ARTS

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January 28, 2005

Shortcut - The Game

Back in the day—and I mean before I was in junior high, like '95, '96—the West Coast was the man. Death Row was the only label worth recording for, and the city of L.A. was at the top of the pyramid. "All Eyez on Me," remember? 2Pac said that, and though he died first, Biggie Smalls had to go to Los Angeles to become an East Coast martyr. A lot of energy in the hip-hop media after these assassinations went to downplaying the East-West rivalry, and sure enough, in a few years the Southern scene exploded from Atlanta, and New York and L.A. were left with one or two big names—instead of the two armies that were led by Biggie and Pac.

So here we are in 2005, and a baby-faced cat called the Game releases a debut, and his first song is "Westside Story," and the back of the album says "COMPTON." Am I in grade school? I don't think so. First off, "The Documentary" is coproduced by Dr. Dre and 50 Cent, which is an East-West pairing that never would have happened ten years ago. Even on a track like "Where I'm From," when we expect a few disses, the Game tells us more about where he's gone: "Walk through 8 Mile, G-Units on my feet/ Got a cherry lowrider in the N-Y-C/ Eve took me to Philly, never been to the pen." An album like "The Documentary" is a big step for hip-hop, because it finds a way to represent Compton and the West Coast without hating the East.

Unfortunately, I can't say that the Game's debut is an overall success. There are guest MCs on 11 of the 17 songs, and the Game has a hard time establishing himself when he has to compete with the 50s and Busta Rhymes of the world. 50 is on no less than three of the first five tracks, and it's hard not to think of him as holding the Game's hand. The production, by Dre, 50, Timbaland, etc., is really too good, too refined, because the Game is outshined by the track that supports him.

Though his debut is no Chronic, I hear real promise when I listen to the Game, who has only been rapping for two years (and dealing for quite a bit more). I believe him in "Put You on the Game" when he raps, "I'm movin' in the neighborhood, ain't passin through/ I woulda been here after Snoop, but I slowed down/ To show Timbaland how to iron a khaki suit." That last line sounds tight on the record; now you try it.