The Game Proves He's Still Relevant With 'The Documentary 2' and '2.5': Album Review

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The Game works best when left for dead. See his classic debut, 2005’s The Documentary, where Compton, Calif.’s Jayceon Taylor survived a homicide attempt to become rap’s T-1000, an android assassin shape-shifting to channel past West Coast greats. And when benefactors Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine and 50 Cent abandoned him on his sophomore set, most figured he would brick. Instead, Game delivered The Doctor’s Advocate, his second straight Billboard 200 No. 1 and arguably his most creatively vital work.

But in the ensuing decade, Mr. “Hate It or Love It” has mostly elicited ambivalence. His last four albums exhibited flashes of greatness, but were overshadowed by publicity stunts, arrests, reality shows and ephemeral feuds, as though his artistry was trumped by a desire to bridge the gap between Grand Theft Auto and WorldStarHipHop.

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With his relevance at a low ebb, his new project, The Documentary 2, succeeds by reminding you what made the original so memorable. At his core, Game, 35, is a Compton hip-hop traditionalist, often reverent of the past to a fault. But at his best, he’s a powerful and deceptively agile rapper with an impeccable ear for beats and a contact list any A&R would envy. And he still has a lot to say: A week after dropping the 19-track sequel, The Game is releasing The Documentary 2.5, which he’s calling the second installment of a double-disc set.

In many ways, this is his version of Dr. Dre’s Compton album. It circles back to his beginning, adding crucial details lost in the quest for self-mythology. On “Dollar and a Dream,” Game admits he went from “underdog to watching Top Dawg and Kendrick rise.” And like Compton, The Game assembles his own Cooperstown of collaborators to retell his saga, including Kendrick Lamar, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Future, Drake, Kanye West, Snoop Dogg and Sean “Diddy” Combs -- on the first disc alone.

From DJ Quik’s “grooves” and Snoop’s WBallz interludes to “Don’t Trip” (featuring Los Angelenos Cube, Dre and over a classic J.B.’s sample), this might be the most elaborate homage to the Cali hip-hop Game worships. You can question its originality, but the music hits hard -- even with the inevitable bloat and sequencing issues that come with 36 songs, as well as outlier cameos that derail the album’s focus (Drake’s “100”).

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The first Documentary was actually an action movie; a genre in which entertainment often trumps substance. Its sequel can’t re-create the same big explosions, but it cogently proves why its anti-hero has managed to stay alive, 10 years later.

Listen to The Game and more artists from this week's issue of Billboard.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 24 issue of Billboard.

The Game - The Documentary 2 and 2.5 Album Review