Its release delayed a staggering 10 times, Game’s The R.E.D. Album may be the most distilled expression yet of the rapper’s manifold insecurities. Packed to the gills with big-name guests, an equally impressive number lost to the cutting room floor (along with the album’s first three singles), it’s probably the biggest release of anxious rapper angst since Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, and while it’s not nearly as self-aware or dense as that masterwork, it’s still an admirably dense and mean 75 minutes of hip-hop.
Game’s biggest flaw, and most interesting attribute, is that he takes not only himself, but everything much too seriously. He’s perpetually on the offensive, sparking feuds with both friends and foes, which, combined with a nearly neurotic lyrical slant, forces his internal issues to the surface. After his battle with G-Unit got him removed from Dr. Dre’s record label, he stumbled with the extended tantrum of Doctor’s Advocate, a passive-aggressive assault on the producer/mogul. The R.E.D. Album welcomes Game back to the Aftermath stable, but Dre’s actual presence here is minimal, appearing only on four short bumper tracks, listing Game’s bona fides and touting his gang affiliation.
That affiliation gives The R.E.D. Album its ostensible theme, and the morbid obsession with Bloods culture comes off as one of the most unfortunate concepts in recent memory. But released one week after the silk-pajamas-and-champagne indolence of Watch the Throne, the coarse meanness on display is almost refreshing, and the best tracks are fittingly the ones that pack the nastiest punch. “Ricky” is a torrid explosion of emotion that bleeds soul strings, gunshots, and screams, with Game barking himself hoarse as he recalls his older brother’s gang-related murder. “Paramedics” is nearly as feverish, with a looped guitar sample butting up against organ swells.
Still, the profusion of guests and mania for exhibiting street hardness sometimes makes The R.E.D. Album feel unfocused and exhausting. All the time spent on its creation hasn’t led to any kind of cohesive product, with the years of tweaking seemingly more indicative of Game’s roiling insecurities than any quest for perfection. The best example of this messiness is “Aliens vs. Martians,” a Lil Wayne/Tyler, the Creator collaboration that’s less epochal than a weird nexus for their signature quirks, dominated by the latter’s distorted voice and fomer’s repeated assertions that he’s a Martian, a refrain that’s so rote it may as well be a sample.
Befitting the album’s scattershot construction, Wayne appears more fully on “Red Nation,” the album’s first extant single, which brilliantly slows the chanted march of Zombie Nation’s “Kernkraft 400” down to a crawl. Compared to this kind of inventiveness, soft mush like the pillowy “Hello” feels even more out of place, identifying an album that, even after years of fine-tuning, could have been great with a little more care.