Album: The Documentary
Artist: The Game
Released: January 18, 2005
Long after the East-West rivalry had cooled off and two of hip-hop’s biggest names had lost their lives, West Coast hip-hop found itself in an uncomfortable place. In the east, superstar rappers ruled the radio waves – Jay-Z had released his colossal ‘final’ album The Black Album before retiring and 50 Cent had wasted no time in taking his place as king of the charts. In the mid-west, Twista seemed like he could go place and one Kanye West had just made his debut while in the south, Nelly, Ludacris and OutKast all had their fair share of mainstream success. Compared to that, California was a graveyard for forgotten star; Dr. Dre had stayed somewhat relevant by producing music for the superstars of the day but he had retired from the mic and there was (and is) no sign of Detox while Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube had traded in their hard won gangsta credentials for pop chart success with Justin Timberlake and family movies respectively. To say that The Documentary became the instant West Coast classic that it did simply because there was no other good music for it to compete against is a little simplistic though funnily enough not entirely inaccurate.
Like with any other project, to understand The Documentary, one has to understand its creator. Jayceon Taylor was able to succeed where artists like DJ Quik and lesser known artists like Kurupt had failed because he understood the game better than anyone and thus had earned his moniker. Listening to The Documentary, The Game’s debut album, is appropriately enough a lot like watching a documentary on the history of the rap game. It was an album created not from the normal creative sources from which artists draw their inspiration but instead was engineered after close study of past successes, a fact that The Game doesn’t bother denying. Nor should he – if all it took to make good music was mirroring previous greats’ efforts, then the music market would fast be oversaturated with music that sounded the same. The Documentary’s success, and Game’s, can actually be attributed to three things: Game’s understanding of what makes good hiphop, excellent production from some of the best producers around and a firm decision from The Game to stay well-within his comfort zone.
The Documentary doesn’t try to do anything interesting or unique. In many ways, it embodies the criticisms that some critics have had of the West’s style for a while: it sounds good but doesn’t actually say anything meaningful. Track after track, The Game raps on about the street life and his past hardships and future successes yet it is only a few of these tracks that the sound, the lyrics and the style truly coalesce to create any real impact on the listener. This isn’t to say that the rest of the tracks are bad but the album does lack variety in terms of its content. The Game compensates for that lack of variety with a solid flow and a natural confidence on the mic – there is an authenticity to his bars that makes the whole set-up work. He sounds tough and more importantly, he sounds real so the stories he tells in his tracks, vaguely similar to each other though they are, have much more credibility and this benefits the album as a whole. On the other hand, his style seems centred on showing off his knowledge of hiphop history; every other line is a reference to a song, album or artist and while fans of the genre might get the occasional kick of understanding his references, which are hardly obscure or varied themselves, it does seem almost like Game is using these names and references in lieu of actual evidence to establish his street cred. None of this however, detracts from the man’s ability to deliver punch lines in his bars or his talent with imagery though it should be noted that there are occasional lines where the delivery seems awkward or clumsy but these are par for the course in a debut album.
The West Coast style has always shied away from the minimalism of the East Coast hiphop, instead birthing styles like the famous G-funk – simple, smooth and so incredibly catchy. In The Documentary, the production absolutely shines, with producer credits going out to both established producers and young up-and-comers with Dr. Dre credited with majority of the production work and Kanye West, Just Blaze, Timbaland, Eminem and Buckwild among others all making worthy contributions. There are as many different styles on the album as there are producers – there are soul samples courtesy of College Dropout era Kanye West and old school G-Funk from the master himself, Dr. Dre. Impressively, Game seems pretty comfortable on most of these different sounds though there certainly occasions when the mellow melody of a track clashes with Game’s rough, gruff voice and lyrics. If there is a problem with the production, it is the there are times when the transition between songs is jarring and a little clumsy. A good example of this is how ‘Put You On The Game’, a track with slow, heavy horns and bass follows ‘Church For Thugs’ which has a more energetic, faster neo-soul sample. Despite the occasional arrangement hiccup though, the album is production masterpiece with each track bringing an interesting, catchy sound to the album. This is not to say that there aren’t weaker tracks on the album – but fittingly enough, the tracks where the beat doesn’t fully deliver are precisely the tracks that the Game shows that rare ability to elevate a weak beat with strong verses.
It’s almost funny in hindsight to see how many of the people Game gives props and shout outs to on The Documentary go on to become targets of his infamous diss tracks in the future. The most prominent of these is, of course, 50 Cent and G-Unit but you would not guess it from listening to the album. The same confidence that lets Game sound so comfortable on the mic also ensures that he will always be in conflict with others in the industry and always embroiled in one beef or another. Yet, juvenile though it may seem from an outsider’s perspective, it is also reassuring because it is proof that the version of himself that the Game depicts in The Documentary is no different from who he is outside the booth. It is this same realness that elevated The Documentary from ‘hot album of the year’ to ‘West Coast classic’.
How We Do
Church For Thugs
Like Father, Like Son
|Westside Story||Dr. Dre||5.0|
|Hate It Or Love It||Cool & Dre||5.0|
|How We Do||Dr. Dre||5.0|
|Don’t Need Your Love||Havoc||3.5|
|Church For Thugs||Just Blaze||5.0|
|Put You On The Game||Timbaland||4.5|
|Start From Scratch||Dr. Dre||4.5|
|The Documentary||Jef Bhasker||5.0|
|No More Fun and Games||Just Blaze||4.3|
|Where I’m From||Focus||4.3|
|Don’t Worry||Dr. Dre||4.0|
|Like Father, Like Son||Buckwild||5.0|