Jayceon Taylor thinks American hip-hop fans don't know enough about the business. After musing that if he gets shot he'll end up as rap's Bobby Fischer, the 25-year-old Compton native describes how he came to release his highly buzzed debut as the Game: "Making chess moves/Sylvia Rhone and Kevin Liles slept, cool/Jimmy Iovine was the best move." Rhone is Elektra Records' ex-CEO, Liles used to be the president of Def Jam, and Iovine currently heads Interscope Records...and by now you're probably asleep, wondering in a dream when the behind-the-scenes became more important than the scenes themselves. Mainstream hip hop has just become the street's Wall Street Journal instead of its CNN.
Indeed, no gangsta-rap album has ever been less about being a gangsta and more about being a rapper. Nearly every track on The Documentary is soggy with allusions to other rap records and other MCs' careers, recorded down to the minute: "I been rapping for one year, one month, 17 days," he announces in "No More Fun and Games." "Thirty minutes after I bought the new Em, that was November 18, 3:09 p.m." Taylor views his life through the prism of hip hop, so his struggle to survive is his struggle to get signed and prove he belongs in the ranks of his heroes. In the title track he literally pieces together a life's work out of their careers: "I'm Ready to Die without a Reasonable Doubt/Smoke Chronic and hit it Doggystyle before I go out/Until they sign my Death Certificate, All Eyez on Me/I'm still at it, Illmatic/And that's The Documentary." The difference between Taylor and his peers, all of whom name-drop as a matter of course, is that Taylor expects to commandeer the meaning behind his idols' records, not just their market force, which absolves him from digging too deeply into his own experience (his life story is basically a digested version of his benefactor 50 Cent's background).
What makes this meta-rap parochialism almost work is the beats' pan-regional heat. Taylor brags throughout The Documentary that he's here to restore West Coast hip hop's reputation, yet his heavyweight producers--Kanye West, Just Blaze, Eminem, even Californian godhead Dr. Dre--seem more concerned with eliding the form's geographical distinctions: Dre and Scott Storch's "Westside Story" is simultaneously cramped and weed-buzzed, evoking the midpoint between "west side Compton and south side Queens"; Timbaland's throbbing "Put You on the Game" is, as usual, return-addressed outer space. The album sounds like it's spinning through the radio dial in search of a hit; as he shows again and again, that space between the stations is the only home the Game's ever really known.