Review Summary: "My first album was a setup. I was the lil nigga Pac was talkin' to when he said keep ya head up."
It's impossible to exaggerate the buzz around Game's former group G-Unit in the year 2003. In the late 90s, Dr. Dre created the highest selling rapper ever: Eminem. In 2003, Eminem then found the fourth highest selling rapper in history: 50 Cent. 50 Cent's album Get Rich or Die Tryin'
created a ridiculous amount of buzz. It's hit single "In Da Club" was number one on the overall billboard chart, in a time where rap was still struggling to gain mainstream respect. 50 Cent was on the top of the rap world and was on a path to becoming one of the richest black people to ever exist. One of 50 Cent's ideas was to create a rap group called G-Unit, and eventually he made Game it's fourth active member (fifth counting the incarcerated Tony Yayo).
The Compton born-and-raised rapper, the "Protégé to Dr. Dre", and the newest member of G-Unit released his first album in 2005, The Documentary
. The biographical album was highly praised by critics and went 5x platinum, however critics generally praised the superstar production of Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Just Blaze and others, rather than crediting Game's rapping. Later on, depending on who you believe, Game either left G-Unit because he didn't want to be involved in 50-cent's beef with Nas, or he was kicked out for not showing 50 proper respect as the leader/founder of G-Unit. Eventually violence exploded when The Game's crew confronted 50 Cent's crew at the Hot 97 radio station in New York. Shots rang out, one of Game's friends was shot, and 50 cent was said to have fled before anything happened. For the next few years the Game and G-Unit exchanged threats which they recorded in musical form. 50 Cent began taunting Game, saying he was the source of Game's success, and that he wrote some of Game's best songs on The Documentary
. It had all the makings of a Biggie/2pac 2.0 beef. No one at the time would have been surprised to wake up in the morning and hear Game or 50 got shot.
The Game felt that Dr. Dre, who owned Aftermath Records, the label to which The Game and 50 Cent were signed, unofficially sided with 50 cent during the beef. The Game took on a lone wolf persona where he dissed a ton of rappers, essentially saying they are fake, and that he was bringing back real West Coast rap. At the same time, he was highly appreciative of the artists who stayed loyal to him by appearing on both his second and first album, such as Nate Dogg, Bhusta Rhymes, Kanye West and Snoop Dogg. The album Doctor's Advocate
was an attempt for Game to succeed without Dr. Dre, 50 Cent or Eminem. He was very successful. He proved that he was a main ingredient in the success of The Documentary
. While Doctor's Advocate
only went 2x platinum (not even half as many sales as Documentary) no one denied that Game improved immensely as a rapper.
In the meantime, Game became the father of two children, and after a short break where he didn't release an album in the year 2007, he returned in 2008 with LAX
, an album that seems to have been slightly rushed. LAX
was significantly weighed down by some bad hooks. Game made a solid album here, but he simply wasn't as exciting as he was during the 50 cent beef in between his first and second albums. His attention, to some extent, seemed to be elsewhere. He began taking on a greater role in society, becoming involved in various charities and awareness-raising events. He was videotaped crying about rappers not wanting to come together to make an epic track about the alleged police murder of Sean Bell. He said he was seriously considering quitting hip hop because he found the new generation of artists to be phonies. He wished he had rapped in the 80s-90s, "when rappers stood for something" like Public Enemy, NWA, and other pioneers. He seemed very serious about quitting, and he even said he was having minor suicidal thoughts.
Three years passed and Game became virtually irrelevant in mainstream hip hop. He returned in 2011, with The RED Album
, an album where his goal was to REDedicate himself to hip hop. Despite mediocre album sales, he really achieved his goal. He reinvented himself as a subtle lyricist, rather than a strictly high-energy gangsta rapper. He still may not have been most clever rapper at this point, but he distinguished himself from most rappers by being someone who is qualified to speak on the topics being discussed in rap because of his unique and tragic life experiences. In a way, he became like the George Orwell of rap, not the most talented author, but his life story and honesty were what made him extraordinary. On his next album, Jesus Piece
, Game continued to build on his rapping talent and his ability to make his music sound better. He continued to produce top-notch raps which were only occasionally held back by a feature artist who didn't mesh well with The Game. He also improved his flow substantially on this album. Due to disagreements with Interscope Records, The Game threw together his next album Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf
as a way to fulfill his contract with Interscope and leave the company.
