“Now everybody seen that shit,” Kendrick Lamar boasts coolly at the end of “The City,” from Game’s tepidly received summer 2011 release The R.E.D. Album. And everybody really has: The younger of the two West Coast rappers demonstrated his criminally high-wattage star power at SXSW, made the jump to Interscope for his next album, and demonstrated not only impressive technique but also, more importantly, a distinctive conscious-yet-totally-fucked-up perspective to one of last year’s best rap albums, debut Section.80. He also shared the mic with hip-hop up-and-comers from Tech N9ne to Drake (and, more recently, Gunplay).
Lamar’s guest spot on “The City,” for its part, is a passing-of-the-torch moment on an album with only flickers of Game’s old fire. The elder Compton MC is in growly, insecure, and blatantly referential mode over swooning, choir-like production by Cool and Dre, who also lent their laid-back grandeur to Game’s still-vital 50 Cent team-up “Hate It or Love It” way back in 2005. Lamar raps the tongue-twisting hook, neatly suggesting a parallel between the comeback-hungry former champ and the insatiable future star, but the real draw here is Lamar’s closing verse, rhymed a capella in a ferocious double-time flow, a cappella save for a deeply distorted echo.
The track’s new video, directed by previous Game collaborator Matt Alonzo, operates best as an occasion to re-evaluate this pairing of two talented rappers brought up on “California Love.” It’s predictable but well-executed stuff: Lamar and Game stroll shadowy nighttime city streets, crimes are committed, Game recognizes game. That “A.D.H.D.” kid is the one to watch.