By 2005, it had literally been over a decade since a new West Coast rapper had made a huge national impact. If Jayceon “Game” Taylor was going to break the dry spell, he’d need help. Luckily for the Compton Blood with a Yonkers flow and a G-Unit affiliation, he had Dr. Dre beats, 50 Cent hooks, and an Eminem feature for his debut album, The Documentary. With production from a diverse array of A-list beatmakers like Buckwild, Havoc, Just Blaze, Timbaland, Hi-Tek, and Cool & Dre, the album’s geographical ambiguity only increased its appeal. Game continued G-Unit’s trademark of making gangsta-ass albums that had big pop smashes with “How We Do” and “Hate It or Love It.”
When the highly anticipated project dropped on Jan. 18, 2005, and the first-week numbers of almost 600,000 units sold came back, the drought was over. Unfortunately, so was Game’s time as a member of G-Unit as he and 50 fell out shortly thereafter. As their beef escalated and became uglier, questions started emerging about how much Dre actually produced, how much help 50 provided, and just how much Game did. Controversy aside, Game’s The Documentary one of the best rap albums of the 2000s. With so many lingering questions, Complex spoke with the album’s key contributors to try and find some answers. Like Game once said, anything is possible if 50 fucked
Vivica Chelsea Handler.
As told to Insanul Ahmed (@Incilin) and Toshitaka Kondo (@ToshitakaKondo)
Jayceon “Game” Taylor - Performer
Angelo Sanders - A&R for Aftermath
Mike Lynn - A&R for Aftermath
Michael “Sha Money XL” Clervoix - President of G-Unit Records
Andre "Dre" Christopher Lyon of Cool and Dre - Producer
Kejuan “Havoc” Muchita of Mobb Deep - Producer
Marsha Ambrosius - Performer
Tony “Hi-Tek” Cottrell - Producer
Bernard “Focus” Edwards, Jr. - Producer
Khari “Needlz” Cain - Producer
Anthony “Buckwild” Best - Producer
BEFORE THE ALBUM
Angelo Sanders: Game was kind of like a baby left at the church steps. [Laughs.] The dude was so dope that everybody tried to make a claim to him. There were [so many people] involved [in bringing] the project around. But ultimately it ended up falling in my lap and I was the one who worked on it.
He signed with us close to the end of 2003, I got involved probably the summer of 2004. It was a tough grind; he was young, on fire, and we had to get it up out of him. He had to get technically better, but he had the fire originally when he came through the door.
Mike Lynn: I started Aftermath with Dr. Dre. I’ve known Dre since N.W.A. I’m the one that signed Game. A mutual friend [passed] me his demo. When I saw Game, I saw a star. Game was always an incredible MC, but we had to turn him into a song maker—show him how to write songs that are bigger than your block.
It was Game’s first time doing this professionally. He had never even been produced vocally. The first time I put Game in the booth, we got into a little argument because I didn’t want him to double his vocals all the way down, like the way 2Pac did. He was cutting his third or fourth song, I’m in the studio with him and I’m like, "Why are your vocals doubled?" He’s like, "That’s the way I sound best." I’m like, "Nah. You got a big voice, you don’t need that."
He wasn’t comfortable just hearing his voice regular because he just never did it, I had to show him to be comfortable hearing his voice by itself without doubling it. A lot of MCs double their vocals thinking that’s the way to go. 2Pac is one of the few guys who sounded right doing that, the rest of those guys just sound raggedy.
Angelo Sanders: When he first got there, he was trying to create a record for Dr. Dre, something that Dre would be happy with. The beats Dre would want to rap over. It was like appeasing Dre, which a lot of artists at Aftermath fall into. They come into this wanting to please Dre so much that they forgot what they were signed for.
When I got involved, I got Game back to his original energy. I was like, "This is what I remember when you came in that first day and motherfuckers loved you. This is what I'm going to get you back to doing." At that point, I started reaching out to the Just Blaze’s and the Kanye’s. Basically everybody that wasn’t Dre or an Aftermath producer that made a beat on that album was my peoples. I was like, "Let’s get with this person cause they can capture the original energy of why we loved you so much."
Sha Money XL: When we was working on Get Rich Or Die Tryin’, Game was in the studio with Dre just chilling. Mike Lynn introduced me to this kid from Compton. He was a lot younger then, just a humble dude trying to get on.
I took the time to listen to him and I was like, "Yo 50, this kid got something." Fif started listening to him and Fif started digging it. We was like, "Yo this could be the West Coast nigga." Then Jimmy Iovine started pushing that to Fif, Fif accepted it. Next thing you know, Fif made it happen and we had a new dude on the team, The Game.
"The first time I put Game in the booth, we got into a little argument because I didn’t want him to double his vocals. He’s like, ‘That’s the way I sound best.’ I’m like, ‘Nah. You got a big voice, you don’t need that.’" —Mike Lynn
Produced by: Dr. Dre, Che Vicious
Game: We got the album done, sequenced, and Dr. Dre was like, "Now we need an intro." And I’m like, "An intro? I’m all rapped out!" And he was like, "Nah, I’m just going to find something that fits perfectly before "Westside Story." So he went searching. I thought that was going to be an easy process, but that shit took a month. Dre went through like 30 different samples before he found the one he was comfortable with.
Dre is so picky. But whenever he finds whatever it is that he’s looking for, it’s always 100% of what its potential is. Dre was playing different shit, and syncing it up, and all of them shits—all 30 of them motherfuckers—were right to me. But he finally found the one that was on there and he loved it. I don’t know who the fuck that dude is [talking on the track], I never met him. [Laughs.] Dre probably got that shit off of Price Is Right. [Laughs.] I don’t know where he got that shit from, that’s the Doc though.
