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Ranking The Game's Discography

With the release of his final album 'Born 2 Rap,' VIBE revisits Game's catalog.

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.

8. LAX

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.

7. 1992

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.

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Che Pope Talks ‘Q&A With Che’ Podcast, Kanye West, And Why He Left G.O.O.D. Music

At some point in your career, you want to pay it forward. Regardless of the industry you’re in, there comes a time when you reached a certain level of success and want to groom the next generation with your knowledge and expertise. Che Pope, a Boston native, veteran music producer, songwriter, and former head of Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music, is in a position to do just that. After spending seven years with G.O.O.D., as well as making music with critically-acclaimed artists like Lauryn Hill, Dr. Dre, and The Weeknd, Che Pope has utilized lectures and podcasts to discuss his diverse career, sharing a perspective tailored to young creatives who want some mentoring in their own paths. Pope’s experience allows him to give gems in all aspects of the music business – no matter if you’re an aspiring manager, producer, singer, or artist, he has a piece of advice that can apply to you. 

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Speaking with VIBE over the phone, Che explains the genesis of Q&A With Che (the idea came after having a convo with Jay-Z), why IDK was the perfect first guest, his thoughts on Kanye and G.O.O.D. Music, and the books he’s reading today.

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VIBE: Q&A With Che is going to be part of HiStudios’ original programming slate. You’re alongside sport personalities that also have podcasts like Mike Tyson, Gilbert Arenas, and Caron Butler. If I did my research, you’re the first “music veteran” with a show on HiStudios. Was podcasting a logical next step in your career?

Che Pope: I think it was important for me to share the information. And just really what’s the best way to? Obviously, the lectures are great. That’s like, ‘Okay, cool. I go to Harvard Business School just so those kids get it.’ This was a way to really share it with a wider audience, with anybody. And I’ve been getting hit up on Instagram or Twitter where people are always asking me tons of questions and this was a way for me [to reach them]. So many people would be like, ‘Hey, can you mentor me?’ I can’t mentor all of them. This was kind of my way of like, ‘OK, I can’t mentor all of you, but I can do this.’ I think that is what really attracted me.

I had a really great conversation with Jay-Z about it and he just loved the idea of it and that really put a battery in my back. Because at one point in time, it was this great idea we had, and just getting caught up in work and [being] busy and not pursuing it. Once I spoke with Jay-Z and he said, ‘This is amazing. You have to do this.’ That really put the battery back, and then partnering with HiStudios and Himalaya, it just really gave me the team I needed to really bring it out there in the manner that I wanted to do, the professional level that I wanted to present it at.

So you were already thinking of podcasting back then. When did that Jay-Z convo happen?

That happened about two years ago in his living room.

How’d the convo go? Were you trying to pitch yourself to Tidal?

No, I actually wasn’t. He said, ‘You know, you’re more than welcome to consider Tidal.’ But he was like, ‘I just think it’s a great idea.’ I wasn’t actually pitching anything. We were just having a business conversation. I guess you could say the next step in my career is not only the podcast, but I also have a start-up. I was just getting business advice and out of that meet, Q&A came up.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the hip-hop podcast landscape. We got everybody from ItsTheReal’s, which you were on. The Joe Budden Podcast. Rap Radar Podcast. Do you see the success of those guys as motivation to reach that level or are they competition?

I don’t think they’re competition. We are really two different things. I’m much more like Ted Talks than I am No Jumper, ItsTheReal, Joe Budden. Although ItsTheReal is a little bit different than Joe Budden. Joe Budden wants to be opinionated, sort of controversial at times and really drive listeners on entertainment. Mine is much more educational focused. Entertaining in the fact that people who are going to be on it cause anyone could be on it. It could be anyone from Diddy to someone you haven’t heard of. I think it is entertaining in that [regard], but it is much more educational than I am trying to entertain you and be controversial and all that kind of stuff.

