The Game's "Documentary 2" barely misses the benchmark set by its predecessor.
The Game is a man of contradictions. His long-awaited follow-up to 2005's The Documentary begins with the Compton rapper hopping out of his car to bust some heads, and ends with a cheery hook sung by will.i.am and Fergie that sounds like it belongs in a Mary Kate & Ashley movie set in Los Angeles. In between, he's all over the place, sometimes slipping up with his lyrics, collab choices, or subject matter, but more often than not giving us some of his best material in years.
Part one of a double album (with the second disc set to release in a week), The Documentary 2 is first and foremost noteworthy for its guest list, which includes names from the roster of the original Documentary-- a stacked list of features and production credits in its own right-- along with younger names Game has befriended along the way. With his name seemingly always in the news for one beef or another, it's important to remember that Game's also always had a knack for establishing unlikely alliances with guys like Kanye, Drake and Lil Wayne, and this album was clearly the perfect opportunity to cash in on those favors.
The first of these comes in "On Me," Game's fourth collab to date with Kendrick Lamar, and the track does an excellent job of highlighting the differences (or contradictions) between the two MCs, who grew up in the same m.A.A.d city but went different routes. g.o.o.d kid Kendrick was freestyling with future TDE boss Top Dawg while Game was "Bloodin' like a menstrual," but he's still so loyal to his hood that he proclaims, "If Game told me, 'Drive by it,' I raise AK." The afro-futuristic approach of To Pimp A Butterfly still resonates here, even more so with the addition of a choice Erykah Badu sample. Game's marathon final verse on this track at first seems a little rickety, as if he's unexpectedly stumbling into a new flow every few bars, but after a few listens it's hard to deny how impressive this effect is.
The ensuing track, "Step Up," hits with a little less force, with Dej Loaf's minimal feature barely even registering over the strength of Sha Sha's chorus and Game's threatening lyrics. The track is, however, the first of many with memorable hooks, which hasn't always been The Game's strong suit. Although there's very few Documentary 2 tracks that read as radio-ready singles ("100" and "L.A." being the exceptions), the album's general catchiness is undeniable, which is no small feat for a gangster rap opus. "Don't Trip" is one of the few tracks with hooks that fall flat; will.i.am desperately reminds us that Eazy-E gave him his first deal, but the general public won't forget that most of his success is due to a group who almost immediately erased whatever "street cred" he began with. His and Dr. Dre's beat fittingly sounds like the love child of 2001 and Monkey Business B-sides, and when its co-creator isn't throwing up bricks, Ice Cube, Dre and Game hold it down with aplomb.
By the end of this third track, though, we've heard one reference to Dre's "What's The Difference" flow, three Chronic references, three N.W.A. references, one to Cube's "Today Was A Good Day," three Dre name-drops, and a whopping twelve mentions of Compton. And it doesn't stop there, with that pattern continuing on at a similar rate throughout the rest of the album. Game's concern-- maybe even obsession-- with his place in his neighborhood's legacy dominates Documentary 2 more than Dre's did on a recent album named after the place. Loyalty to your hood is a hip hop trope as old as "yes yes y'all," but Game really takes it to the extreme here, capping off a recent string of L.A. rap albums (g.o.o.d kid..., Compton, Summertime '06, etc.) that are more referential and reverent to their neighborhoods' legacy than any of those by contemporary artists' who hail from other states. The time, it seems, is ripe to name-drop a South Central block or veteran rapper, but in doing so about 12 too many times on this album, we lose out on learning more about where Game's at right now, not where he wants to be when authors reference him in L.A. rap history books.