Finally, after a chaotic career that was held back by personal politics and business, The Game escaped Interscope Records and regained complete creative control over his albums. He dedicated The Documentary 2
to his sons, and became more motivated than ever. To anyone familiar with Game during his lone wolf Doctor's Advocate
days, this is really saying something. He was already dangerously motivated then, literally. But this motivation was something different, it was a motivation that was much stronger because it was much more focused and positive. In the last two years, Game showed himself to be ahead of the curb. While other rappers generally fall off as their careers go on, he dedicated his life to improving his music so that his sons and daughter could live in a comfortable way that was the antithesis of the way he was raised: in one of the most violent cities in America by a child-molesting father. The Game experimented by recording over 700 tracks for The Documentary 2
, before boiling down years of work into forty polished tracks for a double album. He said he wanted to make a double album despite his agents telling him not to, because two of his favorite rappers, Biggie and Tupac, both made double albums. This gesture is symbolic of The Documentary 2
, where Game ignores traditional marketing advice and makes an album that seems to belong to a less materialistic era of hip hop. The Game pays tribute to a number of old school artists, either with references to them in his tracks, by featuring them on the album, and/or by using their notorious beats as samples (such as 2pac's "I Get Around" sample featured on Game's track "Step Up"). The Game is also outstanding at picking a diamond from a dunghill and selecting quality modern artists to appear on Documentary 2
. It is amazing that he can still find so many modern rappers to compliment his quasi-oldschool style. More than anything else, this album is truly an album for his most loyal fans. The album is replete with witty, enjoyable, and subtle references that only Game fans will catch.
Game has followed a rough formula in all of his albums. His most accessible songs usually start off the album, his more-sentimental tracks about females come in the middle, and his deepest tracks usually come in the end. The Documentary 2
is no exception to this trend. From the very first track "On Me" it becomes clear that this album is very likely going to be better than anything Game has created. Superstar rapper Kendrick Lamar delivers one of his signature verses over a multi-layered beat while Game raps in a style that compliments Kendrick's. The track feels like some sort of theatrical flashback to Good Kid m.A.A.d. City
, a sort of sequel to "Black Boy Fly", where Kendrick and Game discuss their similar yet contrasting experiences growing up in Compton. The amount of samples this song uses would normally be overwhelming, however this track is so finely-polished and well-timed that it just comes across as sheer perfection. Evil laughs are thrown in after dark lyrics, a lady screaming/singing regularly pops into the track at the perfect moment to compliment the rhymes, and the drums themselves are more complex than many typical rap beats. This song sets the scenery, then tracks like "Dollar and a Dream" take the album from 0-100 in 2 seconds. The Game starts off the track with about a minute of yelling out different hoods in Los Angeles that have his back, setting a dark and eerie setting like in the movie "The Purge". After this is over, there is a momentary pause, before he jetpacks straight into an unexpected high-energy flow that is guaranteed to raise your blood pressure. The beat compliments this track perfectly, it is reminiscent of 80s rap sounds, or the classic track "T.R.O.Y.", except that it is far more upbeat. The Game's alpha dog persona is on full display here, as he lashes out at critics for underrating him and even seemingly takes a minor shot at Kendrick ("If I ain't ***, who the King of California then? Who can out rap me!? Now think about if the same nigga you about to say can run up and out-scrap me? Yeah! Out-trap me. Yeah! Out-cap me. I mean, think about it... exactly!!"). These lyrics invoke an image of The Game at 6 foot 5 towering over Kendrick's midget-like body. It's a reminder that Game shouldn't be judged solely as a rapper. He needs to be seen as an emcee - which includes him being a macho giant who will beat your ass and possibly kill you if you disrespect him. This gives his raps a type of life-or-death energy that is rarely seen in modern rap. By the end of the track even Game's biggest critics in the audience are left speechless, you can imagine them quietly heading for the exit or diverting their eyes from Game. Hating on him at this point makes the critics seem like some sort of scrawny sports-announcer disrespecting Mike Tyson. You start to realize that there is more to Game's music than just the music; he lives the lyrics he raps about. His personality and his music can't be separated, and you can't understand either fully without knowledge of both.
