classic. This song is fuckin' crazy. Just remember I told you, man.
DX: You've got a birthday coming up, and it's a significant one - if Wikipedia is right, anyway. Tell me, is "30 the new 20" for Game?
Game: Nah, man. Wikipedia says my birthday is November 27, that's Thanksgiving. My birthday's on the 29th, to set the record straight. Thirty is 30. I got a couple gray hairs in my beard. My oldest son is seven and my youngest is almost three; I'm somebody's daddy, man. I ain't tryin' to be 20 no more. I'm 30, and 30 is 30 and that's it. But I ain't 40 though. I know that shit. [Laughs]. And when I get there, we'll talk about that.