Much like Seattle’s grunge rock scene fell apart after the death of Kurt Cobain, one could draw the conclusion that the west-coast rap scene died with Tupac Shakur. And while today, Pac is looked at as a martyr, a legend, and even a god-like figure in hip-hop’s mythos, there was more to the west than just 2Pac. The true dynasty of the West Coast was N.W.A., as virtually every rap success story out of Los Angeles can be Kevin Baconed back to the crew made up of Eazy E, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren, and Yella. Scoff if you will, but the family tree doesn’t lie. Without N.W.A., there would be no Above the Law, no Snoop Dogg, no Death Row Records, no Dogg Pound, no Warren G, no Eminem, no G-Unit, and these are just the Dr. Dre extensions. No Hieroglyphics (Ice Cube executive produced his cousin Del’s debut), no Black Eyed Peas (Eazy-E signed them to Ruthless as Atban Klan in 1992), no Bone (maybe for the better), and no Westside Connection. And while 2Pac came up through Digital Underground (where Shock once underwater rhymed on World Class Wreckin Cru imprint, Macola), Pac wasn’t a mega-star until he signed with Dr. Dre and Suge. Even the Likwit Crew had affiliations with Dre via King T and Xzibit for a time. The sad truth is, there would even be no “Are We There Yet” (starring Ice Cube), if not for N.W.A. (why, Cube, why?).
Point taken, while there have been short-lived success stories out of the West Coast that aren’t directly tied to N.W.A. (Too Short, DJ Quik, Pharcyde, etc), unfortunately none saw it past the 1990′s. While the east/west rivalry was blown out of proportion by the media, fact of the matter is, for the last decade or so, west-coast artists not named Dre and Snoop do not get airplay in the trend-setting city of New York, nor do they on BET. The South has filled the empty spaces that the west once dominated as the other region outside of the Tri-State, and the west-coast rap scene has seen a steady decline as the years have progressed. Until now….
Pegged as the “one-man-N.W.A.”, The Game signed with Dr. Dre’s Aftermath imprint shortly after 50 Cent. Due to the climate of the industry, it seemed like this then unknown emcee would get lost in the shuffle of anticipated Aftermath debuts that would never see the light of day, such as Rakim’s Oh My God or King Tee’s Thy Kingdom Come. Wisely, Dr. Dre inserted The Game into hip-hop’s most dangerous group, G-Unit, adding mainstream validity to the still faceless rapper. Much like 50 Cent’s pre-album buzz, the Iovine hype-machine’s wheels began turning, and suddenly The Game was appearing in T-Mobile ads, getting shoe deals, and blazing up mixtapes, all without even having a single on the radio, much less an album. Various independently released projects started popping up showcasing Game’s skill, but could he live up to the hype and deliver a solid debut?
With The Documentary, Game has done more than simply deliver a solid album, he’s delivered what can arguably be called a classic record - or at least something that will be recognized as one as time goes on. The Documentary is perhaps the most important West Coast hip-hop release in the last few years, mainly because the fate and future of the region’s rap scene depends on it. In a refreshing change, coincidentally released around the same time as Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, we have an album that not only resurrects the west coast, but also the spirit of N.W.A., and nostalgic Compton gang orientated rap. But The Documentary is not more of the same old thing (no Zapp samples here), but instead a millennial take on an classic concept. Game’s subject matter revolves around forgotten Cali staples such as Converse sneakers, rims, hydraulics, and of course, Blood Vs. Crip warfare. But not only is it done with true poetic emcee finesse, but it also is sprinkled with plenty of historical hip-hop references that only the true heads will pick up on. While The Documentary is already being criticized for its excessive name dropping, on the same token the name-dropping fits within the overall “documentary” theme, as it’s title suggests. Here we have a virtual nobody who has come from perhaps the worst area in America, now rubbing elbows with the likes of Dr. Dre, Eminem, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes and others. The Documentary is a concept album that tells the story the two-year period of his life since signing to Aftermath, and all the experiences associated with it.
