Never fight fair with a stranger. You'll never get out of the jungle that way ...
—Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman
In 30 minutes, the rapper Game will instruct his 583,000 Twitter followers to dial (310) 605-6500 if they would like to be his intern. In two hours, the Los Angeles County Sheriff will open a criminal investigation against the Compton artist, who claimed to have "accidentally" directed his fan base to flash-flood the phone lines of the organization's Compton office — temporarily crushing its ability to respond to reported crimes. Later, he will blame both hackers and his cousin Wack Star for hijacking his account. But right now, speaking from a bedroom in the Koreatown apartment he has commandeered as a makeshift media center, Game claims he's not promoting his album.
This doesn't match the timeline of his last eight hours, balancing photo shoots and interviews with everyone from L.A. Weekly to esoteric art quarterlies to Fuel TV. And when he's not taunting Compton law enforcement about its inability to catch murderers, his Twitter page is alight with references to his The R.E.D. Album, released this week.
"I don't promote shit — the label does. That's how you got here. All I do is rap," says the 31-year-old, who was born Jayceon Taylor. He talks while texting in a Transformers shirt next to a sixth-floor window, looking up to smirk with the self-assured dismissiveness of a former class clown and varsity letterman.
Game's assertion doesn't jibe with his last 18 months in Willy Loman mode: the innumerable radio bids, four mixtapes, tours, rescheduled release dates and semiregular barbs at Jay-Z. Originally set to drop in the winter of 2009, The R.E.D. Album has been postponed 10 times, give or take. Guinness hasn't chimed in, but it's a sum exceeded by few, most notably the record's narrator, Game mentor Dr. Dre. "The delays were partially the label's decision and partially his own," says Interscope marketing director Jason Sangerman. "Game likes to spend time with his family, he was touring, and he's a perfectionist. And as a piece of art, we didn't want to expose the album until it was finished."
During this long lacuna, The Village Voice's music blog published a list of The R.E.D. Album's Top 10 failed singles, citing unions with the industry's biggest names — including Justin Timberlake, T.I., Chris Brown and Lil Wayne. But none has lit up Billboard. First single "Red Nation" didn't crack the Top 40, despite a jock-jam sample from Teutonic trance act Zombie Nation and an anachronistically expensive video, resembling "California Love" set at a soccer riot in Stuttgart. When Viacom banned it, Game blamed it on the company's fear of his gang affiliation and his affinity for all red everything.
Denying that the lackluster chart performances bother him, Game insists that everything but the Timberlake collaboration was intended for iTunes only.
"Fuck radio," he says, the sun striking his trademark "LA" facial tattoo (on top of what used to be a butterfly). When asked, Game informs me that none of his 50-plus ink markings holds any personal meaning. His erstwhile website, theGame360.com, insists otherwise, with quotes from him waxing poetic about etchings including the gravestones of 2Pac, Eazy E and Run DMC's Jam Master Jay, his children's names and "Hurricane," his former 310 Motoring shoe line.
"I don't give a fuck if radio plays my shit once. I've never been a radio artist. Everyone on the radio flops. I don't want to be in that category. I want to go platinum," Game adds.
Despite his recent industry travails, Game remains a towering figure in L.A. hip-hop, perhaps trailing only perennial standard-bearers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. And considering that Dre rarely raps and Snoop's last album sold only 50,000 copies in its first week, Game is most likely the city's most commercially viable.
Each of his first three albums has moved more than a million units worldwide. And for a brief stretch in 2005, he was the most popular radio rapper in America, with two 50 Cent–aided singles in the top five of the Billboard 100. Kendrick Lamar and Odd Future founder Tyler, the Creator might have next, but both appear on R.E.D., presumably out of respect rather than obligation. "Red Nation" and Game's latest salvo, "Pot of Gold," have some 15 million combined YouTube views, and when "Pot of Gold" plays on Power 106 as we cruise Eighth Street in his Mercedes S-550, his countenance betrays his satisfaction.
But the hip-hop world moves on dog time — the three years since his last album, LAX, may as well be 21. Since then, the genre has stratified like the American economy: a widening income gap and middle-class erosion. Hard-core thugs have been ushered out of the club in favor of buttery swag-rap fusionists, such as Drake, Big Sean and Wiz Khalifa, and the faux-hawked velvet-rope electro-rap of the Black Eyed Peas and Pitbull. Even the latest foray from the once helter-skelter Lil Wayne is titled "How to Love."