Hands wrapped in sparring tape, Campton, Calif., native the Game steps into the boxing ring for his Hurricane 2 shoe campaign shoot. But this battle is twofold. He's also poised to fight for his sopho

Hands wrapped in sparring tape, Campton, Calif., native the Game steps into the boxing ring for his Hurricane 2 shoe campaign shoot. But this battle is twofold. He's also poised to fight for his sophomore album, "The Doctor's Advocate," which streets Nov. 14. Bringing to mind a classic shot of Muhammad Ali before his Rumble in the Jungle bout with George Foreman, the Game seriously seems a few steps away from hollering that he's the greatest.

"You make hit records, and people love you. You don't make hit records, and people hate you," the Game quips. "If I made bricks, I'd give people their money back, but I'm just not good at making bricks. I tried to make 'Hate It or Love It' a brick, and you saw what happened with that." What happened is that it became one of the biggest hits of 2005, checking in at No. 10 on Billboard's year-end Rap Songs chart and No. 24 on the year-end Billboard Hot 100.

Few MCs can survive a character assassination from an entire rap crew, especially if the mob leader is 50 Cent. But the Game, aka Jayceon Taylor, has bloodied his knuckles protecting his brand and his manhood while the G-Unit crew has done quite a bit to destroy his street credibility. From DJ Whoo Kid and 50 Cent depicting him dressed as a thong-clad stripper on their "G-Unit Radio Part 21: Hate It or Love It" mixtape to the Game's own brother denying the rapper's street cred in the press, he has sustained. And since authenticity is hip-hop's meal ticket, it's been a dangerous game indeed.

Yet the Game's recent switch to Geffen Records from his former Interscope home, brokered between his manager Jimmy Rosemond and Interscope president Jimmy Iovine to release the artist from G-Unit Records, couldn't have come at a better time. With the G-Unit house falling far short of its previous Nielsen SoundScan marks, it now seems like a smart decision for the Game to separate his identity. But now he must prove that he can write hit songs without the help of 50 and hitmaker Dr. Dre.

"It's put-up-or-shut-up time," Rosemond says. "Game's laughing his heart out right now, because we made a conscious effort to move away from 50 and build his own brand. If you look at Lloyd Banks and Young Buck, they have nothing besides what 50 allows them." But the Game wasn't always this cocksure.

Signed by Dre in 2002, the rapper has the life story publicists dream about. Born and raised in Dre's hometown of Compton, he left behind college basketball scholarships for gang life with his older brother, a Cedar Block Piru Blood. Then, in a fateful twist, the Game was shot Oct. 1, 2001, during a robbery of his home. He spent his recovery learning to rhyme and studying classic hip-hop albums like Nas' "Illmatic" and Ice Cube's "Death Certificate."

Though legend has it that the Game had never rapped before December 2001, Dre found, coached and pushed him to release one of the biggest singles of 2005 in "How We Do," featuring 50 Cent, which peaked at No. 2 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. Then came the infectious "Hate It or Love It," also featuring 50 Cent. It peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.

The Game's constant grimace pushed his debut, "The Documentary," beyond double-platinum and had West Coast hip-hop heads hoping for a revival. But when he refused to join 50 Cent's beefs with artists like Jadakiss and Fat Joe, 50 changed his golden ticket. While R&B/hip-hop WWPR New York was interviewing the Game in February 2005, 50 Cent booted him from G-Unit over the air on crosstown rival rhythmic top 40 WQHT (Hot 97), insisting it was he and not the Game who wrote most of "The Documentary." Later that day, there was a shootout at WQHT between the pair's entourages, and a member of the Game's clan was clipped.

Then in a "Days of Our Lives" turn of events a few weeks later, the Game and 50 Cent held a truce at Harlem's Schomburg Museum in New York, where they shook hands and donated several thousand dollars to the Harlem Boy's Choir. But the following summer at New York's notoriously controversial Hot 97 Summer Jam concert, the Game launched his "G-Unot" campaign, attacking 50 Cent's street credibility as well as the entire G-Unit roster.

"Absolutely, there was trepidation," Rosemond says of the Game's decision to go against his former crew. "Whenever there's a feat that you have to accomplish, it's scary. But he came into this business as a man, and he has remained a man."

Now, a weary Game is tired of the politics. "It's like beating a dead dog," he says. "50 couldn't dictate what the mighty powerful Dr. Dre is doing. It just happened that Dr. Dre wasn't on the album, but it definitely didn't have anything to do with 50, unless there's something I don't know. If so, I don't want to know, because that's politics, and I just want to make music good enough to be called a classic."

Rosemond says Dre did supply early beats for "The Doctor's Advocate" -- he's referenced in the title, after all -- but after the album's path changed, they didn't make the final cut. Dre could not be reached for comment at press time.

"When you're making a classic album, you want to pick the best tracks," he adds. "We're making a conscious effort to get away from the Interscope and Aftermath brands. Game's been the man in this whole thing. If 50 says he can't write hooks, then he'll do them by himself. If he says he can't sell without Dr. Dre's beats, then he won't use them."

The 16-track "Doctor's Advocate" is an extremely West Coast-sounding record, with stereotypical California basslines. The lyrics are rife with the intrinsic violent threats hip-hop loves. And with a track listing that includes Left Coasters like "Too Much" featuring Nate Dogg, "Bang" featuring the Dogg Pound, "California Vacation" featuring Snoop and Xzibit, and another joint simply called "Compton," it is obvious the Game's returning to his sonic roots.

"Dre nor 50 are on the album because people said 'The Documentary's' success was heavily Dre- and 50-influenced, making me look like I was just the dumb n*gga from the hood who didn't know what he was doing," the Game explains. "There's no turmoil with Dre. He took the training wheels off my bicycle for this record, and I can ride around the corner by myself. There aren't any hard feelings."

As for Jayceon Taylor's ultimate plan for the album, he's thankful for all his obstacles. "I don't regret the hurdles, the obstacles or the pain I suffered," the Game says. "Just being alone and everybody turning their back on me. Now everybody's back in my face because there's only one entity: that's just making f*cking hit records."

Questions? Comments? Let us know: @billboard

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