"WESTSIDE STORY" F/ 50 CENT
Produced by: Dr. Dre, Scott Storch
Game: “Westside Story" was supposed to go on the All About The Benjamins soundtrack. Dre was like, "Nah, this shit is too hard for the soundtrack, this the first song on the album." [That song was written in 2002 but] I never went back and edited the lyrics. We kept it, when 50 came in he heard the shit and wrote the hook for it. Wasn’t none of them shits 50’s records. 50 came in after all of the records were already damn near done and he put his 50 Cent on them. I wasn’t [a part of G-Unit yet].
I hadn’t wrote a hook because I figured it was going on the soundtrack, so I figured that Dre was going to figure out the hook. Once he thought the verses were dope, I guess he put 50 on it, then he played it for me. The way 50 used to write hooks—he’s so melodically driven—all he would do is listen to the beat, and whatever the beat told him to say he would say it. Most rappers, they listen to shit and they write lyrics based on how they feel. 50 writes it off whatever the beat makes him say. It doesn’t matter if it’s fucking, "I’m cleaning up with Tide, in the fucking kitchen." At that time, that’s how he was rocking, and everything he would spit was golden.
Mike Lynn: That was the first record that Dre and Game did. 50 wasn’t involved yet. That was just Game. Game wrote that record. That’s Game’s record. The different skill that 50 brought to the table was that he was hook ready. At the time, Game was still developing his hooks. Game’s hooks were more street oriented, 50’s hooks were things we could get on the radio. We were bridging that little gap. But Game got better at writing his hooks.
Produced by: Kanye West
Game: I first met Kanye at this big ass party Nelly had at Niketown. After the party was over—because I was like the freestyle king around this motherfucker—they was like, ‘There’s this nigga named Kanye West. He wants to spit against you.’ I had heard of Kanye, but I didn’t know he was a rapper, I thought he only produced. So we went over to the parking structure, and here comes this kid in his tight jeans, this fucking Nike hoodie, and these Air Maxs, and I’m like, "This is the dude? Right here?"
So we start fucking freestyling...when I say that if I ever lost a freestyle battle, that’s the one I lost. Because Kanye got in my ass, bitches was laughing, and shit was fucked up. But then we freestyled again one day on Melrose and I kind of had my shit ready for him that time. Me and Kanye we go back a long way. Anything happen to that dude, I’m breaking somebody’s face open.
So Kanye called me and he was like, "Yo, you’re not going to believe this shit Game. I’ve got this crazy sample. It’s called Dreams." And he started talking about "Dreams," and he was talking about all these dreams that he had in his life. He sent it to me. Then he came out to LA, we got in, and I went in on the verses.
I wrote one verse, and everybody thought it was so crazy that they pressured me to finish it. But I couldn’t finish it, because there was things that I wanted to say that just wasn’t coming to me. I had writer’s block for like two months. Then one day, I don’t remember what the fuck happened, but something sparked me to go sit on the couch and put that shit in this old ass CD player. I played that shit for like four hours and then the words started coming to me. ‘Dreams’ was one of the first songs I ever recorded on Aftermath.
Mike Lynn: One day, Game stepped to us saying he was tired of sitting around and he was ready to put his album out. So we said, "Alright, play us the record." So he played us the album and we were like, "Man, we’re not putting this out." The version of the album that came out in stores; the only song that was on that album that existed when Game said he were ready to put an album out was "Dreams." Every song [on The Documentary was recorded] after "Dreams."
After I played "Dreams" for Dre, then Dre finally realized, "Okay, we can get an album out of him." We recorded maybe 30 songs before that, but that was the first song that made us feel like he was ready to do an album. Before that song, it was just a bunch of mixtape songs in our eyes. That record inspired Dre to get into the studio and start working with him. Dre hadn’t worked with him before that.”
Angelo Sanders: You gotta get Dre excited. He works to perfection so you can’t come to him with no bullshit. You can’t play album cuts for Dre. He wants to hear the best records you got and then the album cuts, "Okay, this is really personal to you we’ll find a place on that album to make this fit, but first let me hear the records."
When he heard "Dreams" he was like, "Wow, we got something with that." That got the real fire behind it. He started playing it for Jimmy Iovine, 50, and everybody was like, "Wow, you got something." When you got Em and 50 and Snoop coming in for songs, it’s hard to get on the radar when you’re trying to come out [on Aftermath]. You’ve seen so many artists on Aftermath never come out because they weren’t able to get through that threshold of, "This is what it needs to be to come out with that Aftermath stamp.”
Mike Lynn: Shortly after that we realized, "Okay, we’re getting strong records, but you know we need to get some singles." At that time, 50 was on fire, so we were like, "Why not bring in 50 to help him with these singles?" Game never had anything to do with that. He never came to us about it. That was Dre, myself, and Jimmy Iovine’s decision. Once we agreed to put him with 50, that’s when the "This Is How We Do It," and the 50 songs came about. That’s when it all started taking off from that point.
"HATE OR IT LOVE IT" F/ 50 CENT
Produced by: Cool & Dre, Dr. Dre, BG Knocc Out
Game: "Hate It Or Love It" came at the mid-way point [of the recording process]. This was probably the beginning of ‘04. I had the beat on my way to 50’s house. This was right when I joined G-Unit—and it was like three hours from New York to Connecticut—so I was in the back of this Escalade and I was just writing [on my Sidekick].
Angelo Sanders: On the way home, it was dark and cold and it had been like a few days of us going back and forth [from New York to Connecticut] and that’s when he came up with it. He wrote the record and we recorded it at 50’s house. That’s when 50 jumped on it like, "This is crazy. This is gonna be the single." He knew what it was at that point.
