The Documentary 2

The Los Angeles that The Game sees in 2015—the one he weaves through on his way to the airport, avoiding the freeway—is starkly different from the one he was promised 10 years ago. That’s when Jayceon Taylor was plugged into the Interscope machine and was tasked with turning demos for 50 Cent's The Massacre into a blueprint for the West Coast going forward. L.A. hadn’t debuted a consistently bankable rap star since 'Pac died and Game checked all the boxes: Compton native, but without too many regional tics; a little mean, but good-looking enough for 106 & Park; reverent to his roots.

He was stepping into a vacuum, and his debut album The Documentary filled it. The flows were a little clumsy at times, the verses crammed with famous name-drops and co-signs. But it had a veritable who’s-who of Bush administration super-producers: Kanye West, Cool & Dre, Timbaland, Eminem, Just Blaze, Hi-Tek, Dr. Dre himself. And there was an undeniable sense of gravity; as contrived as the savior talk might have been, Game had the resources and ambition to shift the balance of power back to California.

Yet The Documentary didn’t quite do it. Then Game and 50 fell out. Then he made an album called Doctor’s Advocate without a single Dr. Dre beat. And in the decade since his debut, he's had to sit and watch as L.A. spawned a half-dozen legitimate stars and perhaps the country’s best indie rap scene. Kendrick Lamar—of whom Game was an early supporter, it should be noted—fulfilled everything that “Hate It Or Love It” seemed to promise. So The Documentary 2 and its companion piece, The Documentary 2.5, arrive in a crowded city, shouldering its way into contention. And by nearly every measure, they succeed.

Game has been criticized in the latter half of his career for his tendency to mimic the styles of those rappers with whom he’s collaborating. And to be sure, it has at times betrayed a distinct lack of vision. But it’s also underscored a dramatic improvement in Game’s mic skills. See “Quik’s Groove (The One)” from the second disc: where in 2005 the MC might have rushed to squeeze a dozen syllables about Rhythm-al-ism into each bar, here he finds the pocket with ease.

That’s one of the two threads that runs through the 150-minute proceedings. Game has figured out how to not only bend and twist his flows the way the legends he name-dropped always could, he’s figured out how to do it while breathing in some personality. First disc opener “On Me” dangles an impressive Kendrick Lamar verse in the foreground before Jayceon brings his voice down to a simmer and brings it home. "Summertime," also from the front half, is the loosest he’s sounded in years, or maybe ever.

The other big takeaway is that this is finally his Los Angeles rap record. Not The Documentary, not the one called LAX. There’s all the requisite funk, sex and gang banging to slide this comfortably after any West coast classic—if not in quality, at least in tone. 2.5 is populated almost entirely by California natives, including plenty of supporting players from Dr. Dre’s Compton: A Soundtrack (Anderson .Paak in particular shines in his appearances). “Crenshaw/80s and Cocaine” boasts about skipping the 110 on the way to El Segundo. The ScHoolboy Q- and Jay Rock-featuring “Gang Bang Anyway” mentions the 100 Days & 100 Nights, a rash of Crip infighting that blew up into a full-scale gang war.

And despite being painted—in no small part by 50 Cent himself—as erratic and difficult to work with in his early days, The Game has evidently curried more good favor than anyone else in rap. Even a quick perusal of the tracklist will send you running to your phone’s banking app. But more than flexing an extensive Rolodex, Game has finally figured out exactly how to deploy his weapons. Lil Wayne will never have the presence he had through 2008, but his hook on “For Adam” would be pitch-perfect even if he were the also-ran Hot Boy.

The name alone guarantees The Documentary 2 a certain amount of commercial success—the first half has already nearly tripled the first-week sales of his last effort, last year’s compilation LP Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf. But this is him at his creative peak. Bloated though it may be, these discs are The Game that was promised by a desperate industry in 2005. And the local pride runs deep: “Think you from L.A. 'cause you listen to some Mustard?” —Paul Thompson