The biggest misconception about The Game is that he’s a failed pop star. The Compton rapper’s debut album, 2005’s The Documentary, marked the start of a new era for West Coast rap, a critical and commercial success thanks to songs like “How We Do”, “Hate It or Love It”, and “Dreams”. Ten years later, The Documentary 2 arrives as a sort of comeback album following 2011’s The R.E.D. Album and 2012’s Jesus Piece (plus last year’s Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf compilation). Game fans still respect those albums, but they didn’t go over particularly well with critics and passersby. There’s something misguided about the public’s expectations for this guy, though. After The Documentary, people wanted more mega-hits, and he more or less delivered with songs like “Let’s Ride”, “Wouldn’t Get Far”, and the classic Lil Wayne collab “My Life”. But as a hothead G-rapper prone to beef (most recently with Young Thug), The Game eventually stopped caring about his closeup in favor of street credibility. That is, until people started saying he fell off.
Dr. Dre oversaw the album’s completion, and with some of the same collaborators he worked with on Compton in tow — Kendrick Lamar recounts his teenage years on highlight “On Me”, Ice Cube and Dre bring things back even further on “Don’t Trip”, and Snoop Dogg adds that much more West Coast prestige on “LA” — it achieves a similar sound and pacing. Not only is it enough to be considered a comeback, it’s one of the more impressive reinventions by a rapper in recent memory. Besides Dre, whose hand is felt in the album’s bold maximalism and G-funk tint, a previously little-known producer named Bongo the Drum Gahd was heavily involved, plus additional contributions from Mike Will Made It, Jahlil Beats, and The Documentary alums Cool & Dre. Samples range from Peabo Bryson’s “Feel the Fire” to Erykah Badu’s “On & On” to Phantogram’s “Fall in Love”, not to mention The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death diss track “Kick in the Door”, whose sharp horns provide the foundation for the Diddy-assisted bi-coastal connection “Standing on Ferraris”. It all makes for an immaculate space for Game to do his thing, which he does with refreshing unpredictability.
Lyrically and technically, Game has a renewed focus, telling his Westside story with more detail and meaning than ever. Never before has he made his beloved Compton come to life like this, a tense city of red and blue bandannas, high summertime murder rates, and desperate crack fiends. There’s specific autobiography on “Don’t Trip”, “Dollar and a Dream”, “Made in America”, and “Just Another Day”, with Game directly referencing streets, sets, and more. On “100”, we get vivid lines centered on late rapper Billboard (aka 4Cent, aka 4Bent), who Game calls the Lil Snupe to his Meek Mill: “Stressing while driving down Figueroa/ Blowing kush clouds until his ghost is in my Ghost.” When he’s not reflective like that, his rapping is fast and intricately patterned, especially impressive considering his stiffer flows on The Documentary. That sheer skillfulness redeems the occasional awkward turn of phrase (“I was out there Blooding like a menstrual”) and the entirely skippable “Bitch You Ain’t Shit”, a throwaway that basically condemns a woman for enjoying her sex life at her own pace.
Those are minor distractions in the grand scheme of things, though, and this album is grand. Though it clocks in at 73 minutes, it unfolds with few speed bumps. Pure artistic value aside, it’s only right that the album has mass appeal following the alpha Documentary’s blockbuster singles. Aside from sampling 2Pac and interpolating Brandy and Biggie, the alternately spastic and smooth “Step Up” recruits Sha Sha and, more notably, Dej Loaf, who chants one of the album’s unforgettable hooks (“You know I know where you live at, boy”). Future is on the for-the-ladies “Dedicated”, which is enough to make it a potential hit. “Mula” rides that Phantogram sample and a convulsive Kanye West hook. Later, the cruising Drake collab “100”, already one of Game’s most popular songs of the 2010s, is a climatic highlight during the album’s closing stretch.
The question remains: Is The Documentary 2 better than The Documentary? It’s close. Kendrick, YG, Vince Staples, and other rappers are reinvigorating West Coast rap for the modern era, and they won’t be going away anytime soon. Still, the fact that Game is around like this 10 years later leaves the impression that he’s simply been waiting for certain pieces to fall into place in order to make a worthy Documentary sequel. With a companion disc, The Documentary 2.5, on the way next week, he’s asking us to give him All Eyez on Me levels of attention. With one disc down, it’s an enticing proposition.
Essential Tracks: “On Me”, “Mula”, and “100”