God's Son-- The God Is Here --
By Brian Salkowski
It's rare in hip hop for rappers to get emotional. It could be looked at as the rapper going "soft" and diminishes street credibility. What is even more rare is a rapper who takes them emotions and turn them into emotional blunting, if you will, creating a whole treasure chest of things you can bounce creativity off. Nasir Jones does exactly this on his album "God's Son" The music — mostly a dark, sparse boom-bap — follows Nas’ shrewd, crafty approach. The James Brown sample on “Get Down” is an old-school gesture, but it makes for the album’s best track, as Nas’ quick-tongued monotone elegantly folds together tales of street violence and his own rise to fame. Elsewhere he and a sampled Tupac trade soul-baring verses with nothing but an acoustic guitar backing them, and on the Eminem-produced “The Cross,” Nas indulges his Jesus complex over a thin piano loop.
God’s Son represents a welcome return to form for the twenty-nine-year-old. Nas has rediscovered his introspective side at a time when a lot of mainstream hip-hop has been getting drearily dramatic and self-serious. Discounting his penchant for rote hyperbole (he calls himself “the last real nigga alive”), and some pro-forma shout-outs to God and Biggie, Nas is deft with sorrow-tinged details — about everything from drug addiction to the rap game to failed love.
The beauty of this album, of course, lies not in gossip, but in the emotional range and lyrical complexity Nas injects. It's definitely a mature set. You can tell that Nas has evolved into a man. A flawed and complex man but still a grown man. While he does give nods to the street on the grimy "Get Down", reminiscent of Illmatic's "New York State of Mind", Nas also makes clear that life isn't as straightforward as it once was; on the Eminem-produced "The Cross", Nas references his mother's death. The pain of loss saturates the album, manifesting in various spots as a source of strength, sorrow, and regret. It makes its presence known on the excellent "Warrior Song", where Nas writes about his mother being the closest thing to God and the neverending question of how to deal with that loss.
There is so much self-examination that inevitably accompanies the death of a loved one, he has also provoked a renewed sense of socio-political consciousness in Nas. While he's always acknowledged that there's more to life than "bustin' caps and smokin' blunts" , Nas pushes these themes to the forefront on much of God's Son. "I Can" may be one of his most commercially viable tracks to date; it jacks its melody from Beethoven's "Fur Elise", features a children's choir on its chorus, and in the first two verses, warns of drug abuse and the sexual exploitation of minors. It's a nice enough sentiment, but it's also one we've been inundated with ad nauseam since first grade.
In many ways, God's Son is lyrically superior to Illmatic. Nas has created an album that is at once mournful and resilient, street-savvy and academic. As an MC, he's technically stunning. His arsenal of flows keep a rap militia in full supply. He manages to be both rhythmically versatile and intellectually astute. Illmatic was a stellar album-- one of the sickest ever-- and its influence still hangs over rap, but God's Son may ultimately have more emotional depth, something critics rarely give hip-hop credit for.
Still, in this Age of "the Producer" , when most critics privilege form over content, regarding vocals as little more than musical instruments and preferring the safety of nonsensical lyrics, it's important that we remember the role of the MC in hip-hop, that of the innercity griot who captures all the stories, struggles, and secret language that slip through the media's cracks; the seer, who with one ear to the pavement and the other on his heart provokes and inspires. I strongly feel most critics aren't deserving to listen to his music because of this. On God's Son, Nas does all these things, effectively taking a bat to his "one hot album every ten year average."
There’s moments of vulnerability and emotional lyrics throughout this too, as on the heart wrenching 'Dance', "I spark one up and start blazin' // Thinkin' of how amazin' she was, an angel gave me love // I'm thankful to ever know a woman so real // I pray, when I marry, my wife'll have one of your skills // But Mom, you could never be replaced", as Nas raps a tribute song for his recently deceased mother over this lowkey guitar beat, harsh riffs and a melancholy feeling beat. It's one of the most emotional songs in hip hop history, there’s so much pain in his rapping delivery and even his singing on that hook, his dad doing the cornet outro as well hits hard because you can hear the pain in that instrument for his fallen spouse. However, there are moments where even when being slick and cute with the bars, his lyricism (while still good) isn’t as interesting to me, like on 'The Cross', where Nas infers he'll keep rapping to support himself and his crew and how he’s the best rapper out right now. Even so, there's a really jumpy, fun yet hint of suspense in this beat, and you can tell Eminem made it with Dre's influence showing in the catchy piano melody. It's a bouncy track with a simplistic but enjoyable hook, a new style for Nas really and he does a great job with it. He has a great flow as usual, and provides moments of being fun and bouncy too with the typical Nas delivery, oozing energy from the voice. It's still a top tier performance just not his best ever.
