Fact #1: I HATE the Game.

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It's true. There's no part of Jayceon "the Game" Taylor's shtick that I didn't immediately dislike when his beyond-hyped '05 debut, The Documentary, dropped. His whole "I got shot, listened to Straight Outta Compton, and a week later—poof—became the bionic rapper" deal strains a rap fan's credulity to absurd limits. I despised his awkward rhymes, his constant name-dropping of better rappers, and even his shitty tattoos. Being a lifelong fan of West Coast rap and a salesman, I just heard a shyster straining overhard to pitch me: endlessly referencing creased Dickies, Converse, and '64 Impalas.

I engaged in a few heated discussions regarding the ironic appropriateness of his moniker—because as any rap fan, rapper, or record-company employee will tell you these days, the rap "game" is crap. I relished Kris Ex's XXL article that reported a young Taylor burned down his home with his nervous habit of pissing in the hallway space heater—the best! I laughed at the stupid butterfly he got tatted on his cheek, and roared even more when he quickly covered it up with the Dodgers' "LA" logo. I thrilled as Game, having beefed with 50 against Dr. Dre's wishes, was shuffled from his mentor's Aftermath label to Geffen, and positively reveled in the realization that his sophomore set contained absolutely zero assists from the hit-making good doctor. I sincerely wanted this guy to lose in every way. So I can't tell you how hard it was to admit the following...

Fact #2: I LOVE the Game's latest album.

As Ice Cube himself said a few years ago, "When it's sink or swim, you got to think to win."

Doctor's Advocate is, without a doubt, my favorite hiphop album of 2006. The production is epic and the hooks are Cali-chronic sticky. What in the hell happened?

Somehow, though embattled and beset on all sides by his former friends (Fitty's G-Unit), family (his own brother dissed him mercilessly last year), and father figure (Dre), Game fucked around and made an incredible record—probably even better than the one he would have made with Dr. Dre. Lyrically, the man who dubbed himself "Chuck Taylor" cut the talk and b-walked the walk. Instead of merely invoking the holy names of N.W.A. in a crass nostalgia cash-in, he concocted a potent blend of MC Ren's gothic nihilism, Cube's pit-bull rabidity, and Eazy's crass lust for life. Then he simply rolled it up in a Zig-Zag, lit the ass, and inhaled.

Dr. Dre's presence on his former protégé's LP is palpable, even though he contributed neither a snare nor a syllable to the project. The beats represent the full continuum of West Coast rap—from frenetic sample-heavy joints, to laconic G-Funk, to frigid synth workouts; thus, they all bear Andre Young's unmistakable genome, even when they aren't strictly the work of talented imitators like Scott Storch and J. R. Rotem. Vocally, the Game could be imitating Dre his damn self, eerily aping the latter's signature languid menace; zone out on Doctor's Advocate and you'll forget you're not listening to a Dr. Dre record. Besides the likeness in sound and subject matter, Dre is clearly the muse that inspired Advocate, from the title on down. Game is constantly talking about the producer—whether reaffirming his loyalty to him, declaring he doesn't need him anymore, or (in a particularly creepy moment) tearfully apologizing for his headstrong sedition. Taylor's emo-gangsta pose is no less satisfying for this—in fact, the best have always dared to show their foibles, from Cube to Scarface.

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Where he once offended my every sensibility as a Los Angeles–born rap fan (surely this clown could never be our champion?), here I am extolling his virtues to the world. Maybe that butterfly was apropos after all, even if praying and chanting endlessly to his Jheri-curled idols didn't metamorphose him into the rapper he'd always dreamed of being overnight. But strife's transformative power is a force we all respect, and sometimes it's even enough to turn "painfully mediocre" into "great." Such is the nature of the Game.

hiphop@thestranger.com

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