Professional as it is meandering, Jesus Piece is yet another Game release without a clear identity despite its claims to the contrary.
Given the tidal wave of music that surrounded last year's R.E.D. Album, it's both surprising and entirely predictable that Game would already have another retail product for us. Surprising because the album appeared with relatively little fanfare, finished on the sort of efficient schedule that Game's found elusive in the years since 50 Cent and Dr. Dre steamrolled The Documentary to completion. Predictable because, well, Game seems to never stop rhyming and as long as pop culture continues to exist, many of his verses would appear capable of writing themselves. As Game's seemingly limited capabilities have proven to exist in perpetuity due to his ear for production and apparently exceptional networking abilities (an amazing circumstance considering his infamous penchant for bridge burning) I've come to find that predictability somewhat endearing, though. I've been positing for a couple years now that aptly-AKA'd the Game is attempting to be exactly that – a siphon of all that the culture is and has been at a given moment. His references are fond reminders as much as lazy or awkward testaments to competitors and idols.
But adopting that stance can't always help Game's newest facet of admiration, that of his adopting other rappers' deliveries and flows for mysterious reasons. "Jesus Piece" features Kanye West but it is Game delivering the signature "hanh!" exclamation Kanye peppers his latest verses with. Maybach Music Group leaders Rick Ross and Meek Mill help open the album, but it's Game delivering fever dream imagery about opulence and faith as if Rich Forever were the only thing he'd listened to all year over a pair of Black Metaphor beats that split the difference between Maybach and G.O.O.D. Perhaps he does this because when the influences are less obvious, somehow so is Game – "Celebration" closes the album proper with a bland toast to success, and at five minutes it's just stunning that the only memorable moments come when Chris Brown delivers his chorus and Lil' Wayne sounds like Lil' Wayne. He's similarly hidden on the album's other posse cut, "All That (Lady)", but it's harder to complain about since you get Jeremih (who's been on a real tear in 2012) riffing on a sample of D'Angelo's "Lady" while Lil' Wayne turns in his most fun verse since "The Motto" and the Big Sean/Fabolous combo nod at each other knowingly.
None of the other tracks are so bloated with features as those two, but it's worth noting, as usual, that with just 15 tracks Game's managed to procure 24 collaborators, with Wayne appearing twice. Jesus Piece is anything but svelte; the butter of the features slabbed across a loaf of bread so thick only two songs clock under four minutes, and nine of the fifteen included on the Deluxe Edition clock in at five or more. Alongside producers like Cool & Dre, SAP, K Roosevelt and Boi-1da, it's obvious that Game's reacting to the increasingly orchestrated, movement-oriented composition of big budget rap albums, unfortunately Jesus Piece mostly feels a little stale or lifeless. Which is odd, because if you're to believe that this is a concept album about the multi-dimensional existence of poor American black males – strip club on Saturday, church on Sunday, corner on Monday – then you'd probably expect this album to be pretty intriguing lyrically. That's just not the case, though, and much of the religious imagery comes off as needless antagonizing of truly devout Christians at worst, dull allusions to grander ideas at best.
Take "Church", a staggeringly massive six-minute collaboration with King Chip (frequently known as Chip tha Ripper) and Trey Songz. K Roosevelt's wind chime plus rolling bassline beat is hypnotic as hell, and once Trey Songz' vocal comes in it's easy to find yourself awash in the pure sonic delight of it. But at further listen, it's a strip club track awash with awkward imagery: "I'ma crucify that pussy / I'ma nail it here, I'ma nail it there." I'm no Christian but, c'mon, son. Equally, "Ali Bomaye" is another six minute opus featuring Ross and 2 Chainz that spends its final minute on a skit with a crew giggling excessively about one member's new Jesus chain, a $50,000 piece of neck upholstery that proves his religion can't be questioned because of how much he spent and how shiny it is. Again, I'm a skeptic but I'm pretty sure what goes in the donation plate displays your faith, not your gaudy chest pieces. Later, another skit will brag about how many ones are in a parishioner's pocket rather than the plate. Despite a number of track titles that allude to piety ("Jesus Piece", "Pray", "Church", "Heaven's Arms", "See No Evil", "Hallelujah") this is an album decidedly enamored with vice and sin. Par for the course with a hip-hop album, it's just frustrating to listen to music that's confused about what it'd really like to be.
Jesus Piece is a sort of tough album to peg as a result. On a pure sonic level this could very well be Game's most focused release, with a clear tilt towards R&B hooks and grandiose instrumentals. But on a lyrical level he seems to be running away from himself, mostly avoiding the storytelling tricks that made R.E.D. Album his most enjoyable release in years. To hear him spin the good girl gone bad tale of "Pray"'s opening verse only to spend most of his other minutes on the album playing random word and celebrity association is just a pity. I mean, just try to take in his first two verses on "Scared Now" without shaking your head. The more spins Jesus Piece gets, the more its negatives seem to cancel its positives and vice versa. Sonically professional yet lyrically amateur to the point you may find yourself listening to the album multiple times without any idea what any of it was actually going on about. I'd argue he's capable of better, but given how guided by the voices of others Mr. Taylor's been throughout his career, it'd likely be a hard tact to succeed with.