Artists plagued by perpetual album delays historically haven’t fared too well critically or commercially once their projects finally hit stores. In the two years since the initial release date of Game’s The R.E.D. Album, the Compton MC dropped four mixtapes and half a dozen poorly received promotional singles, suffering numerous leaks along the way. Now, with some momentum on his side—partially due to the controversial Lil Wayne–assisted single “Red Nation,” and the radio-friendly “Pot of Gold,” featuring Chris Brown—Game is on a focused mission to avoid becoming a label purgatory statistic.

He sets the tone on R.E.D.’s introductory cut, “The City,” a Cool & Dre production featuring a verselike hook by fellow Comptonite Kendrick Lamar. With his critics locked in his scope, Chuck Taylor fires off a barrage of rhymes like he’s still paying dues, offering bars like, “Smoke chronic to meditate/I’ma give ’em Hurricane until another levee break,” and closing with a bold statement: “I’m the best the West ever seen, no disrespect to Calvin.” Game also plays facilitator on several instances during R.E.D., pairing up unlikely combos like Lil Wayne and Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator on “Martians vs. Goblins” and E-40 and Big Boi on “Speakers on Blast.” The former begs for a Wayne verse (he does only the hook) but features strong couplets from Tyler, as he takes yet another stab at Bruno Mars and pokes fun at Game’s name-dropping penchant in a way reminiscent of Eminem’s lighthearted old-school Dr. Dre disses.

Some of Game’s pairings and concepts grow a bit more understated as the LP progresses. “Good Girls Go Bad,” which is similar to the title of Rihanna’s 2007 album, coincidentally features Drake. “Ricky,” a song titled after Morris Chestnut’s Boyz N the Hood character, finds Game chronicling the perils of street life through a West Coast lens and using the seminal film as his foundation. “Ricky” is oxymoronic in that it’s one of the album’s standouts but also prevents the project from truly standing out. Game’s flows and lyrical skills are still sharp, but his narrative hasn’t changed much through the course of four albums. Having Pharrell Williams—who, peculiarly, produced only one song—executive produce R.E.D. could have marked Game’s return to sonic superiority, but the album pales in comparison to his previous efforts.

Still, aside from a few skippers (“Paramedics,” “Heavy Artillery,” “Good, Bad, Ugly”), The R.E.D. Album is potent enough to make Game a rare rap purgatory survivor. Mission accomplished. —Carl Chery