A version of this review has been published by the blog Pretty Much Amazing, which you can read here.
Make no mistake, recording and releasing a double album is no ordinary task—it’s an ambitious undertaking. When done right, a double immerses the audience in new musical vistas, with the medium warranting seemingly unlimited space to facilitate unbridled creative ideas; ones that deserve to be heard and mulled over for years to come. However, when in the wrong hands, a double album could reek of pretension and egoism; overblown ideas du jour, far-reaching conceptual elements without resolve, and an outwardly bloated predisposition. And surely we’ve experienced a handful of double albums that make a strong case for the medium as a necessary exploration of artistic freedoms. Although you’d probably be hard-pressed to look, rap music has also brazenly taken on the challenge of the double album: The Notorious B.I.G. (Life After Death), OutKast (Speakerboxxx/The Love Below), and UGK (Underground Kingz), to name a few, have all tackled the format with equal success. Enter Compton rapper Game, who has apparently bit off more than he can chew with The Documentary 2, a whopping thirty-eight track double album spanning almost three hours worth of music, as he attempts to traverse the past and present of his native West Coast, traditionalist East Coast sensibilities, and the South’s enticing ingenuity in rap music all in one fell swoop.
Realistically speaking, the double album is a relic that perhaps best belongs to the vinyl-obsessed, gatefold-cracking generation, for the average Millennial—those growing up in this messy post-iTunes click-and-purchase era—it could signify the passé ideals of your dad’s “classic rock” collection. And unfortunately for Game, he’s doubling down on two equally losing hands. Released on October 9th, The Documentary 2 arrived exactly a week ahead of the scheduled release date for The Documentary 2.5, an ostensible bonus disc, which will ultimately conflate as a bundle on store shelves. The Game explained his process in typical fashion: A self-mythologizing Instagram post. (Ten years into “an iconic career,” he wants to “put out [a] dope double album” akin to his favorite artists, 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G.) But for someone whose professional career is to rap, and who’s regularly been criticized for having a tendency to imitate and namedrop, this seemingly sweet gesture to the giants who came before him feels entirely unnecessary and doesn’t hold up on the final product. Of course, this won’t prevent him from directly mentioning The Chronic, Dr. Dre, “It Was a Good Day,” good kid, m.A.A.d city, TDE, C-Murder, No Limit Records, and Dr. Dre again. And that’s just Game getting warmed up on the opening track, “On Me”.
Elsewhere on The Documentary 2, Game compares himself to R. Kelly while taking a “piss on a centerfold” (“Standing on Ferraris”), reassures he’s stayed the same and “ain’t go weird like Lupe” (“Dollar and a Dream”), closes a casket on his foes, which is “airtight like Mystikal’s cornrows” (“Step Up”), childishly blurts out “fuck rap” seconds before admitting he only has “respect for Ja Rule and Hammer” (“The Documentary”), and makes roughly a dozen or so references to NBA players Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, and the Golden State Warriors along the way. Regrettably, The Documentary 2.5 isn’t any better, with Game using dated memes and ugly potshots as an excuse for generating lyric content. On “Magnum Carlson,” he picks sides in the Kanye West rant on Sway in the Morning from two years ago (“Sway got all the answers, Kanye lied to you niggas”), uses a rapper’s glaucoma as a bad punchline (“Close one and aim, Fetty Wap’s eye to you niggas”), and randomly slanders an accomplished black record executive-cum-CEO/philanthropist (“And get my shit the gangsta way, ’cause I can’t be no Steve Stoute”). And that’s not even remotely scratching the surface on Game’s juvenile, strawman lyrics.
One of the album’s bright spots is in “Circles,” with sexual politics permeating the conceptual side of the track as obscure singer-songwriter Sha Sha trades rapier wit with Eric Bellinger on the bridge (“I guess you thought they stopped making real niggas when they made you,” she confidentially professes; “Guess she thought they stopped making real bitches when they made you,” he barks back defensively) over a gorgeous sample of “Going in Circles” by Friends of Distinction. The Game, who’s recently made tabloids after a dissolution of his own, comes out of his shell by dropping plenty of solid lines that reflect his mindset during the acrimony: “Scrolling through my iPhone looking for my side chick/ This bitch always flipping, pushing buttons like a Sidekick.” He raps with refreshing clarity here, while punctuating each word as though he’s channeling a venomous sting. With shades of Vandross, the dapper Future follows suit on “Dedicated”; dim lights, thick smoke, and a sweet serenade materializes over the studio (“Money, we burn it on bitches like candles/ Can I trust you gonna ride for me, like I ride for you?/ I speak your name and it’s royalty/ You see the stress and my loyalty”) which sets up Game with an easy layup (“We was the Huxtables, everything was perfect/ Everything was working/ We had some beautiful kids together/ Had a nigga feeling like everything was worth it”).
