Review Summary: Was this Illmatic? No. But it came fairly close.
In a review of a Nas album it's almost inescapable to implement his 1994 classic debut Illmatic
as a reference point. Whether you're just a casual hip-hop observer or a hardcore Nas fan, it's absolutely inevitable that you will weigh everything that he does on the same scale as Illmatic
. Hell, even Nas him-***ing-self
compares everything he does to that album. His Myspace bio kicks off by referencing, big surprise, Illmatic
and he even references the title of it in his 'second-best' album, Stillmatic
. The problem was that after the mind blowing sales, the critical acclaim, and the realization that he had a musical epic under his belt, Nas encountered a bit (read, a lot) of hubris. Subsequently, instead of being the journalist that he was on Illmatic
, he, by his own making, became the news story. Suffering from grandiosity, he fancied himself a prophet; a visionary, and in turn made four self-aggrandizing sonic caricatures of himself in a row: a prophecy, an autobiography, a collection of predictions, and a testament. But when Nas set aside his career, his penultimate feud with Jay-Z, and ultimately, his pride to tend to his mother until her final days, there was a collective premonition - an optimistic one - that perhaps Nas wasn't such a self-obsessed, douchey blowhard anymore. And when he went on to rap, "there's more sh*t than wanting to be this king of New York sh*t," that premonition was confirmed and Nas made a pretty emotional and powerful album. Was it Illmatic
" No. But it came fairly close. That album was God's Son
While it is true that we see a much more religious, sentimental Nasir Jones here, that's not to say he threw the lyrical lamenting into overdrive here, it's that almost every word he swiftly presses out is mournfully reflective. Although "The Cross" finds Nas in a very familiar position - the self-purported savior of hip-hop - he executes said position with such grit and passion it's astounding, with Nas rapping "I'd carry the cross if Virgin Mary had an abortion; I'd be carried in a chariot by stampeding horses.
". "Last Real Nigga Alive" could have been on Illmatic
with its relatively impartial, journalistic stance on the relationships of Nas, Biggie, and Ghostface Killah. F*ck, even the radio single "I Can", while cheesy, brings motivation to the table. But the best track on the album is by far "Dance". Anybody with a mother - hell, anybody that never knew their mom - would be hard pressed not to well up when they hear it.
But what really distinguishes God's Son
from, say, STILLmatic
, is the production. Although he has chinks in his armor like any other rapper - he's less than masterful when it comes to hooks and braggadocious punchline rap isn't really his thing - what has plagued Nas's discography is insipid beat work. So it's an understatement to note that God's Son
benefited from quality instrumentals. There's something to be said for your album's production when Eminem chips in a great beat in 2002 ("The Cross"). There's something to be said for your album's production when an acoustic, posthumous remix of a Tupac song turns out stupendously ("Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)"). There's something to be said for your album's production when someone flips a new jack swing sample better than Dr. Dre did ("Get Down"). And there's really
something to be said for your album's production when Nas says "ya'll can keep your weak beats from your corny producers," and it isn't ironic. God's Son
by far musically transcends the insipidity, simplicity, and/or mediocrity that plenty of Nas releases can shamefully lay claim to.
If the cover art wasn't a visual foreshadowing of the album content, then I don't know what else, other than the passing of his mother, could have hinted at the emotionality contained on God's Son
. Unlike his previous four albums, which all displayed incredibly self-absorbed artwork - respectively featuring a face shot juxtaposed against the Queensbridge projects, the visage of a golden mummy coffin, the adornment of a monk's robe, and the flaunting of a ghetto fab outfit with a spectacular jewelry selection to match with the NYC skyline in the background - the album cover for God's Son
is raw and, to a certain extent, almost beautiful. It depicts a shirtless Nasir Jones hanging his head in a noticeably humble, distraught and perhaps even pious fashion that against a melancholic blue background. It's passionate, really. Sure, the saying goes that you can't judge a book by its cover, but then again, there's also a saying that there's an exception to every rule.