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The Game

The Documentary  Hear it Now

RS: 3of 5 Stars Average User Rating: 4.5of 5 Stars

2005

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A criminal past and bullet wounds in hip-hop are like Vietnam service in politics: They won't make people like you, but they do help you get noticed. That's the case with Compton rapper the Game, whose gangbanging history has gotten him onto the Dr. Dre/50 Cent ticket and contributed to the storm of buzz around his debut album, The Documentary.

His story, in case your cable got cut off: After being shot five times in a robbery attempt in 2001 -- and slipping in and out of a coma -- drug dealer and gang member Jayceon Taylor turned to hip-hop. A year and a half later, he was signed by Dre after just a few minutes of rhyming and is now the only West Coast member of 50 Cent's G Unit. Game puts it better himself: "Sold crack, got jacked, got shot, came back, jumped on Dre's back."

Game made a huge impression on the mix-CD circuit last year; there's been a sense of inevitability to his rise ever since. Underground songs such as "200 Bars and Running" -- a nine-minute burner set ominously to the same "Deep Cover" beat that Dre used to introduce Snoop Dogg in 1991 -- showed a rapper with a gift for straightforward, raspy rhymes. "New York, New York," an ode to G Unit's hometown, displayed a West Coast rapper who was more than happy to make money on both coasts.

The gold rims that Game poses with on the cover of Documentary reflect the disc's production values. Like any decent Dre affair, every song has a well-massaged hook and some immediate appeal, and verses that don't waste a lot of time getting to the point. (Dre co-produced six tracks; Kanye West, Eminem and Just Blaze chip in one track each.) 50 Cent looms large on key songs, doing his thug-crooner bit on the chorus of the charging "Westside Story" -- a kind of L.A. version of "In Da Club," with hot cars taking the place of meeting ladies. 50 also takes over the album's killer single, "How We Do," an A-list Dre tune that's piled with hooks: a simple keyboard part, a spare 808 beat and strings that manage to sound both stressed-out and catchy. As Game says, this is an album that will appeal to both "niggas doing twenty-five on they fifth year" and "white boys in the Abercrombie and Fitch gear."

Game shares 50's conversational rhyme style, but he's even less playful. In spirit he's closer to his heroes Tupac or Kool G. Rap -- he's going for emotional impact rather than dazzling wordplay or laughs. But if you're going to be literal and heartfelt, you'd better have something to say, and that's where the twenty-five-year-old rapper often falls short. Documentary's only subject is Game finally making it -- the logical plot point in this tale, of course, but boring for seventy minutes. Game combs over every small accomplishment in his career up to now ("Like Dre did/I created a buzz without a single like N.W.A did"); reminds you that Dre picked him ("Dre said it's my turn, he call it 'Game time' "); tells you what his record sounds like ("Ready to Die, Reasonable Doubt and Doggystyle in one"). But he hasn't yet given you enough reasons to really root for him.

He's at his best when he sounds like he's having fun, as on "How We Do," "Westside Story," or when he gets outside of himself a little, as he does on "Like Father, Like Son," about the birth of his child in 2003. It's telling, though, that Game has said he studied classic rap albums in his hospital bed to prepare for this moment. He might have studied too hard: In the end, Documentary just seems like a Dre/50 Cent side project -- something to tide you over until 50's new album in March but not quite as strong as the Lloyd Banks disc from last year. That's the thing about games: You have to want to keep playing them.

NATHAN BRACKETT

(Posted: Feb 10, 2005)

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