Still while Game’s endless worship of hip-hop deceased deities (2Pac, Biggie, Eazy-E) is laid on a little thick, the references made to events like Eazy-E’s dinner at the White House or 2Pac’s “Brenda’s Got A Baby” video are priceless. His deep knowledge of these and other artists show that they are coming from a genuine hip-hop fan - a historian, if you will - rather than just the typical pointless referencing done by many other rappers to pull at the fans’ heartstrings. Yes, the hype on Game’s lyrical ability is definitely real. While it may be harder for non-fans of commercial, gangster, or west-coast rap to accept his talent, there are more than enough quotable lines and verses on this album that will prove them otherwise, if given the chance.
But what separates The Documentary from every other record out there right now is that Game’s lyrical ability is evenly matched with his production and song structure. Dr. Dre did not go the cookie cutter route of producing the whole album himself, nor did he leave the production in the hands of the usual G-Unit lackeys. No, Game has only got the best of the best producers, who pretty much gave him, without exaggeration, their best (as-of-yet-unused) beats. Still, Dr. Dre (and his team of producers) lends five tracks to The Documentary, each nothing short of incredible. “Westside Story” (produced with Scott Storch) opens the album, working as the official introduction to Game, hits with trademark Doc pianos, while it’s follow-up “How We Do” (produced with Mike Elizondo), bangs with vintage 808 car-show drums, as both cuts are led by 50 Cent driven hooks. The buzz-worthy “Higher” (produced with Mark Baston) is an up-tempo “In The Club”-esque party-rocker, propelled by powerful Impala bouncing bass, and one of the most infectious hooks ripe for singing along (I do it…!).
The outsourced talent helps The Documentary bang from start to finish, as everyone brought forth their best work for the much ballyhooed debut. Kanye West provides the backdrop to incredible “Dream”, the album’s second song, where Game recounts his own dreams and those of others, immediately letting the listener know there’s more to him than a shirtless, tattooed gangster rapper. Timbaland brings the bouncy-yet-grimey “Put You In The Game”, hypnoticly hitting with several layers of sound. Just Blaze delivers two abrasive, funky-soul head-rockers in both “Church For Thugs” and the incredible 80′s throwback “No More Fun and Games”, that salutes N.W.A.’s “Gangster, Gangster” beautifully. Hi-Tek brings late-night music to drive-by in the form of “Runnin’”, a beat which could have easily been inserted in Dre’s own The Chronic. And naturally, Eminem also chimes in for a lyrical sparring match with Game on “We Ain’t”, where Game admits “Em just killed me on my own shit”. Better he said it before someone else did, but truthfully Game is one of the few that can share a track with Em and hold his own.
If the praise should continue, so be it - even the lesser-known and lesser popular producers have brought forth their best beats for Game to spit on. Southern Dungeon Family production duo, Cool and Dre bring the inspirational “Hate It Or Love It”, while Jeff Bhasker makes a name for himself on the incredible title track, “The Documentary”, where Bhasker’s symphonic beat helps lend credibility to Game’s suggestions that this is indeed a classic record. Towards the end, the album winds down with smoother selections such as the Nate Dogg hooked pair “Where I’m From” (prod. Focus) and “Special” (prod. Needlz). Paired with sincere letters to his girl (“Don’t Worry” feat. Mary J. Blige, produced by Dr. Dre) and his newborn son (“Like Father Like Son” featuring Busta Rhymes, produced by Buckwild), the album closes on a somewhat emotional note, as both guests do their parts perfectly with the respective hooks.
While touting this album as a classic this early might be a bold move, for this critic it almost feels foolish not to. There simply isn’t a bad song on this record, and Game’s lyrical ability far outweighs his peers in G-Unit, not to mention most major-label emcees at the moment. This record truly has the best of both worlds - superiority in musical production, as well as intricate, intelligently penned lyrics that even the most underground of heads can appreciate (if they allow themselves to). The true test is time however, and while East Coast based publications possibly will front on this record (there’s one in Boston that definitely will), the people will undoubtedly embrace this new incarnation of N.W.A.
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