|Recording information: Chalice Recording, Hollywood, CA; Glenwood Place Studios, Burbank, CA; Pacifique Studios, North Hollywood, CA; The "Bee" Hive, North Hollywood, CA.
|With names like 2 Chainz, Rick Ross, and Chris Brown on the guest list, Game's 2012 effort Jesus Piece was feared to be a combination cash-in and kiss-off to his contract with the Interscope label, at least by those who always looked to the West Coast rapper to keep it real and entirely underground. Dress it all up in controversy -- with some editions of the album having cover art featuring Jesus wearing a gangster rag over his face -- and it's the Game's most shameful ploy to date, but his covering the face was because "nobody's ever seen Jesus," and with the truest of intentions, the loosely conceptual Jesus Piece begins to explore the divine and the devilish, and how they both feed the soul. The hypnotic and hooky highlight "Church" drives to the strip club with this duality on its mind, and as the rapper gets a high mileage table dance, the sexy talk he offers his stripper is "You ain't 'bout that life, you ain't 'bout that life/You don't bounce that ass like 'Oh Lord!' then climb back up the pole to meet Christ." T-Pain and 2 Chainz both get a shout-out just two lyrics later in one of those name-dropping swerves the rapper adores, while the title track drops references to John Coltrane and Kurt Cobain, two troubled souls whose work was divine, something the Game relates to hip-hop by bringing Common and Kanye West onto the cut. On the other hand, the flashy duo of Rick Ross and 2 Chainz are employed for the 10 Commandment-busting anthem "Ali Bomaye," which makes selling your soul to the devil sound swanky and sweet. Then it's the talented and fitting Kendrick Lamar for "See No Evil," an ambitious, cinematic, and cursed cut that could have been dispatched from limbo. The breezy and nostalgic closer "Celebration" feels more like a Sunday picnic than a Sunday sermon, and since this artist seems determined to baffle, killer and conceptually fitting cuts like "Blood Diamonds," "Blood of Christ," plus the Dr. Dre feature "Dead People," are strewn about various editions of the album, appearing as bonus tracks and challenging fans to round them all up. Still, this feature-filled, somewhat messy effort is a welcome surprise, focusing in on its topic and then freeing it with the greatest of ease and making the previously maverick Game sound like a natural born ringleader. ~ David Jeffries