The Game

The Documentary (Aftermath/Interscope)

Like other acts in the Aftermath stable, the Game has the backing and blessing of Dr. Dre. But it means more to this newcomer from Compton, whose debut takes great pains to invoke the names and "Fuck y'all" spirit of Dre's legendary posse, NWA.

It's a smart move on one level; the vintage, so-old-it's-fresh-again Roland beat of "How We Do" helped make it a hit (50 Cent's presence didn't hurt, either). More important, The Documentary sometimes recaptures the menace that marked California hip-hop during NWA's brief reign, which subsequently dissipated in the ganja haze of Doggystyle. "The West Coast never fell off," the Game claims on "Westside Story," but the ominous thump of these tracks suggests otherwise.

And despite the G-Unit empire he's built in the wake of Eminem, Dre hasn't found a great MC since. The Game is no exception. A competent rhymer with a hint of raspy threat in his verses, he was eclipsed on last year's mixtape hit "Still Cruisin'" by an old sample of his idol, the late Easy-E. That nasty, nasal-voiced ghost still haunts these grooves, a persistent reminder of a time when West Coast rap seemed like more than just a Game.