Having become engrossed in “The Documentary 2” and the second disc “2.5”, something finally hit me: I’ve never been to Compton. I’ve heard the word a million times, bought the albums, seen the films, and know all about where the city lies within the grand scheme of hip hop history. But I’ve never been to Compton. I’m willing to bet that you haven’t either… And so, I took a trip there – via Google Street View. I looked at the map, made (what I thought was) an educated guess and dropped a pin. It landed near at 1289 East Pine Street, on the corner with North Long Beach Boulevard. Now, I have no idea whether this is Blood or Crip territory, or what the socioeconomic future is of this district holds. All I saw was a guy riding his bicycle and… Sticking up his middle finger at the Google van. Welcome to Compton.
Having listened to D2 and D2.5 continuously, I feel like I know a lot more about the place – it’s been far more informative than Dr. Dre’s final album, or Kendrick Lamar’s recent masterpiece. After all, The Game takes (intentionally?) 2.5 hours to draw you into his life and city – and it’s not always pretty. It’s a risky strategy, and one which has almost no chance of success when you factor in when his last truly great album was, the current rap landscape and just how hard it is pull off a double LP. I managed to squeeze in concurrent listens of “All Eyez On Me” and “Life After Death”; spun “Street’s Disciple” and “The Blueprint 2”, too.
There really aren’t many classic double albums, rap or not. You could continually argue that “it could have been cut down to one disc!” In fact, Flash himself effectively based his entire Nas review on that premise. In my eyes, none of those albums were worth the “double” tag – it seemed like Tupac and Nas were trying to get their contracts over more quickly, Jay himself said BP2 was too long (and quickly released a “2.1” version) and “Life After Death” is possibly the only one that earns it, yet would still have been better as a single disc. So here’s the shock, ladies and gentlemen…
The Game has made a classic double album.
It’s not going to be a classic with the huge singles that Pac, Biggie or OutKast had. It’s not even going to sell 10% of what that lot managed. Hell, most people (even rap fans) just won’t even realise it for a while. But it’s SO carefully thought out, consistent, has a lower ratio of tracks that need cutting, the right amount/choice of guests and – crucially – it genuinely gets better with every spin. The bedrock of Game’s success here is the absolutely outstanding music on offer: there are delights all over the place, some only last a couple of minutes and bleeding out of the previous track so seamlessly that you don’t realise it’s a different song. It pays homage to the right areas/eras of hip hop, the ones that make sense to someone his age (more of that later). If we resist the temptation to mark negatively – because there are some clear missteps – and just assess the album for what it is, not what it could have been, then time will tell: “The Documentary 2 & 2.5” form a classic double album.
The genius of how it was split up should teach rappers a thing or two – to have given the public everything in one go would have been overwhelming, clearly. So release the first disc on a Friday, the second disc a week later. It made it digestible, it gave people a chance to absorb it all in good time, and to anticipate the second offering.
Again, it’s not entirely perfect and it certainly doesn’t take a while to figure that out. In fact, let’s just get the lesser moments out of the way now. Firstly, it has practically nothing to do with the original “Documentary” – there is the odd reference, an occasional reboot (e.g. LFLS2) but from an artistic point of view, perhaps this should have been named something else. As is the tradition in this genre, there are some questionable skits – the most hilarious is probably the “New York Skit” intro to “2.5” which effectively goes like this:
Sway: “Yo Game, what happened between you and 50?”
Game: “Nah man, the past is the past. I only live in the present, I’m Zen.”
Sway: “Oh OK man, no prob-”
Game: “So what happened was this…” (Tells entire rehearsed story for two minutes)
Add in a stupid “Sex Skit.” Then there are the couple of truly misogynistic tracks that actually would have made potential crossovers if Game wasn’t making such a total arse of himself. “Bitch You Ain’t Shit” has a great beat, a catchy chorus and a completely disproportionate amount of bile being spat at women for doing precisely what Game keeps bragging about doing ON THIS ALBUM. Then, there is the brilliant DJ Quik collabo “Quiks Groove” which has genuine crossover appeal… Except it’s just far too explicit, one again – honestly, it needs a remix or a totally re-spat radio version, because the music and melodies are epic. The contributions of will.i.am are also variable, with “L.A.” being infuriatingly catchy but just way too saccharine, like a poor man’s “Empire State of Mind.” The song with Kanye West – “Mula” – is a substandard moment, especially after Game bragged about getting a week in the studio with Ye. Potentially, “Like Father, Like Son 2” could have been a bit tighter (something just seems off with the sequencing and the Busta chorus needing the key adjusting).
