The Game just unleashed his ninth and purportedly final album, “Born 2 Rap,” on his 40th birthday (November 29). In fact, you could say the Los Angeles rapper gifted his own fans with the 24-track collection. Chock full of hard-hitting bars, aggressive punchlines, timeless samples, and vivid lyrical storytelling, it’s the hip-hop album we’ve been waiting for.
Back in January, select media, friends, and family were invited to an exclusive listening session where The Game, whose real name Jayceon Taylor, revealed a standout feature from Ed Sheeran. Turns out, the pop star not only opens the project with intro “City of Sin,” but closes the album on “Roadside.” Released via Entertainment One, “Born 2 Rap” sees The Game reflecting on his near two-decade long career — declaring it a “classic” before it even came out.
It was back in 2004 when Dr. Dre first discovered Game and signed him to his Aftermath label, but it was 2005’s “The Documentary” that solidified his place in the rap game. Home to singles “Hate It or Love It” and “How We Do” (both featuring 50 Cent), this critically-acclaimed debut studio album lives on as one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all-time.
The Game’s, er, game has shifted a bit since he first hit the scene. While rapping is among his strongest talents, it was never his end-all-be-all. Today, he’s the boss and CEO of his own record label (Prolific Records named after Nipsey Hussle as Game’s “way of paying homage,” he says) with his eyes set on discovering the next superstar. Variety caught up with The Game at the Kandypens house in the Hollywood Hills where the rapper was in good spirits rocking a solid red Marathon Continues x Puma hoodie underneath his long Gucci coat.
Congrats on the No. 1 album! How are you feeling now that “Born 2 Rap” is finally out after years of work.
It took two-and-a-half, almost three years. Once I figured out that I was going to have a classic album, I slowed down because I wanted everything to be perfect. Everything that went into the album I put under a microscope and made sure that we got the best of the best of everything. At the end of the day, that’s what we did. The biggest concern was with the label and the team. They were, like, “Why are we putting 24 tracks on the album?” I have a core fanbase, they would love to have 100 songs in an album. I felt like for my core fanbase, on my way out, this would be dope for them.
Pharrell Williams advised you to chill, correct?
Pharrell and Busta Rhymes are always on my head about relaxing, chilling. “You know you could be 10 times bigger if you just didn’t start so much s–t!” But I kind of have to be me in life. Those are my big homies. They’ve been real instrumental in my career, just on a big brother advice standpoint. Pharrell’s always telling me relax, he’s like “people might sleep on you because your skillset and your art gets overshadowed by your bull–it.” Then Busta Rhymes calls me borderline disrespectful. He says I come right up to the line of being disrespectful and just [errrr!] Pump the brakes.
You’ve written provocative lines about Rihanna, Kim Kardashian, and others. Were you worried at all about the backlash?
I just voice my opinion in life and keep it true to myself, and keeping true to myself is going to be true to my fans. I literally say whatever comes to my mind. After that, it is what it is.
What was the impetus for the line “might kiss Ella Mai in the mouth just to celebrate” on “Gangsters Make the Girls Go Wild?”
I mean, who wouldn’t want to kiss Ella Mai in the mouth? See everything that I say, there’s some type of art to it, right? So “kiss Ella Mai in the mouth,” of course, who wouldn’t want to kiss Ella Mai on the mouth? As far as a man. She’s beautiful and she’s amazing. But that mouth is… you know the amazing music that comes out of that mouth? That voice? It’s like, why not? And if you’re going to celebrate something, that would be my mistletoe moment.
You say after this album, you “gotta raise the feature price.” How much are you charging for a verse?
Maybe… $75,000? When they come, I’ll knock it out. I just need my $75K, all up front.
What did it used to be?
Back in the day, it was $150,000. But you know, I have to get back to that back in the day.
What did it mean to have Dom executive produce your album?
Dom is one of my dopest homies and a real, real, real staple of L.A. His insight, his mind, his beat selection on his own projects are just amazing to me. So I figured why not bring Dom in and let him sort of be my conscience? So outside of being executive producer, Dom is my subconscious. He’s going to keep it 100 with me, tell me “we should keep this” or “we should scrap that.” Creating albums sometimes in the studio, there’s a lot of yes men and s–t. Dom’s not doing any of that.
