I know that sounds absurd. But follow me.
Kendrick Lamar dropped a seminal work in To Pimp A Butterfly, a work so full of Blackness and filled with so many musical styles and elements that even if you don't love it you have to appreciate and respect his ability to articulate his worldview in his own way. Kendrick dropped art. TPAB is what happens when dreams aren't deferred and little Black kids get to grow up and use their minds to change the world.
I've often felt like the first time Kendrick listened to that album in its entirety, and after it was mixed and mastered and ready to turn into the label, he had to take a step back and be impressed by what he'd accomplished. We were all impressed from afar, I can't imagine what it felt like for him to hear what happens when your ability to execute your ambition gets fully realized. I imagine this is also what Kanye West feels like when he completes an album or wakes up in the morning.
But it was always missing one key ingredient to me: entertainment. And as a musical album, I do want some sort of entertainment and enjoy-ability with my art. It's why porn with a plot is so terrible, it doesn't add entertainment value. While I respect it as a masterful body of work, it might be one of the more unlistenable albums I've heard in a while. It was hard to digest and the replay value is low.
It's akin to a piece of art that you see in a museum that you can appreciate for its construction and creativity while never needing to see it again. Or even more apropos…
…TPAB was 12 Years A Slave, a movie that was compelling but not exactly something you need to see more than once. You got it the first time around and the experience trumps the actuality of it. To be clear, I think its a great album and have said as much but I was able to move on fairly quickly.
Let's switch gears for a moment. If you're a hip-hop fan, then you are as familiar with the trajectory of The Game as any other artist out there. Game hit the scene in 2005 with his debut album, The Documentary, which is easy to call a classic for its incredible beats, top-shelf lyricism, and the effect of the 50 Cent/G-Unit juggernaut propelling it to 5x platinum status. Game, like 50 was a superstar and he knew it. He had the Compton/Bompton backstory, the gang bonafides, the at-the-time victim of violence street cred, the Dr. Dre co-sign, and the West Coast on his back.
And then he and 50 bumped heads. And then he got booted from G-Unit. And then he started running his mouth. And then he lost Dr. Dre in his corner. Then Aftermath. Etc etc etc. The Game, through a series of oddball decisions and beef with anybody who would be willing to beef with him, became known more for his persona than the music. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing because he suffered from a similar Nas problem - great lyricist with some questionable beat choices, rendering several of his albums as solid but largely forgettable after the album cycle. While each of his albums The Doctor's Advocate, LAX, The R.E.D. Album, and Jesus Piece had their super high moments - The Game after all is a much, much better than average rapper - nothing is coming close to the impact and replay value of that debut. It's Game's Illmatic moment.
Then Game dropped The Documentary 2.
This shit is brackin.
I haven't enjoyed an album this much since Chance The Rapper's Acid Rap, back in 2013 and Kanye's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy before that. I've played it on repeat since my boy suggested I give it a spin on its release date. Game sounds comfortable. He sounds confident. He sounds like he knows he released the best music of his career. The beats are murder. The perfect samples. He brought along all of his favorite people. Game is not only the most name dropping ass rapper of all time, he's also hip-hop's biggest unapologetic super fan. And it works because he can rap his ass off. It's also one of the most West Coast and Blood heavy albums to be released in eons. We all know Game's backstory and that he's a Cedar Block Piru and he goes full gangster all over this album. I didn't count, but I'm sure the words "Blood" and "Piru" are mentioned nearly 100 times. It reminds of when DJ Quik released Safe + Sound back in 1995 which was full of Blood symbolism (Quik is a member of Tree Top Pirus, though he famously made a song called "I'm Not A Gangxta" while trying to beat a court case where his gang affiliations were tossed around). That album was Quik's best entire work in my opinion, by the way.
But forget the gang stuff. What makes The Documentary 2 so great is how enjoyable it is to listen to. The beats all fit well together and transition well though it's bloated at 17 tracks and I could do without "Bitch You Ain't Shit" and "Hashtag" in particular. Game's lyricism is even stepped up a bit. He's got Dre and Premier and will.i.am (who is going to be worthy of his own UnSung episode one day) on production, and appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Future, Dej Loaf, Ice Cube, amongst a million others. But nobody plays more central than Game. It's as full and developed an album as you'll hear today and its got artistic depth. It's got every single thing that Kendrick Lamar had in TPAB…PLUS its an enjoyable listen.
All I keep thinking about when I listen to The Documentary 2 is what would happen if Kendrick had those beats. Shit, Dr. Dre released Compton this year to much fanfare but a quick fizzle once people realized the album was more exciting for existing than for its actual parts, and Game's album contains a song called "L.A." which I'd put money on was originally the intro or outro to Dre's album. It fits sonically and would have been the perfect opener, or closer. It would immediately have been the best song on the entire project.
I realize that Kendrick's album is as much a political statement as it is an album. Music is his medium and he dropped his message via TPAB. And that message might not need the prettiest wrapping. Sometimes you need to capture the mood and that's what Kendrick did perfectly. But when I listen to Game's album I think that Kendrick could have accomplished everything he did with TPAB in all of his political and pro-Black glroy with a similar soundscape that people would still be listening to today. Sure "Alright" is the rallying cry across the nation for Black folks marching for our rights but that doesn't mean I listen to the song any other time either.
Kendrick made a musical album of which he was the focal point and he just so happened to be a rapper. When I first wrote about it, I likened it to D'Angelo's Black Messiah album in its tone and intent. Game made a very hip-hop album with noticeable samples and boom bap drums, and borrowed the tone and flows from any and everybody so maybe that distinction is enough for me to shut the fuck up.
I'm glad Kendrick made TPAB because what I want more than anything is for Kendrick to get all of the acclaim and to take his rightful spot as one of the, if not the, best rapper alive right now. I just wish I liked it more. I wish I didn't have to appreciate it and then never really listen to it again. I wish I didn't feel a need to speak of it in terms of what it represents without really talking about how any of the songs knocks in the car. I want the beats, rhymes, and life. I want Kendrick to have Game's ear for beats.
Because what I know is that Game's album? That shit's brackin' and it's been on repeat in every place I listen to music for days and I don't see that stopping, whereas Kendrick made the best piece of music-art we've heard in a while, and I haven't listened to it in months.
Ultimately, I want to both love AND listen to my favorite albums.
Is that so much to ask?