Game: I write songs backwards, I start with third verse. When you write songs from front to back, nine times out of ten times the third verse is the weakest. Why? Because you’re tired. So I start from the back. When I got [to 50’s house], 50 wrote his verse and put it on the front. Then he came up with, "Yo, we should say hate it or love it. Call it 'Hate It Or Love It' and let’s write a hook." We wrote the hook sitting there vibing, like some old-school, head-bouncing, huddle shit. It was just me and Fif down there.
Sha Money XL: 50 got the whole thing started. He wrote the hook for "Hate It Or Love It." He wrote almost all the hooks on the album, seriously. You'll see it on the credits. That song could have ended up on The Massacre. That record stood out enough for him when he recorded it, before Game even heard it. Game didn't even know what he was walking into. He came into the house, Fif had the records all laid out for him. When Game heard "Hate It Or Love It," he jumped on it and magic happened.
Mike Lynn: “Hate It Or Love It" was for 50. 50 called me when he did ‘Hate It Or Love It’ like, ‘I’m thinking about keeping it for myself and G-Unit, but I might give it to Game.’ He played it for me over the phone and I’m like, ‘We gotta have that!’ I knew it had a chance to be a single, but Dre wasn’t 100 percent sure because of the tempo. But when we tested it, it came back and people were definitely into it.
Dre (of Cool & Dre): We were passing out CDs heavy back in the day. One of the CDs that we passed out with that beat got into Sha Money XL's hands.
"If you listen to 'Special,' it sounds like a 50 hook. He did his whole album. He gave up records. Just imagine if 50 had all those records on The Massacre, like 'How We Do.'" —Needlz
Sha Money XL: I met Cool & Dre at Chris Lighty’s office in the winter of 2004. I told them, "Let me get some heat." They gave me a few tracks and "Hate It Or Love It" was one. When I heard "Hate It Or Love It" I knew that was [a hit] instantly.
Dre (of Cool & Dre): That song ended up being the record that really put Cool & Dre on the map. We didn't know Game [at the time], but we met him shortly after the record was hitting. From there on we got a super close relationship and now we're super cool.
Game: I met Cool & Dre in like 2002, at the beginning of the year. Cool & Dre was my niggas before I got on. Before they ever did anything that was hot, they was my niggas.
Dre (of Cool & Dre): [We made the beat] in Cool's mother’s garage. Funny story, after the record blew we did a meeting with Jimmy Iovine and he asked us about "Hate It or Love It" like, "Do you have the original beat before Dr. Dre touched it?" We were like, "Yeah, we got it on the laptop." He was like, "I always wanna hear what stuff sounds like before Dre puts the magic to it." So we pressed play and I'll never forget his face....he was like, 'Yo it's the same damn beat. Send me the original version.’ We were like, "This is the original version!"
Dre put the most amazing mix on it, his mixes are so fucking phenomenal. There was a difference sonically, but as for the record itself the music was the same. If I'm not mistaken, at the end of the hook he added a string going into the verse. Dre brought it to life. [As a mixer is] what I think is his greatest quality. His sound placement and how his shit comes out sonically that's why they're his headphones. His ear for instrument placement is amazing. A Dr. Dre mix is a co-production in our mind because he just kinda brings shit out that was not there, that's what he did.
Mike Lynn: Dr. Dre completely reproduced that track. He had it replayed. He never took credit for it, he still let them get producer credit, that’s how he is. It’s funny to me when people say, "Dre took my beat" and this and that. It’s like, come on man all that shit is bullshit. I seen so many producers eating out there because their material sounded professional, but in the beginning of their career their music wasn’t nowhere near professional. Dre made it sound professional.
Every record on that album, Dr. Dre touched. Everything. "Hate It Or Love It" sounded like a sample, Dre made it sound like a record. Dre cleaned it up [on the] musical side. He had the baseline played so it actually sounded professional. He made those records. If they play you their version and his version, they’re night and day. He had to [get co-producer credit], he did all the work! [Laughs.]
Produced by: Dr. Dre, Mark Batson
Game: "Higher" was 50’s song, I’m talking about the beat. When I walked in the studio and [I heard the beat], I was like, "Who’s shit is this?" I thought the shit was crazy. Dre was like, "I made it for 50, but he ain’t like it, so you can have it if you want." So I wrote all three of them verses right there. It probably took like a half-an-hour. That shit was too easy to rap over.
After every verse, check that shit with Dre because he’ll come in and say the whole song is garbage and make you write that motherfucker again. So I don’t play that game. I lock that shit early man. Dre played me the beat, he left, and then he called me the next day and said, ‘That shit is crazy.’ At that point Dre told me when to stop. He was like, ‘You think we should start sequencing?’ I was like, "Shit, I don’t know." And he was like, "I’m going to start listening to them, and see if I can put together a good 20 songs."
"HOW WE DO" F/ 50 CENT
Produced by: Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo
Game: I was in the studio going through like 30 Dre beats. I wasn’t supposed to be going through the beats, I was going through them unauthorized. [Laughs.] I had to do it real quick because Dre stepped out to go to this little meeting. So I lied to [Dre’s engineer] Vito and told him, ‘Dre wants me to listen to some shit,’ because I didn’t like what he had up for me. I came across that beat and I loved it as soon as I heard it. It was called ‘Fresh ‘83,’ that’s what the beat was named in Dre’s folder. I guess he thought it was some ‘83 breakdancing shit.
Of course, Dre was like he didn’t like it at all. I was like, "Give me 30 minutes to write to it.’ So I started writing. Once Dre came back in from a meeting, he heard the first verse, and was like, "Oh, we’ve got to finish this." When I finished the whole song, I didn’t have a hook—I just rapped straight through. Without 50 on the hook, the song just went straight through. Dre was like, "Nah, we’ve got to break up some of this shit and write a hook."
