Most likely, the first time you saw Jayceon Taylor was in the background of 50 Cent’s “In The Club” video. It was a nondescript cameo for a future platinum superstar. If you’re an avid follower of the game show Change of Heart, you may have seen him there on the wrong side of a change of heart. Even with that prior knowledge of his existence, when he officially arrived as The Game it was a refreshing and earth-shattering revelation.
As the West Coast representative of 50’s G-Unit, Game leaned into that persona, never failing to let the listeners know where he was from or what he had done. Raised in Compton by parents who were members of the Crips, Game gravitated towards the Bloods thanks to the influence of his older brother. After giving basketball a try, Game dove into the streets and when he was shot in 2001 it was a turning point in his life.
After a three-day long coma, Game decided rap would be his path and spent months studying some of the greatest albums of all-time. What emerged from all of that was one of the most talented rappers of his generation, with a propensity for paying homage to his rap peers via name-dropping. Game also boasts one of the greatest ears for production ever, making every time out a pristine listening experience.
With a debut album that sold over five million copies worldwide, Game was a superstar from the gate and has spent the rest of his career trying to live up to those lofty standards he set back in 2005. This past Thanksgiving weekend, on his 40th birthday, The Game released Born 2 Rap, what he has said will be his final album. So how will his career be remembered? Was The Documentary his best album, or are there others in his catalog that can compete? Here are all of The Game’s nine studio albums (including a sequel and a sequel of that sequel), ranked.
9. The R.E.D. Album
Released in 2011, The Red Album very much represents the mid-career slog many legends suffer through as the years grow longer. Then a greybeard in the game, something he once scoffed at, Game relied on far too many tropes and familiar sounds rather than forge his own new identity within his own framework. On one track, he’s trying to out crazy a demonic Tyler, The Creator, on another he’s predictably wooing the fairer sex with Wale. It makes the album feel generic for long stretches, in a coaction where you can see the seams and threads of the tapestry. Rather than creating his own new album, The Red Album feels like Game took leftovers off the cutting room floor from other superstars and tacked on his own verses to retain ownership.
That’s not to say the album is a waste entirely. This is the only place where you can get Rick Ross and Beanie Sigel on the same track, rampaging through a brooding Streetrunner production with a cascade boss talk and war-ready rhymes. Game also famously spends nearly six minutes trading bars with a motivated Kendrick Lamar on “The City.” Game menaces his way through the haunting Cool & Dre production, perfectly settling the table for K. Dot’s closing acapella verse.
Later, Game would say the album was created in a time where he “was kind of lost in trying to re-find the love for hip-hop." That explains the uneven outing, but when a career is as long and storied as Game’s there are bound to be a few misses.
The critical reception to Game’s third album haunted him so much he decided to rap about it on his next album. Admitting you’re “stressed the fuck out” about the lukewarm reception of an album is basically an admission of guilt, and he’d be right to feel that way because that’s about exactly what LAX was.
There’s really nowhere else to go but down when you open your career up with a classic and a possible, so some slippage was to be expected from Game. What fans got with LAX was a little bit more than that, though, as he just never seemed to get his footing right.
The album is a lethargic, by the numbers affair. The plan was obvious, as Game went after radio-friendly production with guest appearances to boost the appeal. Keyshia Cole pops up for a song that screams “summer time in Los Angeles” in the laziest way possible. Ne-Yo is there for what is supposed to be a flirtatious ode to women and ends up being a clumsy proposition for threesomes instead.
That’s not to say the album is a failure entirely. On “Angel,” Kanye West provides a production that sounds like a sunny day in 1980s LA in a lowrider as palm trees sway above you. That just makes it easy for Game and Common to float all over beat and churn out an earworm worthy of repeated listens.
Then, of course, the album is bookended by a soulful Hi-Tek instrumental that Game and Nas rip to shreds for nearly six minutes on “Letter To The King.” In one fell swoop they give LAX its lasting highlight, one of the greatest songs in Game’s career, and annoy by teasing what a focused Game could have provided here. Poignant commentary on race relations on top of a powerful production from a legend? Imagine if Game focused and knocked out 10 of these.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with 1992. It’s a fine album, ripe with decent production and a neat concept that Game relishes in. Nostalgia and retrospection has become his brand over the years, so really hammering it down with an album full of those two ideas only make sense. It starts with a classic Marvin Gaye flip, and includes nods, homages and outright remakes of classics from Ice-T, D.O.C., Wu-Tang, Ice Cube, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and more. It’s fine.
The problem is, we’ve heard this all before, both figuratively and literally. Game’s album immediately preceding this thrived within this sphere, giving new takes on familiar sounds. Here, instead, he’s just recycling them and rapping over things we’ve heard already, years and decades ago.
He’s still telling us he went 5x platinum on his first album. He’s still telling us about his relationship, or lack thereof, with Dr. Dre. He’s still telling us about Biggie and Pac influencing him. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
If anything, it’s a testament to Game’s talent that he can make this a listenable and enjoyable experience after a decade in the industry. In fact, “All Eyez” became a modest hit thanks to a seductive chorus from Jeremih and tons of wit from Game to turn what could have been a flop into a bouncy little bop. The album’s highlight is “The Juice,” another jog down memory lane for Game with Lorine Chia adding haunting vocals between Game’s musings about his life and career highlights.
