Loyal to the Game, the ninth 2Pac album released by his enterprising mother-turned-executive producer, Afeni Shakur, is one of the more unique entries in the martyred rap legend's extensive catalog. Produced entirely by Eminem, it carries on with the approach the man otherwise known as Marshall Mathers took with his production contributions to the preceding year's Tupac: Resurrection. Eminem had produced a few songs on that soundtrack, most notably the landmark 2Pac-Biggie duet "Runnin' (Dying to Live)," and his work here on Loyal to the Game isn't too much of a departure from the style of that song. In the wake of the song's popularity, Afeni gave Eminem some old tapes, and he went to work, stripping them of their productions, giving them his own trademark backing (characterized by his style of punchy, syncopated, unfunky beatmaking), incorporating some guest raps for secondary verses, and polishing them off with various sorts of hooks. Eminem's efforts here work, yet aren't ideal. On the one hand, there's no questioning Em's integrity. He pens some reverent liner notes, explaining his position (or justifying it, depending on your viewpoint), and Afeni also pens some touching liners, likewise explaining why Eminem of all people gets the green light to produce this album in its entirety. And Em doesn't take his job here lightly. His beats hit hard and are well crafted, most similar to his more hardcore self-productions like "Mosh" or "Lose Yourself." His hooks are also well crafted: he takes the hook himself on "Soldier Like Me"; brings in 50 Cent and Nate Dogg for "Loyal to the Game" and "Thugs Get Lonely Too," respectively; samples Elton John ("Indian Sunset"), Curtis Mayfield ("If There's a Hell Below"), and Dido ("Do You Have a Little Time") for other songs; and lets 2Pac handle his own hooks elsewhere.
On the other, more cynical hand, Eminem simply isn't a good fit, and the four bonus tracks here testify to what could have been. Produced by Scott Storch, Red Spyda, Raphael Saadiq, and DJ Quik, these bonus track "remixes" are clearly the highlights of the album (and quite fantastic highlights at that, perhaps alone reason enough to pick up this album). These guys produce beats much more fitting to 2Pac's rhyme style. Sure, Eminem is a great producer, but he produces these 2Pac tracks as if he were producing himself, and 2Pac is a much different breed of rapper than Slim Shady, especially in terms of cadence and delivery. This is all the more evident because the source tapes of these tracks date back to the early '90s, when 2Pac was at his funkiest and least hardcore. (While the dates aren't provided in the credits, the original producers are credited: Randy "Stretch" Walker, DJ Daryl, Live Squad, and Deon Evans, all of whom worked with Pac during his early years, namely the early '90s, just as he was leaving Digital Underground and getting his career off the ground. Various time-specific references within Pac's lyrics are further evidence of this, such as passing references to the L.A. riots.) How much Loyal to the Game ultimately appeals to you will likely depend on how much you like Eminem. After all, this is as much his album as 2Pac's -- a labor of love, no doubt. If you're fond of his lock-step beatmaking and big hooks, you'll find much to like here, for Pac's rhymes are undoubtedly fascinating in any context, even at this early stage of his career. But if you're not down with Marshall Mathers, you'll probably want to pass this one by, though the four bonus tracks alone might make this a worthwhile venture regardless.