So he called 50, and Fif came in and wrote the hook out. Then the shit was so crazy, 50 wanted on the song. So, my second verse, he kind of took out—it was too many words—but he made it fit him. [The song] was all my verses. All 50 did was change it a little bit to fit him. Not his style, he just changed the words and took out a couple words. He ain’t really change much.
Mike Lynn: Obviously, [Game] didn’t write 50’s parts. 50 was involved from the beginning because it was one of those times when 50 came to town and was in the studio for about a week. It was Game and 50 doing the beat at pretty much the same time. It wasn’t like 50 had the joint and then just gave it to Game, and then took his verse off. That joint was pretty much all done in the same room. So it was like, "Fuck it, let’s try and do this, do that," and 50 came up with the hook in that period of time. He had wrote the song, and then we had chopped it up, and added 50’s parts in there, and then he wrote the hook.
Angelo Sanders: “How We Do" was the single with that bullshit video. Hype Williams didn’t even have a treatment for the video, he just free-wheeled it. At that time, for us to get a Hype Williams video, we just kinda had to shut up and twiddle our thumbs and support whatever he wanted to do. I think we spent $750,000 dollars on that fucking video and it was shit. It was just a regular hip-hop video. We didn’t get no new video girls outta that. I ain’t see no explosions!”
"DON'T NEED YOUR LOVE" F/ FAITH EVANS
Produced by: Havoc, Dr. Dre
Game: “I Don’t Need Your Love" was recorded like, my first day on Interscope. I wrote the song in a fucking rent-a-car, heading to get a mattress for my new apartment in Beverly Hills. I had a gang of [beats from Havoc]. I got shot on October 1, 2001. I recorded "I Don’t Need Your Love" maybe like January 15th. I was still fucked up. I was still bleeding in my gauzes—the pads and shit that I had from the hospital—when I recorded it. That’s why my voice is fucked up, from getting shot in the chest. We never changed it. When I went back and tried to re-lay it—when I got my voice back years later—Dre was like "No." He liked the rawness of it. That shit was crazy. That’s like a classic. That’s like, one of my favorite records I ever did.
When Dre mixed it, we couldn’t find the multitracks for the beat, so he had to remake everything. Havoc made [the beat] but he didn’t remember where the session was. Dre was like, "Fuck it. I’ve got to remake this shit." And he remade it like 100% the way it sounded, but of course with the Dr. Dre bang, and then he didn’t take no credit for it, gave it straight to Havoc. [Editor’s note: The album credits list Dr. Dre as a co-producer]. It hits like Dr. Dre beats hit, and it has a fucking EQ and mix like God touched it.
"50 WROTE THE HOOK FOR ‘HATE IT OR LOVE IT.’ HE WROTE ALMOST ALL THE HOOKS ON THE ALBUM, SERIOUSLY. YOU'LL SEE IT ON THE CREDITS. 'HATE IT OR LOVE IT' COULD HAVE ENDED UP ON THE MASSACRE ." —SHA MONEY XL
Angelo Sanders: Oh man, the shit that we do and go through to make these records happen, that’s how you know when you got a classic record. People love the song and that’s all that matters. All the rest is just bullshit that we go through. That was a whole issue because they didn’t have the files so we didn’t know what the original sample was. Dre had to really break the track down and figure out what was what so he recreated the record exact. He didn’t try and take any kind of creative liberty on it. Dre didn’t take any money for that.
Havoc: I hate to say that I’m unorganized [or that] I’m so used to having an engineer do things for me. Around that time, I had got rid of all the engineers that I was working with because I wanted to become more self-sufficient. It [used to be that I just worried] about making the beat and they would track it. I said, ‘Damn what I am I doing depending on someone to track something when it’s just that simple? I can cut out the middle man.’ I came from an era where I’m always in the studio doing beats. In the transition of putting a studio in my crib and knowing how to work it on my own; beats got lost in the shuffle. A lot of stuff got misplaced.
Dre definitely re-captured the essence. It sounds like they didn’t do nothing to it, to be honest with you. Whatever way you're looking at it, it can be a good thing or a bad thing. For me, I’d say it’s good. Dre had to play a little bit of it over and we shared production credits. Who knows why Dre was so adamant about recreating [the track instead of asking me]? I guess because Dre was so hands-on with the project and because he’s the number one producer in the world. Maybe he liked the song, so he wanted to touch it himself. At the end of the day, who else better to touch it beside Dr. Dre? I’ll share a credit with Dr. Dre any day.
"CHURCH FOR THUGS"
Produced by: Just Blaze
Game: I can’t really remember that fucking session man. I remember being in the studio and knocking that shit out, quick. I was in New York at Baseline and Just Blaze put on that beat and I ripped that shit. Period. It took me like 30 minutes to do that song from top to bottom. When I’m in New York man, I get a different vibe, and I just go in on shit. That was the first time I recorded with Just Blaze. I went into the corner and I just was writing, and then I laid the verses. Just Blaze was like, amazed.
Sha Money XL: 50 recorded that hook in Jimmy Iovine's basement because Game couldn't come up with a hook. We was at Jimmy's house having a meeting with Doug Morris on some other shit and Jimmy was like, "Yo, we need a hook for this record. It's a big record." 50 wrote that hook right there in the basement. He did a rough vocal for Game to hear it and do it over. I'll tell you the truth: Game did his thing on his album. Whether he wrote it or not, he performed. He's a studio rapper.
Angelo Sanders: "Church for Thugs" made 50, Jimmy Iovine, and everybody take notice like, "Wow." I had worked with Just in the past so I reached out and he gave us six records that were incredible. Game had just laid the verses on the "Church For Thugs" beat. When we played it for Dre, he went crazy. He immediately had a meeting with Jimmy Iovine and they played the record at Iovine’s house. 50 ended up recording the hook at Jimmy’s house on his kid’s Pro Tools system. 50 came with that hook right there, Game jumped on that, and they laid that at Jimmy Iovine’s crib. That was the beginning of the G-Unit relationship.
