April 6, 2021
Toronto Star
By Ashante Infantry

Changing the Game

Jayceon Taylor aims to get away from the thug image that helped him to the top Until he does, rising rap star is a man of contradictions, writes Ashante Infantry

  One approaches an interview with America's hottest new gangsta rapper with some apprehension. It's not fear, per se, despite the aura of violence around the former Compton gang banger known as The Game - guns brandished in the presence of a Vibe magazine reporter, his implication in a January assault on a Washington, D.C., radio host, the February shooting of a cohort outside a New York radio station.

No, the concern is whether an artist who evokes hip hop's profane, bullet-riddled dark side can apply himself to the task at hand. Many of his peers are in the habit of showing up late, if at all, then spewing hollow one-word rejoinders in between puffs and sips - and, frankly, I'm tired of it.

However, with his debut The Documentary having sold more than two million copies (150,000 in Canada) since its January release, we figured the latest discovery of rap guru Dr. Dre (who gave the world Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent) deserved a look.

So, on the eve of Game's recent Toronto concerts, The Star arrived at the appointed hotel to find - surprise! - the rapper had yet to surface for his scheduled media ops.

Journalists, promoters and a publicist waited in the two-level suite overlooking the Blue Jays' outfield, sharing anecdotes about his Eaton Centre expeditions, capacity for marijuana and bewilderingly mediocre pre-sales for the back-to-back Kool Haus gigs.

And, counter to his menacing public image, there were tales of the fun-loving 25-year-old and his buddies playing tag in the hotel's hallways.

When Game eventually appeared, with a hulking three-man security team, he was in character. Tall and taciturn, he wouldn't strike anything but the standard thug pose for the Star's photographer.

But, when I sat down with him 40 minutes and two interviews later, he was smiling, well mannered and focused; kinda charming for a guy with a teardrop tattooed under his eye - a long-held symbol you've killed someone, been incarcerated or had a fellow gang member murdered.

Take this response about his first visit to Canada:

"I love this place. Everybody here is so peaceful. And it's pretty clean. I unwrapped a Starburst and put it in my mouth and threw the paper on the ground and some old lady came running. I don't think anybody can top the European fans, but Canadians are second - they really appreciate hip hop. And the women are beautiful."

No argument here.

This expertise is culled from recent travels; before he started rapping four years ago, Game had never ventured outside of South Central Los Angeles.

"Now the world seems so small. The most interesting place was Paris. It's beautiful and everybody there's a sweet talker. They even have gangster rap, but it don't sound like gangster rap because they're like `oui oui' and `vous vous' and I'm like how the f--k is that gangster rap?"

Ironically, the middle of nine children of L.A. gang members owes his new life, which includes a house in Beverly Hills and the requisite Mercedes Benz for mom, to his near death.

After a turbulent childhood that included a stint in foster care, Jayceon Taylor was peddling dope in 2001 when robbers burst into his apartment and shot him five times.

"I'm laying in bed recuperating with nothing to do except listen to music and I listened to so much music that it started to consume me. So I started pretending I was ... well, on paper, at least, I would jot down Jay-Z's rhymes, Snoop's rhymes, Ice Cubes rhymes and kind of fix them so that they pertained a little bit more to me. And it went from that to me writing my own rhymes and it actually being my own story.

"It was rough at first. I don't want anybody thinking I just started rapping and I was great. I got better and recorded a demo that found its way into Puff Daddy's hands."

Diddy didn't sign him, but Dr. Dre did and recruited New York rapper 50 Cent to help him produce The Documentary. Now, Game's developing a clothing line and taking meetings with filmmakers John Singleton and Joel Silver.

But his aim to secure the financial future of his inner circle was nearly derailed by a difference of opinion with labelmate 50 Cent over the breadth of 50's contributions to his successful debut. On Feb. 28, the quarrel erupted into a gunfight between their respective entourages outside New York's Hot 97 WQHT-FM.

"With this recent beef I've lost endorsements worth millions of dollars. I almost lost sponsorship for the Snoop Dogg tour in the U.S. next month. You have people scared. You have insurance companies backing out. Here in Canada a couple shows were cancelled. At the end of the day I'm losing a lot of money just over bullshit. So, is it the well being of me, my family and my life, or is it succumb to what fans want to hear and the negativity that the media seems to kind of make a big deal?"

Two weeks later Game and 50 held a press conference to declare a truce and donate $253,500 to the Boys Choir of Harlem and Compton Unified School District music program.

"He doesn't have to be happy with me or my career and I don't have to like him. Whether we're friends or not, it doesn't matter. We just come to work and we do what we do and some kids smile.

"You know I got a son at home. He's a little under two and he's starting to talk and he's starting to comprehend what's really going on with his father. He sees the videos and he sings along and I've got to watch my steps and watch my mouth.

"So, look for me to be a little bit more productive and positive in the future. I'm not saying that I'm not going to talk about where I come from anymore or talk about the guns and the violence, but I'm not going to glorify those things.

"Whether I like it or not, we as hip hop artists are role models and I'm becoming more aware of that. I don't think I'll ever change, but who wants the same thing album after album? Jay-Z told me a long time ago that reinventing yourself is the best thing that you can do as a hip hop artist. Whether the fans accept it or not is something that we're just going to have to see."

Meanwhile, he'll keep following the advice of the late grandmother, who bestowed the nickname inspired by his fearlessness.

"She told me to live life to the fullest according to the way I feel when I get up in the morning. If I get up and I don't feel like being here at 4:45 p.m. to do your interview because my stomach is hurting, I'll tell my management and they'll tell you and hopefully you'll understand; but ultimately I'm here to do this interview because I understand the importance of it and I really value you coming down and wanting to get to know me a little better.

"At the end of the day, it's business and I'm here to do my job."

Well, the media training has taken, but Game needs to apply some of those principles to his live show.

The set I caught the following night inside the gigantic half-empty nightclub lacked the ferocity and fluidity of the album. It was an underwhelming hour of the rookie rapper bounding aimlessly across the stage like a puppy leaving songs incomplete while he smoked and chugged champagne.

His purpose, he says, is to sell records and please fans.

He's halfway there.