If the quality of the guest list could automatically improve a record, The Game's long-awaited "The R.E.D. Album" (Interscope) might be the greatest masterpiece in hip-hop history.
But even with enthusiastic contributions from familiar names Lil Wayne, Drake, Rick Ross, Snoop Dogg, Young Jeezy, Chris Brown, Big Boi, Tyler, the Creator and Nelly Furtado, Game remains the most experienced star in hip-hop who has yet to find his own voice; rather, he seems to slip into the background and let his guests dominate their respective tracks.
That's not to say Game, who grew up in Compton, Calif., inspired by N.W.A., 2 Pac and '90s gangsta rap in general, never says anything interesting. On the comically over-the-top "Martians vs. Goblins," he speaks of burning "Harry Potter" books and suggests both Marvel and DC Comics overlooked him as a superhero; on the sinister "Red Nation," he thumps his chest and declares that he betrayed and killed Satan; and "Ricky" and "Born in the Trap" use strings, skronky horns, gunshots and old-school soul samples to buttress colorful war stories of gang-banging, drug dealing and taking bullets.
Game has a raspy, authoritative vocal style, somewhere between Ice-T and Ice Cube, and producers such as longtime collaborator Dr. Dre (on much of the album) and the Neptunes (on easygoing dance track "Mama Knows," with singer Furtado) give him a lively sonic foundation. It's just that Lil Wayne shows him up in an instant, simply by spewing out curse words in his cough-syrup drawl, and a cackling Young Jeezy takes over "Paramedics" so thoroughly that Game has no choice but to kind of murmur in the foreground.
'The R.E.D. Album'
BOTTOM LINE Distinctive superstar cameos put Game in the backseat