But that was our record. It wasn’t like 50 brought us that record. I went and got that record from Blaze, we made the verses on that record, we gave the record to Dre. Dre played the record at Jimmy’s house in a meeting with 50 and them, but at that point it was just a hook. It wasn’t a, "Oh, I need to take this song." That was, ‘Oh, that’s your artist Dre? He’s signed to us? Let me help him out.’ It wasn’t no, "He’s gonna be G-Unit now." It was just, "Let me do this hook."
"PUT YOU ON THE GAME"
Produced by: Timbaland, co-produced by Danja
Angelo Sanders: Timbaland was hot at that time—well Timbaland is always hot—so we had to chase him down. The problem was that we needed a single. We already had the single, but there was some doubt so they wanted one more home run. I was like, "Man, I can’t think of anyone else other than Timbaland." Game’s manager Jimmy Henchman was really integral in making that play happen.
It was funny cause Tim would show up two, three in the morning fresh from hanging out in the club. At first we didn’t get it because it was our first time working with Tim, and it was a process because it took Tim time to soak up what we were doing. But it wasn’t like he was out partying not giving a shit about what we were doing at the studio. He was more like seeing what’s happening right now. And, that’s how he came back and ‘Put You On The Game’ came.
"START FROM SCRATCH" F/ MARSHA AMBROSIUS
Produced by: Dr. Dre, Scott Storch
Game: I get drunk in the studio every night, but I don’t necessarily do a song like ‘Start from Scratch’ every night. It’s just one of those nights where I felt like my back was against the wall and I couldn’t figure out what was next for me in life; so I just put it on the beat. My best friend, Billboard, had just got murdered. When he died, I was in this funk. Nothing was really making sense to me. Then I just went in on that song; that’s just how I felt.
It was a day when I was just in the studio by myself. It never takes you a long time [to lay a song] when it’s straight from the heart. Like when you’re writing a song about your mom or when you’re writing a song about your son or when you’re writing a song about some events in your life that almost rendered you helpless, it just flows man. Because you know the situation, you know how you feel. You just gotta make sure it rhymes, I guess.
Marsha Ambrosius: "Start From Scratch" came to me through Dr. Dre. They already had a hook, but they weren't really feeling it, but they liked the idea of where it was going. They sent me the record and Game's verses were already on there. It seemed like it was [about] playing the character as far as what the music tells you emotionally—it was a story. I heard his voice [on the song] and I'm like, "This is exactly how people felt at one point in their life." The intensity came through without me ever having to meet him. It's like if you have a loose movie script and you have to play this character and you know your position in the scene.
Mike Lynn: A turning point for Game was probably "Start From Scratch" because that’s when he became a performer. It was Dre’s idea for him to get drunk. Dre was like, "Look man, you got to tell a story on this one. We want you to let it all out. We need to get in this character. You got to be drunk on this one." Game was drinking Hennessy and Coke, we were going through a lot of Hennessy and Coke at the time. [Laughs.] I couldn’t guess [how much he drank], but it was more than two or three cups. The whole purpose was for him to speak from the heart, just get wasted and don’t worry about it. There’s no way he could have did that sober.
At that point, we knew that he was good at following directions and he knew how to be a performer. That was a whole other side of him that nobody had ever seen before because, on the album, he was always being hard. So to see him open up like that and just let the creativity flow, it was just another feather in his cap. Like, ‘Okay this cat is trying to make the best record and he’s following Dre’s directions.
Produced by: Jeff Bhasker, co-produced by Jeff Reed
Game: You know with Dre, it’s just routine. You walk in, he probably got a glass of Hennessy in his hand. He’ll nod and be like, "Game time" and I’ll be like, "What up Doc?" After that, you feel so comfortable being there with him because you know he gone deliver on the beats, all you gotta do is do what you do best—and that should be easy if you are who you are. Dre doesn’t like you to mention dates and shit. He likes to make records timeless, it’s that way when you don’t call out a liquor or say a year of a car. So that’s something I took from Dre and sort of carried with me throughout my career.
I remember speaking on certain situations with Ed Lover, so I got the interviews and you know we went in. I just had to ask Ed Lover, "Can I use that?" And he sent it to me. I explained [that the Maybach line wasn’t about Jay-Z before but] I like it when shit is set in stone. So people [will be like], "Oh that’s what it was about." If I’m talking about somebody, I don’t really gotta do it subliminally, I like it to be known. I’ll just say your name, I don’t give a fuck. But in that instance, I meant no harm to Jay-Z. In the early stages of my career and I was talking about Ja Rule. Everybody knew we had beef.
"RUNNIN'" F/ TONY YAYO
Produced by: Hi-Tek
Game: I knocked out my verse for "Runnin’," but I had one verse that was empty and Tony Yayo had just got out of jail. So I called Yayo and was like, "Yo, I need you to put this verse on ‘Runnin.’" He was happy to do it because at that time G-Unit was on a pedestal. He was just getting out and it was the next debut album from G-Unit—he had already missed Buck’s and Bank’s. So he got on that and killed it. When I got Yayo on it, I didn’t necessarily think about that line, ["Yayo in jail and they think I’m trying to take his spot"]. I just knew there was a slot I had on the album and Yayo was the only one I hadn’t rapped with, so I put him on the album.