Great production again on a Nas album, this has some of my favourite Nas beats on. 'Made You Look' which has these heavy guitar riffs and drum pattern as Nas talks on the streets, girls and being the best rapper with some great lyricism. It's a bouncy track, really in your face as well with a great chorus and solid verses which definitely makes for an interesting listen. There’s only one track who’s beat isn’t at least good, which is on 'Zone Out', and I don't actually think it's bad, it has reversed drums over this zany synth line, it’s interesting to say the least but while decent it's equally offputting at the same time and it's a hard one to describe - it's engagingly confusing. The track focuses on guns, murder, Queensbridge, rap and money, and features the Bravehearts who bought this natural energy in their deliveries which added to the track. Despite everyone being great and giving gritty performance this song doesn’t stand out, I think it’s good but not much more – with a different beat maybe it could’ve been top tier. It's very glossy again like the last album, with piano’s being common with catchy and groovy bass’, like on 'I Can' as Nas spends the track telling those in the ghetto they can be what they want to be if they work for it, before using the final verse to explain the history of slavery and how Afrian civilisations were ruined, and how even nowadays racism is still as relevant as it was back then with really powerful and eye opening lyricism from Nas, "Slavery was money, so they began making slave ships // Egypt was the place that Alexander the Great went // He was so shocked at the mountains with black faces // Shot up they nose to impose what basically // Still goes on today, you see?". The topic of the song really suits having a children’s choir sing the hook, and while simplistic it’s really catchy. Nas’ verses actually are educational for the youth of this time period in them areas, and this song is easily one of my favourites on the album. This is the production style best suited to Nas
Nas' lyricism on here is great, the vivid storytelling is on display, as on tracks like 'Get Down', "Walks in the courtroom, the look in his eyes is wild // Triple-homicide, I sit in the back aisle // I wanna crack a smile when I see him // Throw up a fist for Black Power, 'cause all we want is his freedom // He grabbed a court officer's gun and started squeezin' // Then he grabbed the judge, screams out, "Nobody leavin'", where Nas tells a story of his early life in New York surrounded by prison sentencing's and guns, compared to his present life in LA. There's a great sample with the guitar riffs and drums giving us a solid beat, with a smooth beat switch in there too, breathing fresh life in the track as this album starts on a high with interesting lyrical content, nice production and an overall fitting tone setter. There’s moments of vulnerability and emotional lyrics throughout this too, as on the heart wrenching 'Dance', "I spark one up and start blazin' // Thinkin' of how amazin' she was, an angel gave me love // I'm thankful to ever know a woman so real // I pray, when I marry, my wife'll have one of your skills // But Mom, you could never be replaced", as Nas raps a tribute song for his recently deceased mother over this lowkey guitar beat, harsh riffs and a melancholy feeling beat. It's one of the most emotional songs in hip hop history, there’s so much pain in his rapping delivery and even his singing on that hook, his dad doing the cornet outro as well hits hard because you can hear the pain in that instrument for his fallen spouse. However, there are moments where even when being slick and cute with the bars, his lyricism (while still good) isn’t as interesting to me, like on 'The Cross', where Nas infers he'll keep rapping to support himself and his crew and how he’s the best rapper out right now. Even so, there's a really jumpy, fun yet hint of suspense in this beat, and you can tell Eminem made it with Dre's influence showing in the catchy piano melody. It's a bouncy track with a simplistic but enjoyable hook, a new style for Nas really and he does a great job with it. He has a great flow as usual, and provides moments of being fun and bouncy too with the typical Nas delivery, oozing energy from the voice. It's still a top tier performance just not his best ever.
