Those familiar with Jayceon Taylor, known to hip-hop heads as the rapper The Game, will likely remember him for 3 things: his reverence and devotion to the history of hip-hop (which often manifests as incessant name-dropping), his entrenchment both in the traditional West Coast gangsta rap and his personal history as a member of the Bloods, and more recently his long-standing feud with 50 Cent.
Game touches on all of these elements in L.A.X., but instead of presenting them as disjointed parts of a larger narrative, he weaves them together in a multi-faceted tapestry that figures him as the embodiment and torch-bearer for the traditions of both hip-hop in general and the West Coast specifically. And surprisingly, he’s not wholly wrong.
What’s most telling about this new convergence of Game's hallmarks is the diversity of his guest list. Although he references other rappers as often as ever, there are several moments on L.A.X. where his contemporaries contribute either verses or hooks, allowing what would be pointless name-dropping to transcend mundane braggadocio. Moreover, much of the album finds Game exploring his own delivery and flow to the point of sounding like an entirely different rapper, a feat he performs several times throughout the album’s duration.
The first notable example of this adaptation is on the Ice Cube-assisted "State of Emergency." Although relegated to the hook, Cube’s presence is very much felt throughout the song, where Game’s staccato pronunciation and straightforward delivery hearken to Ice Cube circa Death Certificate. The funky synth, dramatic piano loops, and pulsing bass supplied by producer J.R. Rotem will make you think that not only is G-Funk alive and well, but it never went anywhere.
Punctuated by the sounds of helicopters and machine guns, "State of Emergency" sees Game returning to form and offers a glimpse of what’s to come. On the next track, we take a trip across coasts as Raekwon of Wu Tang fame joins Game on a spooky Jelly Roll beat. As we'll continue to see throughout the album, Game holds his own with his guest, trading bars in the third verse and never sounding out of place. Despit its 5-minute runtime, the track moves quickly, offering only a few brief moments for the production to breathe. The track is arguably frontloaded however, and the album begins to slow as it draws to a close.
Thankfully, a gunshot heralds the arrival of the obligatory Lil Wayne collaboration, "My Life." Say what you will about Weezy’s saturation of the market or his dalliances with that vocoder (which rears its head here, of course), but his crooning provides just the right amount of melancholy to propel Game's somber meditations past being merely good to becoming one of the best tracks on the album. Here, Game comments obliquely on his need to leave his past behind, to which he plainly responds, "Why did John Lennon leave the Beatles?" It's the unspoken necessity in Game’s voice that lends the lyrics their potency; he makes his exodus sound as though the explanation behind it should be obvious.
In keeping with his theme of tradition, Game devotes his next track to a topic beloved by many a street poet; the aptly titled "Money" is (big surprise!) an anthem about the stacks of cash that Game has accumulated. Slick production courtesy of Cool & Dre save an otherwise ordinary offering.
A well-executed sample of The Dramatics' "California Sunshine" drives the similarly named "Cali Sunshine," a mid-summer track that would have presumably sounded more relevant had the album’s street date not been pushed back numerous times. Still, Game offers evocative (if familiar) imagery of the season, only briefly digressing to remind us that he began his career "with 50, Dre, and Em there," one of many bitter references to his former mentors throughout the next several songs.
L.A.X. hits some serious turbulence at this point. The noisy "House of Pain" heralds a stylistic change, as the smooth production and slick synth that dominated the album's first half is replaced by an overpowering and somewhat repetitive riff that threatens to drown out Game's lyrics. The uncharacteristically inflexible production is DJ Toomp’s only contribution to the album, and it’s likely the track with the weakest production on the entire album.
Immediately following is the ironically titled "Gentleman’s Affair" alongside Ne-Yo. Indeed, after Ne-Yo’s polite reminder that "This is a gentleman’s affair/If that’s not you/Than please be off," it’s more than a little disarming to hear Game spouting ugly and misogynistic lyrics, instructing his female companion to "drop that ass," a notably unsophisticated expression that could have been phrased better, considering the song’s context. The numbing inundation of misogynistic lyrics in hip-hop music often allows the listener to become complacent with its presence, a trend that Game seems unwilling to buck.