The Board Game

February 5th, 2005

I’ve been listening to enough music by The Game today, to make a decision as to whether or not I am a fan. After hearing a broad range of his material, from tracks on his current debut album, to collaborations from mix tapes, I’ve decided I’m not. I listen to a lot of artists I’m unfamiliar with on a daily basis, and it takes something special for an artist to remain fresh in my memory. Having played as much of The Game as I did, I still can’t recall a particularly strong recollection as to his rhyming style or his voice. Opinion is subjective, and it goes without saying that people are entitled to love and hate whatever they want. It just comes to me as a worry that The Game, as early as during the past summer, has gained as much media attention and respect as he has done. Some fans are likely to genuinely enjoy their copy of the CD, having found out about it through reading an article. At the same time however, quite a high number of people will merely think they like it, as they’ve developed into an audience which are told what they like and what is hot, rather than making a personal judgement through their individual and natural thought process.

The non involved music fan, who doesn’t follow the hip-hop genre with much intensity, isn’t likely to have a clue as to just some of the blatant reasons to the more acute hip-hop observers, which caused The Game to be getting the huge exposure he has done. Publications, one after the other, have reviewed his album ‘The Documentary’ as being extremely worthy of a listen, and during its first week on sale in the states, record figures were scarily high, way over the 300,000 figure.

The most obvious reason for this over night success story is easily the artists affiliations with Dr. Dre, 50 Cent and Eminem, three extremely big earners for the record label Interscope. Merely having the Dre name attached to a release, in even the vaguest of ways, secures a certain number of people who will rush to the stores and make the purchase. But is there any genuine assurance that something will be good, just because Dr.Dre is listed as a producer? Since his own release of the album ‘2001’, every song which Dre has produced has stuck to the same predictable formula. If somebody emptied a bucket of tapes onto my desk and asked me to find the one Dre beat, amongst the pile of one hundred tracks, I feel fairly confident that I’d be able to pick it out. Hip-hop was originally about what unpredictable and original material an artist or DJ could pull out of their hat. This is now very much a distant memory, especially in terms of mainstream hip-hop which is given coverage on national television and radio, which is of the most predictable, repetitive, cautious and boring state that it has ever been in.

After Eminem became a huge artist in his own right, rising to fame with an immense talent when it came to wordplay and lyricism, and a few catchy singles which were accompanied by fun and bubble gum videos, he released an album with D12. There were apparently his boys from back in the day, who he first got into hip-hop with. They aren’t very good, and the two which have attempted to branch out on a solo tip have failed quite drastically, yet the D12 album, and its recent follow up easily went platinum and raked in a lot of cash and respect. Then when 50 Cent signed partly to Eminem’s record label and partly to Dr. Dre, he too came out with a fairly average album in terms of song concepts and rapping ability, which was utterly successful, reaching huge album sales figures and ruling the album and single charts for some time. On the back of this, all these names went on various touring schedules all over the world, further securing their financial stability, or should I say Interscopes, who are at the top of the chain of the many spin off labels. Lets not also forget the brief success of Truth Hurts who had a big club hit which came from a Dr Dre executive produced album, and Obie Trice, who came and went with a very middle of the road and monotonous release, which- you guessed it, sold tons.

Even if the products which are churned off and created through equations planned at a board meeting were solid, enjoyable and entertaining releases, the fact that all of the products are of the same mathematics is what makes the whole situation so awful. 50 Cent was a repackaged Tupac, just without the political and social interests (conveniently) and with a slightly different number of bullet wounds. The Game is a repackaged 50 Cent, only he probably got shot in the chin rather than the jaw, and you can actually hear his raps without straining to understand a monotonous mumble.

The Game is the most recent model to roll of the production line of the business enigma which is the name ‘Dr Dre’. After all, there’s been many rumours and speculations ever since his solo debut with Deathrow Records ‘The Chronic’ as to who is actually behind the words he vocationally records, and the beats which he is claimed to have grafted away in a studio to create. The line between creative entity and income earner for his bosses is extremely blurred. Very little control as to what music makes the final album is down to the artists who’s names is on the CD, evident in a recent hostility between 50 Cent and Jadakiss, who share labels. Interscope big wig Jimmy Iovine has taken steps to stop Jadakiss from retaliating verbally on a record to the sticks and stones 50 Cent has recently been vocalising, as he is said to acknowledge Jadakiss’s potential to embarrass 50 Cent, who is the labels top earner at this moment in time.

Another recent example of Interscope’s power and their grasp over how things happen in terms of the media and public opinion is their move to instruct BBC radio station 1xtra, to scrap Dr. Dre’s age from their day of celebration dedicated to Dr.Dre’s 40th birthday. They obviously intend on using Dre to link many more artists which will take over the airwaves and don’t want to put young listeners off by having his age publicised anywhere. It’s perhaps an unnecessary step, as young listeners aware or unaware of the mans age, are almost certain to be picking up the album soon to come out by Stat Quo because he featured on the Eminem album and will no doubt be collaborating with 50 Cent, The Game and the man ten years short of being half a century old.

Not many hip-hop artists possess longevity. There is a shelf life for a particular type of rapper. Those that are merely the result of some calculations which involved multiplying 50 cent, adding Dr.Dre and dividing it between ten different labels or ‘outfits’ to maximise the interest of many different fan bases which can be roped into the line at the cheque out, inevitably fade and eventually get forgotten about. The artists aren’t significant and prominent names of hip-hop which will be looked back on with the same admiration and respect that we grant KRS One and Rakim, so why even bother investing our attention in them at all. They are to hip-hop’s big picture, what Westlife and The Spice Girls are to pop musics- forgettable, unsubstantiated, and vulgar.

In the real world, whilst all of this is going on, artists with creative integrity who graft away at a part time job in order to self finance their own music releases, which are of a far more beneficial orientation for the listener, are being ignored by the big record labels, the only people with the power to deliver quality music on a large scale, and who continuously, and frighteningly don’t, and haven’t for a long time. There’s an irony which lies in the fact that once in a blue moon, an artist of a more underground and independent leaning finds themselves getting good airplay and as a result, steady record sales, because word has slowly got about that the music they’re creating is quality, and something different, for example the Dizee Raskals who have quickly gone from small London artist to internationally known name. Okay, he’s not 5 billion times platinum but he’s success compared to his origins is quite impressive. Record companies/businesses need to break the loop and start being brave, even if it means introducing totally new and unaffiliated artists in small bursts in between guaranteed earners, for the sake of the world of music and the billions worldwide who listen to it.