Game's last album, 2008's LAX, had the melancholic tone of a departure, and it was supposedly his final record. "Interscope don't want me to retire," he told HipHopDX in a 2008 interview. "Now, if you give me five, ten million dollars or something..." It wasn't just money that brought Game out of retirement, but also reconciliation with estranged mentor Dr. Dre, who provides biographic interludes throughout The R.E.D. Album. There's a distinctly adult, family-man vibe to a handful of the 17 tracks here, but Game seems uncomfortable in the role of vulnerable father, though his willingness to remove his red bandana is admirable.
In R.E.D.'s first half Game reasserts his dominance of the gangsta rap field that defined early-aughts hip-hop on anthemic guest-assisted tracks. He and fellow Compton MC Kendrick Lamar out-rap each other on the dramatic first song, "The City," a contest the younger rapper wins. "Drug Test" features verses from Dr. Dre and Snoop, but sounds archaic followed by one of the uneven album's highlights: "Martians Vs Goblins" with Lil Wayne and Tyler, The Creator. Wayne also provides the hook on "Red Nation," wrapping his nasally words around a sample from Zombie Nation's soccer stadium favorite "Kernkraft 400." Thereafter The R.E.D. Album peters out, except Game logs one last lyrical lashing, the DJ Premier-produced "Born in the Trap." Sounding like himself circa 2004, he raps about his waning interest in hip-hop: "Sometimes I feel like this rap shit is heaven-sent/then I get a high and feel like it's irrelevant." Here, the latter rings true.