Words by: Danny Ryan
Photos by: Manuel Arredondo
The standards for what makes a hip-hop artist a GOAT amongst fans have shifted dramatically in recent years, as newer rappers bring more eccentric personalities and more diverse influences of sound into the genre than what was seen in its earlier history. As hip-hop evolves through this experimentation, the common debate of which rappers are considered the greatest has widened profoundly from the days of “2Pac vs Biggie” arguments. This is a natural progression, as many younger hip-hop heads grew up listening to more artists from the early 00’s than the artists worshiped throughout the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. Even as these standards change, most younger hip-hop fans have a deep appreciation for the roots of the genre and understand the importance of earlier scenes within it. Nobody has more respect for these ranges in hip-hop’s history than The Game, and his dedication to the genre could not have been more apparent than in his heartfelt tributes to the legends of every era of hip-hop that the audience experienced during his recent “Drillmatic” record release at the Novo Theater.
The Game’s recent record release show at the Novo Theater was a spectacular tribute to each era of hip-hop’s history and the most innovative rappers throughout it. Along with The Game’s selective choice of performing absolute classics from his G-Unit days alongside newer songs in anticipation of his upcoming release “Drillmatic”, there was a stacked lineup of surprise performances that made the night feel more like a surreal festival lineup of massive hip-hop legends rather than a small-venue record release show. Kanye West and Lil Wayne came to the stage for larger-than-life appearances to represent The Game’s breakthrough era of the early 00’s. This was followed by Kurupt, DJ Quik, and Suga Free giving passionate performances in a tribute to the Golden Age of Hip-Hop. The night wasn’t just a tribute to past eras of hip-hop, as newer LA artists like Blueface and OT Genasis were brought out to showcase current trends in the genre as a celebration of its future. Even with this star-studded cast of performances throughout the evening, The Game did not lose the spotlight at any moment and kept the crowd’s attention glued to the stage as a charismatic host for the surprise guests, and as a tight and flawless performer of his classic tracks which created an aura of mystery around his upcoming release.
Before The Game had even approached the stage, it was apparent that his performance would be more theatrical and grandiose than the average small-venue hip-hop show. A full band was jamming beforehand with incredibly funky instrumentals, with special emphasis on the keyboard slides and groovy energy. Seeing any sort of live band behind a rapper is the best sign you can have for a quality hip-hop show, as so many artists can easily do a vocals-only set over background tracks at their live shows nowadays. While those shows can still be incredible sometimes, you know something surprising is going to happen when a live band is involved. Especially considering that The Game has promised his upcoming album will be the best album of 2022, having a full band behind him really emphasized his goal of creating a masterpiece of an experience for its release.
As soon as The Game appeared on stage, it was clear that he would be leading the evening with a bold and vibrant personality to command the audience’s energy throughout the set. The Game emerged from the stage without any intro as he broke into one of his newest tracks “Violence“ from the upcoming “Drillmatic” album. The new single has a classic 00’s era sound that flowed seamlessly with his earlier material that would follow. The Game held a fifth of vodka in his hand as he rapped over the new single with a larger-than-life confidence that only a legendary artist with his experience could carry. Although the focuses of the night were The Game’s upcoming release and his tributes to hip-hop’s expansive history, it was clear that he made a goal of partying as much as his crowd was that evening.
After premiering some of the newest singles from his upcoming album, The Game would perform some of his earlier classics from his 2005 classic album “The Documentary”. Although Dr. Dre’s soulful G-Funk production on these tracks may not be the most prominent sound in hip-hop nowadays, seeing The Game perform these songs with such authenticity made the songs feel as fresh as they did upon their original release. The Game’s deep respect for the GOATS of hip-hop fill these tracks, as he dedicated the song “No More Fun and Games“ to Eazy-E in a heartfelt tribute to the fallen legend with the sample “Gangsta Gangsta” by NWA booming throughout The Novo. Passionate tributes to past greats were continued as The Game dedicated the track “Where I’m From” featuring Nate Dogg to the G-Funk legend. Before any guests had even approached the stage, The Game made sure to give his respect to the fellow artists of the LA hip-hop scene that helped create the atmosphere that his career blew up within.
