In 2005, 50 Cent's G-Unit empire was riding a wave. With his 2003 Aftermath debut Get Rich Or Die Tryin', 50 had gone platinum more times from one album than any rapper likely ever will again — it sold 10 million copies, a number that scans like pure science fiction today. His two protégés, the scowling NY punchline rapper Lloyd Banks and the wild-eyed Southerner Young Buck, also went platinum, an unusual distinction that turned… read more »
In 2005, 50 Cent's G-Unit empire was riding a wave. With his 2003 Aftermath debut Get Rich Or Die Tryin', 50 had gone platinum more times from one album than any rapper likely ever will again — it sold 10 million copies, a number that scans like pure science fiction today. His two protégés, the scowling NY punchline rapper Lloyd Banks and the wild-eyed Southerner Young Buck, also went platinum, an unusual distinction that turned G-Unit from a vanity imprint into an honest-to-god label. Their production, overseen by 50's right-hand man Sha Money XL, cohered into a house style. They seemed, momentarily, indestructible. Hungry for expansion, 50 broke out his artist-signing pen.
At the same time, out on the West Coast, a young knucklehead named Jayceon Taylor was blundering his way through the L.A. rap underground, employing tactics that suggested a more emotionally unstable 50 Cent: picking fights with local rappers, flooding the market with mixtapes. He had a raspy, blustering voice, and a dogged way of rapping that pinned your ear back even if you squirmed. He demanded attention and got it: 50 Cent signed Taylor, aka The Game, to G-Unit.
What happened next is the story of The Documentary, an overstuffed, ponderous, often goofy, and undeniably thrilling rap debut. It's mostly a story about momentum: Game, boasting little to no native charisma, brought only a good voice and his palpable desperation to the project. The rest of the record is the sound of stars aligning: 50 Cent, still boasting his hit-record Midas touch, pushing from behind over one of Dr. Dre's last great post-"In Da Club" beats, on "How We Do;" the introduction to most of the world of the rap production duo Cool & Dre, whose warm, grainy "Hate It Or Love It" remains one of the greatest rap songs of the past decade; a blinding roll call of guest producers that included Just Blaze, Timbaland, Kanye West, Havoc of Mobb Deep and, of course, Dr. Dre, before he disappeared into weight-lifting and album-delaying oblivion. Throughout it all, Game huffs, puffs, and mentions every single notable rap and R&B artist of the last 15 years at least once, as if he might invoke their presence through sheer voodoo. The chorus to the title track consists of him literally yelling every classic rap album title he can think of before simply adding, "and that's The Documentary".
And yet the quality of the album is so high that with enough time, he becomes perversely endearing. If nothing else, he proves a reliable dispenser of uproarious face-palmers: "Hollow tips make ni–as disappear like Houdini"; "I might be Spike Lee of this gun-clappin'"; "Then the world turned dark, like I was looking out of Stevie Wonder's glasses." There are few albums with such an annoying central presence that remain as compulsively listenable. The durability of The Documentary is a testament to many things — the power of ace production among them — but it is also an object lesson in the power of narrative. For one shining moment, Jayceon Taylor had one. Everything that came after — his ex-communication, his morbidly compelling one-man kamikaze war against G-Unit, 50 Cent's mad-king tailspin, The Game's current fumbling in the post-commercial wilderness — is just denouement.