And I think it's really interesting that you chose IDK as your first guest. He’s coming off his Warner partnership for Clue and his album Is He Real? dropped last year. He’s a younger rapper but he has this business savviness to him. Why did you want to interview him?

That’s specifically why. I built a relationship with the kid cause he was in negotiations at one point and time to sign with G.O.O.D. Music. He is from the DMV area originally, which is where my mom is from. So we kind of made a cool connection a few years back when he was still this independent kid coming up trying to figure it out. But he was far more informed than most artists I meet. He was talking to me about his independent promotion and his marketing plan and things of that nature, which he had written himself. And I was like, ‘Wow, this kid is [incredible].’ When he finally did the deal with Warner, he was just the perfect first guest for me cause he is living what these kids want to do, what many of them want to do. His journey is really a testament to educating and empowering yourself and challenging. He had overcome adversity. He had been in jail before. It built himself up from scratch. Really talented story and his story is just getting started. I think the sky's the limit to where he can go.

Before I let you go, I want to talk about Kanye. You’ve been there since Yeezus. You’ve been there since Cruel Summer. Now, he’s on this new trajectory of dedicating himself to God, releasing Jesus Is King and Jesus Is Born. He’s no longer making secular music and is reportedly done performing solo shows. When you were working with him, did you see any early signs that his artistry was progressing towards this?

No, but I would say the thing with him is he is always evolving. I would say you never know what is next, which is exciting. I couldn’t say I saw this coming, at all. You never know what’s next, I will say that, which is one of the exciting things when working with him, for better or for worse, you know? Whether it was a Trump hat or “slavery was a choice” comment or whatever, or those amazing moments like Yeezus or some of the amazing musical experiences I was apart of. You never knew what was coming and that was exciting. I wish him the best on it. When it was time for me to move on? I wish him the best with it.

You were with G.O.O.D. Music for six and a half years?

Yeah, seven years. Since 2011. I was one of the longest running people that lasted the longest with him [Laughs].

Why did you want to leave?

I think for me it was the next progression in my career. To transition from working with somebody and helping them build their stuff to building my own company. I am building a music incubator, start-up. It was really sort of the next progression in my career. I had to take that step as a business owner. And that takes a lot of work, a lot of focus, and a lot of commitment, you know? It’s one of those things. They say that saying, ‘if it was easy, everybody could do it?’ It’s not easy.

You once described your role at G.O.O.D. with Noah Goldstein as “getting shit done.” Now that Pusha-T has taken the role as president, what do you think of his “term” so far?

I think Pusha-T is an artist, and I think he has aspirations of his own label. I don’t know what’s going on with G.O.O.D. Music. It’s kind of like in…what’s the word when something is in suspended in time? Desiigner left the label. I know 070 [Shake] is putting her album out, but that’s more Def Jam. I don’t think there’s really a G.O.O.D. Music focus there.

I think Kacy Hill isn’t there either, right?

Yeah, Kacy Hill left. I do think they still have some artists. I know Teyana is active. I don’t really know much about what’s going on these days at G.O.O.D. Pusha-T is one of my favorite artists, and I think he’s still focused on Pusha-T. I don’t know what his involvement is with the label at all or a day-to-day basis or if he’s still involved at all. 

I think that means we’re going to see something major happen. Big Sean still has his album coming out, so maybe something like that.

Yeah. Big Sean’s coming. I’m sure Pusha’s coming. I know 070 Shake’s album is amazing. I’ve heard it so I’m excited for her because I know it’s a long time coming and she’s great. She’s gonna be on the Swedish House Mafia project as well. I think she could really be one of the next, big young artists.

I saw that books are your thing. What are you reading now?

As far as this year, I want to read as many as I can. I have different people that turn me onto books. You never know what someone is going to refer. Right now, I am reading Ben Horowitz’s new book What You Do Is Who You Are. I think Ben is just a brilliant guy and the fact that he loves hip-hop too, which is really cool. Anytime he drops a book, I try to get it.

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