When Kendrick Lamar was anointed the savior of L.A. hip-hop this year, the Compton rapper's promotion implicitly unseated another such figure: The Game, whose 2005 major-label debut, "The Documentary," attracted much of the same acclaim as Lamar's "good kid, m.A.A.d city" (and from many of the same gatekeepers). A savvy assessor of hip-hop's shifting power structure, Game hasn't blocked Lamar's ascent; in fact, the younger MC's voice is one of the first you hear on Game's underrated 2011 disc, "The R.E.D. Album."
Yet the success of "good kid" appears to have galvanized Game, who spends his new record pondering the gangsta's paradigm with a Lamar-like eye toward faith and family. At its best, "Jesus Piece" thoughtfully embodies that duality, as in "Ali Bomaye" (with Rick Ross) and the brooding "Heaven's Arms." Game makes a better villain than he does a good guy, however, and on this often-earnest album he seems hard-pressed to accept that.