The Game’s life-after-near-death bio was a familiar monologue months before his debut album, The Documentary, even had a release date. Now that it’s out, we hear it ad nauseam. It still makes a compelling story: shot and left for dead, only to come back and hit pay dirt as a rapper who was shot and left for dead. The underdog tale that marketed the Game helped 50 Cent sell ten million records and, if we can generalize for a minute, inspired Eminem’s 8 Mile and the transcendent “Lose Yourself.”
But whereas 50 perfected the art of the come-up all over Get Rich or Die Tryin’, the Game seems hesitant to dive in with both feet. He’s more cautious, more wary of his recent turnaround. As a result, and to our benefit, he sets out to prove himself each time he gets behind the mike, manhandling every beat and never backing down. It’s an impressive feat, considering that both the producers (Dre, Kanye, Just Blaze) and guests (Em, 50, Busta) chosen here are known for one-upping their hosts. Even the hook-crooners (Faith, Mary J. and Nate) take a backseat.
When he lets his guard down, the Game reveals a vulnerability that takes some emcees years to showcase. “Don’t Need Your Love” is remorseful and reflective, a rare instance where the Game’s 2001 shooting is examined from a broader perspective (“Karma come quicker for a nigga on the other side of the gun/ That’s something I gotta teach my son”). “Start From Scratch” finds him on the verge of tears in every line, staring in the mirror and re-examining every crucial life moment, from growing up in Compton to rhyming (“I woulda changed a couple lines when I wrote ‘Soldier’/ So I wouldn’t have to live looking over my shoulder”). And the serious yet celebratory “Like Father, Like Son” recounts the birth of the Game’s little man and marks the first time on the entire album he focuses on someone other than himself (or Dr. Dre). It also hints at his potential as a hypnotizing storyteller.
For the most part, though, it’s the Game Show, and that’s enough for now. It’s infectious to hear a hungry emcee bring back the West Coast, from the 808 bump of “How We Do” to the N.W.A.-lifting “No More Fun and Games.” Plus, he knows his history: The title track flips a roll call of classic rap albums (Death Certificate, The Chronic, Doggystyle, All Eyez on Me) as a chorus. Don’t be surprised to see the Game add his own album to that list one day.