The next big player in "The Game" of hip-hop? Why, if you listen to the endless amount of press that Interscope Records has drummed up recently, the very answer lies within the question: Jayceon Taylor, AKA Chuck Taylor, AKA The Game.
The readymade bio goes like this: Gets gun-shot, listens to classic hip-hop while recuperating, makes some mix tapes, gets signed by Dr. Dre, and gets beats from Dre, Kanye, Timbaland, and Just Blaze in the process. Cameos? How about 50 Cent and Eminem for the harder-edged stuff, and Misses Mary J. Blige and Faith Evans for the crossovers?
Sound readymade for success? You betcha. Funny thing is, it mostly works. The beats are golden, as you might expect. In fact, the beats are almost too good — Game's flow, while tight and versatile, just barely manages to keep up with the tracks cranked out by Dre ("West Side Story," "How We Do"), West ("Dreams"), Blaze ("Church For Thugs") and Timbaland ("Put You on the Game").
Lyrically, his Game needs a little work, though spots of humor — mostly directed at his heroes — shine through the grit on almost every song. (About Dr. Dre, he rhymes that "I'm the second dopest nigga/From Compton you'll ever hear/The first nigga only put out albums/Every 7 years.")
The main problem with this Documentary is the fact that The Game himself directs and does all the shooting (and takes the shooting — I lost count of how many times he brings up getting shot over the album's 18 songs).
Where I'm from, getting shot while dealing dope doesn't make you a romantic figure, it makes you a dumbass. To boot, young Game's already started rap feuds with a countless array of rappers, and just last week was named as a suspect in the assault of a radio DJ. With all his lauding of Tupac, Biggie, Jam Master Jay and others, has he learned everything from their records but nothing from their demise?
Ultimately, how he reacts to this first big taste of fame (the album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts) will tell whether he's going to be a player for some time in the rap world — or just another one-Game wonder. After all, you can't be a player when you're on the injured list.
Track to Burn: "Hate it or Love It"
- Timothy C. Davis
Some people will never be happy with a Lou Barlow record that hasn't been recorded in a bathroom via Walkman and which doesn't count at least half-a-dozen 90-second "songs" among its tracks. If you're one of those hard-core Sebadoh-ites, news that half of Barlow's latest (billed as his "first official solo recording," which is a stretch) was recorded in a Nashville studio to accommodate the producer should have you drowning in your own bile.
Such a silly stance, especially in light of the fact that it's basically Barlow whatever the guise; Emoh just represents the latest in a series of career artistic high points, as III was a pivotal moment for Sebadoh and Dare to Be Surprised a Folk Implosion pinnacle. Barlow may have polished these particular 14 songs to just the right luster — with a big assist from producer Mark Nevers (Lambchop, Tindersticks) — but at heart he's still the same insecure smart-ass whose uncanny way with a melody and quick turn-of-phrase was paralleled by his ability to alienate fed-up bandmates and fickle fans. But with age comes wisdom, or so they say, and the sound of this record suggests that musically, at least, Barlow's wised up. With the exception of its tongue-in-cheek title, Emoh is the most honest and straightforward record he's made.
It unabashedly plays to Barlow's strengths: as a singer and songwriter, yes, but equally critically here as an arranger. The production may be thorough, but it's never heavy-handed. A tinkling piano, bowed cello or synth beat complement elegant weepers like "Home," "Legendary" and "Imaginary Life," among the most affecting of his two decade-long career. Elsewhere "Mary" (a back-door look at what might have been the not-so-immaculate conception), "Caterpillar" and "If I Could" indulge Barlow's wit and his ability to groove. Even the unlikeliest of covers — Ratt's "Round-n-Round" — gets the mature treatment, resulting in a tuneful version worthy of a Stephen Pearcy double-take.
In the past, Barlow would probably have undercut his own efforts along the way, via fucked-up recording techniques, heavy-handed sarcasm, or just plain contrariness. But he's been around awhile now (long enough to be credited with starting both "lo-fi" and "emo"), and Emoh strongly suggests that even Barlow may finally feel at home.
Track to Burn: "Holding Back the Year"
- John Schacht