Retreating from the studio has proved to be easier said than done. But if Born 2 Rap is The Game’s final farewell, it’s one that reiterates everything that took the Compton native from “dreams of being unsigned hype” to an institution in his own right, beginning with the cinematic “City Of Sin.” Flanked by Ed Sheeran’s plaintive vocals, guitar arpeggios establish a sense of grandeur, setting the scene for an album that values musical warmth as much as it does bars. On “No Smoke,” Game purports himself to be the musical common ground between “mumble rap and these killers” or “smokers and lean sippers.” An assertion made over the thunderous drums of Blink 182’s Travis Barker and an uplifting chorus from Miguel, the all-star assortment of guests Game pulled in for his “last” outing lends credence to his status as an adhesive between hip-hop & R&B’s generational split. 

Sonically, there is a real richness to the production from the crack team of frequent CyhI Tha Prynce collaborator TEC BEATZ and long-time confidant LonglivePrince while the occasional use of live instrumentation recalls Organized Noize’s work on some of  OutKast & Goodie Mob’s most timeless output. At other stages, he allows Just Blaze’s literal and figurative fingerprints to manifest, with affecting soul beats punctuating many of the record’s emotional peaks. Between enlisting artists on the precipice of the come up such as Mozzy and his unofficial cosign of Osbe Chill for “Carmen Electra,” bringing Cali’s own Rhythm & Flow winner D Smoke to fill out the doubt-ridden “Cross On Jesus Back,” or calling on Masego for the jazz-inflected reflections of  “One Life,” it’s evident that Game is keeping his ear to the ground even with one foot out the door. 

It comes as no surprise that the presence of Nipsey Hussle hovers over much of Born 2 Rap’s foundation. Beginning with an interview excerpt from the leader of the Marathon movement, “$10,000 Candles” sees Game casting the net wider to not only lament the death of Nipsey, but commune with all those that were prematurely lost to LA’s inner-city war. Then comes the moment that had loomed high in fans’ minds as Nipsey delivers a verse on “Welcome Home.” A testament to the rapport that the two shared, the level of sanctity with which Game treats the track makes his intentions clear, negating the accusations of opportunism that might have dogged him. Rendered in a Bongo instrumental that feels tailormade for both, Nipsey’s momentous verse makes his return seem organic and essential.

While his patented name-dropping style remains present, Born 2 Rap takes that same philosophy of reference points and incorporates it into the heartland of the songs themselves, using classic beats and structures to personify his own journey through both hip-hop and his own turbulent life. The motif of an ode to his formative hip-hop favorites allowed Game and Anderson .Paak to deliver a stunningly reworked version of 2Pac’s contemplative “Picture Me Rollin” on “Stainless.”  Meditating on not only the escapism his tenure in the rap game has afforded but his inability to leave the past in the rearview, it’s strong enough to enter the Californian canon on its own merits. In the case of “The Light”, he takes the same source material as Common’s track of the same name to chart his willingness to engage in a verbal battle with any contemporary; similar in tone to Kendrick Lamar’s incendiary ‘Control’ verse, the hip-hop survivor suggests he’s nonplussed with taking on all-comers at a time where his longevity is all but intact.

Acting as a hip-hop historian, Game slyly repurposes those scene-setting opening bars from Geto Boys “Mind Playin’ Tricks On Me” during the album’s authoritative title track—“ I sit alone in my room in the zone writin' classics”--  before faithfully following Big Pun’s pattern from “Still Not A Player” on the Bryson Tiller accented ‘Stay Down.’ Paying homage to touchstones in his life and his development as an MC, this interpolating approach is arguably at its most effective when used discreetly. Delivered with the honesty that’s been both a blessing and a curse,  ‘Hug The Block’ taps into the spirit of classic alcohol fuelled confessionals such as “Start From Scratch” and “Doctor’s Advocate,” complete with a wistful allusion to Slum Village’s ‘Selfish’ that enhances his tale of biblical-style betrayal from his brother Big Fase 100.   

That said, not everything on Born 2 Rap will leave you riveted. On tracks such as “West Side,” there’s an inescapable feeling that he’s simply rehashing the past. Elsewhere, “Ask For Me’s” hook sounds like a pastiche of GKMC-era Kendrick, making for one of the record’s major artistic missteps. In the same vein, ‘Gangstas Make The Girls Go Wild’ is a relatively listless outing despite Chris Brown’s attention-grabbing chorus. Unsurprisingly built around a Westside Connection track from 96, the end result does little to enhance the album’s overall mood. It’s moments like this where you wonder if a more surgical approach might have benefitted the project. 

At least it goes out strong. Culminating with another Ed Sheeran link-up on “Roadside”, Game dredges up every remaining morsel of pain that he wished to exorcise over the course of the album and quite possibly, his career. Unencumbered by any need to retain his hardened demeanour, Game lets the hang-ups slip away in favour of discussing suicidal thoughts, lapses of faith and the intrinsic injustice of the universe’s criteria for who's worthy of entering the great unknown. Pondering the grimness that stems from knowing one can go from a man to a memorial anytime one steps on the block, the record ends on the bittersweet note that comes with knowing an artist has left it all in the booth. Whether this apparent swansong was merely a ploy to draw more listeners to Born 2 Rap, this remains one of the finest projects Jayceon Terrell Taylor has delivered in recent memory. A late career home run, if Game does adhere to his word then it will be a graceful bow out that will leave the world pining for more.