The Game: LAX

There are plenty of reasons to hate The Game: the cheap nostalgia and stupid beefs, the glorification of gang-banging, the cynical exploitation of his stint in a coma after being shot (that's gangsta!), the constant toadying up to mentor Dr. Dre, the gratuitous name-dropping, his love of G-funk clichés. There's only one reason to like The Game: With invaluable assists from top producers, he's turned out two very respectable albums of retro-minded gangsta rap.

Only three major-label albums into his career, The Game has already appropriated the angst of rap's most beloved icons. With a surplus of chutzpah, the Compton rapper compares his pain to that of Nelson Mandela ("Letter To The King") and tries to out-suffer Jesus, complaining on "My Life" of being "hated on so much, Passion Of Christ need a sequel." (On the same track, Lil Wayne gets his T-Pain on, crooning the hook.) On the melodramatic "Never Can Say Goodbye," The Game triples his tributes by rapping from the perspective of 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., and Eazy E. The Game spends so much time feeling sorry for himself and bemoaning the fate of rap martyrs that it seems utterly redundant for him to name a song "Game's Pain." As on previous albums, the highlights come mostly from the guest list: "Let Us Live" memorably pairs a slinky Scott Storch beat with Chrisette Michele's breathy cooing and one of Game's most raspily authoritative performances. Kanye West production and a Common verse give "Angel" a touch of class. And Ludacris steals "Ya Heard" with the album's sole blast of humor. The Game has always borrowed from the greats. Here, he cannibalizes his own tired shtick so extensively, he lapses even further into self-parody.

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