When 2Pac was gunned down on the Las Vegas Strip in 1997, the Los Angeles rap world lost its lodestar, the beacon around which to orient itself. It wasn’t until several years later that The Game emerged from Compton to snatch the crown of LA rap.
The Game’s early life was bleak. “Back then, I didn’t care if I lived or died and that was normal to me,” he wrote in 2019, looking back. “I never expected nor cared to live past 25 years old.” After being shot five times in 2001, he emerged from a coma and put out his first mixtape, You Know What It Is Vol. 1. It fell into the hands of Dr. Dre, who promptly signed The Game to be his next protege.
The result was The Game’s wildly successful 2005 major label debut The Documentary. Nostalgia was the major theme of the album. The Game weaved a narrative of the recent history of LA’s Black communities with his own personal history of gangbanging. He spewed out richly autobiographical verses with a snarl that made it seem like he was six inches away from your face – at furthest, riding shotgun beside you. And he never let you forget that his life once hung by a thread – that for all his charisma, his rise to fame was nothing short of a miracle.
The Early 50 Cent Collabs
Other than his mentor Dr. Dre, the person who left the biggest impact on The Game’s early career was 50 Cent. 50 was pretty much the hottest thing walking the planet in the early 2000s, and The Documentary’s first three singles featured the Queens rapper. The album established The Game as the West Coast representative and next hero of 50’s G-Unit’s crew.
50’s easygoing gangster charm and sharp ear for hooks paired well with The Game’s pugnacious style, and for a time, they formed the best duo in hip-hop. On The Game’s debut single, “Westside Story,” they traded extensive shoutouts, retracing the Los Angeles-New York axis that defined their upbringing. Meanwhile, the slo-mo club entrance music of “How We Do” and the wistful but exultant rags-to-riches anthem “Hate It Or Love It” showed that their chemistry could hold up in different moods. The Game’s collaborations with 50 Cent marked his commercial peak: “How We Do” and “Hate It Or Love It” both cracked the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100.
The Doctor’s Advocate Standouts
Within weeks of the release of The Documentary in January of 2005, the two rappers became embroiled in an acrimonious beef that spelled the end for The Game’s brief, glorious tenure with G-Unit. Still, his follow-up album Doctor’s Advocate proved that he could fend for himself, as he expanded his range as a lothario, humorist, storyteller, and shit-talker supreme.
On “Let’s Ride,” he celebrates low-rider hydraulics with a voice that now sounded deeper and meaner than before. On the rap ballad “Ol English,” malt liquor swigs cause notes of anguish to seep into his voice as he delves into the tragic history of his uncle. “Wouldn’t Get Far” casts a cynical eye on rap groupies over a Kanye West-produced Motown flip that gives the song plenty of levity. Between “Wouldn’t Get Far” and The Documentary standout “Dreams,” The Game simply did not miss with Kanye behind the boards.
The Guest-Laden Radio Anthems
The Game’s album credits have always read a bit like the guestlist at the Roc Nation brunch. On “My Life,” for example, he memorably imagines himself sitting in his Impala at the gates of hell, smoking blunts with the devil, and listening to The Chronic backward, but the song reaches anthem status because of a killer Lil Wayne hook. A few years later, “Mercy” and “Birthday Song”-era 2 Chainz shows up on “Ali Bomaye,” The Game’s triumphant invocation of the yells from the pro-Ali Congolese crowd (translation: “Ali, kill him!”) at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle. There might not be a better Muhammad Ali musical tribute this century. “100,” featuring Drake, came out during the summer of “Hotline Bling” and “Back to Back”; The Game rapped about repping LA to the death and giving every member of Drake’s crew a bulletproof vest. Some things never change.
The Diss Tracks
The Game’s capacity for beef is unrivaled. As a result, his diss tracks constitute their own body of work and they’re among The Game’s best songs. To date, he’s run up a CVS receipt’s worth of names and groups who have run afoul of him in ways small and large, from G-Unit to Suge Knight to Eazy-E’s kid to the entire 2014 XXL freshman class. The greater his opponent in stature and number, the harder he goes. A 2005 Manhattan confrontation between The Game and 50 Cent’s crews led The Game to rattle off several mixtapes worth of “G-Unot” disses, most notably his 15-minute opus “300 Bars & Runnin.” A master at turning petty disputes into spectacle, The Game once attempted to take on 50, Jay-Z, and Suge Knight in one fell swoop with a metaphorical diss track, “My Bitch.”
A decade later, his appetite for beef had not waned. In 2016, on his six-minute Meek Mill diss “92 Bars,” Game threatens, “I’mma start beefing with Cole, Drizzy, and Cornrow Kenny.” The final name refers to another Dr. Dre disciple from Compton, Kendrick Lamar. Two decades into his career, The Game has never stopped pitting himself against the world.
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