The track "Dollar and a Dream" transitions into "Made in America". Here Game uses subtle lyrics to make allusions to his hit song off of The Documentary 1
: "Dreams". He uses this track to recall the dreams he had ten years ago, and how he has succeeded in fulfilling all of them. This may seem off-putting, but he actually comes across as immensely likeable, giving a humble perspective to his cockiness on preceding tracks like "Standing on Ferraris", with the lyrics: "Snitchin' on my homeboys, gossipin' about old 'boys, keep buyin' them Feraris, cuz I grew up with no toys...that ain't the type of *** i'm made of. That ain't the type of *** i'm made of". The Q-Tip produced "Circles" and "Dedicated" both deal with his relationship issues. Future provides an outstanding feature verse and hook on "Dedicated", perfectly conveying his emotions of losing his wife with the tone of his singing. Future actually makes Game somewhat of a secondary focus on this track, yet this is the only song on the entire album where this occurs; whereas in many of Game's previous releases, he was often outshined by his feature artists.
"Bitch You Ain't ***" is probably the worst track on the album, yet it still plays a comedic role. While the track comes off as misogynistic to some listeners, Game disagrees and is confident he is a good person. He sends a message with this song that makes it clear he is going to keep being himself no matter who doesn't like it. This sets the stage for the finale of the album. On the Kanye West produced track "Mula", Game balances his previous negativity by bragging about how he didn't have to pay for his beats from Kanye because they've always been friends since their Documentary 1
days. The Game outdoes Kanye's style of bragger-rapping, then jumps into the highlight of the album, the title track "Documentary 2". This beat by DJ Premier alternates between an oriental-sounding beat reminiscent of Dr. Dre's "Still Dre", and a trademark DJ Premier beat featuring cut samples of Game's voice from Documentary
, combined with the rhythmic theatrical sound effect "dun-DUN!" like an oldschool Batman movie. This extraordinary beat turns Game into a sort of cartoon in the listener's mind. You can imagine him speeding down a California freeway, bumping this track and creating an earthquake every two seconds when the bass hits, knocking traffic out of his way. Yet the forte of the track is still The Game's lyricism. Dropping easily his best verse to date, The Game absolutely annihilates this beat with his trademark alpha dog personality combined with his best technical rapping to date. His attention to flow is incomparable to his earlier work. He flows in a way that causes your mind to overload, while remaining perfectly on point and comprehendible. The first two verses are enough to make the song a classic, yet the third verse actually ends up being the best. The beat slows down to it's oriental style, then gets quieter as Game spits:
"I been rapping for 12 years, 6 months, 16 days
Now I'm a veteran, spit a 16 sixteen ways
Sixteen in a clip, spit it 16 ways
I know six teens that'll pull up to a sweet sixteen and spray
I'm like sixteen Jay's but B I can manage
So every sweet 16 is like Duke and Kansas
You bout to lose advantage, I will come through crews and bandits
Bruise and damage
*** your rules and manners!
I kick back, click clack, bump the Wu in Phantoms!
