Jayceon Taylor, a.k.a. the Game, is a lyrically middling MC cut from a standard West Coast gangsta rap mold deemed irrelevant a good ten years ago. He’s also, caught in the right moments, one of the most engaging MCs alive. And that’s because, like his aesthetic polar opposite Kanye West, his appeal doesn’t lie in a penchant for wordplay but, rather, in his honesty: On record and in person, he’s an endearing tangled mess of playground taunts, blind pride and a rare openness, a scatterbrained angry young man at his greatest when offering his frayed, confused psyche up for dissection.
Most of that time, that psyche is caught up in the rejection served down to him from the hand of his idol and onetime mentor, Dr. Dre, who sided with 50 Cent in a still simmering beef. The title track of 2006’s wholly excellent Doctor’s Advocate — an album named in honor of Dre that, in a late-stage decision, features none of his production work — is the Game’s most unraveled moment: His voice cracking, his thoughts addled by copious amounts of Belvedere (mixed with banana Snapple, he helpfully explicates), Taylor unfurls a jumbled tangle of burr-ridden memories and earnest apologies spurred by the fallout with Dr. Dre. It’s the best he’s ever been.
L.A.X., the Game’s third album, once again features no involvement from Dre. But his presence is, of course, felt. On first single “Dope Boys,” a raucous workout made urgent by an underlining ticking metronome beat, Game says: “And tell Dr. Dre to pick up a phone/ before I climb through his window like, Nigga, I’m home.” It comes in between sexual boasts and drug talk, but it’s there, like Game’s version of the fallout from a traumatizing breakup.
Elsewhere on L.A.X., Game has other things to worry about. “My Life,” a free-associative meditation on death, pings around inside Taylor’s skull: Kurt Cobain, John Lennon, Biggie, Jesus, his father’s drug addiction, a loaded Desert Eagle. “Let Us Live” finds him making amends to beef bystanders MOP and Mobb Deep, yearning to wrest the trajectory of his life away from a single-minded focus on anger. They are moments of introspection that shine through the Game’s gruff delivery and gun chatter, relegating those more boilerplate moments — as fun as they can be (see the Raekwon-assisted “Bulletproof Diaries” or the innocuous Ludacris collabo, “Ya Heard”) — to a part of the entire schematic.
The album, weighed down by a few awkward romance tracks and a well-meaning but ill-fitting MLK tribute, drags in the second half, and there’s no one moment to parallel the odd ache of “Doctor’s Avocate.” But it’s once again more than the sum of its parts: the bouncy neo G-funk production, the constant invocation of Cali icons like impalas and bloods, the seemingly nonsensical asides. It adds up to the Game, that rare radio MC complete with little oddball proclivities, fears, and joys — a vulnerable, sometimes clumsy, often boastful, full-fledged human being.