March 10, 2009

Nas - God's Son (December 13, 2002)



God's Son, the sixth album from Nas, is generally considered to be the man's most personal work. It was inspired by his late mother, Ann Jones, who passed away from complications due to breast cancer earlier in 2002. The album finds Nas at his more introspective, as if he is questioning his place in the world. But, even though a few tracks directly reference his mother, don't get it twisted: Nas is actually questioning his place in hip hop, and the catalyst is some guy named Shawn Carter.

After Jay-Z dissed the shit out of Nasir Jones with his "Takeover", people who actually pay attention to hip hop beefs (read: almost nobody) eagerly anticipated the response. "Ether", a song which consisted of Nasir deconstructing Jay-Z's career over one of the shittiest beats ever used for a dis track, brought out the hunger in Nas that listeners hadn't seen in many years, as it was feared dead, or at least replaced by aliens with a more commercial-leaning Nas, not unlike how Michael Jackson completely changed color mid-career.

Stillmatic was mildly successful, but did little to dissuade the masses from the fact that Nas still seemed to be a shadow of his former, Illmatic self. The reason for that is far more substantial, though: Nas was caring for his sick mother, and didn't put his full energy into recording music, as is to be expected. Shawn was essentially bullying some guy on the playground at recess, and not bothering to acknowledge that his opponent wasn't really responding.

Even I have to admit that Nas channeled this energy into God's Son.

1. GET DOWN
Thank fucking God. No intro, no spoken word bullshit, and no pretention (which is uncharacteristic for Nasir), just straight-up hip hop (with a James Brown sample to boot). The man simply starts rapping to an enjoyable beat by Salaam Remi, one of two people responsible for the resurgence of Nas (the other guy, of course, is Shawn Carter). It also helps that this song (which was apparently the third single, although I don't recall a video ever being shot) is a pretty entertaining way to start shit off, especially with the music tweaking itself to match the events in the stories presented.

2. THE CROSS
This song was a big deal back in 2002 because it was produced by Eminem, who had an established working relationship with Nasir's archnemesis, Jay-Z (Marshall produced Shawn's "Renagades" and "Moment of Clarity"). Although I'm more of a Hova fan (which should come as no shock to any of my two readers), Nas is certainly more of a lyricist, and his rhymes over one of Em's more tightly-constructed instrumentals is a winning combination. Or, at least it was, until you get to the next song, which will obliterate my memory of the first two tracks on God's Son, much like a late night in anywhere but the United States involving absinthe and a half-ounce.

3. MADE YOU LOOK
More so than any first single in his career, "Made You Look" announced a return to, for lack of a better word, relevancy, for Nas. This track is why most bloggers (like myself, admittedly) credit Salaam Remi with bringing back the Nasir Jones of old. His appropriation of The Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache", punctuated with random gunshots, sets the stage for the man to entertain (without becoming too preachy) the masses with a hot crossover track. This shit still rocks today: even the acapella at the very end is a nice touch. The goodwill extended with this song was squandered by the tendency of rappers to not leave well enough alone: Nas later recorded a remix of this track alongside Ludacris and Jadakiss from The Lox, a song that I pretend doesn't exist.

4. LAST REAL N---A ALIVE
This shit was produced by Ron Browz? The same guy who made that shitty "Pop Champagne" song that they won't ever stop playing on the radio? Him?! That's weird, because this song is pretty fucking awesome, although the beat could have been much more effective. However, it does not detract from Nasir relating his point of view of the battle for King of New York from his unique vantage point: as one of the contenders. Apparently, The Notorious B.I.G. and Raekwon couldn't fucking stand each other (which is why it makes absolute sense that Rae appears on Biggie's Duets: The Final Chapter, but whatever). The roots of the Jay-Z/Nas beef are also explored. This insider's perspective is why Nas is generally considered one of the best that ever did it, and it's hard not to see why after hearing this. But seriously: Ron Browz? The "Jumping Out The WIndow" and "Arab Money" guy? (Before you say anything, I am fully aware that he also produced "Ether", but I stand by my comments.)

5. ZONE OUT (FEAT JUNGLE & WIZ)
Has it ever occurred to Nas that naming your crew of seat fillers and substitute longshoremen after a Mel Gibson movie wasn't the best idea? Unless they called themselves the Lethal Weapons or the Birds On A Wire. That would be pretty cool. Anyway, this is the weakest Salaam Remi beat I've ever heard, but if it weren't for Nasir's insistence on "putting his friends on", it wouldn't be that bad, as Nas manages to still sound pretty good. However, as it stands, the Braveheart party has sucked the life out of this room and brought its property values down.