6. Jesus Piece
After two lackluster outings in a row, The Game came back with a vengeance in 2012, reestablishing himself as one of the most respected emcees in all of hip-hop. Per usual, he did so with a ton of friends along for the ride, but unlike the past few years preceding Jesus Piece, Game had a renewed vigor and focus that made it so those guests didn’t overwhelm or outperform his own effort.
The lead single alone features superstars Lil Wayne, Chris Brown, Tyga and Wiz Khalifa, making “Celebration” another modest hit for Game. But contributions from the likes of Rick Ross, 2 Chainz, Kanye West, Common, J. Cole, Pusha T and of course Kendrick Lamar that make the album an impressive and lasting piece of work.
Armed with a biblical theme to keep him focused, Game seems at ease as he rides every beat he’s provided effortlessly. It could be that’s what he has always needed to reach his peak, focus and motivation to hone in on one particular idea or concept for direction. The theme here gives him framework to work within, and even when he strays away to touch on other topics he deems worthy of commentary, he makes sure he doesn’t stray too far and betray the rest of the album.
The album starts as aggressively as possible, with Game throwing his weight around on “Scared Now,” with Meek Mill before the energy reaches a triumphant high on “Ali Bomaye” with the aforementioned Ross and 2 Chainz. It never really dies down from there either, only taking brief breaks before shifting right back in fifth gear.
“All That (Lady)" is a welcome reprieve, featuring a flip of "Lady" by D'Angelo as Game, Big Sean, Wayne, Jeremih and Fabolous all take their favorite women on massive shopping sprees.
The album represented a return to form for the Compton legend, but was just the beginning of a massive resurgent run a full decade into his career.
5. Born 2 Rap
Retirements in rap are usually about as temporary as one of those tattoos out of a vending machine, but Game swears his retirement is legit. If so, Born 2 Rap would be his swan song, a massive but enjoyable mix of old and new all in a tightly wound, kind of contradictory and bipolar package. It’s The Game in a nutshell, mostly for the better and certainly on his own terms.
On this 25-track opus, Game seems to empty his coffers, relying on the mind’s nostalgia and reverence for hip-hop classics from all over the map as a sweetener for the dish he’s serving. That may not be new, as Game seems to enjoy giving listeners the rap version of Tory Lanez’s Chixtape series, what is refreshing is just how deep he dug on this album. While he has mostly wallowed in the shallowest and most cliché waters possible, here Game gets more introspective than ever before, recalling his struggles within the industry, battles with his brother, fear over death, his insecurities and so much more.
Yes, there are name drops, Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Dr. Dre references and tons of California clichés, but more than anything Game reminds us he’s possibly the biggest hip-hop fanboy there ever was. Whether he’s shouting all those greats out, or giving his own take on their records – there’s even an impressive take on Nas’ mind-bending classic “Rewind” – his only doing so as a fan who is just happy to be mentioned on the same breath as them.
But Game truly does sound like a man at peace with his place amongst the greats that came before him and will come after him. “I been rappin' at this level for like 15 years,” he says almost modestly on “One Life.” But that’s after he let it be known “Last 15 years of my life, I cut any hip-hop nigga fuckin' throat with this mic,” earlier on “The Light.” It’s only he spits out one thought, in two separate ways, and it’s effective each time. It gets no more Jayceon Taylor than that.
4. The Documentary 2
After nearly three years away from the industry, The Game returned refreshed and obviously motivated in 2015 with the sequel to his revered debut album. Like most Game albums, The Documentary 2 was loaded with guest appearances, as everybody from Diddy to Ice Cube and many, many more pop up throughout.
When Game struggled through a mid-career rut, it was due to him stuffing several albums full of lazy rehashes and generic attempts to recreate other rapper’s styles. On D2, he added a twist, instilling more of his own rambunctious energy on top of flips of classics we’d all come to know and love. This allowed him to still pay homage like he loves to do, but at least made it refreshing and new this time around.
Take, for instance, the album’s opener “On Me,” a flip of Erykah Badu’s “On and On” featuring Kendrick Lamar. Here, he gracefully approaches the tranquil Pops production, until later he decides to speed up the flow and rumble through the finish line with a riveting third verse.
The second half of the album is buoyed by two superstar guest appearances that Game expertly navigates, giving them room to operate while refusing to be overwhelmed by the presence. On “Dedicated” Future sets the table for Game with an anguished chorus and verse that feels straight out of his Hndrxx album two years in the future. Game takes the baton and dishes out his own bit of impassioned scorn over everything from a custody battle to the prices of purses.
Eventually Game does what just about everybody has done this decade when it comes album time: lean on Drake. But he may have done it the best. On “100,” Game gets the best of both worlds as The 6 God gifts him with a memorable hook along with a lengthy and somber verse that helped Game own a chunk of the summer in 2015. It all leads to Game’s best outing and years, plus a sense of renewed confidence in his ability from his fans, and rightfully so.