But if that seems like a lot, trust me, it amounts to about 15 minutes worth of things that could have been better. That’s out of two and half hours… It’s a phenomenal success rate. The general sequencing makes real sense, the TRANSITIONS are PERFECT (so important), the engineering is absolutely top notch, plus there is some fantastic production from Bongo the Drum Gahd, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The funny thing is that most 2015 listeners wouldn’t really have the patience to sit through such a long double joint, let alone repeat it to give it a chance. But with more and more people streaming (i.e. not having to risk a fair chunk of money), not to mention playing music while gaming, I have a very small hope that by Christmas time, the word of mouth will be strong. It’s the epitome of an “album to clean your house to” (I literally did this on Saturday, come to think of it).
Part of me would love to talk in depth about pretty much every track, but since there are so many, let’s skim the extended highlights. After a short intro, the opening four songs feel like Game is taking you back to his youth: a lush Erykah Badu sample combined with Kendrick Lamar sets the tone, and the 90s era Brandy-jacking “Step Up” is DJ MIXED into it. Again, we go back with a will.i.am grower that Dre and Cube ride over, and completing the 90s stretch is “Standing On Ferraris” with Game riskily attacking “Kick In The Door” – and somehow doing a damn fine job reinterpreting it. Even Puff Daddy pops up at the end. It’s a brilliant first act, and the next four songs are deeper cuts – Ab-Soul is brilliant on “Dollar and a Dream”; “Made In America” is just so damn soulful, too. “Hashtag” is risky, and a lot of people may not take to it, but it’s a necessary jolt to the system. “Circles” is a hidden gem. That section also starts laying the foundations for the up/downs of Game’s love life. Future is the go-to guy for thugged out hooks that the ladies love, and with Hit-Boy helping out, the wonderfully lilting “Dedicated” could be a sleeper hit.
The aforementioned “B—h You Ain’t S–t” and “Mula” may have you reaching for the skip button, and they sandwich the excellent “Summertime” (Mike WILL Made It cold kills the instrumental, those drums…). DJ Premier turns up, and while some may think it’s a by-product of Dre’s “Compton” sessions, The Game has already worked with the legendary Primo (“Born in the Trap”). Well, this title track is much, much better than that “R.E.D. Album” cut. There is some choice wordplay (the “sixteen” section is dope), and Premier brings the heat. After the sombre “New York, New York” comes an excellent collaboration with Drake and they definitely keep it 8 more than 92. It’s weird that Game had a track on “Compton” called “Just Another Day” that was possibly the best song on the whole fucking thing. And here, you look at the tracklisting – up pops “Just Another Day”. Yessss!! Except it’s a completely different song. After the initial disappointment, you should come to love it – for my money, it’s the best instrumental on either disc, and was lodged in my head for days. Finally, “L.A.” closes the first disc – it’s clearly at odds with most of the album, but could crossover with the right visuals. It’s catchy, it has Snoop and half of the Black Eyed Peas. Best to just let it wash over you.
