The second part of Game's "Documentary 2" is more serious, solemn, and satisfying than the first.
When listening to the two nearly 80-minute-long discs that The Game has released in the past week, it doesn't take long to realize that they're both very good albums. The Documentaries 2 and 2.5 both have high-profile guests who deliver, excellent tributes to Compton, and surprising arrays of beats, which is more than you'd expect from a whopping two and a half hours of new music from Game, let alone any rapper living or dead. The first disc, being thought of by many as the true sequel to The Documentary, was surprising enough in its ability to live up to expectations, but disc two is even more of a shocker (especially if you thought it'd just be a "bonus" disc). What's more, the two albums are markedly different. 2.5 doesn't have any moments as devoutly turnt as "Standing On Ferraris," any "oh shit" moments of revered producers collaborating, or anything with close to the hit potential of "100"; however, it also lacks the garish, overcooked tendencies of its more expensive-sounding predecessor. Despite how hungry Game sounded for Documentary 2 to be added to the canon of L.A. rap, 2.5 sounds like the album he, not the record label, wanted to make.
It seemed like part one had Game cashing out and going for the best-sounding product-- which he achieved-- but it was at the expense of sonic consistency, and made some tracks almost caricature-esque in their representations of Compton. Here, he's rounded up more timeless beats, ones that are more tied to a place than any specific era. There's more social commentary, and even the lower-stakes tracks read less like disc one "L.A."-style technicolor romps, and more like classic block party fare-- breezy Cali anthems that fit more seamlessly alongside conscious street cuts. Unfortunately, Documentary 2.5 begins with some of the same queasy glad-handing we got from radio DJs on the first disc's title track, with a sycophantic Sway Calloway begging Game to tell the story of the 50 Cent beef, then magically disappearing before the rapper gets pulled up on by a rival. Despite an awkward beginning, this disc quickly rights itself.
One of the main things Documentary 2 left me wanting was present-day commentary from Game, rather than further attempts to cement his place in L.A. history, and in that regard, 2.5 really delivers. "Magnus Carlsen" sets the tone, with Game less focused on the past and instead looking at his surroundings and asking "what's happening?" Of course, his current events focus doesn't extend much further than "ISIS throwing grenades" and "white boys shooting up a church," but as far as his home-turf tales go, 2.5 takes it much further than the "ten years ago I made a classic album" story we got over and over again on 2. The Dre worship is still there though, albeit in the more subtle form of Compton star Anderson .Paak dominating the album's first ten minutes.
The connections between tracks are as nice as they were on part one, such as "80s & Cocaine" closing with Game reminiscing about ordering Tommy burgers with "Top Dawg" Tiffith before two of his signees guest on the next track. Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock complete the Black Hippy grand prix of both discs on "Gang Bang Anyway," the first of several cuts with cold-bloodedness unmatched by anything on Doc 2, where Game often seemed like he needed to stop and remind us how hard he was amid some less threatening music. On 2.5, he's making threats and giving gang history lessons left and right, with no concessions made for the sake of commercial appeal. It's not that he didn't sound passionate on 2 (is he even capable of sounding bored?), but he generally speaks with more authority and less awkwardness on 2.5.
The more solemn, conscious themes of tracks like "The Ghetto" certainly help. Opening with the line "It be jam-packed in front of the stoops in Siberia, same way they are in the middle of Nigeria," Nas comes through with the best "world is a ghetto" proclamation since WAR's in 1972. will.i.am also redeems himself from his two lackluster spots on the first disc, delivering an unobjectionable hook and leaving the rapping to the experts. With another big name used sparingly, "From Adam" marks the second time Game's tapped Lil Wayne for a verse-less appearance. While "My Life" takes the cake, Weezy's surprisingly capable auto-tune-less singing matches the grizzled soul of Cool & Dre's excellent Faith, Hope & Charity sample.
One argument you could make about the first disc's superiority is that the Game's a little lyrically sharper-- for instance, there's nothing as nauseatingly repetitive as the tirelessly bloody "Gang Related" on there. For me, though, the best parts of Game's career have always been his embattled, dichotomous personality and access to big-money beats, and as long as he's not recycling old themes and coming through with reasonably impressive bars, I can live with rapping that doesn't push too many boundaries. 2Pac tribute "Last Time You Seen" seems a little predictable, especially when it has a fraction of the creativity of To Pimp A Butterfly's last track, but luckily Scarface comes through with a much more measured and level-headed verse.
It's the less classically-celebrated veterans who get shine on 2.5, so in addition to Scarface, we get E-40, Busta Rhymes, DJ Quik and Battlecat. Those last two, both L.A. rap veterans, are the most impressive. "Quik's Groove" offers a breezy alternative from the heavier tracks inspired by his onetime competitor, Dr. Dre, and Battlecat's resurrected from a lengthy hiatus for the excellent, neon G-funk of "Up On The Wall." They're both retro-flavored tracks, but due to the presence of Sevyn Streeter and Ty Dolla $ign's younger voices, or perhaps some more modern production flourishes, they lack the cloying '90s reverence of many of Game's past homages to L.A.'s historic sounds.
Whether he's dissing Young Thug or claiming that listening to The Chronic is his version of putting on makeup in the morning, Game clearly feels more tied to a bygone era of hip hop, and nowhere is this more obnoxious than his insistence on multiple skits on either album. With its suave fictitious radio DJ, "Intoxicated" is nothing but ridiculous, but it's nowhere near as cringeworthy as the exactly-what-it-sounds-like "Sex Skit." In addition to no one in their right minds wanting to hear Game's sex grunts, it's doubly unfortunate that DeJ Loaf's two appearances on this double LP are limited to 30 seconds on "Step Up" and a snippet of "Ryda" at the beginning of this.
The Documentaries 2 and 2.5 could have been nearly perfect with fewer tracks, and like disc one, 2.5 stacks many of these towards the end. "My Flag/Da Homies" attempts to be a "Welcome 2 Houston"-style regional posse cut, but the collection of shout-rappers chosen lacks enough distinct personalities to match that colorful Mo City party. Skrillex and Bangladesh unite to form an alternate-universe, more brostep-oriented version of TNGHT on "El Chapo," and thusly, it sounds like a bigger, dumber distillation of that duo's excellent 2012 EP. "Moment Of Violence" could've done with one less guest (*cough*Justus*cough*), but it's a necessary set-up for the two tracks that follow it. "Like Father Like Son 2" (despite Busta being relegated to a croaky hook) and "Life" (very much because of its Whitney Houston sample) form an impressive, grown-ass end to the album, responding to its many portrayals of violence with a postscript containing Game's pledges to stay clear of the bullshit.
For the most part, steering clear of B.S. is 2.5's strength, but in doing that, it loses some of disc one's excitement. The end result is two discs respectively representing Game's yin and yang-- his more crowd-pleasing, braggadocios side dominating Documentary 2, and his serious, uncompromising bent defining 2.5. Determining which disc is better really depends on which version of Game you like better (for me, it's the latter), but the balance between them is what allows the album to be so sprawling and satisfying.