The Game did not delay at all in impressing the crowd with the surprise performances for the evening. He started rapping over “Eazy”, his most recent feature from Kanye West’s “Donda 2”, as the claymation music video of Pete Davidson being brutally murdered (again, in claymation) played in the background. A couple of lines after Kanye’s segment of the song, a mysterious figure approached the stage with a balaclava mask that covered his eyes, a large winter jacket, and medical gloves.
When The Game announced that Kanye West had entered the venue, it took a minute for the crowd to register the moment before rushing towards the stage and swiftly bringing their phones out for videos. Kanye only sang along to a word or two at a time during the performance of “Eazy”, but his powerful presence in the room could not be more prominent. Although Kanye’s stage presence was much more low-profile than the loud and abrasive personality he is known for, the audience was just as ecstatic as they would have been if he played an entire set.
It took me even longer than the rest of the crowd to register the moment, as I embarrassingly thought that this was just a skit. The Game had a humorous attitude the entire night by passing a bottle of vodka to the crowd and roasting people in the front row (The Game said himself he was on his “Kevin Hart shit”), so I was in disbelief that Kanye was actually there. It seemed too unreal that Mr. West was actually in the building so I let the strange and secretive outfit doubt me. With how reclusive Kanye has been lately and with the avant-garde direction of his newer material, this skepticism and mystery could not have been a more appropriate feeling to experience at a Kanye West performance in 2022.
With barely any time at all for the crowd to recover from the bizarre yet awe-inducing short appearance from Kanye, the room was roaring in applause as The Game announced that Lil Wayne would take the stage before them. As Weezy appeared before the room, it sent chills down the spine of everybody in how unreal it felt to see a massive legend appearing before them in such a small venue. If Kanye West’s presence felt like we were being visited by the biblically-accurate and terrifyingly abstract depiction of an angel, Lil Wayne’s spirit felt as if we were being graced by the presence of a Greek God with the enormous energy he performed with.
The first song that Lil Wayne performed was a collaborative track with The Game from 2008, “My Life”. While Lil Wayne has an infinite number of hits that they could have opened with, the evening was a celebration of The Game’s new record and it was clear that Weezy did not want to take focus away from this. The slower flow that Lil Wayne incorporates on this track allowed the audience to fully appreciate the moment before he broke into the lightning speed, witty bars that he is prominently known for. The track was followed by the early Young Money hit “Steady Mobbin”, accelerating the pace of his vocals as the energy of the crowd was rising in an equal momentum. It felt like a vivid dream to see one of the most impressive rappers in history showcase their signature rapid flow of geniusly written lines live in-person, but nobody in the room was prepared for what would soon follow.
As soon as the vocal sample of “A Milli” could be heard echoing in the background, the Novo exploded in deafening cheers as everybody prepared to attempt their sing-along of the early 00’s era classic. Weezy prepared himself along with the crowd by ripping off his shirt and throwing it across the stage before approaching the center to perform his most signature song.
The track is essentially just one continued verse, which would normally make it incredibly hard to rap along to. However, nearly everybody in the room had such a deep love for the classic that most people were familiar with every lyric and sang along passionately as Weezy thrashed around the stage screaming each bar into the mic. The energy in the room was through the roof, and there would have certainly been a rowdy mosh pit if the audience weren’t recording videos on their phones in awe of the surreal experience. Although Lil Wayne did exit the stage with the crowd wanting to see more of him, everybody in the room was more than satisfied as he ended on the highest note that one could possibly imagine.
While the 2 largest surprise guests of the night appearing back to back towards the beginning set may seem like an odd choice for building a show’s momentum, The Game had a grander vision for the evening than emphasizing the celebrity-status of the guests he showcased. This was a celebration of The Game’s love for hip-hop as a whole throughout its history, so it made the most sense to start the guest appearances off with the era that he started his career in.
The era of rap music represented on stage shifted from the blingy and extravagant sounds from the early 00’s to the funky soul-influenced sounds of early 90’s Golden-Age of Hip-Hop incredibly quickly as Kurupt took the stage with massive clouds of marijuana smoke emerging from the crowd. The live band behind him added exponentially to the G-Funk sounds filling the room as he played his classic 1998 track “We Can Freak It”. Although there was a major generation shift between guests at this point in the set, the millennials in the crowd were just as appreciative to see classic artists that have had major influence on the early 00’s period that they had just witnessed.