The “2.5” disc is extremely different. It’s lyrically and conceptually deeper. It pays homage to fallen heroes like Tupac in a totally different was than “To Pimp A Butterfly” did. It shines a light on young MCs and old producers. It starts of with Anderson .Paak – who is having the kind of 2015 that only dreams are made of – on the brilliantly titled “Magnus Carlsen.” It’s a stunning 10/10 joint, with layered background vocals, a sense of hurt and hope battling one another and Game dropping jewels. It is followed up by another Paak stunner, “Crenshaw” (those organs!). Blending into “80s & Cocaine” on the same track, it somehow gets even doper with Travis Barker popping up alongside Sonyae. At this point, let me express my disappointment in anyone sleeping on this fucking album. Seriously, wake the fuck up. “Gang Bang Anyway” seems a bit disappointing musically initially, but grows enough when combined with the searing lyrics and the conceptual link between the “New York Skit” intro, the outro of GBA, “The Ghetto” featuring Nas, and three separate other points in “2.5” proves that it’s been carefully plotted out. There IS a threat of violence that looms over this disc. Everyone knows about Bloods and Crips but shit, I didn’t know the history. I didn’t know their true place in the past, present and future and The Game deserves credit in pulling off a tricky balancing act: he manages to teach a history lesson, refuses to takes sides, places you around the violence and tries not to glamorise it too much. The Nas song is brilliant (I would have preferred Anderson .Paak on the chorus instead of will.i.am but it still works), and it cleverly transitions into an excellent Lil Wayne feature on “From Adam.” Game is energised, bruised, triumphant and forlorn, frequently all within the space of the same track. The one-two of “Gang Related” and “Last Time You Seen” is particularly effective (with Harry-O and Scarface adding so much).
It all lightens up with “Intoxicated” harking back to the early Snoop days nicely, and that (potentially) beautiful Quik joint gives a whole different energy to what had thus far been a particularly intense disc. There is also a trio of songs that are particularly interesting: DJ Mustard may be THE hitmaker du jour, but his sound (as I’ve discussed before) isn’t exactly wholly original. His subtle double track “My Flag/Da Homies” is darker than usual, and works well. But immediately before lies a Battlecat joint… Wow, LONG time! It’s brilliant decision-making from The Game, as “Up on the Wall” ends up being a standout track. Even Travis Barker joins in the party too with “Outside” to pay homage to one of the originators. “Moment of Violence” seems a touch half-baked, but at least makes some sense, even if it isn’t the most effective “fuck the police” track you could imagine.
Confession: the original “Like Father, Like Son” is one of my favourite Game tracks ever. I always imagined that if I’d be lucky enough to have a child, I’d have it playing in my head on the way to the hospital when the kid would pop out… And fortunately, that’s how it all worked out last year, as I was blessed with a son myself. And yes, “Like Father, Like Son” is what I played that day (well, in my head, in between the multiple screams, of course). It’s a meaningful track to a lot of people out there so it’s beautiful to have an update. I won’t spoil it for you – just know that the Alchemist always h-h-h-h-holds y-y-y-y-you down with his instrumentals. “Life” is a thoughtful way to end the album, a much-needed mea culpa of sorts. There is a bonus track “El Chapo” which has very little to do with anything (aside from Game referencing El Chapo earlier on) but it definitely works well as a wicked extra cut. It should work well in a live show, too.
Compton has had a hell of a year. That bloke on his bike swearing at Google’s van has loved it, I bet. First, Kendrick… Then, Dr Dre’s album combined with the megahit film… And now this. Look, don’t get it twisted. “The Documentary 2 & 2.5” – there was always the risk that it would end up the poor relation to the other Compton candidates. Hell, Vince Staples (from Long Beach, and I now know where that actually is) deserves a mention for his own double album. This is the real deal. This album is outstanding. Literally. It stands out from practically every other album this year. TPAB is an acquired taste – I know a LOT of people who love it, and a LOTTA FOLK who respect it but don’t fuck with it. “Compton” was a beautiful surprise, and a welcome last hurrah. It’s just easy to forget that, to all intents and purposes, The Game has now released 7 albums in just less than 11 years.
“The Documentary” is a mid-00s classic with power production and some much needed impetus that the West Coast had lost. “Doctor’s Advocate” was his best album. It was then followed up by a series of disappointments, and he really seemed to take his eye off the ball. But “The Documentary 2 & 2.5” prove that he is back, and yes, better than ever. This isn’t based on a cursory listen: the evidence is all there. His lyrics are more considered; his flow is varied and on point pretty much throughout; the choice in music is superb; there are concepts that deserve your attention. The Game has delivered one of the greatest hip hop double albums in history, and considering his previous best album was released 9 years ago, this is an epic comeback. Spread the word.