3. Doctor's Advocate
By the time Game was set to release his sophomore album he was a superstar in turmoil. Yes, he’d had one of the biggest years of any rapper in 2005, but it was time for him to follow that up and this time he’d have to do it without two of the biggest weapons in his arsenal. Gone were 50 Cent and Dr. Dre, the results of infighting that left Game on the outside looking in, jettisoned from G-Unit and Dre’s Aftermath Records. He landed on Interscope subsidiary Geffen, taking matters into his own hands and nearly surpassing his stellar debut album – a feat that virtually none of other Dr. Dre’s collaborators have been able to do after parting ways from him.
This time around, Game leaned heavily on traditional West Coast sounds thanks to a who’s who of producers like Kanye West, Just Blaze, Swizz Beatz, Hi-Tek and more. Lyrically, Game practically screams Los Angeles on every song, beating you over the head with West Coast staples like ’64 Impalas, Chuck Taylors, Bloods and Crips. On the aptly-titled “Compton,” he even screams it over and over: “I’m from Compton.” The album almost feels like a throwback to early Dr. Dre, making it a minor miracle that Dre doesn’t lend any production or insight to the project.
There were a few moments when Icarus flew a little too close to the sun, though, most notably the album’s lazy second single “Let’s Ride.” The formulaic, clear radio reach was produced by former Dre protégé Scott Storch, and featured Game name-dropping Dre and mimicking his invoice to the point you’d be remiss if you thought it was Dre himself singing the chorus. But that’s not nearly enough to derail this worthy follow up to a classic, where Game steps out onto his own and creates his own space within the hip-hop universe, even if begrudgingly.
2. The Documentary 2.5
Released just a week after The Documentary 2, this outing was instantly hailed as the better of the two. While the original seemed to focus on new takes on familiar sounds, on 2.5 Game chose to create something wholly new. He sounds rejuvenated, finding new ways to attack within his trademark framework. Yes, Dr. Dre is mentioned often, as are many other rappers, but Game feels refreshed, motivated and like a man with a lot to get off his chest.
On “The Ghetto” he exchanges verses with Nas twice, with will.i.am there to organize all of the madness and bridge each verse with a vocoder to amplify his agony. It’s an example of the vastness of the album, wherein Game lands in so many boxes effortlessly, it’s a wonder he can pull them all off. On each song he seems to leap into another world, roam around it like it was his own before leaving abruptly to join another superstar in their own world seconds later.
After “The Ghetto,” is an especially pained outing with Lil Wayne titled “From Adam,” where he seems to sob through his first verse as he eulogizes fallen friends. A few songs later Scarface shows up to heartbreakingly pay tribute to 2 Pac. There are more jubilant moments throughout, but it’s when Game wallows in misery and terrifying bouts of anger where the album really shines. Whether he’s menacingly waving his red flag around with a laundry list of Los Angeles emcees on “My Flag/The Homies,” or he’s more remorseful for the same thing on “Gang Bang Anyway” alongside Schoolboy Q and Jay Rock, Game knocks it out of the park.
There’s no single chasing or pandering for multiple audiences here, just The Game in an unrelenting onslaught for nearly 20 tracks for his best outing in over a decade.
1. The Documentary
As the years have gone by, there has been some debate about just where The Game’s debut stands historically, and what its exact classification should be. If you need any extra confirmation of its status as a capital C Classic, look no further than the album’s first five songs. In that initial burst of songs, the listener is treated to three Dr. Dre productions, a Kanye West classic and a smooth Cool & Dre instrumental with some touch ups from Dr. Dre. Amongst those is two Top 5 hits, and another Top 40 banger, making The Documentary’s opening third one of the most iconic openings to a career ever.
The 50 Cent influence is apparent, not only in the arrangements within the tracks or the sing-songy nature of the choruses, but with his actual presence as well. The G-Unit boss makes appearances on massive hits “Hate It Or Love It” and “How We Do” as well as the album’s opener “Westside Story.” Though both artists have debated just how much work he did on the album and each specific song, 50 sings the chorus on each record, handing Game the palette he’d used to become the biggest artist in the world over the preceding two years.
But it was up to Game to take that recipe and run with it, and he did, taking it further than any of his other G-Unit cohorts. On The Documentary, his rap style is straightforward, foregoing any lyrical gymnastics in lieu of passionate recollections of his past, boastful quips about his present and the hopeful extrapolations for his future.
Game invites a slew of guests onto the album, including bucket list additions like Eminem, Mary J. Blige and Busta Rhymes, holding his own next to all of them. As the album progresses and he gets further from 50’s tutelage, Game gradually carves out his own sonic identity.
It’s abundantly clear that while his background haunts him and has shaped Jayceon Taylor before his rap career, The Game is little more than a student of hip-hop with a thirst to pay homage at every turn. On The Documentary, he wanted to prove that he’d furiously studied for this very test, as he looked to ace it on his very first attempt. He did that, earning the classic and respect from his peers he’d so desired, and kicking off a career that spans decades and eras.