73/game1.jpgIt’s a sweltering June Sunday, and the world-renowned epicenter of sensory overload known as Times Square is characteristically abuzz with energy. “The Naked Cowboy,” a muscular blond wearing nothing but a pair of tightie-whities and a cowboy hat, strums his guitar in competition with Peruvian flutists, African street merchants, portrait artists, hot dog vendors and thousands of volts of neon electricity for the attention of countless wide-eyed tourists and theater-goers.

Calmly blending into the chaos is a 20-deep group of men, the majority sporting a bright splash of Blood-red clothing. They, too, are out-of-town visitors, also here for a show, and also in need a bit of direction. Seems their group leader—who just happens to be the controversial, West Coast–reppin’ rap phenom Jayceon Taylor, a.k.a. The Game—wants some T-shirts, and they are trying to figure out where to go. Hearing of a nearby Foot Locker, they’re off, forming a human wall around their man as they walk.

Tall and lanky, with piercing, maple-colored eyes, Game has a scruffy beard after weeks out alongside Snoop Dogg on the How the West Was One tour. The trademark scowl he affects for photos and videos has been replaced by a relaxed, easy smile, while the teardrop tattoo below his left eye is now balanced by a butterfly inked below his right. “I got the teardrop in the streets,” he says, “shooting and gangbanging, selling crack and whatever me and my brother and my friends was doing.” Then, pointing to his new addition, “I put all that behind me, so the butterfly represents new life. I have a son now, and it’s about his life. And my dad wrote this poem about my grandmother called ‘The Butterfly,’ so it’s for her, too.” Then he chuckles. “And chicks dig it.”

73/game2.jpgHe wears a black Chicago White Sox fitted, jeans so baggy he’s constantly pulling them up, and an oversized white tee—the outline of a bulletproof vest visible through the cotton. Game winks. “Ain’t nobody gonna Tupac me.” He looks around at his sizable crew—which includes his big brother, Fase Hunned, two beefy bodyguards, and a host of homies and artists in his Black Wall Street click—and announces proudly, “Now this is what you call an entourage.”

As the posse hustles down Broadway, the bodyguards are a little over-aggressive, shooing away fans who get too close, swiping at camera phones poised for a photo of the star. One man, who makes the mistake of walking into the circle, is slapped out of the way and left standing, dazed, as the group mows by. “I love it when they do that,” says Game of his team’s tactics. But then he turns with a concerned look and admits sympathetically, “They are kinda mean, aren’t they.”

Upon entering Foot Locker, Game cheerfully greets the store employees. “Where the G-Unit stuff at?” he shouts. “I need some G-Unit!” The workers, confused, dutifully bring him whatever they have in stock. It is indeed an odd request, considering that just months earlier, Game was abruptly and very publicly excommunicated from his former group by G-Unit commander-in-chief, 50 Cent. On a chilly afternoon in February, at the same time Game was professing his allegiance on one New York hip-hop station, 50 was on the other, announcing his dismissal. Later that night, when Game and his boys went to confront 50 at the Hot 97 studio, they were met by G-Unit security. A fight broke out, shots were fired, and Game’s friend Kevin “Peanut” Reed was hit and wounded. The beef was supposedly squashed two weeks later at a press conference in Harlem, where the two rappers shook hands, posed for pictures and donated funds to charity. They avoided eye contact with each other, though, shared few words and left separately.

Game leans over and confesses why he’s so hot to find the gear. “I’m gonna do something special onstage tonight,” he says. “It may not go over very well, but that’s the risk I have to take.” He eventually buys two G-Unit T-shirts and, on the way back to his hotel, starts to explain his plan of action for the evening. He’ll be performing at Hot 97’s annual Summer Jam—the New York area’s largest hip-hop concert of the year. He is a co-headliner, followed only by his tourmate, Snoop, and he wants to use this high-profile event to make a statement. “See,” he says excitedly, a gleam of malice in his eye, “I’ve got this part in the show where a rat—who’s supposed to be 50 Cent, you know—and a gorilla come out and...”

Hours later at Giants Stadium, 55,000 fans watch as two of Game’s boys—one in a furry rat costume, the other in a gorilla suit, each wearing a previously purchased G-Unit shirt—come onstage, where they are immediately knocked to the ground and kicked relentlessly by the rest of the crew, who wear black tees reading “G-Unot.” Game rants about the injustices leveled on him by 50’s crew. “They kicked me out the group,” he says, “I didn’t ask to be kicked out.” He starts up a chant: “50 Cent can suck my dick! Tony Yayo can suck my dick!” But most of the spectators seem as confused as the Foot Locker staff, and not many join in. After throwing his once-prized G-Unit chain into the crowd, he continues on with the performance, ironically launching into “How We Do,” one of his hits that feature 50 on the chorus. “Sing the hook!” Game commands the lukewarm audience, “Sing it since you like 50 so much.” Finally, he stomps offstage, leaving everyone to ponder whether they’ve just seen a rap show or witnessed an exorcism.

A few days later, a much more subdued Game is at home, taking in the hazy L.A. sunshine. Wearing a stretched-out wifebeater, basketball shorts and black Nike Airs, he stands in the middle of the street, checking out his brother Fase’s customized Dodge Magnum. Fase—once known as “Scarface” because of the train-track of a scar that runs below his left eye—explains how to open and shut the Lamborghini-style flip-up doors (“Very carefully”). The small, unassuming block they call home is dotted with squat, pastel-colored houses with neat squares of lawn in front. The children of Game’s next-door neighbors, a Latino family, run playfully about in their yard. It might seem like any other suburb if all the windows didn’t have bars on them, if there weren’t some 20 dudes milling about on security detail. This, after all, is Compton.

It’s here that Jayceon Taylor became “Chuck” Taylor and, ultimately, The Game. Here, with the long avenues and streets with deceptively serene names like Willowbrook and Cedar and Elm, is where he feels most comfortable, despite the occasional explosion of gunfire.

Game lumbers up to the house that serves as the Black Wall Street studio, office space and crash pad. Parked in the driveway, his brand-new Bentley coupe is of a size that makes the building look like a Monopoly piece. One of Game’s homies, a compact, muscular fellow with an impeccably groomed goatee and a G-Unot shirt, sits on the front stoop, a large gun lying openly on his lap. He doesn’t bother to look up or move out of the way.