When you're a budding hip-hop star, picking the right name is crucial. It can mean the difference between becoming an immortal (Ice Cube, Dr. Dre) and becoming a punch line (Coolio, Vanilla Ice). So when drug-dealing gang banger Jayceon Taylor became the Game-a name his grandmother thought up-he instantly anointed himself one of music's most arrogant players: "Forget the rules, forget winners, forget losers-I am the Game."
But beneath the cocky, chiseled exterior that's created radio staples like "How We Do" and "Hate It or Love It" lies a man who has gone through his fair share of challenges. Growing up in the gang-infested streets of South Central Los Angeles, Game endured the kind of hard-knock life that most of his musical counterparts just hear about in NWA songs.
After years spent in the foster care system-Game's mother is a former member of one of L.A.'s biggest Crip gangs-plus a childhood rocked by loss (his older brother Jevon was shot and killed in 1999), Game found himself a member of the Bloods, with a stake in the local drug trade. And despite attempts to make his way as a local basketball hero, it wasn't until he was nearly killed by a rival gang during a home invasion that left him slipping in and out of a coma that Game was finally able to make the life-altering change that showed him a world outside of Compton.
"I was shot in the ankle, the stomach, close to my heart, my arm, and my right forearm," says Game. "I had almost 45 days to do nothing but lie in bed and watch TV and listen to music." During that time, he began compulsively watching CNN, which he used to compare to watching the Jazz play the Pacers (in other words, boring as hell). But 9/11 forced him to broaden his interests and concerns. "It was the first time in my life that I stayed on CNN. I was waiting for Larry King to come on," says Game. "Now my name is coming out of Larry King's mouth. That's big business."
The Documentary, Game's 2005 major-label debut, was certified multi-platinum and helped him become part of the hip-hop elite. But more important, it also helped him start a new portion of his life. "Looking back," he says, "I think the whole gang banging thing is pointless. I'm almost ashamed to say that I was a part of it."
But that doesn't mean he's turned his back on his past. Game won't reveal the chink in his armor, but those jibes questioning his loyalty to Compton stir him up, if only because he has worked hard to share the benefits of his fame with the people and community he grew up with. "I can't walk around with my head up if I know I'm not taking care of my business."
Today, that business means long hours in the recording studio- working on the follow-up to his million-selling debut, which is expected to hit the streets later this year. But there's more to the rapper than music and headline-grabbing rivalries-like his Black Wall Street record label, burgeoning fashion house, and the Hurricane, Game's signature line of shoes, which completely sold out in the Los Angeles area within a week of being released last December.
Game's also trying to learn the ins and outs of marketing. It's one reason he adopted what he calls the "penitentiary workout"-to make himself a more marketable artist. The new regimen, borrowed from an uncle, involves basketball cardio and heavy lifting. Just don't ask him if he's looking for help in building his career-or his body. "I don't like trainers," he laughs. "I don't like nobody telling me what to do. I'll whoop their ass."