“500 Dollar Candles” and “Gold Daytonas” are both bangers. What’s the dynamic in the studio with Dom?
It’s like an LA version of what me and 50 was creating back on my first album. Because me and Dom could go in on anything and make anything dope. It would just sound like L.A. and Compton every single time. We probably need to do a project or something… but I’m done!
You keep saying that. Are you really done?
As it stands today, I’m good. Yeah, I’m done.
An album this good though…
Why do I have to come back and f–k that up? I’m going out on top. But if I come back with another album and it’s not better than Born 2 Rap, than I don’t want to do it.
I’m 40 years old. I mean, I don’t look 40 but there are kids out here that I admire. And not for nothing, I’m just done with the solo part. I want to sign artists; I want to have a label; I want to oversee s–t because I got so much knowledge and input about the game. I’m mad that I missed out on artists, signing somebody like DaBaby. I met DaBaby before, but I was recording “Born 2 Rap” so I wasn’t even in that vein. But if I wasn’t focused on myself, then I would’ve, could’ve signed DaBaby. DaBaby is my favorite new artist right now, he’s hard.
What do you like about DaBaby?
He just reminds me of myself. He doesn’t give a f–k. He’s got skill. He’s smart and the visuals, his visuals are dope.
Speaking of signing, didn’t Nipsey give you a demo?
Mmhmm. He gave me his demo, but I didn’t try to sign Nipsey. I was too focused on me. I think I was working on the “LAX” album, I just wasn’t in that mindset.
What are your fondest memories with Nipsey?
When Nipsey was looking for a deal, when passing around his demo, he was in the streets every-f–king-where. You would see him all over LA and that was so reminiscent to myself and what I did. Because the day of the demo was dead. Having a demo and go stand out, really get to know people. “Hey, what up man, my name is Game. Here’s my tape.” Seeing some people walk away and throw it, that would just humble you. Then some people would come back two days later and be, like, “Yo, that s–t was dope.” So it’s an art. That part of getting a record deal is missing, shit’s crazy.
What do you look for in artists when it comes to Prolific?
You know what? I just look for a superstar. A superstar, that’s what I want. It’s a n–a like DaBaby; a superstar like Megan Thee Stallion…
On “Born 2 Rap,” you say “I sit alone in my room writing classics.” What is it about this album that makes it such a necessity for hip-hop?
That it’s one of a kind. Nobody’s making albums like this outside of Kendrick [Lamar] and J. Cole, when we’re lucky enough to get those projects. This album is the best album since “DAMN.” and Cole’s last project [“KOD”]. That’s how I feel, as far as what real raw hip-hop is concerned.
Loved hearing the Common sample on “Light.” What was his influence on your career?
Common is like the conscious version of me — somebody that’s lyrically inclined and just amazing dope human, who has a dope personality and is very intellectual. That is me except I’m a gangster rapper.
How is your experience at Entertainment One different than what you went through at Interscope?
I’m 100% in control of everything, eOne is just the machine they put my music through. They work it like a General Motors would sell a car. But the car ain’t going nowhere without the engine and that’s what they allow me to be. When I start up, they know that the project is going to be dope and we’re going to move some units. … With Interscope, I was young. When you’re young and a brand new artist, you just get f–ked. It happens to everyone and that’s just what it is. It’s not even avoidable unless you’re going to stay independent. What I’m saying now is that I own 100% of my masters and eOne just distributes, so that part is the financial level up.
What have you learned about the music business?
That most people aren’t your friends.
“The Code” w/ 21 Savage is one of my favorites.
21 is dope as f–k. He killed that. He don’t give a f–k about how nobody feels. He does him. That’s another one of my favorite new artists. My Top 5: Kendrick, J Cole; DaBaby; 21 Savage; and Tyler the Creator fan.
Talk about the Ed Sheeran features on the intro and closing track.
I wanted to mix in pop. I hold Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith, and Adele in the same light. If they did a collab album, that would be f–ing crazy. I’m a big fan of Ed Sheeran, he’s a big fan of mine, and now we’re friends inside and outside of music. So when I asked him to be a part of the project, I told him “I want you to be on the intro and I want you to be on the outro. He‘s like “let’s go [British accent]!”