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Is The Game Over?

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The Game's reckless, bizarre, whiny tendencies make him a wholly unique hip-hop character. Though the Compton native is among the handful of rap stars who still have platinum potential, he's no gangsta superhero like collaborator-turned-foe 50 Cent, and he's no drug-addled weirdo savant like Lil Wayne. His flow is much better than theirs, for starters, and he wears his heart more obviously on his sleeve. He's the kind of guy who's dumb enough to get locked up for pulling out a gun during a pick-up basketball game but emotional enough to cry about it in an interview (as he did last year when talking to XXL).

In a phone interview, he insists his latest album, L.A.X., will be his final one, and he sounds as if he's fishing for praise when he explains why: "'Cause, see, you guys don't need me anymore. You got all these other wack rappers that you love so much."

He adds that he wants to produce and spend more time with his kids, but one gets the feeling that if enough influential people show him love, he'll keep making records. It's not just the praise of journalists The Game requires, after all; his need for acceptance by other rappers is unparalleled. It's on display again on L.A.X., in which he shouts-out just about every MC you can think of, from Beanie Sigel to Will Smith to Fat Joe to . . . 50 Cent. In fact, while hosting a recent block of videos on MTV Hits, instead of playing his own songs, he played nothing but 50 Cent and G Unit videos. It was a slightly aggressive yet sincere homage to his former crew — hilarious and brash and a very strange way to go about promoting his new album.

Info

The Game

Celebrity Theatre

The Game is scheduled to perform Saturday, February 21.

Meanwhile, The Game remains hell-bent on reuniting with his former beat-maker, Dr. Dre, who executive-produced his first album, The Documentary. Despite Dre's absence from The Game's sophomore effort, he called it Doctor's Advocate anyway and even planned to call his latest The D.O.C. until it became clear Dre probably wouldn't participate on that one, either. Yet The Game insists his relationship with Dre remains intact, despite appearances to the contrary. "We've always been 100 percent good," he says. "People always make up stories or say what they want, but me and Dre gonna be good."

As to Dre's on-again, off-again role as collaborator, he refuses to speculate. "You'll probably have to interview Dre and ask him that," he says.

With or without Dre, L.A.X. was just behind Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III in terms of influence last year. Wayne, in fact, sings the hook on the anthemic L.A.X. track "My Life." The Game reportedly recorded more than 220 tracks for the album, including "Big Dreams," a soaring ballad released as a street single didn't make the album's final cut. Highlights that should be on the disc include the breezy throwback "Game's Pain" and crossover single "Dope Boys," which features Blink-182's Travis Barker and contains a sample of "Eleanor Rigby."

But despite making critically respected, commercially viable music, The Game insists he's going to hang up his mic soon.

"Hip-hop's not fulfilling for me, and it really never has been," he says. "I've been fighting since the early stage of my career and haven't really had time to enjoy my existence in hip-hop. So bowing out after three classic albums is big to me."

The Game hints at the abuse heaped on him by rappers such as 50 Cent and Joe Budden, as well as by those who accuse him of working as a male stripper before he became famous as a rapper. "I've been called everything," he says when asked about it. "Who gives a fuck, man? Even if I were a stripper, all that means is that I was dancing for money from bitches. That would have been great, too. 'Cause I can dance a little bit. So, for bitches to throw money at me . . . Hey, I would love it. [It never happened], but if it did, it wouldn't be something I was ashamed of."

It appears that though the game has worn The Game down, it has nonetheless inspired another raw, emotional album from him. To succeed in mainstream rap, one needs giant hooks, a smooth flow, and a sense of the dramatic. The Game has all three — and a rare, fourth element to boot: In his cloying need to be loved, he boasts a humanity few other rappers can touch.

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