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The Game
(Entertainment One Music/Fifth Amendment/Blood Money)

Key: recommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommended 1984 recommendedrecommendedrecommendedrecommended 1977 recommendedrecommendedrecommended 1966 recommendedrecommended 1994 recommended 1974

It's been a month since I returned to Los Angeles, my hometown, where I haven't lived in 25 years. I'm adjusting and breathing, the sun burning off the uppermost layers of the depression-dome I made—and though LA has changed a lot in a quarter century, it's still the glorious, messy experiment it always was.

I've always wondered how much of what I think of as me is caught up in my crystalized memories of South Central at the dawn of the 1990s—and maybe that's why I've always had such a love/hate dynamic with The Game. For the last 11 years, he's annoyed me with his antics but also thrilled me with some great rap music. All the best and worst moments have always had to do with The Game's own personal 1992—hence the title of this, his eighth solo album.

1992 starts with a Crenshaw Swap Meet velvet portrait of the fire that time, painted stroke by stroke on "Savage Lifestyle" over a sample of "Inner City Blues" by Marvin Gaye. "Was you here?" Game challenges. No, I wasn't, and I hated that. I left LA the day after Christmas in 1991—just one of the many Black kids shipped out by their parents before the fuse ran out. The year 1992 found me trying to adjust to a new life in Seattle while I watched my old home burn on national television and heard that my brother got hemmed up during the riots.

The city that I had grown up in would never be the same. It filled me with an anger and loss I didn't fully understand. I used to think that leaving was why I never got a real sense of who Jayceon Taylor really was on wax. But if I'd stayed, who would I be? Who am I now, all these years later, newly estranged from everything I've known for so long? Bouncing around these many years, I guess I just envy someone with an identity so firmly tied to where they're from.

Sorry, Game.

Still, 1992 as a whole isn't quite as inspired or fired up as Game's best work, like Doctor's Advocate or last year's feature-stuffed double disc The Documentary 2. If anything, it serves as Game's take on American Gangster, Jay Z's late-career return to form—a sort of Issue #0 for a long-established artist. For a second on "The Juice," Game's rap even recalls Jay's flow on "Party Life."

"True Colors/It's On" begins with rapper Osbe Chill repping Baldwin Village, fka the Jungles—the one-square-mile neighborhood my little family unit lived in at the end of the 1980s, on Pinafore Street, in a large two-bedroom apartment with a pool all the neighbors would jump into some balmy nights. It was also easily the most active hood I ever called home. My mom did the best she could and told me to walk straight home from school. "I was too young to help her, and my brothers wasn't there," Game raps about his childhood in the CPT.

In the decade-plus since his debut, Game has mellowed on my least favorite trait—a relentless penchant for telling and not showing, habitually referencing other rappers, pop culture figures, and LA hood motifs. Maybe this showy G-schmaltz just reminded me of how false I always felt, a transplant trying to hold on to something, straining to feel connected to my home and my family from a thousand miles away. After 25 years, I'm back home wondering where and how I fit in, a stranger to myself, writing a new chapter.

Game's storytelling, though, is more nuanced than ever. Talking about sharing socks with a friend-turned-future-gang-rival on the regret-tinged "Young Niggas" or reminiscing about his junior prom indiscretions on "I Grew Up on Wu-Tang," he lives up to his familiar role: a living tribute to what came before.

The inclusion of "92 Bars," his Meek Mill dis—Game's traditional album promo tactic is to start shit, after all—feels a little out of place here, a needless conflict that could have been handled better. I've spent the last few months going through my own share of conflicts brought on by my own quick-flash defensiveness—lessons and reminders hop out of every corner lately, provoking new regrets.

The album's low-key production, mostly handled by unknowns, doesn't quite have the punch of past work with superstars, but a welcome intimacy replaces it. It's a good reminder that The Game's story isn't over, that it can get more human and real, right here at home. Even while letting things go, that's something to hold on to.