The one-two punch of “Circles” and “Dedicated” is a surefire highlight reel on an album with few of them, striking a careful balance between nuance and sharp bite. But they don’t make up for awful, condescending tracks like “Bitch, You Ain’t Shit” that prop up indiscriminately in the track listing. Throughout, Game seems to confuse the ambition and confidence that naturally comes with releasing a double album with his unwavering, chest-beating machismo. And at this point in his career—ten years, seven studio albums, and fourteen mixtapes—Game represents a breed of rappers rapidly facing extinction. Ironically for Game, who was ousted from 50 Cent’s G-Unit in 2005 (he tells his side of the story for the hundredth time on The Documentary 2.5 opener, “New York Skit”), he’s on the same downward spiral as Fif—unable to top early success, prove veteran status, nor set new trends. Even after you’ve carefully trimmed all its excess fat, The Documentary 2 lapses in customary navel-gazing. Largely, both discs along with the staggering thirty-eight hangers-on, seem to serve one primary purpose, and that’s to divert the attention away from Game’s unbroken, singular flow (or lack thereof) with an inflated budget courtesy of new label, partners eOne Music.
From exalted veterans (Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Nas, Scarface, E-40, Busta Rhymes) to new school scribes (Drake, Kendrick Lamar, DeJ Loaf, Ab-Soul, Jay Rock, ScHoolboy Q, YG), and just about anyone you could ever imagine appearing on a rap album sprinkled in-between (Kanye West, Lil Wayne, Puff Daddy, will.i.am, Fergie, Q-Tip, Ty Dolla $ign), The Documentary 2 is a who’s-who of guest appearances. Kanye stops by on “Mula” with no verse in hand, further outlining his problematic year in music; Lil Wayne also leaves “From Adam” with absolutely nothing worthwhile to say; Puff Daddy, desperately attempting to channel Birdman, overextends his welcome on the outro of The Notorious B.I.G. sampling “Standing on Ferraris”; Kendrick makes work out of a nondescript beat on “On Me”; Jay Rock reduces almost everything Game rapped across The Documentary 2’s two discs to the size of a small cinder on “Gang Bang Anyway”; and Drake does Drake on the album’s promo cut, “100”. In addition, the double album boasts an impressive lineup of diverse producers: Legendary West Coaster DJ Quik provides the project with one of its finest musical moments in a toe-tapping funk throwback (properly titled “Quiks Groove”), hitmaker DJ Mustard surprisingly dials back on the hyphy shit and properly turns up for inner-city malaise (“My Flag / Da Homies”), and Blink-182 drummer boy Travis Barker shows up to lay down a smooth Bay Area mobb music tribute (“Outside”).
Presumably, Game was inspired by 2Pac’s All Eyez on Me and The Notorious B.I.G.’s Life After Death, two distinguished rap double albums released under dire circumstances—Pac charged with sexual abuse, out on bail, and broke; B.I.G. surviving a bi-coastal rap beef and ultimately murdered in cold blood at 24—while Game, 35, revels in boring self-deification and mythologizing. Rarely does The Documentary 2 feel, or sound, important enough to warrant a double album, especially not one that spans three hours. The Documentary 2 perhaps works best when Game suffuses tracks with growing pains, particularly those on “Made in America”; “I used to wanna be Eazy/ Then I realized it wasn’t that easy,” he raps precociously over an elegant grand piano and angelic “oh-ooh” backing vocals being beamed down from the heavens above. “I used to wish that I was 2Pac/ Then I realized that might get you shot,” he continues, and for once you get a glimpse inside his delicate psyche and get an idea why it’s regularly cloaked in all the macho bullshit. Sadly, this moment is short-lived, and the dick jokes just keep piling on.