Aftermath/G Unit/Interscope - 2005 - 70 minutes
The latest episode in Dr Dre's career as hip-hop kingmaker reveals The Game, an Angeleno rapper who represents the ex-NWA mastermind's play to restore the West Coast to the top of the hip-hop pile.
The track record of the man who brought us NWA, Snoop Dogg, Eminem and 50 Cent cannot be questioned, and his production nous is as strong as ever. 'Westside Story' showcases a trademark Dre sound, nervous synths and tense piano lines naggingly stalk through a mid-tempo beat as The Game trades his intense rhymes with the sing-song delivery of 50 Cent.
New kid on the block Kanye West gets behind the desk on 'Dreams', and delivers his own unique perspective on rap, showing that he is to vocal soul samples what RZA was to minor key piano loops and Premier was to jazz breakdowns. Fine contributions from Timbaland, Just Blaze and Hi-Tek all beef up the musical line-up, with vocal appearances from Nate Dogg, 50 Cent and Eminem, along with other inhabitants of the Dre universe.
As the megastars provide the music, The Game himself is a little overcome. "Working with Dre was a dream," he raps in awe, clearly showing that he still can't quite believe his luck. His style is perfectly competent but far too stereotypical (Nas, anyone?) to rise above the background. Lyrically, there's nothing going on but the usual pimping, rolling, glocking, whatever. The burst of NWA's 'Gangsta Gangsta' on 'No More Fun and Games' only
serving to show just how little gangsta rap has progressed.
But this debut is still a good, solid, commercial rap record and, in an industry where Nelly gets to release double albums, that is an increasingly rare phenomenon. 'The Documentary' does suffer from this rap gigantism - it clocks in at 70 minutes when 50 would have been more than adequate, but for every dud (the dull plod of 'Higher') there's a beauty (the insistent groove of 'How We Do', which rises well above mere ringtone territory).
As an aside, the increasing importance of ringtone sales has influenced commercial production massively. It would be easy to see this as entirely a bad thing, but it's not always to the music's detriment. The simplicity required to make a successful switch to a mobile phone has forced producers to pare back, relying on one clean riff rather than the kitchen-sink approach. The sparse sounds of Kelis' 'Milkshake' or Usher's 'Yeah' rely on being easily swapped to a fan's phone, and sounding instantly recognisable. To successfully pull this off, they need to sound distinctive in the first place.
Tracklisting: Intro - Westside Story - Dreams - Hate It or Love It - Higher - How We Do - Don't Need Your Love - Church for Thugs - Put You on the Game - Start from Scratch - The Documentary - Runnin' - No More Fun and Games - We Ain't - Where I'm From - Special - Don't Worry - Like Father, Like Son