The Documentary is the second studio album by American rapper the Game. It was released on January 18, 2005, by Aftermath Entertainment, G-Unit Records, and Interscope Records. In 2001, while the Game was in a hospital recovering from a shooting, he decided to pursue a career in music. He released the mixtape, “Q.B. 2 Compton” under his then record label “Get Low Recordz” in 2002, which was later was discovered by Dr. Dre and led to him signing the Game to his label, Aftermath Entertainment. The album includes production from high-profile producers such as Dr. Dre, Kanye West, Scott Storch and Timbaland, among others, and guest appearances from 50 Cent, Eminem, Nate Dogg and Faith Evans, among others. This would be the Game’s only album on Aftermath and G-Unit Records, as he left the label later in 2006 after a feud began between him and fellow G-Unit label-mate 50 Cent.
After the Game signed with G-Unit, he recorded nine songs with fellow American rapper 50 Cent in his home studio in Farmington, Connecticut, and then went back to Los Angeles, California to complete the album with American record producer Dr. Dre. While continuing the recording sessions on the album, he began working with rapper and record producer Kanye West on a song, where Kanye did the chorus. However, the song was left on the cutting room floor. The Game was also inspired to revive the hip hop scene in the West Coast, which had been overshadowed since its heyday in the 1990s by rappers from the East and the South. In 2005, in the interview with Vibe magazine, 50 Cent stated that he was brought in by the Interscope Records to work on the album, claiming that was on the verge of being shelved and the Game was being dropped from the label. However, in the interview with Funkmaster Flex, the Game said that his status was never uncertain that he would be dropped from the label. 50 Cent also wrote 6 choruses of The Documentary’s eighteen tracks—”Hate It or Love It”, “How We Do”, “Church for Thugs”, “Special”, “Higher”, and “Westside Story” —and didn’t receive proper credit for his work.
The Game for the album recorded tracks based on his life experiences from his childhood to his success as a rapper. When asked about the album, he stated
grew up in a boys home and I was taken away from my parents when I was like 8 years old… Here I am, 24. When my album drops I will be 25 so that’s 17 years I have been going through my struggle by myself. There are 17 tracks on my album and every track sheds light on a different situation I went through the last 17 years.
The rapper commented on the album’s perception before its release, saying, “I know everybody was expecting gang-bang, 40-ounce, low-rider music, but that’s not what I gave them… I’m telling a real story, and maybe there are people out there who can relate to my experiences.” Rolling Stone observed that “every song has a well-massaged hook and some immediate appeal, and verses that don’t waste a lot of time getting to the point.”
The Documentary’s big budget production from high-profile hip hop producers was well received from critics. The first half of the album contains “upbeat, gangsta boogie” tracks with the other half relegating “smoothed out R&B maneuvers”. At seven tracks, Dr. Dre co-executive produced the album with his “stripped-down cinematic” approach. “Westside Story” contains an “evil sounding piano plink”, “Dreams” has a “simultaneously smooth and eerie” beat, and “Hate It or Love It” unveils a “smoothed out R&B funk vibe”. “Higher” revolves around a pounding synth blast and “How We Do” contains syncopated hand claps with a beat described as “a hypnotic blast of sinister seduction powered by a deliciously primitive 808 pattern and a slinky synth.” “Don’t Need Your Love” samples Mary J. Blige’s “Not Gon Cry” and is one of the album’s more soulful songs. “Church for Thugs” delivers a “sing-song stylee over an accentuated sonic bed” and “Put You on the Game” is a club track containing “dark dirge[s] of synth”.
Although “Start from Scratch” features R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius, the beat “eschews the traditional R&B vibes” for more “aural intimidation”. IGN called it “the most haunting inclusion on the album.” “The Documentary” features a “busy backing track” of “crashing symphonics and tinny flares of synth”, which one critic believed overshadowed the lyrics. “Runnin'” is a “dark, Stygian tune augmented by tinges of R&B mellowness.” “No More Fun and Games” has a fast-paced beat that takes inspiration from early 1990s production. “We Ain’t”, which samples Dr. Dre’s “The Watcher”, takes Eminem’s “chug laden synth gurgle” and is described as “one of the most menacingly catchy numbers on the entire album.” Nate Dogg features on two “smoothed out” tracks; “Special” and the G-funk-inspired “Where I’m From”. “Don’t Worry” is an R&B flavored track and despite its “minimal production”, one reviewer wrote the song “still hits hard.” The final track, “Like Father, Like Son”, is driven by a “melodramatic, string-laden” beat. Originally, Brandy Norwood was supposed to be on “Don’t Worry”, but Jimmy Iovine did not want a gangsta rapper like the Game on a song with Brandy.
The album’s title was initially called “Nigga Witta Attitude Vol. 1” (a reference to N.W.A), but was changed to “The Documentary” because legal issues with an injunction filed at the request of Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright prevented him from using N.W.A’s name in the album title.
