I love stumbling upon old-school rap from the early days. For some reason, much more than almost any kind of music, stumbling upon a little known older rap jam feels so much like finding an unsung relic, a diamond in the rough. Perhaps it’s because a lot of these tracks happened to fall into obscurity one the word-of-mouth faded away. Or perhaps it’s because they generally sound so much livelier than the bulk of popular rap music of today. Much like Stephen Encinas, who also released his one record during the peak of its corresponding genre, I remain mostly unsuccessful in finding much information on rapper Sweet G. I do know that he released four singles, with “Games People Play” being the third of the four. As far as I can tell, “Games People Play” was also the most commercially successful, having peaked at #60 on Billboard’s Dance charts. It was also produced by Kurtis Blow, which I think is just a really cool little fact!
One of my favorite parts of this song is, undoubtedly, the main piano riff peppered throughout the entirety of the song. It’s just so damn cool, and also adds a bit of a pathos to the words Sweet G emits. The “games” being condemned in this song fall into a variety of abuses, hypocrisies, and intolerance, but the main thread that ties these subjects together is the motif of gambling addiction. There’s even a breakdown after the second chorus, during which we could hear the multiple layered voices of people engaged in some sort of dice-oriented gambling. I’m not sure if this part was staged or an actual recording of a gambling match, but it sounds pretty genuine either way. I really like how the idea of “games” are brought into question, both in the literal sense of gambling involving an engagement in some kind of game, and in the figurative sense of humans being so wrapped up in frivolous activity that they lose sense of what’s really important all around them. Later on there’s a verse where Sweet G even challenges the flimsy concepts of winners and losers: “Winners go down in history / Losers just cause us misery / Winners have the feeling you just can’t beat / Losers have the agony of defeat”.
It’s almost inaccurate to call this one a rap song, as there’s really only a few bars of actual rapping that gets done throughout the whole eight-minute recording. For most of it, Sweet G is actually singing, making this more of a soulful disco track of sorts. Still, the banging beats and thumping rhythms ever-prominent in the backdrop feels so steeped in hip-hop, it’s clear that this is meant to be more of an intellectual listening experience rather than a hedonistic experience meant solely for dancing to. Although, it might be a little much to call it “intelligent”. Like many of these early rap songs, while there does remain a certain charm to the simplistic, monotonous rhyming style, it’s certainly easy to see that it doesn’t all work and many lines come off as flimsily stuck together for the sake of rhyme.
Still, unlike Kimski’s “Fatal Attractions”, which also attempts to be socially conscious by way of rap music, there doesn’t seem to be as palpable a shaming factor throughout this one. Sweet G doesn’t try to paint gamblers as inherently bad people, but rather as troubled people who deal with their real life troubled through compulsive behavior. He acknowledges copious gambling activity as something of a waste while also dismantling the very concept of a “winner”, but also acknowledges external factors like addiction to “drugs and booze” that feed into the bigger picture (there’s also a Pac-Man reference in the mix, which is just so wonderfully dated). Overall, while there was no way that this was bound to become a rap classic in future years, I think it’s nevertheless completely solid. It contains many of the flaws practically inherent to early rap music, but other factors of the recording still make it a perfectly enjoyable recording.