He may have lost his connection to hip hop’s most potent producer (Dr. Dre), and scotched his association with one of the genre’s most powerful brands (the G-Unit of 50 Cent). But the controversial rapper known as The Game thinks it’s all for the best.
“I’m so happy to get out of that whole thing,” says the man born Jayceon Taylor. “I’m just glad that nobody can say this time that my record is owed to 50 or to Dre. Now, it’s all me.”
Well, not quite all. Given that The Game’s 2005 debut, “The Documentary,” established the emcee as the biggest breakout rapper since 50 himself, he didn’t exactly have to go begging other name producers for help on his followup CD, “Doctor’s Advocate,” which came out Tuesday. No less esteemed a lineup than Scott Storch, Timbaland, Kanye West, DJ Hi-Tek and Just Blaze rushed in to the fill the departed Dre’s place as the men behind the mixing board.
Yet The Game says that when he first faced the task of living up to his 2.4 million-selling debut, he felt adrift. “I just didn’t have any direction,” he says. “It was very detrimental to me and my creative state of mind.”
That wasn’t the only problem he had at the time. In the last year, he pulled out of a proposed marriage to actress Valeisha Butterfield at the last minute, for a reason he won’t disclose. He also stopped talking to his older half-brother, George (Big Fase 100) Taylor, who’d been a crucial role model in his early life. Reportedly, the falling out had to do with money.
“Mo’ money, mo’ problems,” The Game affirms. “Your family can be your worst enemy at times. My brother is going his own way. But The Game don’t stop.”
Certainly, he’s weathered serious splits and dodged potentially lethal blows before. Growing up in L.A’s rough area of Compton, The Game lived the hard gangsta life of a Blood. It was Big Fase who first got him into that risky life. Two other brothers of The Game’s had been murdered during the rapper’s teen years. In 2001, a home invasion wound up riddling his body with seven bullets, sending him into a coma from which he was unlikely to awaken. After miraculously coming to, he felt reborn, which, the story goes, kick-started his life as a rapper.
Given The Game’s life in the hip-hop-sanctified area of Compton - plus his new-found skills as a verbalist - he seemed ideally poised to become a successor to the great West Coast gangsta rappers of the previous generation: Snoop Dogg, Tupac, and N.W.A.
“Growing up near N.W.A. was like growing up next to Bill Gates,” the rapper explains. “You could study under the best. They were my role models, not only in the music. They were father figures to kids in a place where so many of the homes had no parents.”
So it seemed like kismet when N.W.A. member Dre wound up coming across a mix tape made by The Game. It inspired him to sign the emcee to his Aftermath label and, eventually, to produce his debut. That 2005 album, a toned and savvy update of `90s L.A. gangsta, struck a chord with the millions who’d been missing that sound. Given the imprimatur and branding of his associates, it was no surprise that the week before the album came out The Game told me, “I feel anointed.”
But, just one month later, he was publicly feuding with 50, the more established rapper in Dre’s posse, who claimed he deserved more writing credit on the younger rapper’s debut. The two brought their feud to the media, which led to a shooting outside the offices of New York radio station Hot 97 during which Game’s friend Kevin Reed was struck. It was one of the few examples of a violent beef waged in public among rappers from the same clan.
On the new CD, The Game claims he has no beef with 50 and even talks about how he wishes he could call him on the phone. But in conversation, he’s far less conciliatory: “50 was always jealous of my success,” The Game says. “He’s jealous to this day. His G-Unit is going down in sales. And I’m a force to be reckoned with.”
The Game claims he has no such feelings about Dre. “One thing I don’t want to get twisted,” he says, “I owe Dre my life. I am always going to pay homage to him.”
He does so on the new album as well, mentioning Dre in nearly every track. He expresses regret in the title song for not telling Dre the depth of his gratitude. Still, he formally split with Dre’s Aftermath label in August to go with its parent company, Geffen. He refuses to say precisely why the winning team split, asking rhetorically, “Why isn’t Kobe playing with Shaq anymore? That don’t stop the ball from bouncing.”
While the breakup did initially give The Game pause, he says that once he started working with the producer Just Blaze on some tracks for the album, he found his foundation. “Then I knew where I had to take it,” he says.
Certainly, the result lives up to the West Coast gangsta snarl of The Game’s debut. But it also broadens his sonic palette with all the new production input. Having gone through all those early days of doubt, The Game now claims he’s nothing but confident.
“I called the album `Doctor’s Advocate’ because I’m advocating for real hip hop,” he says, “and because I’m the doctor now.”
// Notes from the Road
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