Review: The Game – The Documentary 2

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80%
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Dope

A gangsta rap album that is at once conservative and innovative, personal and populist, and a timely throwback to hip-hop orthodoxy. The Game's best release in a decade.

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West Coast hip-hop has enjoyed something of a strange renaissance in recent years, with a host of younger artists (Schoolboy Q, Kendrick Lamar) delivering material that, whilst unabashedly mainstream, apes the aesthetics, narrative qualities and thematic complexity associated with gangsta rap’s early-’90s halcyon days. The grassroots ‘authenticity’ of this movement is entirely open to question, with industry veterans continuing to exert a marked executive and commercial influence behind the scenes, but it forms the base of an undoubtedly powerful counterweight in the face of hip-hop’s gradual integration with more radio-friendly currents, namely contemporary R&B and EDM.

The release of The Documentary 2 is, in this regard, a momentous event. Despite The Game’s status as an established artist, this album, like 2012’s Jesus Piece, owes a clear debt to the technique and principles of the new talent, with a back-to-basics production ethic that evokes Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City (the enthroned ‘King of the West Coast’ features here on the opening track). This defiantly scrappy methodology, more manifest here than in any previous Game album, contrasts with a guest lineup that exhibits a total lack of such minimalism – Snoop Dogg, Dr. Dre, Busta Rhymes, Ice Cube, Drake, will.i.am and myriad others all cameo, reduced to mere vignettes among a star-spangled cast of dozens that goes well beyond satiating Game’s legendary propensity for namedropping.

Like the best rap albums, Documentary 2 functions on multiple levels, never shying away from casual experimentation. Its true genius lies in its simultaneity – having drawn together two generations of the hip-hop virtuosi, Game directs from the shadows with a vice-like grip, ensuring that the work is never robbed of its personal touch. Much of the material here is reiteratory, a string of quasi-autobiographical hood tales and musings not far divorced in tone and structure from the Compton potpourri that was the first Documentary (2005). This should not be taken as evidential of creative stagnation, however – it is, in fact, a tactical move, shifting the critical emphasis the way of Game’s craft and rhythm. Here, the album is an absolute coup. A consistent, rollicking pattern is maintained by the rapper throughout, no small feat given his aspirations to a postmodern ghetto epic (the runtime currently stands at 73 minutes, due to be supplemented with the addition of 17 new tracks in Documentary 2.5 next week).

There is huge diversity on display throughout, but this never threatens to trump the pacing, with otherwise very distinct tracks, beats and artists melding seamlessly. Whilst ‘Made In America’ and ‘Summertime’ conjure visions of Los Angeles in its sleazy, ultraviolent late-20th Century prime (“In this Impala, old school like some shell toes / Had a fake gold chain, but don’t nobody else knows”), ‘Dedicated’ and ‘Mula’, boasting the hooks of Kanye West and (Atlanta-based rapper) Future, respectively, bear all the hallmarks of contemporary pop-hop classics. The eulogy ‘New York, New York’ offers a brief flirtation with the political (“Some s**t just never make sense, like bashin’ the gays / Obama must be in the city, it’s traffic today”); this gives way to a swashbuckling, stellar triple-bill (‘100’, ‘Just Another Day’, ‘LA’), arguably the best Game closer since The R.E.D. Album.

Of course, The Game’s career has been one effectively defined by the divisions his post-2005 output has fostered among both fans and critics; it would be nothing short of miraculous for this album to run without the odd duff or disconcerting turd, and it is ultimately these, a touch too prominent to overlook, that set Documentary 2 just outside the realms of outright gangsta triumph. Where the work rarely falters, it sinks to Bikini Bottom – in the guise of ‘B**** You Ain’t S**t’, Game gives us a slut-shaming doggerel that serves little purpose but to beggar reassertion of the sentiments expressed by Kanye West last week. There’s some awkward lyricism, too (“And my granny’s whipping yay-yay”), though a masterful sense of pace, coupled with the presence of a large, highly capable supporting cast, aids greatly in staving off any turn the album could have made towards the lethargy that is so liable to plague modern hip-hop.

This is a solid LP, leagues beyond anything we’ve come to expect of The Game, and certainly his boldest release since the first Documentary.

The Documentary 2 is out now via Entertainment One Music.

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Desperado, social scientist, pop culture aficionado and occasional dabbler in journalism.

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