Hi-Tek: At the time I had signed to Aftermath as a producer. Mike Lynn was one of the main A&Rs at Aftermath and he brought me aboard. I submitted a bunch of beats [to Mike Lynn] and one of them was "Runnin’." I produced the track, my partner Dion sung vocals, and we reinterpreted a sample that I was working with. Dion wrote a verse [to the beat] and the hook on "Runnin’" is the beginning of his verse. I basically took that first eight bars of his verse and made it a hook.
That type of music is truly from the heart. Stuff I do with Talib Kweli is my vision too, but it's mostly his musical vision. But there's other sides to me. Beats I produced for G-Unit are no different to me, but people look at it as if it's two different things. "Runnin’" is one of the greatest songs that I've ever produced. The Documentary one of the greatest albums to ever come from Aftermath. You can sense all the hunger in all of us in that album.
Angelo Sanders: You don’t get those [kind of songs] on too many albums. That’s a timeless record and people are still singing. Getting Yayo was my idea because we were gonna put Lloyd Banks on that record originally. Yayo had just came home from jail and I was like, "We need to go with Yayo on that." We reached out and Yayo was with it and he spit that fire. I don’t know another verse from him that I like better, and I’m not just trying to be biased. He came home from jail and I think they took care of him after because we got that first hungry verse. [Laughs.]
"NO MORE FUN AND GAMES"
Produced by: Just Blaze
Game: We did that the same night [as "Church For Thugs"]. I knocked out "Church For Thugs" and then I knocked out "No More Fun And Games." Them shits was easy because when you go in with Just, he’s one of them producers that shoots you ideas while you’re recording. He makes the type of beats where it just frees your pen so it makes it that much easier when you write. Just Blaze made both them beats just for me, that’s why "No More Fun And Games" has that N.W.A. sample. I was happy to be working with Just Blaze, you know? That’s the dude that Jay-Z always worked with, and always be saying, "Yo, Just!" I was fucking starstruck.
Angelo Sanders: Just got Game right away and he was enamored with how fast Game worked. That’s the thing every producer that works with Game is like, "Wow, this kid nails it." People always try to criticize his hooks, but his energy on verses was just impactful. He would come in and hear the beat, know what he wanted to do with it, and smash it like nobody. We would lay two, three, four songs a night, easy.
"WE AIN'T" F/ EMINEM
Produced by: Eminem, co-produced by Luis Resto
Game: I flew to 8 Mile and we went and got it in. I went to work with Em for like five days. He had five beats he made me. I rapped on all them and we recorded like four or five joints, but that was the best joint. [We have songs in the vault], not in my vault though.
Em comes in the studio and he looks like a guy that can’t rap at all. He just chills with some sweats on, Jordans, a hat, and a jacket or a hoodie or something. Then he comes in with more Taco Bell then the law allows man. Fucking, Taco Supremes and Mountain Dew. And he listens, "How you feeling? You like this joint? Aight, do ya thing."
Then he goes off in the corner and starts spitting like he’s in a cypher. If you look at him, you’d think there’s five other dudes spitting with him like he’s in a real cypher, but it’s just him. He writes in circles on the paper. He literally turns the paper man and writes from the inside outside, some weird shit. Em [added the samples in the hook]. Every voice on there is him. He’s like Eddie Murphy and shit. Em can do anything. Dude is a genius.
Angelo Sanders: I went to Detroit with Game. That was the only record I got a good shout out on, "Yo, Lo get Dre on the phone quick/Tell him Em just killed me on my own shit." [Laughs.] We’d been waiting to get that feature forever and by that time 50 had been involved and everyone had gotten their records in, Em was like, "Aight, send him to me."
Em was super professional. He came in, "What do you wanna do?" He played us some beats and we jumped on that record like, "This is the one that feels the most like what we wanna hear you on." We didn’t go there trying to get Em on some other shit. We wanted him. Love or hate the record, we knew what we wanted with that. We coulda done something different, but Game wanted to compete with Em on his own shit. And, literally it was what he said on it, Em ate him up.
"Wasn’t none of them shits 50’s records. 50 came in after all of the records were already damn near done and he put his 50 Cent on them." —The Game
"WHERE I'M FROM" F/ NATE DOGG
Produced by: Focus
Game: I heard it and the first thing I thought was, ‘I’m a b-l-double-o-d.’ I wrote it for Nate Dogg to be in those spots, I wrote the hook too. Nate Dogg just came in and I told him what to do.
Focus: At the time, I was signed to Aftermath. I was signed right after 2001. So I was working in the B room of Can-Am Studios, Dre was working in the A room and Game was there. I just started working on a track that I knew that Dre liked, and Game had laid a verse on it, and Dre was just like, "Yo, we’re just going to run with that." Dre got Nate Dogg. Dre just called him and told him he wanted one of those West Coast hooks, and Nate Dogg is the legend of that. Originally the song was Dre, Game, and Nate Dogg on the record. The version with Dre is floating around on the Internet.
Angelo Sanders: Focus, that’s my guy from back in the day. He had given us several records for the album and that was one that wasn’t gonna go on the record, but I was like, ‘Man, we need this—this is one of those L.A. records that you can’t neglect.’ We were trying to break molds with Game, we weren’t trying to come with that typical West Coast from the Dre camp. We wanted some electrifying new sound to break a new generation.
Game had built his name from the mixtapes where he did different sounds. At the same time, you’re from Compton. So on all his albums, it’s like no matter how big and how far away you get, I always remind him to do something that reminds him of his core. You always gotta do something for your core. If we gonna have Just Blaze and the Kanye and all this we gotta have "Where I’m From."
"SPECIAL" F/ NATE DOGG
Produced by: Needlz
Game: That’s Dre [talking in the beginning]. It’s either Dre or Fif. I can’t remember; I haven’t heard The Documentary since I did that song. We was in the studio for all the songs 50 is on. You know what, 50 was on the hook when I got the beat. It was from 50. And he gave it to me, and I put Nate Dogg on it.
