The Game, ‘The Documentary 2′ [ALBUM REVIEW]
The Game's original The Documentary album is a borderline classic and one of the best West Coast rap records of the past decade. It came out at the perfect time in 2005. Game had a 50 Cent co-sign when the latter was the biggest rapper on the planet and G-Unit was huge. He was one of Dr. Dre's last proteges before the super-producer went silent when it came to music for the better part of a decade. The Documentary boasted production from a murderer's row of talent: Dre, Kanye West, Timbaland, Just Blaze, Cool & Dre, Havoc, Hi-Tek and more. It was one of the last real gangsta rap albums to become a mainstream hit as the hip-hop landscape changed. The album had smash hits with "How We Do" and "Hate It or Love It" and sold five million copies worldwide.
Since then, Game has never been able to capture that magic again -- critically or commercially. Doctor's Advocate was a solid follow-up in 2006, but it simply couldn't match Game's debut. Dr. Dre and 50 Cent were nowhere to be found, and while Game's skill didn't regress, his mentors' contributions were missed. The album's highs weren't as high, the production just wasn't quite to par and the consistency of the project wasn't the same. From this point forward, his albums lost direction.
LAX, The R.E.D. Album and Jesus Piece had great songs, but were even more inconsistent than Doctor's Advocate. Game's weaknesses became more evident than ever. His reliance on features and production took away from any personality the projects had. Game adapts his rhyming styles to whomever he's on the track with, and songs on his albums could sound like those collaborator's tracks instead of his own. He's always had a tendency to rely on name-dropping his famous friends, but it seemed to get out of hand when the music as a whole wasn't quite as good as it once was.
Over 10 years after The Documentary dropped, Game has released his best effort in years with its sequel. Like its predecessor, The Documentary 2 comes at a perfect time. West Coast hip-hop is in the best state commercially that it's been in years. Two of the year's most talked-about albums have been from the West Coast: Dr. Dre's comeback, Compton, and Kendrick Lamar's political jazz-rap opus, To Pimp a Butterfly. West Coast gangsta rap is making a comeback of sorts with artists like YG and Schoolboy Q leading the way.
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What makes The Documentary 2 successful is not the timing, but the fact that it is the most personal Game project since his debut. Yes, there's still plenty to be talked about in regards to huge features and big production, but this is the first time in a long time that a Game album has felt like a Game album and not just a compilation of songs featuring the rapper.
Much of the album deals with Game looking back on his career and how far he's made it. On "Made in America" he reflects, "Went from JT the Bigga Figga to Biggie / We all make mistakes, look what happened to me and 50." "Dollar and a Dream" deals with Game's rise from a poor kid in the streets to a rap star and "The Documentary 2" specifically details his career and features some of his best wordplay yet. "New York, New York" is the album's most emotional moment when the MC dedicates the song to Stephanie Mosley, a colleague from Aftermath Records who was shot by her husband last year.
The beats on The Documentary 2 are immaculate and boast contributions from great producers of hip-hop's past (DJ Premier and will.i.am, doing his best work in years), present (Jahlil Beats and Mike WiLL Made-It), and possibly even future (a producer by the name of Bongo the Drum Gahd has the most credits on the album as well as the best beats).
Much of the production on The Documentary 2 heavily features samples from great songs in rap and R&B's history. "Step Up" samples Gang Starr's "Step in the Arena" and Brandy's "I Wanna Be Down." "Don't Trip" heavily references the Digable Planets classic "Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)." The Diddy-featured "Standing on Ferraris" pays homage to the Notorious B.I.G." by sampling Biggie's "Kick in the Door" and "Things Done Changed." Sampling classic tracks like these so heavily could be a risky maneuver and seem gimmicky, but the production team and Game treat the source material seriously, paying homage to past greats instead of riding them to make headlines.
Game's weaknesses still come across at times. The name-dropping can still become grating after he mentions Dre a few dozen times. He also gets outshined a few times by Ice Cube and Dr. Dre on "Don't Trip" as well as Ab-Soul (with his best guest verse in ages) on "Dollar and a Dream." Kendrick Lamar absolutely kills the Erykah Badu-sampled "On Me," a song that really wouldn't sound out of place on one of K. Dot's own albums. Yet overall, Game sounds rejuvenated and hungry. He's a rap veteran going into the second decade of his career, and looking back, the positives and negatives have led him to some of his most inspired work since he was a rookie.
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