story & interview by Zena TSarfin photos by Katy Winn

"I can do this all day," The Game declares, sitting down to examine the three distinct strains of California's finest marijuana provided for his HIGH TIMES cover shoot. Inspecting the bouquet—comprising fragrant Afghani Blueberry, OG Kush and Purple Urkel buds—the 25-year-old Compton rapper, born Jayceon Taylor, quickly finds a favorite in the latter. Game expertly dissects a blunt, then hands off the baseball cap that had been tilted on his head before proceeding with the task at hand. "When you're breaking down weed, you gotta get serious," he explains.

Seriously laid-back for the duration of the session, the critically acclaimed MC burns through no less than three assorted flavored blunts, demonstrating an impressive hands-free smoking technique that would make Keith Richards proud as the camera clicks away. Between setups, Game consults with a compact entourage–his manager, A&R rep, publicist, jeweler, even a "weed expert" are all on hand. His multi-platinum-selling debut album, The Documentary, has only been out for six weeks and still resides at No. 4 on Billboard's album charts. The promotional hype cycle is far from over.

It's easy to forget, amidst his business-as-usual demeanor and the relaxed gangsta lean of his athletic 6-foot-4 frame, that The Game is currently embroiled in an explosive cross-country rap beef with 50 Cent. Four days prior to this HIGH TIMES interview, an associate of his was shot in an altercation outside the studios of New York City's Hot 97 radio station when Game and his crew attempted to enter the building. At the time, 50 Cent was live on the air in the studio, publicly excommunicating The Game from his clique, G-Unit, ending their short-lived affiliation.

Though Game kept mum on the subject while enjoying his herb, he did break his silence mere hours after our high times together. "Come get me, you little bitch," he challenged 50 Cent during a concert in Long Beach later that night. "I'm not hiding up at the station. I'm real from the streets, I'm a real person. If you don't like me, then kill me. I ain't afraid."

Thankfully, this would be the final antagonistic act in the conflict. Within a week, the strife would be peacefully resolved at Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where 50 Cent and The Game shook hands and called for an amicable truce before presenting donations totaling $253,500 to the Boys Choir of Harlem and the Compton Unified School District Music Program on behalf of their respective charities, the G-Unity Foundation and Black Wall Street. Coinciding with the eighth anniversary of the Notorious B.I.G.'s shooting death, the joint press conference allowed Game an opportunity to apologize to his fans. "I'm almost ashamed to have participated in the things that went on the past couple of weeks," he said at the podium. "On behalf of myself and 50, we're making a statement that is a lot louder than just two voices…. We're showing that you can control your destiny, your future. I'm gonna control mine in a productive and positive way."

Flipping a negative situation into a positive has become a major theme in Game's upbringing. Born on Nov. 29, 1979, in Compton, CA, Taylor was given his nickname by his beloved grandmother, who claimed he was always "game" for anything. He's experienced much in his first quarter century on this Earth: Both his parents had gang affiliations, he spent years in foster care, he buried two brothers killed in acts of senseless violence and got caught up in the gangs himself, eventually selling drugs and running with the Bloods. He was also a star basketball player at Compton High School—skilled enough to earn college scholarship offers.

But nothing compares to how he found his path to the rap game. As the story goes, on the night of Oct. 1, 2001, the house Game had been using as part of his drug operation was robbed of its money and marijuana. There was a struggle, and the then 21-year-old was shot five times at point-blank range and left for dead. After awaking from a coma, Game spent months rehabilitating—repeatedly listening to classic hip-hop albums for inspiration during a painful recovery. He began honing his own rhyming skills and eventually appeared on a series of demos and mix tapes. Deeply influenced by local heroes N.W.A, who'd spearheaded the burgeoning gangsta rap movement of his youth, it was pure kismet for Game when founding member and producer/MC extraordinaire Dr. Dre granted him a meeting.

In The Game, Dre found a worthy protégé to anchor his Aftermath imprint, much the way he'd groomed Snoop Dogg for Death Row more than a decade earlier. With his clever wordplay and gravely paced flow, The Game also makes the perfect champion to reignite the left coast's faded rap glory. Drenched in Dre's signature keyboards and bombastic productions, The Documentary hits hard with songs like "Higher," "How We Do" and "Start From Scratch," and rounds out with tracks from the genre's hottest producers, including Kanye West's soulful "Dreams," Timbaland's crunked-out "Put You On The Game" and a one-two punch of Just Blaze on "Church for Thugs" and "No More Fun and Games," plus guest appearances by Mary J. Blige, 50 Cent, Nate Dogg and Eminem.
Throughout all the hype and expectations that surround him, at the end of the day, Game remains driven by his desire to advance upon the philanthropic and musical vision of Eazy-E, the late N.W.A all-star whose visage is immortalized on his right forearm. "It's so crazy that he died so before his time," says Game. "He accomplished a lot, but I'm pretty sure he would've done a lot more. A great legacy lives on through me."

Clearly, The Game has a plan.

Anytime The Game is mentioned, the term "West Coast resurrection" surely follows. What's that do for you?

It gives me great honor to hold that title. All I set out to do at the beginning of my career was bring the West Coast back—and I've done that singlehandedly, so I appreciate it.

I know you consider your music a refinement of N.W.A's sound. Is their legacy something you consciously strive to evoke?

N.W.A is one of the best rap groups in the history of hip-hop. They were formed by Eric Wright [Eazy-E], a petty drug dealer in Compton who had a dream, and they sold a million records with no videos and no airplay—because the music was too graphic for the airwaves and for television. I was a kid during that time, and while everyone else throughout the world was loving the music and their whole movement, I was in it. I appreciated growing up in Compton, in that N.W.A melting pot, so me being a big fan of N.W.A, and getting a chance to meet Eazy when I was younger, and now being a rapper signed with Dr. Dre from Compton, I feel obligated to carry the name so the N.W.A legacy will always live on through me and my rhymes.

How did meeting Eazy as an adolescent affect you?

It was dope meeting Eazy, and it [made] a lasting impression. Eazy-E pioneered a new wave of gangsta rap, which is modern-day gangsta rap. The reason that Eazy-E passed was the HIV virus, and we as human beings are so scared to touch the subject that nobody gives him the props he deserves.

You were on the covers of magazines and in television ads for mobile phones before your debut album, The Documentary, even dropped. Did you expect to blow up so quickly?

Everything that's happened thus far, I definitely expected. I knew whatever I put in, I would get out, and I've been putting in 200 percent since signing with Dre, so I knew it was gonna be to the best extremity.

How did you get into rapping?

After I got shot, I was on bed rest for three and a half months. I was bored, and I started listening to music more. The more I listened, the more it consumed me, and the next thing I knew, I was jotting down lines. It started off rough—everything wasn't rhyming—but the more I wrote, the better I got.