Not sure what I expected from Game's Jesus Piece. A work tightly wound around a cohesive concept? A masterpiece? A sequel to The Documentary? A guest-free album? The Game says nuts to that.
The Game (back to his original moniker after a brief stint as, simply, Game) was the toast of the west coast in 2004, following his stellar debut, The Documentary. That changed with the arrival of Kendrick Lamar's pistol-grip, black and white portrait of Compton, good kid, m.A.A.d city. I've always wondered how Game felt about Lamar dethroning him as the crown prince of L.A. rap. I now know the answer to that, thanks to Jesus Piece (more on that later).
I also know the answer to many of life's probing questions: Would Game hit it after Jay-Z hit it? Does he care if Nas hit it? (Spoiler Alert: yes and no, respectively) Is he an army or a movement? How does he feel about Kim K, and so on and so forth?
Ladies and Gents, welcome to the Game's fifth album. Randomness? Check. Weakness for lousy lyrics? Check. Scattered moments of brilliance? Check. Name drops? Check. Check. Check.
And he has Compton's golden boy on the brain. "Felt he [Dre] sh---ted on me for Kendrick," he says on "Can't Get Right." Surprised Game didn't start a feud with Lamar for Papa Dre's affection, or pen diss records...wait, he did ("Recorded diss records"), or dream Doc dead...wait, he did ("Dre promised me records, I never got 'em/That's why I had nightmares that a ni--a shot him"). Lord help us.
Funny, Jesus Piece's best quality is also its undoing. The album succeeds because of Game's collaborators (contrast it with Big Boi's Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, which suffers because of the guests). J. Cole's horns vs. halo duality shapes "Pray." Young Jeezy and Future help turn "I Remember" into a trap-rap piece. 2 Chainz and Rick Ross drape their velvety flash raps all over "Ali Bomaye." And "Jesus Piece" is limp and amebic until Common shows up to give it form. If you're wondering where Game is, well, he's lost in the congregation.
Game takes that whole thing where he mimics his collaborators to a new height. That's a concept album he should explore at some point. Then again, Game and concepts go together like butter and water. In fact, you get the feeling he doesn't fully understand Jesus Piece's artistic direction. The title song, for instance, meanders aimlessly as Game mulls Biggie's demise and gold chains and the good ol' days of hip-hop and groupies and blogs and Kurt Cobain. The song titles ("Hallelujah," "Higher Than Heaven's Arms," "Church," "Blood of Christ") clearly serve as thematic signposts, but none of these tracks interact with each other.
Yet, redeeming qualities abound. Game's co-conspirators provide the much needed reprieve from his gratingly repetitive rhyme scheme. And, believe it or not, Jesus Piece is one of the most colorfully-produced, listenable Game albums to date. His knack for hip-pop anthems emboldened his producers to design a template rich in brilliant sonic textures, thunderous bass and thick layers of instrumentation.
Game genuinely tries to create a sympathetic character, a villain-turned-hero. Sadly, Jesus Piece lacks the effortless duality of Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city. Still, give Game props for effort, for cobbling up an almost flawless lineup, and for the bevy of earwormy tracks that still make Jesus Piece a solid listen.Standouts
- "Name Me King"