The features on this album are great, they’re picked perfectly and add something to the track, like 2Pac and J. Phoenix on 'Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)', with the latter giving us an amazing chorus, generates the melancholy mood and sounds smooth as 2Pac provides eerie lines since this is a posthumous verse, "Dear Mama, don't cry, your baby boy's doin' good // Tell the homies I'm in Heaven and they ain't got hoods", but it's emotional to hear over this amazing acoustic beat, as a performance tho Pac really captures the mood brilliantly here. Nas provides some vivid and powerful lyrics too, "I done lost my mother and I cried tears of joy // I know she smiles on her boy // I dream of you more, my love goes to Afeni Shakur // 'Cause like Ann Jones, she raised a ghetto king in a war // And just for that alone she shouldn't feel no pain no more // 'Cause one day we'll all be together, sippin' heavenly champagne // Where angels soar with golden wings in Thugz Mansion", and this is a really beautiful track. Even at their worst they’re still enjoyable, with Jully Black giving us great vocals on 'Heaven', which don't demand your attention like the other guest hooks on here but even as its possibly the worst feature it’s great over these bouncy drums and overall catchy instrumental, as Nas provides detailed lyricism and gives us an idea of what he thinks heaven’s like. Nas' flow is fire on this, the chorus while as I said is not attention demanding but bouncy and catchy, and a great ending to the album. The chemistry with Nas is there whether it be a guest rap verse or a chorus sung by an angelic voice. Lake's feature on 'Revolutionary Warfare' is really good, gliding over the beat on this track about the warfare of the hood and ghetto, the rules and reason they fight. There's great vocal samples and I'm loving the upbeat, piano based production as Nas provides great lyricism to overall give us a very strong track, with an amazing beat and feature and Nas really spits on this too.
The usual content of the street life Nas was surrounded by is obviously a key theme of the album, as on 'Warrior Song' which takes a focus on the warriors of the hood with some emotional and hard hitting lyrics, "Wishin' death on other nigga's mothers ain't right but why mommy // She raised me in the projects alone // Her untimely exit from her, heavenly body // Got me ready to body somethin' quickly". Alicia Keys vocals were nice, it's not the biggest stand out performance but was enjoyable over this heavy brass beat with a light piano contrasting a harder piano acting as a bass - very layered. Back on track with this song, it's not the best on the album but really hard hitting and good, Nas’ cadence is really good on this. There's few love songs, like 'Hey Nas' which is aimed at a girl who Nas thinks may be the one with smooth lines and witty one liners, "You 'bout the baddest thing // Since Michael had Billie Jean". Claudette Ortiz and Kelis both do a hook each with gentle yet soothing vocals, with Kelis' vocal performance meshing with Claudette's perfectly at the end. This isn’t exactly Nas’ lane or even content wise too interesting, but it’s groovy with fun flows and beautiful singing, making for a very enjoyable song. Not his most cohesive, but he's still keeping the street life topics fresh, like 'Last Real N**** Alive' where Nas gives us some insight into the king of New York argument in the mid 90’s, how everyone was with each other and how Jay Z blew up this time too and their beef started, providing some great social commentary and insightful lyrics in the process, "Big was ahead of his time, him and Raekwon // My niggas, but dig it, they couldn't get along // That's when Ghostface said it on The Purple Tape // Bad Boy bitin' Nas album cover, wait // Big told me Rae was stealin' my slang // And Rae told me, out in Shaolin, Big would do the same thing // But I borrowed from both them n***** // Jigga started to flow like us, but hit with "Ain't No N****s" // Had much Versace swagger // Big admired the Brooklynite and took him in as Iceberg the rapper". It's a simple yet effective boom bap beat, it feels dark as the first verse is incredible, he demands your attention at all times and it isn’t hard with the engaging story being told – the best song so far at this point of the tracklist.
Other tracks to look at include 'Book of Rhymes', which is basically Nas just rhyming some bars he has written down at first, with the last verse having a focus on his daughter and Nas’ envy of her having 0 cares and getting her mums attention. It's not actually too lyrically interesting until some cute and funny lines in verse 3, "Ayo, I envy you ‘cause all you do is smile // And things come your way // Such a innocent child is what some say // I get upset ‘cause I just want to be treated the way you are // Like a star, not a worry in this world thus far // But wait a minute, we both need your mother's attention // I must be crazy, jealous of my own baby infant (Kinda crazy)", as the the beat’s cool so is Nas’ flow and cadence, but there’s no structure to the song and it’s just really boring, the song is going in no direction and it’s pointless rhymes until the last verse. Finally, 'Mastermind', as named is Nas claiming he's a rap mastermind, and that skill has him paid living the good life with some nice storytelling and bars on display. The beat doesn’t do much for me on this one and overall it's an alright song, not much more, there's nothing to write home about.
God's Son marked the return of Nasty Nas and shredded any doubt of his greatness. The album was very open and filled with sorrow, yet stayed true to the street savvy and artistic style that Nas has become known for. With this LP, Nas further proved that he is a living legend and should undoubtedly be placed among the greats.