Until recently, The Game's debut went by the audacious title NWA Volume 1, which is a little like Oasis naming its debut The Beatles Chronicles. But listening to the albumthe latest eagerly anticipated debut from a member of the G-Unit and Aftermath familyclears up the reason behind the original title; The Game is essentially a walking encyclopedia of West Coast G-funk lore. Cut all the references to rappers and albums from The Documentary, and it'd be a good 15 to 20 minutes shorterand probably a lot more compelling. No wonder Dr. Dre hooked up The Game with some of his dopest beats. Judging from his lyrical content, The Game isn't just Dre's latest protégé (and one of those fortunate few who sign to the famously fickle Aftermath and actually manage to release an album): He's also apparently Dre's biggest fan. Of course, a lot of rap's most brilliant artists double as genre boosters, but The Game's fetish for name-dropping can get a little irritating. Lots of great rappers draw inspiration from hip-hop classics, but The Game seems to be equally influenced by an almost obsessive-compulsive need to rattle off classic album titles.
The Game boasts all the proper credentials for gangsta-rap superstardom: membership in a prominent gang, a gaudy chain, a lucrative past as a drug dealer, and a close-call brush with death. (It's only a matter of time until rap A&R scouts start scouting hospital wards for icons.) But more than anything, The Documentary has connections (the "Executive Producers: Dr. Dre and 50 Cent" credit alone pretty much guarantees platinum sales) and beats for days, not just from Dre, who mans the boards for much of the album, but also from Hi-Tek, Timbaland, and Roc-A-Fella all-stars Kanye West and Just Blaze. Just as defense beats offense in football, production consistently trumps rapping in hip-hop. If nothing else, The Documentary is a sonic classic of slow-rolling G-funk and glossy hyper-soul.
Dr. Dre specializes in knockout introductory singles, and he's scored one with "How We Do," a hypnotic blast of sinister seduction powered by a deliciously primitive 808 pattern and a slinky synth. In yet another track-stealing turn, 50 Cent stops stunting long enough to analyze his ascent in explicitly class-based terms. The Game doesn't have 50 Cent's sinister wit or insouciant sneer of a voice, but there's a fevered intensity, an almost cinematic vividness to his portrayal of the dark side of the street game, and it resonates strongly whenever he thankfully stops reciting the entire Death Row catalog. Banking hard on Dre's beats, 50 Cent's mesmerizing guest turns, and the whole street mythology of Dre's gangsta empire, The Game enters pop culture standing unabashedly on the shoulders of giants. Then again, that strategy didn't prevent 50 Cent and Eminem from becoming instant icons.