6. HEY NAS (FEAT CLAUDETTE ORTIZ & KELIS)
This is the audio equivalent of actually watching Nas backslide into his old commercial habits. The line referencing "Live At The Barbecue" was clever, though: I have to give him that. But did the track really require both Claudette Ortiz (the cutie from City High that disappeared after, what, their lone hit single?) and Kelis (Nasir's wifey)?

7. I CAN
SIngle number two is easily the most thuggish ruggish song Nas has ever recorded. Over Salaam's Beethoven and Honeydrippers-jacking accompaniment, Nas speaks directly to the youth, and (rather convincingly) encourages children to strive to excel in life. This shit is fucking hardcore, bitches! It's murderous material like this that earns, nay, demands the existence of the Parental Advisory sticker, motherfuckers.

8. BOOK OF RHYMES
The concept of this Alchemist-produced track is pretty funny: Nasir cleaned out his attic last Sunday and found a notebook filled with the rhymes of a younger, less experienced man, and decides to use all of them, context be damned. At one point he even gets embarassed with his own ideas, but proceeds to use them anyway. I'm pretty sure Nas is bullshitting the audience here, but like I said, the concept is pretty funny, even if the execution would fall the fuck apart, had this been presented as an actual "song".

9. THUGZ MANSION (N.Y.) (FEAT 2PAC & J. PHOENIX)
This forced Nas/2Pac collaboration (which would have never happened had 2Pac not faked his death and moved to Jupiter...um, I mean, had he not passed away) sounds boring as shit, as if it were performed by The Tony Rich Project. There also seems to be no cohesion to the lyrics: Nas and Pac are clearly rhyming about completely different things. This is the East Coast version of a track that appeared in an altered form on 2Pac's posthumous Better Dayz. Not that you'll give a damn about that random factoid: I imagine that even the most hardcore Pac fans that frequent HHID will have moved on to the next song by now.

10. MASTERMIND
A Nas song with this kind of lyrical content deserves a dark beat (not unlike something Havoc could have made in the mid-1990s) and a better hook, not what The Alchemist has managed to conjure up. Al has, strangely, provided a poppy instrumental, and Nas spits a chorus that made me so angry, I had to seriously decide between continuing this write-up and using the disc as a default cheese slicer.

11. WARRIOR SONG (FEAT ALICIA KEYS)
Much to the dismay of the many Nas fans out there, I find that I have to dismiss this Alicia Keys-produced (the hell?) track with the use of a single word. Longtime readers will already be familiar with the term in question.

12. REVOLUTIONARY WARFARE (FEAT LAKE)
For such a serious title, am I the only guy that found Alchemist's beat to be much more positive than it had any right to be? Anyway, if we drained the Lake from this track, what we're left with is a Nasir Jones whose energy and talent cannot be denied, even by Max.

13. DANCE
I found this ode to Nasir's late mother very sweet and touching. However, since I am a bit of an asshole, I have to point out that I had to stifle my laughter at the utter ridiculousness that is Nas singing on the hook. Yeah, I'm probably going to hell.

14. HEAVEN (FEAT JULLY BLACK)
I couldn't connect with Nasir's attempt at a double-time flow. I was more impressed with the fact that Canadian rapper-slash-member of Reggie Noble's crew Saukrates co-produced the beat. Still, this was a wholly unsatisfying way to end God's Son.

Or is it? Early pressings of God's Son came with a bonus disc featuring three additional tracks.

1. THUGZ MIRROR (FREESTYLE)
This isn't as much a freestyle as it is an incomplete two-verse song that's missing a hook and, possibly, a guest rapper. It's not bad, but there isn't anything memorable here.

2. PUSSY KILLZ
The beat (provided by one of Puff Daddy's Hitmen) samples the oft-used in hip hop "My Hero Is A Gun" (by Diana Ross). After an awkward false start, Nasir runs through the various reasons that guys should be careful around a vagina. Let's just say this song was left off of the sequencing for God's Son for a reason.

3. THE G.O.D.
I suppose if man is five, and the devil is six, then God must be seven. The hook reminds me of learning how to spell by watching fucking Sesame Street, and hearing Nas sing (again) makes me want to rip my ears off and mail them to you as proof of my pain. Also, Swizz Beats should never be allowed to create music ever fucking again. That is all.

FINAL THOUGHTS: God's Son is another chapter in the second half of the Nas life story, the section in which Nasir Jones tries with all of his might to make people forget about the looming giant that was Illmatic. Once again, he fails in doing that, but at this point, even the most diehard Nas stan accepts that Nas will never top his debut, so in looking at God's Son as its own creature, it's not the most consistent album, but it does contain some of his most concise lyrics to date. In fact, two of the tracks, "Made You Look" and "I Can", also rank amongst his biggest hits (deservedly, I might add). My concern lies with the problematic production: even with the big names behind the boards, Nas still can't select a beat if his life depended on it. As a result, about half of God's Son approaches greatness, and the other half rolls around in mediocrity. In addition, the bonus disc is entirely useless: it would probably be defective even when utilized as a drink coaster, it's that bad.

