In this week’s episode of Fresh Pair, Compton rap veteran The Games sits down with Just Blaze and Katty Customs to discuss his 20-year career, his favorite LA rap albums, and why he just can’t seem to follow through on all those retirement plans. He also challenges Eminem to a rap battle, if you’re into that sort of thing, although if Eminem hasn’t responded to “The Black Slim Shady” yet, he probably won’t.
The Game first burst onto the scene in 2003 as a member of 50 Cent’s G-Unit clique with a string of successful mixtapes and the breakout single “Westside Story.” Needless to say, his longevity and prolific output make sifting through his catalog to find his best songs ever a task and a half. To make things simpler — or create an unnecessary challenge — we’ll only pull from his ten studio albums and singles on which he’s credited as the primary artist. It’s still pretty daunting to break this down, especially considering the writer’s personal history with the Compton rapper, but I’ll do my best. Here are The Game’s best songs, ranked.
An album cut from Game’s fourth official release, 2011’s The R.E.D. Album, “Ricky” is blessed with an epic-sounding beat by DJ Khalil, along with a prominent sample from the seminal ’90s coming-of-age classic Boyz N The Hood. It’s pretty hard not to feel the emotional weight of the moment from the film permeating the song — which might be a cheat, but by this point in his career, The Game was wise enough to work smarter, not harder.
9. “Let Us Live”
This overlooked gem from 2008’s LAX deserves mention for the smooth way The Game sticks to Scott Storch’s smoldering instrumental. The Game has often been praised and derided for his chameleonic flow, but let’s be real: If there’s any rapper to do an impression of, it’s Nas, and The Game absolutely pulls it off. It was a little spooky to put this on back in the day and hear him so closely approximate Nas’ gruff rasp that we had to check the liner notes to make sure it wasn’t Nas. Chrisette Michele’s hook seals the deal.
8. “Compton” Feat. Will.I.Am
Admittedly, this might be my undying love for J. Dilla and De La Soul seeping out, but anytime I hear that sample of Ahmad Jamal’s “Swahililand,” I tune all the way in, regardless of its source. Add in the shout-out to my hometown and you all are lucky I didn’t just plop this underappreciated bop from 2006’s The Doctor’s Advocate at No. 1 and call it a day. Fortunately, I have a little thing called “journalistic integrity.”
Game’s debut album, The Documentary, was hailed as a triumph when it dropped in 2004 and since then, its legend has only grown. Since this is how these things usually tend to go, it’s often compared to 50 Cent’s debut Get Rich Or Die Tryin’ due to the two rappers’ long, fraught history. While there’s some debate already about which has aged better in the nearly 20 years since both shifted the balance of hip-hop in the early aughts, “Dreams” is my exhibit A for Game’s edge there. 50 may have laid claim to many of The Documentary‘s standout tracks, but this one, produced by Kanye West at the height of his powers, is all Game.
6. “Jesus Piece” Feat. Kanye West and Common
The title track from The Game’s second-best album — yeah, I said it — was a total surprise for longtime fans. The celebrated gangsta rapper linking up with the rap biz’s very standard for conscious rap, Common, was a left-field move that paid off big. And say what you want about Kanye’s weird right-wing turn over the past couple of years, but he and Game still have the chemistry of oil and fire.
5. “The City” Feat. Kendrick Lamar
Back to The R.E.D. Album, there’s no way to exclude this heat rock, as it was one of the early guest appearances that Kendrick Lamar’s ascent to the stratosphere of rap. Dropping just after K. Dot made 2011’s XXL Freshman cover and released the mixtape Section.80 , this was many non Angelenos’ first exposure to the emerging talent. For those of us in the city, we’d just seen him crowned “New King Of The West Coast” by Game, Dr. Dre, and Snoop Dogg (RIP the Key Club). This was the moment he received the baton, and he hasn’t stopped running since.
4. “Ali Bomaye” Feat. 2 Chainz and Rick Ross
Every album needs a gym song, the one that’ll make you feel like you can run through a brick wall when it comes on your playlist. This is that song on Jesus Piece. It’s aptly titled, named for the cheer the locals in Kinshasa, Zaire gave Muhammad Ali for his legendary 1974 fight against George Foreman, the Rumble In The Jungle. We all know who won.
3. “How We Do” Feat. 50 Cent
Sorry, I have no surprises for you down here. I think we all know what The Game’s best three songs are — and it’s likely no coincidence they all feature 50 Cent (seriously, can these two just both grow up and make a joint album, already? It’s No. 1 with a bullet and the only Throne-style project the rap world truly needs at this point). “How We Do” is probably the catchiest of the trio, but doesn’t have the raw soulfulness or gritty menace of the other two.
2. “Westside Story” Feat. 50 Cent
The Game’s debut single, “Westside Story” was produced by Dr. Dre and Scott Storch and reintroduced the world to the idea that LA gangsta rap could move units. While the style never truly went away, it maybe had gotten a little stuck in the weeds of synthesizer-heavy G-Funk in the years since Tupac’s murder. “Westside Story” was a corrective, realigning the genre with its early belligerence. This was music you played to scare your mom, a reminder that amid all the Southern California sunshine, circumstances could get dark in a hurry. Carry yourself accordingly.
1. “Hate It Or Love It” Feat. 50 Cent
There really isn’t another option for No. 1 on this list. Far and away, this 2005 hit is The Game’s best song. Even if you don’t come from the hood or personally relate to every situation that gets described here, the song pulls on your heartstrings. It’s nostalgic, it’s a little sad, it’s a little hopeful. I sh*t you not, every time I have ever heard this played in public, every single person from little kids to grandparents, seems to know the words. Even more impressively, The Game lived up to all the promises he makes on the chorus. Despite threatening to quit again and again, he really isn’t going anywhere — and rap is all the better for it.