YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Fall Arts Preview

The lore of the Game

The Dr. Dre Protege Presents His Harrowing Youth As A Cautionary Tale.

September 19, 2004|Robert Hilburn | Times Staff Writer

The GAME, Dr. Dre's latest discovery, arrives on the hip-hop scene this fall with a resume as scary as anything from "thug life" rappers Tupac Shakur and 50 Cent, who were shot more than a dozen times between them.

That's why you'll probably be hearing almost as much about the Game's life story as his music, which chronicles his experiences growing up in foster homes, gangbanging and ending up with five bullet holes after a drug deal went wrong. ("Actually, seven bullet holes, but I don't count the ins and outs," he says.)

The Game, whose real name is Jayceon Taylor, looks as menacing as his history as he sits in a San Fernando Valley recording studio, where he has been putting the final touches on the debut album that is due in stores in December.

Tall and muscular, he isn't someone you'd want to shush if he were making noise behind you in a dark movie theater. He's wearing a flashy gangsta rap medallion and his arms are covered with enough tattoos to remind you of the Illustrated Man. His expression tends to be hard and unrevealing.

But when asked how it feels to be two months away from likely stardom, he sighs. The tough-guy bravado fades.

"I'm just so happy to be doing something positive with my life," the Game, 24, says. "I've got a baby boy and I'm trying to make a good future for him. I know the music business can be rough, but I've gone through stuff 10 times worse than anything I will encounter. None of that can compare to my life story."

That story -- climaxing with the night, three years ago, that he was shot -- is so tailor-made for today's hard-core rap crowd that it's easy to wonder if it isn't too good to be true. One rapper's website accuses the Game of fabricating a "street thug" image.

The way the Game tells it, he changed his lifestyle after the shooting. Drawing inspiration from Compton gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A, he started rapping about his experiences. His demo tape got to N.W.A co-founder Dr. Dre, who responded to the raw energy of the Game's voice and stories.

Dre, rap's most honored producer, signed the Game in 2002 and has been carefully grooming him, producing four tracks on the album and putting him in the studio with Eminem and 50 Cent as well as producer Kanye West.

There are no guarantees in pop music (Dre's venture into R&B with the female singer Truth Hurts in 2002 still hasn't caught fire), but the Game has the kind of supporting cast on his album that is the envy of every young rapper.

If the CD hits as big as expected, he will be the first giant West Coast rap star since another Dre find, Snoop Dogg, a decade ago. The just-released first single, "Westside Story," celebrates the history of West Coast rap, which has been overshadowed in recent years by East Coast and Southern performers.

Dre was going to use the CD's seductive beats for his own long-delayed solo album, but he was so impressed by the Game that he gave some of them up for the Game's CD.

"I'm 100% behind him," Dre says. "As soon as I heard his demo, I loved his delivery and his vocal tone, and what he had to say. I also loved the fact that he was from my hometown. I'm going to do one more album and then I'm going to devote all my time to producing records and finding new artists."

A youth in Compton

Dre is across town shooting the new Eminem video and isn't due at the recording studio for hours, so the Game has plenty of time to relax -- which is a rarity as he races to finish his album. He had been in the studio until 6:30 that morning.

It's now 3 p.m. and everything is quiet. He's wearing a Cubs baseball cap (not because he's a fan, but because he likes the blue and red colors), sweats and the N.W.A medallion.

The Game loved rap growing up in Compton, idolizing N.W.A, whose explosive "Straight Outta Compton" album in the late '80s was a blueprint for gangsta rap. But he thought his future was going to be basketball.

The Game, who's 6-foot-4, was a star guard on the Compton High School team and played regularly with future NBA players, including all-star Baron Davis (godfather to the Game's year-old son), and Tyson Chandler, the second overall pick in the 2001 draft.

But those plans kept getting disrupted by his behavior. "I had a problem with authority growing up," he says. "I'd get an A on the math test, then run outside and steal a car."

The Game's mother worked the graveyard shift at the post office and his father had behavioral problems of his own, the rapper says.

The darkest day of his childhood was when he and several siblings were placed by child welfare officers in separate foster homes because of complaints about his father, the Game says. The youngster was just starting grade school.

"My foster mother did the best she could with the 12 to 18 kids who were living with her at any one time, but it was devastating not to be able to go to your own mother and talk about your problems and stuff," he continues. "That's one of the reasons I turned to the streets at a pretty young age."

Los Angeles Times Articles