Thankfully, the album hits its stride on the next track, "Standing On Ferraris." By way of Biggie, Jahlil Beats gifts Game his best beat since "Hot Nigga" (ok, "Jackpot" for the Lloyd Banks stans out there), a horn-led neck-snapper that sounds positively pompous even before Game says he's "too big for a Bugatti." Diddy delivers a characteristically over-the-top monologue that easily tops his cringeworthy one on Meek Mill's "Cold Hearted," and we're left with what easily could be the best standalone track on the album. The hot streak continues on "Dollar And A Dream" and "Made In America," which are both built on great instrumentals, the former making great use of a craggy electric guitar, and the latter containing truly elegant piano playing. "Hashtag," with its bluesy guitar and fantastic intro by a James Brown/Lil Jon hybrid named Jelly Roll (a Snoop Dogg affiliate), seems like it's off to a similar start until we get to the actual hook, which is much less sticky than the intro that precedes it, and contains a tone-deaf Ray Charles reference to boot. You've got to commend Game for venturing out on a limb with that sound though.
The mid-section of "Circles," "Uncle Skit" and "Dedicated" seems a little disconnected from the rest of Documentary 2-- though I love that Bill Withers-esque beat switch on "Circles"-- but the song that follows, "Bitch You Ain't Shit," is by far the worst thing on here. Starting off with a reference to... you guessed it, another Dre track, the song soon devolves into slut-shaming and contradiction upon contradiction (What's that about dissing girls for letting people stick things in their funky-smelling holes? Does the fact that you have your hood tatted on you mean you're also untrustworthy, or is that another one of your double standards?). Thankfully, "Dedicated" transitions pretty well into "Summertime," so I had no qualms with deleting "Bitch You Ain't Shit" from my iTunes.
Mike Will Made It's tag giving way to a sunny, retro-sounding track will definitely furrow some brows, but the track sounds effortless enough for him to have been living a secret life as a boom-bap producer, taking night classes on Pete Rock all this time. Jelly Roll's even better here, his sweet vocals throwing some of Game's most violent lyrics on the album into even sharper relief. Why Game has vocalists like this on deck, yet still tapped Kanye for a pitchy hook on "Mula," is beyond me, but the former Niketown competitors still manage to salvage a solid track from the wreckage that chorus leaves behind. The much-touted DJ Premier/Dr. Dre-produced title track follows, with the collaborative instrumental taking the spotlight off of Game, who delivers his most name-drop-heavy bars on an album full of name-drop-heavy bars.
Things get a little jumbled as we near the end, with StreetRunner's Just Blaze-circa-2002 bombast on "New York, New York" butting stylistic heads with the most modern-sounding beat on the album, Johnny Juliano and Cardo's "100," but sequencing issues aside, both are memorable tracks. "Just Another Day" caps off a star turn from Bongo The Drum Gahd, one-half of production duo L&F, and producer of seven of Documentary 2's 19 tracks, with this one managing to marry some spaced-out synths with some undeniably Dre-style guitar over a pristinely unhurried beat. Then there's closing track "L.A.," the most confounding piece of music on here. will.i.am's beat is truly something to behold, a warm, soul-sampling gem that's probably constructed out of a K-EARTH 101 staple. Game and Snoop Dogg's verses paint vivid pictures of the city, picking out details like Angeleno's drink of choice, jean preferences and gangs like South Central anthropologists. Then there are the downsides, most of which rest on a hook that has two bafflingly terrible lines ("It ain't never cold outside because the rain will never storm" and "The stars ain't only in the sky because the stars lay on the floor"), but some discredit is also due to will's verse that goes from clunkers like "No recess, my flows, there's no stoppin'" to a roll call of L.A. teams. It's a hard song to critically evaluate-- if you put your mind on autopilot while "L.A." plays, you could easily walk away thinking it's the crown jewel of the album, but if you hyper-analyze it, you'll almost assuredly walk away with quite a different opinion.
Whether they lie between moods and lyrics, old school and new school, crips and bloods, intelligence and tough-guy buffoonery, legacy and credibility, or judgements and actions, contradictions are the defining feature of The Documentary 2. This is clearly an album Game put his all into, which you have to give him considerable credit for, and even if it's not as cohesive and effortlessly playable as the 2005 original, it's a hell of a project. A week's time will only tell what Documentary 2.5 adds to the equation, and it might be a long shot for Game to hold our attention for another hour-plus of music, but he's off to a great start.