Album Reviews: Doctor's Advocate by The GameLet's face it: Nothing gets the creative juices flowing better than a good, nasty breakup, which may explain why The Game's sophomore album, Doctor's Advocate, is such a great leap forward from his cockily entertaining but formulaic debut, The Documentary. The only difference between this breakup album and other fine examples of the genre like, say, Blood on the Tracks or The Slim Shady LP is that the bitch who broke our hero's heart is not his ex-wife, but his ex-producer. Yep, Doctor's Advocate is a tear-stained farewell letter from The Game to Dr. Dre, the legendary producer credited with discovering the former drug dealer from Compton and grooming him into West Coast rap's latest superstar.
What's striking about Doctor's Advocate -- and maybe a little disappointing, if you were a fan of Game's notorious "G-Unot" campaign and dis tracks like "300 Bars and Runnin'" -- is how little venom it contains. Game only mentions his former friend and arch-rival 50 Cent once, on the very last track, and then it's to tell us that he's resisting the urge to call up Fiddy "cuz we ain't beefin' like that." And when he drops his former mentor's name -- which he does on nearly every track -- it's usually with a reverence that is almost fawning. On the title track, he addresses Dre in the scratchy, tearful voice of a jilted lover: "And even though sometimes I run loose/You're still my homeboy, Doc, I'd take a bullet for you." He even enlists Busta Rhymes to help him plead his case: "Most of the time, I let him know/I don't agree with what he do," says Busta. "But he's a hardhead, Dre/That's why I'm talking to you." Not since Eminem and Kim has the hip-hop world had such a soap opera.
Backstage drama aside, what makes Doctor's Advocate so much fun to listen to is the way Game's diverse cast of producers all rise to the challenge of making modern-style tracks with an old-school gangsta rap vibe. Just Blaze bounces the beat hard with a looped piano hook and some nice scratching on "Remedy"; Swizz Beatz's "Screams On Em" rides on a hands-in-the-air chant and a stuttering drum break; even the usually pop-oriented Will.i.am keeps the beat thick and menacing on one of the album's best tracks, "Compton," which would be a hit if not for its "N"-word refrain. Scott Storch does keep things more pop, but the disco strings and rolling, club-friendly beat on "Too Much" are an irresistible counterpoint to Game's thuggy delivery.
Occasionally, Game and his producers try to emulate Dr. Dre's classic West Coast sound too closely -- the Jonathan Rotem-produced "California Vacation," despite an entertaining guest rap from Snoop Dogg (and a less entertaining one from the increasingly played-out Xzibit) is a derivate Cali banger, complete with those unmistakable Dre-style whistles and speaker-rattling bass throbs. Other times, however, as on the excellent "Ol' English," they succeed in capturing a Dre/Dogg Pound vibe without lapsing into cheap imitation (credit the vastly underrated Hi-Tek, who also produced some of the best stuff on The Documentary). It helps that Game has matured considerably as a rapper and lyricist -- he nimbly makes the "Ol' English" of the title a symbol of nearly every rite of passage from his Compton childhood, from drinking his first 40-ounce to having his first "R.I.P. tattoo" stenciled into his skin. His rhymes still won't give Em or Jay-Z a run for their money, but he's never overshadowed by his beats or his guest stars the way he sometimes was on The Documentary.
It will be interesting to see how fans respond to Doctor's Advocate -- Game's decision to downplay his G-Unit beef and play fanboy to his estranged mentor leaves him open to charges of going soft. But any rapper giving props to Dr. Dre is like any basketball player praising Michael Jordan -- his reputation is so gargantuan that there's really no shame in kowtowing a little, no matter what the circumstances. And Game still leaves himself plenty of room to brag, reminding us that he's already sold five million records and claiming that he's "in the hall of fame, next to Snoop, behind 'Pac." That may not be true yet, but if he can continue the growth he's shown between his debut and this rock-solid followup, he's well on his way. - Andy Hermann
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