LOYAL TO THE GAME
By Noah Callahan-Bever
The world is filled with pimps and hos. However, It’s then further divided into those who gaze into their pimp cups and see a chalice half full or those who see a chalice half empty. Which type of pimp are you? (no one who reads VIBE self-identifies as hoe, of course.) See, your disposition toward the world likely dictates how you feel about 2 Pac’s posthumous releases in general, and Loyal to the Game in particular. Previous Frankenstein efforts, like R U Still Down (Remember Me), Until the End of Time, and Better Dayz, all had their moments of buried genius—like “When We Ride on Our Enemies” and “Thugz Mansion”— bracketed by boring throwaways. But there’s something more striking about Loyal to the Game, given the glut of already released 2Pac material and the selection of Eminem as the LP’s sole producer, that begs to polarize.
The half-empty crowd will surely object to having the white guy behind pop fluffernutters like “Just Lose It” and “Without Me” manning the boards on an album from a man who embodies Panther power. But the half-fullers will rejoice because Em, a 2Pac superfan if ever there was one, has been meticulous in creating a cohesive body from verses taken from sessions recorded during ’Pac’s early career, while most of the other afterlife efforts were rag-tag at best. Eminem’s beats oscillate from dark and brooding to spine-tingling and epic, which, despite the two artists’ notable aesthetic differences, actually makes them an ideal fit for 2Pac’s impassioned, if at times grandiose, lyrics.
On the dark side of things, “The Upper Cut” finds Em revisiting the sonic themes of “Patiently Waiting”: Ominous cello bass-hits are offset by gently stepping strings, complementing ’Pac’s thug-life boasts. But it is when Em touches ’Pac’s more thought-provoking rhymes that the power of their union is demonstrated, as on the Elton John–guested (don’t rub your eyes, it’s not a typo) “Ghetto Gospel.” Despite featuring the most unlikely trio of collaborators, the marriage of John’s sweet hook and cascading pianos with Em’s pounding drum and string swells are over the top in their play for your hearstrings, but nonetheless majestic. Fundamentally, 2Pac’s rhymes drive the track; however, as he prophetically notes, “If I upset you don’t stress / Never forget that God isn’t finished with me yet.” Em’s other production highlight is “Don’t You Trust Me,” which, with its rolling bass line and Dido’s sullen, soft-rock hook, is so supple it should make Eminem fans mad that he didn’t hold on to this track for Encore.
But there’s more than just Eminem’s production for the haters to hate on. There are the vocal contributions from him, G Unit, and Obie Trice, who many would surely argue have no place beside ’Pac. Then again, the optimistic fella would listen to the collabos and note that Em remains consciously out of the spotlight, appearing on only a couple of chorus melodies, like “Black Cotton,” where he provides a beautifully apropos hook. And though fans can argue if ’Pac would’ve been down with 50 or Ja or whoever, his masters are in the hands of Interscope, so it’s Shady/Aftermath/G Unit all-stars that make cameos, and they rap ably as ever.
Arguably the strongest of 2Pac’s patchwork posthumous LPs, Loyal to the Game is destined to satisfy those going into it with an open mind, and destined to disappoint those looking to complain. At the end of the day, though, however full or empty, raise your glass and pour out a lil’ for the big homie, ’Pac. Cheers!