It’d be hard to argue that The Game isn’t one of the most polarizing figures in modern hip hop. If you’re a die hard fan of the genre, there’s a good chance that you either see him as one of the two or three biggest names in West Coast rap over the past 10 years, or you think he’s a loud-mouthed, name-dropping, has been – who would have never been without 50 and Dre back in The Documentary days. While album sales and his ability to stay relevant for damn near a decade probably make the first stance there closer to reality, his frequent media antics definitely make his often-harsh critics at least somewhat understandable (though “hate” is never a good thing people…).
With his newly dropped – and somewhat controversial – album, Jesus Piece, The Game is looking to silence his doubters, and prove to his fans that he still deserves their support after a string of solid, yet somewhat forgettable releases. To cut straight to the chase, this album’s without a doubt going to go down as one of the industry’s biggest surprises of the year…And, maybe even one of the better hip hop albums of 2012 too, which is something that almost no one expect his biggest fans probably would have predicted. It’s not The Documentary. It’s not a classic. But it’s definitely well above average, and with a list of features that reads like a roll call that includes almost every single artist with a strong commercial buzz, it’ll probably have plenty for nearly type of hip hop fan too.
Lyrically, The Game himself gives a solid effort, with a few definite highlights. On the few tracks where there aren’t any features, like “Heaven’s Arms” – which might be the album’s best – and “Blood Diamonds” it’s obvious that there’s a reason The Game was (is?) one of the genre’s biggest superstars. He definitely isn’t a ridiculously talented technical rapper, and he doesn’t do anything mind-blowing from a lyrical standpoint either, but there isn’t anything he doesn’t do well.
But, when you break his career down, he’s always been a “jack of all trades, master of none” type of artist behind the mic, and that doesn’t change here. While he doesn’t excel at any one area, at any point, he definitely shows that there really isn’t anything he can’t pull off either – from coming with tenacious aggression, to getting thoughtful and introspective, to pulling out some witty word play. That’s obvious on Jesus Piece in a big way, and it’s probably due to the fact that he comes with a ridiculous number of different flows. It’s a solid look, but it definitely brings us to our next point…
Two of his biggest criticisms – from a musical standpoint at least – are present in a gigantic way. The first, which ultimately isn’t really a bad thing at all, is his tendency to “steal” flows from the artists he’s collaborating with. Whether it’s doing a Kanye impersonation on the album’s title track “Jesus Piece” (where he even comes with ‘Ye’s now signature Hahhn!”), to showcasing an undeniably Bone Thugs inspired verse on “Celebration” (which is driven by a sample from the BTNH hit “First of the Month”), or respectably doing a softer track that tells the story of supporting a troubled woman with J. Cole on “Pray” – it’s impossible not to notice that Game’s still borrowing styles in a big way.
In fact, outside of the Kendrick Lamar featuring “See No Evil” and the two before mentioned solo efforts, there really isn’t a song where he isn’t pulling a stylistic chameleon act, and trying to emulate what his featured artists are known for. But, that isn’t necessarily a negative thing on its own at all. In fact, while his critics might always point to it as one of his biggest faults, it actually leads to a ton of variety on the album, as he switches through so many flows. At the end of the day, he each of the flows he comes with are executed pretty admirably, and it helps the hour and fifteen minute album keep from ever dragging on or starting to feel repetitive.
But, the other common criticism that often surrounds his name – his habit of nonstop name-dropping – is almost unbearably noticeable, and it’s tough to call it a good thing, no matter how you look at it. It really wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Game uses 20% of his bars on this album to drop the names of other artists, past and present, from Scarface to Chief Keef. Whether he does it to get respect from their respective fan bases, or he finds inspiration in other people’s music, it’s hard not to think that he could have used those lines to actually say something, instead of just taking the opportunity to send shout outs to damn near every rapper under the sun. Every once in a while, he makes a somewhat interesting connection through the name-dropping, but it definitely holds this one back from a lyrical sense a bit.
As far as the ridiculously lengthy, and impressive, list of features is concerned, we get nothing but solid efforts – though outside of the King Chip verse on “Church” it’d be tough to say that any of them were standouts. By no means do any of the featured artists come across like they’re just dropping a lazy verse for a quick check, but it’d be hard not to point out 2 or 3 recent verses from each artist that outshine what’s going on here. However, solid verses from some of the best doing it, are still solid verses from some of the best doing it.
Again, it adds a ton of variety – due to the fact there’s a huge number of different artists present, from Common and Kendrick, to Big Sean and Tyga, all the way to Future and 2 Chainz. As a result, we get everything from high energy, infectious bangers like “Ali Bomaye (feat. 2 Chainz and Rick Ross)”, to soulful anthems like “Hallelujah (feat. Jamie Foxx). As a whole, The Game and his roster of features aren’t going to be doing anything to change the current hip hop landscape, but they definitely come together to create a pretty vivid picture of its current state – and it’s a more than entertaining experience.
From a production and musical standpoint, it’s almost the same story, but minus most of the star power except on a few hooks. From start to finish, there’s a ton of variety, but it’s truly tough to say that there’s anything truly original or that really “stands out” in the grand scheme of 2012’s releases. In true Game fashion, we get some heavy percussion and synth driven West Coast beats, and while they all achieve that sound in much different ways, stay pretty consistent.
However, there aren’t any beats that even come close to achieving the same presence that the instrumentals on The Documentary or even some of the more polished beats on LAX, which is understandable considering he was working with legends back then. But, even so this, one’s a strong effort through and through and never comes close to trying to capture a pop or electronic sound – which is growing increasingly rare these days. The highlights from a beat and hook standpoint are probably the upbeat, yet eerie “Church”, which showcases a solid vocal performance by Trey Songz, and the audibly inspiring, and vocal sample driven “Can’t Get Right”, which might mark the official start of producer K Roosevelt’s status as a superstar producer.
Overall, the Jesus Piece album, just might end up on a ton of 2012 top ten lists at the end of this month, and very reasonably so. The Game, with the help of over a dozen of hip hop’s biggest stars, definitely proves that there’s no doubt he hasn’t “fallen off” – which the album’s lack of serious promo and multiple pushbacks led many hip hop fans to believe. Is it going to go down as a classic? No. Is it a more than solid album, that’s fun as hell, introspective at times, and would be home in any fan of modern hip hop’s collection? Definitely. Even if you’re one the Game’s loudest doubters – and there are plenty of them out there – you’re probably not into modern rap if you can’t find something that would fit your rotation here. There’s that much variety, and there’s that much star power.