Needlz: I was doing a lot of stuff with G-Unit at the time. [That song] kind of happened out of the blue. I got a call and it was like, "Yo, we want this beat." I’m not sure how much of the verses 50 did, but I know he wrote the hook, and he submitted it to Game. I didn’t hear the [original] version, but I got the split. [Laughs.] When you sign the contract, you see who gets what, and 50 got a good part of that record. If you listen to it, it sounds like a 50 hook. People don’t really understand that 50 really did take Game under his wing. He did his whole album. He gave up records. Just imagine if 50 had all those records on The Massacre, like "How We Do," all those records man? It would have been insane.
I don’t really like that beat. [Laughs.] The original version [of the beat] sounds better than the way it is now. Dre’s guitar player, Mike Elizondo, replayed it. The original sounds much better and fuller. But with the sample [of Rick Wakeman’s "Catherine Howard"], you’ve got to pay. If you replay the sample, you don’t have to pay for the master use of it.
After hearing the album, I really wished he would have picked another beat that kind of showcased what I can do. There was some amazing beats on that album. That was probably one of the most well-put-together [albums], production-wise, in a long time. I don’t remember hearing anything since then that had back-to-back-to-back-to-back joints. Everyone sees my plaque and they’re like, "So, which one did you do on Game’s album?" And no one ever knows my joint. [Laughs.]
Angelo Sanders: I hated the record. At the time, 50 and G-Unit had been coming with those lovey, dovey records. That was supposed to be that. I didn’t wanna use it, Game didn’t wanna do it. That was a record that the label was on some, "You gotta have that for the radio and for the chicks."
Game made the record, you’d have to ask him how he felt about it, but I don’t think it was one of his favorites. I never felt that Game was that type of artist. Those records never have worked for him. That’s just one of those things that you try to appease the people that pay the bills. They wanna swear they’re involved. "It’s gonna be number one! It’s gonna go straight to the top of the charts!" If there was any record I had to leave off of the album, that would probably be it. That would be the one where we felt like we forced it.
"DON'T WORRY" F/ MARY J. BLIGE
Produced by: Dr. Dre, Mike Elizondo
Game: It was supposed to be Brandy on it originally, but Jimmy Iovine was like, "I don’t want my gangster rapper on a song with Moesha. Doesn’t make sense." So we put Mary on it and she killed it. I just changed a couple lines so they would suit Mary. That shit just took like a half hour or something. I just damn near freestyled that shit. But I mean the verse was only like eight bars.
Mike Lynn: That was Game being more comfortable working with Dre and allowing his own personality to come out on record. Whenever somebody works with Dre they want to do some N.W.A shit. What they don’t realize is he just wants to hear the best thing that’s in you, he doesn’t care about the direction as long as it’s hot. As soon as you tell somebody, "Play me something for Dre," automatically they want to talk street shit instead of just coming out with the best record. "Don’t Worry" is when Game started to open up and was giving us more of who he is. Not just giving us the street, but a little bit more across the board, not being one dimensional.
"LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON" F/ BUSTA RHYMES
Produced by: Buckwild
Game: It only made sense to end the album with that song. I dunno, where else could I put talking to my kid? I don’t think it fit in the middle of the album, with all of the gangster shit. I did that in the same session I did the Just Blaze joint. I ran through the Just Blaze joints so fast that I just did that one while I was there. I didn’t have no hook on it, I came back [to L.A.] and Busta was in the studio and I was like, "Bust, I need a hook for this." I played the beat and you know Bust is a father too, so he’s like, "I got that shit all day."
I heard the beat and thought of my son, I just thought about my kid being born because that was big for me. Recording that shit was like I took myself [back to the day he was born]. I had all the experiences because I just lived them eight months ago, I was just sharing it with the world. I don’t be making up shit man, that’s the shit that I did, that I went through. These are real life situations. They made me who I am. So they’re all my experiences. I wasn’t emotional, nothing to make you cry. It’s just like my experiences.
Buckwild: When I first met Game, it was [in New York City at Baseline] with Just Blaze. It was two, three in the morning and it was a cold, snowy night. Game's grind is incredible, he'll take song after song in the studio all day. Busta was the perfect instrument that was missing. With most of my career, I made music for stories like that. I expected a song with substance, but it was a very powerful song. I guess it's what we call hip-hop, when a person is really giving you they life.
Angelo Sanders: It took Game a lot of time to write that. He wanted to really write that from the heart. He didn’t want it to be a preachy record—not preachy, but you know how so many artists make songs that are almost too personal? Adding Busta was his way of adding another voice to it just to make it not so much about him and his son.
Game: I haven’t listened to The Documentary in five years man. [Laughs.] That’s like you sitting in the house looking at pictures of yourself all day. I go back and listen to Ready To Die, The Blueprint, and like, fucking Makaveli, Straight Outta Compton. I’m not a Game fan. I’m not nobody but me.
Angelo Sanders: You gotta understand what Game was going through. He was 22 years old: Foster homes, broken homes, abuse, the molestation of his sisters...all this craziness to, "I’m fucking with Dre and everybody loves me." Game dropped names in his raps and people say, "That’s his style, that’s all he can do." Man, he can do so many other things! He was just enamored that he could call these people his peers. He was fucking with Dre, so he got open arms early. Busta Rhymes is telling you how dope you are at 22 years old, like huh? A kid from Compton?
At that time he was the “Savior of the West.” Snoop hadn’t had a relevant record in a minute and niggas wanted something fresh and new. That’s a lot of pressure for a 22-year-old kid from Compton. He was able to do it, he pulled it off, and has been doing it ever since.