*** rap, I only respect Ja Rule and Hammer!
Here Game takes a blatant shot at Jay-Z as a reference to a skit on the first The Documentary
, where Game denied allegations that he was dissing Jay-Z in one of his first songs. This shows how far Game has come in ten years, from being afraid to even say a mild-mannered line about Jay-Z on The Documentary
, to throwing a challenge right in Jay-Z's face, daring him to respond, mocking him with a better version of his own style from Jay's track "twenty two 2s", saying he'd do better with Beyoncé, and saying he's worse than Ja Rule and MC Hammer in just two bars. Longtime Game fans get everything they were hoping for, and more, on this highlight title track. Game improves every aspect of his music, while including the type of dope basketball references that made him fun to listen to as a rookie like: "6'5, tall like a hooper, ball like a hooper on the floor like a hooper/ So I must be Klay with the .38, Thompson with the Thompson/ Everything about me Compton, I mean everything about me Bompton/ I ain't never had SHlT, I grew up like Magic Johnson".
The album comes to a satisfying and emotional end with tracks "100" and "Just Another Day". These songs blend into one another and add meaning to each other. "100" is a song dedicated to loyal friends, and it features one of Game's most loyal friends and current neighbor: Drake. "Just Another Day" involves Game reminiscing over some of his friends who are dead or in jail. "I'd trade places with you, and do some of your years. I confronted my fears. I'm rollin' up a fat one on the pier... I wish you niggas was here..." is a goose-bump-inducing line in the song that makes you feel like there's a ghost next to you. (*SPOILER ALERT*) The song also ends with an emotional tear-producing tribute to one of Game's favorite artists and most loyal friends, the recently deceased Nate Dogg, by fading the song out with a beat that was used on "Where I'm From", the track Nate Dogg was featured on from The Documentary 1
ten years ago when Game just got into the rap game.
This album is close to flawless, but there are some minor flaws. The outro track "LA" features a horrendous hook from Fergie and Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. "New York, New York" is a passionate song, but the beat is far too simplistic. The song "Hashtag", while being hilarious and outstanding on it's own, really hurts the overall flow of the album because it sounds so grating and out-of-place at first. A couple of skits were needlessly thrown into the album as well. Depending on who you are talking to, The Game may be referred to as the best west coast rapper in the last two decades, or he may be referred to as a fraud. Game has been criticized heavily for "name-dropping", taking his flow from other artists, and being overly-dependent on feature artists. These criticisms are all true, but are greatly exaggerated or misunderstood, and in this album Game puts all these critiques in their proper context.
The Documentary 2
, which is only disc one of the Documentary 2/Documentary 2.5
double-album, shows Game succeeding in just about every imaginable way. His lyrics, his ear for production, his flow, his message, his energy, his craftiness, his cleverness and his originality are all far better than on any album he's ever made. He created a commercially successful album to help provide for his kids, yet he also created an album that doesn't sound "commercial" in any way. The album would sound like something that came out of the golden era of hip hop if it weren't for the hi-tech beats. Most importantly, throughout his ten year career, he never changed who he was. He went through a number of growing periods, but anyone who listened to The Documentary
ten years ago will be pleasantly surprised that The Game sounds like the same well-intentioned gangbanger dealing with PTSD through rap music. This is so rare in rap it cannot be overstated. After coming from the living-hell of Compton, California, where infants are killed for pocket change, he spent a decade in an entirely different world and didn't change. He recently gave a million dollars to help provide clean water in Flint, Michigan and gave a million dollars to start an inner-city basketball tournament in LA. He stayed loyal to each and every person who helped him in his career, inviting many of them to appear on this album. He even extended an olive branch to 50-Cent and said G-Unit should get back together. He simply isn't cut from the same cloth as your average mainstream rapper, and your casual listener who just jumps into this album may have a hard time understanding his deep personality. The Game symbolizes resistance to a pertinent problem in American society. We all hate each other for trivial reasons; we are too judgmental. Game invites us to take a step back. He dispels stereotypes by using himself as an example to show that not every alpha-male African American in a gang with a tattoo on his face is a bad person. In fact, they can be extraordinary citizens who came from nothing and gave millions back to underprivileged communities. He shows we're really not all that different from one-another, that we need to put aside petty things and start helping build the next generation as repayment for what our predecessors did for us.