Between 2005's The Documentary and the new Doctor's Advocate, The Game underwent a startling transformation, from a man who shamelessly sucked up to rap's icons to a pariah who antagonized rap's biggest names. Following his falling out with 50 Cent and expulsion from Dr. Dre's Aftermath camp, Game engaged in a campaign of public jackassery that comically overstated his importance to rap. He even "encouraged" Jay-Z to push his album's release back so it wouldn't compete with Doctor's Advocate. That title itself is preposterous, given Dr. Dre's zero involvement—it's like Kevin Federline naming his next album Britney's Beloved Husband.

But Dre's absence hasn't kept Game from dropping his name so often that if listeners drink a shot at every reference, they'll risk alcohol poisoning. Nor has it kept Game from positing Advocate as the missing link between The Chronic and Doggystyle. Still, even without Dre's assistance, Game manages to resurrect the vibe of vintage Death Row on throwback tracks like "Too Much," Will.I.Am's surprisingly gangsta "Compton," and "Wouldn't Get Far," in which Game and producer/guest Kanye West pay irreverent homage to 2Pac's groupie-baiting "All About U."

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Gangsta rap is largely a producer's medium, and though The Game boasts a raspy-voiced, belligerent charisma, Advocate succeeds primarily on the strength of its beats. Ace beatsmiths Just Blaze, Scott Storch, Hi-Tek, Swizz Beatz, and the aforementioned West and Will.I.Am have hooked up Game with a gleaming, hydraulics-enhanced '64 Impala of an album to ride. While Advocate largely succeeds in turning back the clock to 1993, its plodding final four tracks serve as a reminder why Death Row's reign ended in the first place. But in spite of the bloated run time, Advocate is far stronger than it has any right to be. The Game lost Dre and 50's sponsorship, but he's finally carved out an identity for himself outside Dre's shadow.