Jayceon Taylor, better known as Game, started his “Sunday Service” series recently, in which he leaks a track (or more) every Sunday as a promo campaign for his upcoming fifth studio album Jesus Piece. The first edition, a track featuring Bone-Thugs-n-Harmony saw Game doing something familiar to anyone who’s been paying attention to his career since his Aftermath debut: latch on to the aesthetic of an established act and completely adapt his style to it. He’s the Mighty Morphin’ Jayceon Taylor.
Around the time of Game’s album The Documentary the story of him being gunned down by a rival gang and recuperating in the hospital was widely publicized. He told his brother to get him all the albums considered to be hip-hop classics, like Biggie’s Ready to Die, Jay-Z’s Reasonable Doubt, Snoop’s Doggystyle and Pac’s All Eyez on Me. “I studied those albums like someone who was studying for the bar,” he said. And it was noticeable. Game’s aim was a lofty goal, a mission that was bigger than him, bigger than his city even. Game took it upon himself to resurrect west coast rap: “Death Row was the strongest entity that we had on the West Coast, and when that fell apart everything else just withered away, and we haven’t been able to claim our rightful spot in hip-hop since then.” He needed more than a hot debut album. He needed a classic.
With Dr. Dre at the helm proclaiming Compton’s return to rap’s upper echelons, expectations couldn’t be higher. But Game delivered. It’s up for debate whether The Documentary is a classic (I personally prefer his sophomore effort), but both critical and commercial success were his and it’s hard to deny the album is emblematic of the time it was released in. His name had been firmly established in rap’s pantheon, but with his enormous mission statement, who Jayceon Taylor was before he became The Game had been relegated to background music.
The biggest criticism of the album was one that would only grow bigger in the following years: the incessant namedropping. Game so vehemently wanted to place himself into a larger tradition that he couldn’t help but reference that tradition in some way or other in every single verse he spit. Something along the lines of “I’m so ___ / like ___ with ___ in ___” became such a staple in his vocabulary that pointing out the repetition of it has become a dead horse among critics itself. It’s just what he does. It doesn’t need to be a detriment though.
With his first album the lack of Jayceon Taylor’s persona wasn’t a problem, because his mission was his persona and gave the album a theme and cohesiveness by default. His second album, Doctor’s Advocate, was actually greatly helped by the rift between him and his mentor Dre (caused by his beef with Curtis), because it gave him another mission in proving he could carry the legacy he resurrected without the doctor as well. As a result, the album hits the same themes in a less meticulous but more passionate and slightly darker manner, becoming a hungrier B-side to his debut album. It also showed more emotion, offering glimpses into the psyche of the man carrying the west on his back. The edges were rougher, but they made the album as a whole more interesting as well.
With his placement in the history of west coast rap established, both with and without Dre, Game had nothing left to prove around the time of LAX, his third album. It could’ve been interesting if he would’ve explored the rougher edges that started showing on Doctor’s Advocate. Alas, something different happened. Game was a star on Interscope Records now, getting high profile features was as a snap of the finger for him. Unfortunately, after having modeled his rap persona on an amalgamated template of the quintessential west coast rapper, his own on-mic persona was left a hollow shell once the mission of his earlier albums had been accomplished. Left with a good voice and rapping technique, he was more than skilled enough to avert losing face next to his guests, but he started adopting their styles on his own album instead of incorporating them into his aesthetic. He could still create enjoyable songs, but sounded like a feature on his own work, the rapping equivalent of a chameleon, adapting to those surrounding him. He became The Mighty Morphin’ Jayceon Taylor.
Now Game is gearing up the release of his fifth album, titled Jesus Piece. While the Sunday Service campaign campaign contains the same familiar tropes mentioned earlier, it also hints at something different, something of his own. A Master P feature is something far from mainstream headline-grabbing news in 2012 and seems more like a personal wish, and the fact that it doesn’t remotely sound like a No Limit song but utilizes the most soulful DJ Premier production heard in quite a while can be considered good news.
The best news however, is the haunting sound of ‘Holy Water,’ a track that doesn’t feature anyone and doesn’t sound like another rapper either. While the subject matter contains nothing besides straightforward bragging, it betrays a willingness to take a risk, and I’m not talking about the potentially Christian-baiting faux-controversial use of religious imagery (something I’m not enamored with nor turned off by). I’m talking about taking a sample from London’s atmospheric dubstep-master Mala for a sparse beat to more than effectively spit some slow, gravelly-voiced verses to. This is the last thing you expect when someone tells you a major label rap artist sampled a dubstep artist.
‘Holy Water’ is closer to what Malice and Pusha did on Hell Hath No Fury than what Nicki Minaj or Rihanna do when they mine the sound files for wob-wob-wobbling bass, while at the same time still unique enough to be considered his own. If Game follows through on this route there’s no telling on whether it’ll be a commercial success or not, but I do know that it’ll definitely be more interesting to see where he takes it.
Take a risk Jayceon, you’ve earned it. Let somebody else battle Rita’s goons for a minute and just do you. Either that or run the risk of turning into a punchline for a future namedropper.