BUY OR BURN? I would highly recommend a burn, since the misfires on here greatly outweigh the sparks of brilliance. The tracks listed below should be considered as must-hears, though. Nas is getting close to putting all of the winning ingredients togetner, but on this CD, his homemade yellow cake still has some eggshells laying within.

BEST TRACKS: "Made You Look"; "I Can"; "Last Real N---a Alive"

-Max

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26 comments:

  1. Wow i dont know if you were planning on writing this or actually listened to my suggestion but anyway good review, i dont agree with some of it though but i can see eye to eye with most of what you said...

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  2. As a side note i cant even imagine how much you are looking forward to street's disciple.

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  3. I agree with a lot of things in this review but NOT with the burn at the end...I mean, first you say that half of it approaches greatness and the other half rolls in mediocrity, and THEN you say that the misfires GREATLY outweigh the brilliance?What the hell?
    I recall you thrashing some wu-tang albums more than this one and still recommending a purchase...
    Anyway,IMHO this is a purchase...you get about 5 songs that are definetly playlist worthy and 5 that are okay at worst, very good at best(depends on whether your a NaS stan)

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  4. ur such a fking nas hater max i like jay and nas but u have a bias towards jay plus wther was a good beat takeover wasnt even that good it just sounded like an immature rapper saying lame over a kanye beat that sampled the doors u probably a bitch ass white boy
    what r u white?? spanish?? mexican??

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  5. Nas hater/Jay-z nutrider .....

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  6. The best reviews have the most "even"s

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  7. still don't understand how people could even like jay-z

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  8. I've always thought this was Nas' most consistent album besides Illmatic; yeah, there are some clunkers, but not enough to sink it, unlike Stillmatic which has a completely drop-off in quality after 2nd Childhood. And I'd say God's Son is good enough to warrant a purchase.

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  9. This definitely would have been a buy if it was somehow wu-tang affiliated.

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  10. It would have been interesting to see what Max's take is on "God's Stepson" by 9th Wonder...

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  11. Personally, I don't understand how you reached the conclusion that "God's Son" deserves a burn. This is a very good album, and in my opinion, NaS' best effort since "Illmatic." I'm sure that someone will offer a re-write of this review on the next round of "Reader Reviews."

    That said, I enjoy reading your reviews always, and I respect your opinion!

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  12. Sad Thing is: Max is right with recommending a burn. Its an ok album with great tracks but waaaaay to much bad material that not even qualifies as filler... and that together with the fact that Nasir Jones has so much potential justifies a burn. He can do much better - see Illmatic, It was written, Stillmatic and Untitled

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  13. Interesting, a year to the day since the Stillmatic review. Not just a coincidence, methinks...

    As I hoped, you didn't horribly disfigure this album in my mind. I have a lot of my favourite NaS tracks on here.
    One of my favourites was "Heaven" off this, and I like it because I'm a sucker for a Soul hook and I also like the double time flow, also I like the string loop that makes up the main melody.

    I'd say you're *absolutely* on point on the rest of the album.

    I also LOVE 'Get Down', and I made sure it was the first song I played when I got a car and drove around in it, cos that James Brown sample is absolute gold.

    Also, I'd like to mention that it bugged me that Amy Winehouse got the 'Made You Look' beat for her 1st album (Frank), but then she did have Salaam Remi as her producer...

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  14. the most felonious vocalist in the wide world of showbusinessMarch 23, 2009

    Sorry for my absence. My nomadic existence has once again left me without an internet connection. If I weren't surrounded by lowlifes, I might be able to leech off of their connections with my wireless card. I find the entire situation repugnant.

    I agree with your opinion on most of these songs Max. Your stance that Jay-Z is somehow responsible for the improved quality of Nasir's albums from Stillmatic onward reveals your Nas hatred. The beef with Jay probably led to increased sales for Stillmatic but that's all the credit I'm willing to give Young (are you fucking serious?) Vito. Even during the I Am... and Nastradamus era, Nas continued to make quality material. Unfortunately most of the quality material was not appearing on his albums. Your outrageous beliefs on the matter reveal you as the Avon lady.

    My biggest departure from your review is that "I Can" is not a great song. It's filled with the kind of simplistic platitudes that Jay-Z and his ilk peddle, much to the delight of mainstream music critics. The beat is okay but just as obvious as the lyrics. I do like that Nas managed to sneak a little knowledge about Egypt in with the "Up with the hope, down with the dope" talk.