The album was initially meant to be released in October 2004; however, since the other high-profile albums—including Eminem’s Encore—were to be released around the same time, it was pushed back to January 18, 2005. On September 28, 2004, the Game released a promotional mixtape entitled Westside Story through Aftermath Entertainment and G-Unit Records. The mixtape was used to promote his major-label debut album, The Documentary. In October 2004, the Game released his first independent album, titled Untold Story, through Get Low Recordz (owned by JT the Bigga Figga). The album sold over 82,000 copies within its first three months. The album featured artists such as Sean T, Young Noble (of the Outlawz) and JT the Bigga Figga. The Game also appeared on various mixtapes, which has been hosted by DJ’s such as DJ Kayslay, DJ Whoo Kid and DJ Clue?. The Game also released a second mixtape You Know What It Is Vol. 2 through his own record label and appeared on the video game NBA Live 2004 on a song produced by Fredwreck called “Can’t Stop Me”. On November 15, 2004, the Game released a promotional mixtape, titled Charge It to the Game: The Mixtape, through Westside Records. The tape was also used to promote The Documentary.
The Documentary received generally positive reviews. On Metacritic, The Documentary received an aggregate score of 72 out of 100 based on 19 reviews. Pitchfork Media called it “the best West Coast street-rap album since DJ Quik’s 2002 LP Under tha Influence” and described the production as “a rich, triumphant sonic tapestry”. Allmusic wrote the album was an “excellent debut” that “hints at a lot of potential” and observed the “most remarkable aspect of the Game is how he can be such a blatant product of gangsta rap… and leave a mark so fast.” Rolling Stone noted the Game was “going for emotional impact rather than dazzling wordplay or laughs” and PopMatters described him as “a self-conscious, malicious, nihilistic gangsta rapper with a heart and lyrical content”. On the other hand, Robert Christgau believed the album was “dull even when he isn’t describing his medical problems, this no-talent is masscult rock at its most brazen”. The A.V. Club praised the production for being “a sonic classic of slow-rolling G-funk and glossy hyper-soul”, but panned the Game for his name dropping, suggesting if he “cut all the references to rappers and albums… it’d be a good 15 to 20 minutes shorter—and probably a lot more compelling.” Billboard declared it “one of the best rap albums of the year” and Entertainment Weekly suggested “with the brightest hip-hop stars aligning for him, the Game may have willed himself a popular masterpiece.”
IGN criticized the large number of guest appearances, stating “the propensity of guest artists makes it hard to actually get a grasp on the rising star’s own voice.” MusicOMH observed “like many rap albums The Documentary is too long, but it maintains a high level of interest” and overall, it was “an impressive effort” that “introduces a strong presence to the West Coast”. Stylus Magazine wrote “no one disappoints” and despite the record being “so obviously and deeply grounded in marketing, it’s still an outstandingly solid and enjoyable” debut. The New York Times noted the Game’s “tough but straightforward rhyme style is appealing but not, usually, enthralling… This is a rapper who almost never forgets himself, who almost never loses himself in syllables just for the fun of it.” The Village Voice criticized the rapper’s lyrical skills, saying, “the Game’s rhymes are about six degrees from totally artless”. Yahoo! Music also panned the lyrics for “almost totally lacking in shock value, humour or insight”, but praised the production, writing that “musically, this is probably the greatest major label hip-hop album of recent years – a near faultless succession of hi-tech beats and ominously catchy hooks”.
The album appeared on numerous music critics’ and publications’ end-of-year albums lists. Pitchfork Media placed the album at number 35 on their list of Top 50 Albums of 2005. At the 48th Annual Grammy Awards, the Game was nominated with a total of two nominations, including Best Rap Song and Best Rap Performance by a Duo or Group for the smash single “Hate It or Love It”. In 2012 Complex named the album one of the classic albums of the last decade
The Game is often credited as a driving force in bringing the West Coast hip hop scene back to recognition. Before its release, he expressed his desire to have high opening week sales, saying, “I want to sell a million albums in my first week. And if I only sell one album the following week, I’m good.” He also admitted feeling nervous about not being able to live up to the industry expectations, saying, “Yeah, I’ve got some butterflies. I’m worried about my first-week numbers, and I’m worried about living up to the hype.” The album debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 chart, selling 586,000 copies in the first week. The Recording Industry Association of America certified the album double Platinum on March 23, 2005, and it was the tenth best-selling record of the year. As of March 2005, the album has sold over 2.5 million units in the United States.
The Documentary peaked at the top fifteen in most European charts it entered. It peaked at number seven on the UK Albums Chart and remained on the chart for thirty-three weeks. It reached the top ten in the Netherlands, France, Ireland, Switzerland, and the top twenty in Belgium, Germany, and Norway. The album topped the Canadian Albums Chart for three weeks and on March 8, 2005, it was certified Platinum with 100,000 units shipped. It has since sold over five million copies worldwide.