The Golden-Age era of guests continued as DJ Quik appeared in an incredibly old-school and casual manner, gravitating towards the back of the stage and just spitting straight bars of his classic track “Tonite” as the G-Funk beats being played by the live band created an atmosphere filled with soul and a euphoric feeling of nostalgia for the 90’s era. DJ Quik smoothly broke into his song “Dollars Equals Sense” afterwards, and the spirit of classic Los Angeles G-Funk was felt all throughout The Novo.
A frequent collaborator with DJ Quik, Pomona’s GOAT Suga Free, was the next surprise appearance of the evening. Suga Free embodied the image of a classic gangster in nearly every way, almost looking like a character from a 70’s crime film with his blue pimp suit and long cornrows. His aesthetic matched the bouncy and animated flow of his vocals flawlessly as he played his classic banger “I’d Rather Give You My Bitch”. Suga Free’s vocal style and flow are incredibly unique in how much personality fills each line, and his entire stage presence was bold in the amount of vibrant character it brought before the crowd.
The Game quickly transitioned from having classic OG guests perform into bringing out some newer faces from the LA hip-hop scene. OT Genasis stormed on stage as the booming beat of his 2014 hit “Coco” played behind him. While the track hasn’t been in rotation for years since I was in early college, OT Genasis had an enthusiastic and passionate stage presence with his performance that inspired the crowd to ecstatically move along with his energy. The break in the song where Genasis chants “baking soda, I’ve got baking soda!” especially had everybody in the room hyped. Classic hip-hop tracks remain classic, no matter how old it is or how much the scene has changed.
The prominent hip-hop hits from the 2010’s era were further continued as LA rapper Blueface approached the stage in a bouncy and energetic manner to perform his enormously popular track “Thotiana”. While Blueface had a spazzy and lively presence, he placed more emphasis on his high-energy dancing than on performing the vocals compared to the other appearances that evening. Even without Blueface rapping the faster paced lyrics of the song, it’s a track that’s guaranteed to elicit a party-like atmosphere whenever it’s played. Blueface exited the stage before the song had finished which prompted The Game to give him shit for having to finish the song for him, but the banter just added to the range of vibrant character and high spirits felt in the room that night.
The last guest of the night was Symba, the youngest rapper of the evening who I was not familiar with. The Game was really hyping Symba up throughout his time on the stage, and the two exchanged freestyling with each other in almost a friendly opposite of what the normal freestyle battle would be. The casual and freeform structure of this appearance made it the most appropriate closing to the surprise guests of the evening that I could imagine. Regardless of the era of hip-hop being performed or how much of a veteran the rapper may be, every artist’s roots began with light-hearted freestyling amongst their peers and finding innovative ways to rhyme through this back-and-forth feedback.
As the surprises of the evening approached a close, The Game returned to playing his earlier material in a natural and seamless way that made the end of his set feel like a fluid continuation from where it started. The Game saved a lot of the most popular tracks from The Documentary for the end of the set. The hype from the crowd never died down for a single moment as he blasted through bangers such as “How We Do” and “Put You On The Game”.
Before the surreal night reached an end, The Game dedicated a performance of 2Pac’s “Hail Mary” to the fallen legend stating that he knew 2Pac was feeling the crowd’s passionate energy from his spot in Heaven that night. “Hail Mary” actually had the loudest interaction from the audience out of all the songs played throughout the night, proving that surprise guests aren’t necessarily needed for an artist to inspire a touching and massive tribute to their influences.
There really aren’t any words that could properly describe how monumental The Game’s record-release event for his upcoming album “Drillmatic” felt. The spirit of hip-hop from every era was flowing throughout the Novo the entire evening, and The Game was the perfect host for this celebration of the genre’s history. With how extravagant this record release show was and how much passion The Game put into the evening, his claims about “Drillmatic” being the best record of 2022 should absolutely be taken seriously to the fullest degree with massive anticipation for its release.