He’s a real artist. He had to find the difference between being a street nigga and being an artist on that album. That’s what’s so beautiful about The Documentary: He was able to transcend what he was talking about, what he could become, what he came from. He became bigger than just himself on that record.
Mike Lynn: The issue between 50 and Game was a real simple one: 50 is like, "I’m responsible for you being a star." And Game is like, "You’re not responsible for me being an artist." It didn’t matter who wrote the songs from a fan-based standpoint. Game is looking at 50 like, "You didn’t sign me. Mike signed me. So you’re not responsible for me being on Aftermath. I’m supporting G-Unit, but you’re not responsible for me. You had nothing to do with me getting a record deal. You helped me come out, you helped me with my hits, but you’re not responsible for me being an artist."
That’s where 50 felt like Game wasn’t giving him enough respect for helping him, and Game felt like 50 wasn’t respecting him for being an artist before he met 50. That’s really where the wheels fell off. The relationship was already falling apart before the video of "Hate It or Love It" because 50 was feeling like Game wasn’t falling in line. And at the time, Game was becoming a star.
Sha Money XL: The thing that was toxic for Game was that in G-Unit, at the time, we were all self-contained. The music, the management—we was like a 360 deal before those things became popular. Any time you have an artist, their ego starts to grow as their popularity starts to grow. They all go through that. I don't care what any rapper tells you, if they're under another rapper, they all go through that shit. I was able to manage those frustrations and keep them positive, keep them in a good space where there was no friction caused between the leaders of the crew and the boss man 50. But Game had his own crew and his own management team that had their own motives. Sometimes, when you divide people you can make more money.
I seen the hurricane growing because he was starting to cancel appointments, cancel touring that we would set up. One time he called me from London and was like, "Yo man, I can't take this shit." He was frustrated on some anger shit. I was like, "Yo, calm down man." He said, "I'm gonna come back Hurricane Game." He kinda warned me as if he was about to do some flip shit. So I told Fif, "This kid Game man, his head man is starting to get big early man." But Fif is desensitized to that shit because he sees it all the time with everybody, everybody’s head gets big at a point.
So 50 didn't really monitor it or speak to him to maintain certain things that you gotta do when you're the leader. He let him have enough time alone where they didn't communicate where that cancer grew so big that Game was ready to rebel. Soon as he came home from London from a promo tour, when his [first week] numbers came back and he was that dude, he came back to New York on some whole other shit. That's when the shit started, that's when that whole slogan Hurricane Game came. He came with the storm and that's when that whole divide and conquer shit happened.
"THE [‘HOW WE DO’] BEAT WAS CALLED ‘FRESH ’83’
IN DRE’S FOLDER. I GUESS
HE THOUGHT IT WAS SOME ’83 BREAKDANCING SH*T."
Mike Lynn: People need to know that the way Game was when I met him, is the exact same way he is today. No difference. The reason he got a deal was because his arrogance in his ability. So when he acts that way, I’m never surprised. [Laughs.] I knew what I was getting into. It’s like a guy that marries a hoe, and then he’s mad she’s acting like a hoe. [Laughs.]
When people say he had a big head and different things, it’s because they wanted him to be different. I accepted him for who he is. He never bowed down to the whole G-Unit situation because he never asked to be in G-Unit. He was like, “I’m doing this for Jimmy, Dre, and Mike.” People don’t think you’re doing them a favor if you’re making money off of them. So the mentality behind that is completely different.
Angelo Sanders: That’s Game’s record. 50 had a part because he was the hottest dude in the game. He marketed the record. He sold the record. He was featured on the record. He was in the video. It wouldn’t have been the record it is recognized as if it wasn’t [for 50, Dre, and Em]. We fell in at the right time with the right people at the right place. But Game wanted to be his own artist from day one.
The whole G-Unit situation was forced on him. Don’t get it twisted, he fully embraced it. But I think the way it just happened he was like, "Yo, this is what I gotta do to make it. Let’s do it." He never was like, "I’m G-Unit first." He was Dre, Aftermath. That’s what he cared about. So, "Dre, if you telling me roll with 50 and we gone make it pop? Alright cool." But he was his own man.
He could have said no, but at the same time what are you gonna do if you’re an artist in that position? You gonna stand around and wait like the rest of Dre’s artists? Or, you gonna come out cause you got the hottest dude in the game at the time saying, "I’m gonna co-sign it and I got your back." 50 had just sold 10 million records, how are you not gonna ride with this dude? You have to. But it’s not like how 50’s relationship was with Lloyd Banks and Tony Yayo—where he had more of a personal long relationship with them. This was more of a business move that didn’t play out so well. G-Unit coulda been The Beatles man.
Marsha Ambrosius: There are people that I've come across in my career that I will always work with and Game is just one of those people. We always managed to cross paths. We did "Why You Hate The Game?" and we did "Hustlers." He's featured on a couple of records that I did too. It's like we're almost in a group. [Laughs.] We have enough material to put out an EP! Game is mad cool. I love him to death.
Dre (of Cool & Dre): I consider Game family. I care about his welfare, his children, and his career. We really fuck with Game, he’s someone that we consider a brother for real.
Buckwild: Game is this gangsta rapper that people see, but there is this side to Game when you get to know him where he's a really great dude. I guess it just depends on what side of the tennis court you want to put yourself on with Game. I guess you might call that part of Jayceon and not part of The Game.
Game: I’m glad to be who I am. I’m always gone be me and that’s why nobody's been able to successfully clown or diss me. The shit don’t work, I’m human. I am what I am, I ain’t changing. I’m the dude from Change of Heart. I’m the dude that knocked Ras Kass out. I’m the dude that had beef with 50. I’m the dude with three platinum albums going on his fourth. I’m the dude that put out The Documentary.
This piece was first published in 2011. It has been condensed from its original version.