Musings on music delivered when I dig myself out.

The Game -- The Documentary
Aftermath/G-Unit/Interscope; 2005

At first glance, the story of The Game's transition from street hustler to legend-endorsed rapper isn't all that unusual. Like his mentor 50 Cent, Game (known as Jayceon Taylor to his mom) is a product of a hard life on the streets that included gang banging, dope peddling, and being a veritable human target for his adversaries (a survivor of five gunshot wounds). Despite his street cred, The Game is still a relative newcomer to the genre, rapping for the first time only a few years ago. Spending a year and a half learning the ropes and studying rap's quintessential records, Taylor's skills emerged, catching the eye of the venerable Dr. Dre. The Game's debut album, The Documentary, is an introduction to an artist, an ode to the glory days of the West Coast, and a call for Compton to reclaim its title as leader of the pack; some objectives fare better than others.

The Game's grizzled style of rapping is fitting of his appearance and his brags. His coarse, bassy voice (akin to 50 and the rest of his G's, coincidentally) pushing out incredibly enunciated lyrics, there's little doubt he believes every syllable. His lines are hardly technical, favoring simple but brutal lyrics like "If I die for one of my statements / then break up the streets of Compton and spill my blood in the pavement," ("Church For Thugs") and "Stunt on me I'll leave you with ya' chest open, vest broken" ("Put You On the Game") to pound out his message. He even does a little bit of the rap-singing that 50 Cent has made so popular and Ja Rule has been made fun of for (what's up, pot calling the kettle white?).

As The Documentary wears on, it becomes increasingly apparent that The Game's rapping isn't terribly impressive. His flow gets clumsy over faster tempos and being cocksure does nothing to cover it. Throughout the album, there are many occasions where Game appears unable to say anything of interest and instead riffs off references to classic rappers and albums. It's understandable that he would vocally acknowledge his influences and heroes, but it seems amateurish and unworthy of someone who claims to be the M.V.P. of Compton to do it constantly. There's obvious potential behind The Game's rapping, but he seems in need of some serious refinement.

Making a lukewarm first effort as a rapper means that it's the production that has to carry the greatest workload. Luckily for The Game, the workhorses include Kanye West, Eminem, Just Blaze, Timbaland, and, of course, Dr. Dre. The wild-eyed shaker that is Timbaland's "Put You On the Game" beat matches up well with The Game's thuggish bragging. Despite the unusual way Game chooses to be inspirational on "Dreams," (I could do without hearing of 50's sexual exploits, thanks) Kanye's beat is soulful and mellow in a manner more fitting of inspiration. Dr. Dre's work is solid as well, laying down bittersweet and dramatic g-funk on a handful of tracks. Eminem's beat on "We Ain't" is overblown and under-exciting as usual, even if he does absolutely slay The Game lyrically on his own track.

One of the greatest ways to learn a skill is to observe masters at work. The Game has certainly done his research and chosen an excellent set of rappers after which to model himself. But it seems that The Game might have left the batting box a bit too soon on The Documentary, and that taking a few more practice swings (or a few thousand, perhaps) would be wise. Bravado and all-star producers are awesome, but The Game needs to hone his own craft and master his natural talent before playing with the big boys makes sense.

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