The Game - The Documentary_cover

“Rap niggas politickin’, wanna know the outcome – Ready to Die, Reasonable Doubt, & Doggystyle in one…”

It’s dangerous to claim that you’re making a modern-day classic. It’s possibly even career suicide to suggest, when people only know you because of cosigns from 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, that your debut studio album might stand alongside some of the most notable rap debuts of all time. Sure, you have street cred, but you have little to none in the industry itself.

And yet, back in January of 2005, Jayceon Taylor – aka The Game – dared to do exactly that with The Documentary.

While The West can comfortably say that it’s back now with the likes of YG and Kendrick Lamar producing high-caliber LPs in this decade, the specter of E-40 continuing to keep the hyphy and hustle tradition of California alive, and DJ Mustard rebranding the West Coast sound and establishing a trend on radio, back in the early 2000s, the Left Coast was losing its luster. The old lions of the West had found other ventures. Snoop Dogg had scaled back his gangster to become a pop-rap hitmaker alongside Pharrell Williams. Ice Cube had successfully reinvented himself into a bankable asset in film and family entertainment. And Dr. Dre had resolved to hide behind the boards and within the boardroom following The Chronic 2001, developing his Aftermath Records imprint into a force in the industry through Eminem and G-Unit.

Welcomed into the G-Unit and Aftermath family, The Game placed himself as the Savior of the WestLike many rappers, he had grown up idolizing those in the industry, specifically Eric “Eazy-E” Wright. He fell prey to the call of the mean Compton streets, but after his chance brush with death in 2001, he directed his talents towards pursuing a rap career (The Game cites this “career timeline” in the final verse of “No More Fun and Games”). He saw Eazy-E’s shoes as his to fill, and dared to put Compton and the West on his back. It was a tall order, and yet the “new Nigga Wit’ A Attitude” rose to the occasion – The Documentary not only topped the Billboard charts at the time, but it also went double platinum.

It’s true that The Game had a little help. Assists from 50 Cent (who was warming up his sophomore album The Massacre and still riding the high from Get Rich or Die Tryin’) on two huge singles in “How We Do” and “Hate It or Love It,” certainly didn’t hurt. Having the veteran presence of Dr. Dre on hand to help lace the album with classic samples (the flip of N.W.A.’s “Gangsta Gangsta” “No More Fun and Games,” for example, and  The Trammps’ “Rubberhand” on “Hate It or Love It”) was a bonus. And contributions from the likes of Busta Rhymes – on the underappreciated “Like Father, Like Son” – Faith Evans, and labelmates Eminem and Tony Yayo are a bonus. But The Game’s voice is surprisingly not drowned out by the presence of features. His ability to string together clever references (the title track, alone…) with a rhythm in delivery that adjusted well to every single instrumental was impressive back then for a rookie turned pro, and is still impressive even now.

The Game was also refreshingly, unapologetically himself. He never shied away from his past as a Blood or life on the streets. He stood in a proud contrast to the “grown and sexy” rapper trend at the time (hi, Jay-Z and LL Cool J), proclaiming on “Westside Story” that he “don’t do button-up shirts or drive Maybachs.” He deemed himself a supervillain – “Mr. Gangsta Rap in black Nike Airs” –  on “Higher,” a posse cut to the core whose Dre and Mark Batson-produced instrumental might as well have been lifted up from a ’70s Blaxploitation flick. He serves as a tour guide through the ‘hood on “Church for Thugs.” And even as he laments regrets and retrospects on the Marsha Ambrosius-featured “Start from Scratch,” The Game admits he “wouldn’t change shit” about himself.

In the same breath, however, The Game’s humble, or at least aware of how short life can be and hence appreciative of his blessings (and of his then-only son). “Believe me, homie: I know all about losses,” Game assures listeners on “Hate It Or Love It.” It’s not all sober storytelling on The Documentary, either –  Timbaland’s Mardi Gras horns set a tone for a crunk anthem in “Put You On The Game,” and Jayceon Taylor even plays hood Romeo on “Special.” (There’s a delicious irony in that Game cites Mary J. Blige being mistreated by her former lover K-Ci on this track, and yet is joined by Mary J. on the track that follows it, “Don’t Worry”).

To this day, The Documentary‘s influence is still felt. Game and 50’s shit talking on “How We Do” stands the test of time almost as well as Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo & Scott Storch’s impeccable hand-clap inducing instrumental does. Tory Lanez’s dedication of sorts to Teyana Taylor, if you will, “Dreams (of Fuckin an R&B Bitch),” derives its name from The Game’s couple of lines about Mya on “Dreams.” But above all, The Documentary reminds us to make the most of the moment we’re given, whatever and whenever that is. We hear it in the stirring chorus by Dion and the urgency of Tony Yayo’s verse on “Runnin'”; in the Crip Walking in celebration alongside Nate Dogg on “Where I’m From”; and especially in The Game barking “live life – fuck tomorrow” on “Don’t Need Your Love.”

On “Higher,” The Game promised that “I’mma be here for the next 10 Summers!” And here we are, a decade later – and The Game (and The Documentary) are still putting people on.