Game, “I Wish” (Originally Published June 2008)

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Even when he’s not battling charges, Game always seems to be fighting something. Or someone. He’s tussled, literally and figuratively, with a long list of rap names—Joe Budden, Memphis Bleek, Yukmouth, Suge Knight, Rass Kas. And, of course, most famously, with his former employer, 50 Cent, and the G-Unit Records roster.

Initially, the joint patronage of artists turned moguls Dr. Dre and 50 Cent treated Game extraordinarily well. Dre’s killer Cali sonics proved to be the perfect vehicle for Game’s visceral yet vulnerable rhymes, and 50’s singsong hooks made singles like “How We Do” and “Hate It or Love It” as catchy as the common cold. Released as a joint venture between Dre’s Aftermath Entertainment and 50’s G-Unit, Game’s 2005 debut, The Documentary, sold 2.5 million records. Later that year, though, after diverging from 50’s strict G-Unit–against-the-world code of loyalty in a couple of interviews, he was booted from the crew in the most public firing this side of The Apprentice. Suddenly abandoned, adrift on hip-hop’s turbulent sea, Game was faced with the task of proving he was his own man.

“50 never was the driving force of Game, because Game can rap,” says his manager, Jimmy Rosemond. “It’s unfortunate that, every album, he has to prove himself that way. But it’s a great position, too, because it brings out the best in him. You have a different sense of urgency when it’s do or die.”

Sure enough, he came through last time. Despite the absence of Dre and 50, 2006’s Doctor’s Advocate has sold close to a million copies—a victory in this era of diminished expectations. Game’s also claiming a W for crippling G-Unit with his retaliatory G-Unot campaign, conducted through placards, T-shirts and mixtape material, like the 15-minute diss tirade “300 Bars & Running.”

“Where’s G-Unit now?” says Game, a boastful edge creeping into his voice. “Where’s the music? Where’s the power that once was? I did that.” But then he pauses, and offers diplomatic words to offset his brashness. “I don’t got no hard feelings against 50 no more. No hard feelings for nobody. I don’t wanna see that man dead or in jail, see no harm imposed on 50 Cent or Lloyd Banks or Tony Yayo or Young Buck. I wanna see all them make as much money as possible and do it the best that they can. ’Cause, when it’s over, it’s over. My hand ain’t out, saying that I wanna shake it and do music. But my hand, it’s not not out.”

For the past few months, Game has been holed up in a nearby studio, creating his next post-50 disc, L.A.X. (or Los Angeles Times), due June through Geffen Records. He worked through Christmas, skipped New Year’s and watched the Super Bowl in the studio, with the TV on mute. (Seems like this could become tradition, seeing as how he wagered $7,000 on the victorious New York Giants.) He’s confidently calling it the best and the final album of his career. Some big-name beatmakers are signed on—Just Blaze, Timbaland, Kanye—but Game’s been working primarily with a newly formed group of choice producers, songwriters and musicians called The Task Force, which includes Mars and Renz, Nu Jerzey Devil and Tre Beatz. Although Dr. Dre isn’t set to contribute, he also hasn’t been ruled out. Game says the two still speak.

Clearly, for a guy who named his second album after the man he says was “like a father” to him, the artistic estrangement from Dre remains an issue. But, again, that’s not what’s weighing heaviest on Game. A lot of it has to do with real-life kin, and much of it is complicated. “My family has completely showed me that they don’t give a fuck about me, and the people closest to me have turned their backs on me in ways unknown to man,” he says, choosing not to name names. “Even you, or someone 10 years old, could figure out who those people are, if you know The Game, his life and his music, and what he cares about the most.”

“When certain things happen in your childhood,” says Game’s mom, Lynette Baker, “there’s a healing process. You just can’t sweep it under the rug, put a table over it and think that it’s gonna go away. A lot of times people don’t deal with it.”

Gangbanging is a Taylor family tradition. Raised in South Central, Lynette became a Hoover Crip when she was 12. She left the set three years later, after watching a fellow Cripette get shot in the neck, but she remained in and around the lifestyle. She’d already given birth to two daughters when she and George Taylor, a Nutty Block Crip, had Game in November 1979. George already had four other sons—George Jr., Derrick, Jamil and Jevon—all with different women.

Game was a quiet kid who used to hang pictures of Nas and Eazy-E on his wall. When he was seven, his oldest sister revealed the unsettling news that George Sr. had been sexually abusing her. State authorities deemed Lynette unable to protect her kids and placed them in separate foster homes in Carson, Calif. In 1993, Jevon was murdered, an incident that briefly reunited Game with his dad and triggered his eventual rebellion. When he returned to live with his mom in his preteens, their relationship was strained.

As a teenager, Game joined his brother George Jr., now known as Big Fase 100, in a Blood set, the Cedar Block Pirus. Lynette, working three jobs while raising three kids, remained in denial of her son’s new extracurricular activities. “When he was around me he was always good,” she says. “He never let me see any of that.” Indeed, even while banging, he kept his grades up at Compton High and starred on the school’s basketball team, alongside future NBA all-star Baron Davis. His hoops skills earned him a scholarship to Washington State University, but he was expelled before classes started for drug allegations.