The Game used to be so much fun. On his classic first two albums, Dr. Dre's pistol of an ex-protégé shocked and awed with masterly hauteur, issuing death threats and airing grievances usually kept to the boardroom. Then the ceiling caved in and killed his career. That is wont to happen in the soap opera that is gangsta rap, but The Game seemed lionhearted enough to weather the bullshit. Not so. The scolding reception to last summer's misjudged, deliciously pissed-off The R.E.D. Album compelled him to rush out a follow-up.
This would've been a most opportune time for The Game to violently reinstate himself: With releases by Baroness and Public Enemy, 2012 was packed with a militancy and intensity that used to be The Game's M.O. But the wartime antagonist of a few years ago is now a sniveling non-entity, able to dull even his most theatric beats and grandstanding guests. On Jesus Piece, he baldly mimics stars like Drake (on the disheveled, atonal "Pray"), Kanye West (on the sickly sweet "Hallelujah"), and Rick Ross (nearly everywhere else). The real Ross turns up on the album's mood-leavening highlight "Ali Bombaye," leading by example with humor and spare, surprising imagery: Inhale smoke/Hawaiian tree bark. The Game does not heed this example.
With the laborious exception of "Heaven's Arms," every track on Jesus Piece is assisted by one or more guest rappers. Extract The Game from any one of these and they wouldn't suffer. He raps in such a crumbly, arrhythmic manner, it's as if he's talking to the engineer between takes. (Interscope)