    I can't believe that Nas tried to recreate the magic of "Braveheart Party". Not sure if you missed it or just don't give a fuck but his verse on "Zone Out" is a dis to Cam'ron, who evidently has purchased some real estate in Virginia.

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  15. funky funatiMarch 23, 2009

    oh Max, u done fucked up again...
    this album is one of Nas's greatest moments.
    you know why?
    because it marks the birth of a Nas who touches the SOUL. and if Hov went the Biggie road, than Nas went down the Pac rode.
    Warrior song has so much Passion in it, but it's not "Hip Hop" so you dismiss it.

    Nas sings on "Dance" with a broken heart, pours his whole soul into the song, but hell, it's not "Hip Hop".

    "Thugz Mansion" is a dream collabo for me, it's touching and the music is fitting, but it's not a beat, and having a song with no beat is not "hip hop"

    get the fuck out of the box man... listen to the songs...

    the album isn't perfect because of the Alchemist contributions, and "Zone out", of course. but the rest is Nas's most personal songs in his career.
    that's why it deserves a buy.

    but that's me.

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  16. AnonymousJuly 22, 2009

    good review, but i like "heaven"

    can you rewiev some more nas albums soon it will b very interesting to hear what you think aboute "Hip Hop is dead"

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  17. yeah how can u have a blog titled "hip-hop is dead" and not review that albulm? doesnt really make sense?

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  18. ''Heaven'' is the best fucking way you can end an album! I like the rhymes, the beat, the flow, the chorus, everything.. I can not recall many other albums which manage to unite such a lyrical power, great beats (except for a song or two) and most of it all - artist's passion. Nas changes his direction with this album and his effort is more than brilliant. The best Jay-z's album isn't half as good as ''Gods son'' and I'm talking about the beats too! Probably some dj premier's production and some more featurings would have been a good idea, but still this album is an absolute masterpiece and deserves your money!

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  19. I kinda like 'Zone Out'. Salaam Remi's beat is just funny weird, and Nas did put in a good verse. Better than the travesty that was 'Braveheart Party' at least.
    Love your sarcasm re. track #7.
    I woulda added 'Get Down' and 'The Cross' to the best tracks list (come to think of it, the first quarter of this album is GRRREAT).
    Does get to merely ok near the end though, although there's only 3 or 4 tracks here that I regularly skip.

    Nasir's made probably two or three better records, but I'd say it's still worth a buy.
    Good review in any case.

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  20. Your review are pretty good.. although i have to say "God's Son" is prolly the closest we'll ever see of Nas' getting back to his roots... until.. i have heard Nas' "Untitled" album (which i hear got good critical appraise) God's Son is the best from Nas next to Illmatic. I feel the later songs are exceptionally good because since it's his most serious album, you couldn't expect anymore the come out from him in the latter parts even tho my favorite song by far on the album is "Made you look" i just love this album! peace..

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  21. Eh, this review could have been a lot better. Nas' "God Son" theme fit in more ways than one. The lyrics, "your mother is the closest thing to God you'll ever have, kid" shows why he names himself God's Son. However, tracks like The Cross & Last Real N*gga Alive show what he's done for the genre and what he's been through, much like what prophets do for religions. This album was lyrically eclectic. Zone Out is the worst song on the album, however, his verse on that track was pretty album. I thought the album was a very cohesive effort and worthy of a purchase.

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  22. Yo. Anyone got any info on Lake from the 'Revolutionary Warfare' track? I was checking the "God's Gangster" version and he has me lookin for more....

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  23. After reading about ten Nas reviews... I feel as if your a bit hard on the man. He does have the worst taste in beats of (probably) all time, but I thought other than Zone Out, almost every track was damn good on this album. Your Jay-stannery is justified; he's deserving of stannery.. I frickin' was fine with half of Kingdom Come myself, but I feel as if Nas is still underappreciated. Oh well.

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  24. I'm against you on this one.

    While this album is still a burn, it is much more than the Blueprint 1 will ever be.

    The Cross is a bit underrated, and Book of Rhymes is an absolute gem.

    Oh and Get Down? Easily THE best song on the album.

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  25. My favorite Nas album, just love Heaven

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  26. Max wrote: "Stillmatic was mildly successful, but did little to dissuade the masses from the fact that Nas still seemed to be a shadow of his former, Illmatic self."

    Umm, wrong. The general consensus is Stillmatic succeeded in assuring most of us that Nas regained his stride. While I don't think it deserved the perfect ratings it received from The Source and XXL, Stillmatic remains held in high regard out here in NY practically 13 years later.

    Really it wasn't until Street's Disciple that Nas started losing his critical footing again.

    As for the main body of your God's Son review, spot on.
    Respect.

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