In hip-hop, the past is a constant, and idealization of one's forefathers — or mothers — is an uncrossable tradition. The Game might be hip-hop's most eloquent eulogizer. His 2005 hit "Dreams" spoke poignantly to that point: Game all but admitted that he'll never mean as much to the culture as his deceased idols (Tupac Shakur, The Notorious B.I.G., Huey Newton, Eazy-E). "Dreams" was a sad, sweet, keening, wryly honest bird song, rare in a genre full of self-styled messiahs. Those few minutes sized up what Game is all about.
Many critics and hip-hop-forum trawlers have taken umbrage with The Game for his near evangelical fixation on airbrushing a "golden age" that never was. He likely never would admit, for example, that Pac had only one good album or that Biggie's Life After Death was masturbatory and uneven. But preserving the dignity of the dead is important to Game, as it should be to anyone who loves hip-hop, a genre so episodic and expedient that it often eats itself. How many of us could name the signature production tics of DJ Screw or J Dilla?
The rappers below are no longer with us. Due to a variety of circumstances, they never lived to record with The Game, but he would've jelled nicely with any one of them.
The Game is scheduled to perform Friday, November 16, at Celebrity Theatre.
Pimp C: The more melodic half of defunct Houston duo UGK, Pimp C prided himself on the kind of subtlety-allergic strip club anthems that could come only from a man wearing rabbit fur. UGK charted highest as guests on the Jay-Z smash "Big Pimpin'," a literal siren song: The beat sounded like a pole-dancing fire squadron. Game, never a bastion of subtlety himself, made big bank off the hit "Let's Ride (Strip Club)." At their most musical, Game's albums owe a debt to the tradition of churchy Hammond organs and weepy strings that started with Pimp. Who knew Cali cats could stir such a mean country brew?
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Mac Dre: Laugh if you must, but feral goofball Mac Dre had much more going for him than a love of multi-colored mood enhancers. The guy who introduced "thizz" to the national vernacular was a kingly player in NorCal hip-hop back when Game was making his bones with a tireless mixtape hustle. (Relevant tie-in: Game's mentor was Oakland rapper JT Tha Bigga Figga.) Today, Mac's bug-eyed compositions are a guidingpost in hyphy, cloud rap, and "jerk" rap. "Put You on the Game," Game's most enduring single by some margin, was released mere months after Dre passed in 2004. It's unruly, and all the more appropriate a tribute because of it.
Ol' Dirty Bastard: As Tracy Morgan once put it so beautifully, Wu-Tang capo ODB was known to "spread his seed," and his paternal and matrimonial woes were the stuff of legend. The liner notes for Dirty's electro-shocked 1999 album Nigga Please read like a Maury transcript, with gleeful dysfunction abounding even on the more genteel cuts. Game wrote movingly of his newborn son on The Documentary's "Like Father, Like Son," but he's a notorious headcase. Had their careers paralleled, Game and ODB would've had fun chewing the fat.
Guru: The case for a Guru-Game collab is thin. Their differences are vast. Guru had a hand in founding East Coast hip-hop (though not to the same extent as longtime muse DJ Premier); Game discovered East Coast hip-hop in the canon many years later. Guru rhymed over jazz samples that screamed "five boroughs"; Game prefers live funk obviously exported from a weedy diaspora like Los Angeles County. Guru was a reserved man by most accounts; Game, with his butterfly tattoo and faux-hawk, is anything but. What these two share is a certain calm. Both rap in monotones and both have a cool-handedness that translates well to pop radio. Guru's turn on the Craig David-assisted ditty "No More," from 2000, is still wonderful.