...the work of a man in his prime...
Now that hip-hop has become a kind of global language, responsibility rests even heavier on the shoulders of rappers than before. Although intrinsically rebellious, and hardly the stuff role models are made of, these microphone griots still have a duty to fully articulate and represent the struggles of their people. Nasir Jones can take this weight.
As Nas, the Queensbridge rapper has shown how powerful poetry can be wrenched from the least salubrious of surroundings. And ‘the streets’ love him for it. In fact, it’s a testament to how crazy the hip-hop game has gotten that ‘God’s Son’, his sixth studio LP, has been so greatly anticipated. In a superficial, fashion-conscious, money-hungry mileu where you’re only as good as your last hot track, it’s amazing how he’s achieved longevity.
And now Nas has re-invented himself again. The nasty and protracted battle with Jay-Z is largely over and it’s time to tell the truth. Some tracks on ‘God’s Son’ do have an autobiographical slant to them, but mostly this is Nas going back to his former role as a keen street observer, ready to dispense wisdom to up-and-coming youngbloods.
In keeping with the current hip-hop penchant for acknowledging old-school ways and mores, ‘Get Down’ starts proceedings with a sleekly funky James Brown loop and a lyrically visual and detailed portrait of some heavy courtroom drama. Nothing if not known for his arrogance, which comes with the territory, Nas then declares he carries ‘The Cross’ for rappers on the song of that title produced by Eminem, over hazy, string-laden beats. Normally, thinking you’re Jesus means you’ve lost your tiny mind, but there’s nothing wrong with being a child of God, and he doesn’t stray too far into blasphemous territory.
The excellent ‘Made You Look’ follows, with monk-like chanting and sampled gunshots on the beat. And there’s also something to be said for the way ‘The Last Real Nigga Alive’ gives the real deal lowdown about the last decade in hip-hop New York City – and it’s the only song to elude to Jay-Z with an offhand dismissal of ‘The Gift And The Curse’.
Which doesn’t mean there aren’t moments of respite from the seriousness on show, as ‘Hey Nas’ attests, with rumoured beau Kelis along for the chorus ride. But Nas is nothing if not for the kids, who are, afterall, the future. The jaunty ‘I Can’ has a playground singalong accompaniment, as well as a black history lesson and a mantra for empowerment and self-improvement. Nas tells kids they can be whatever they wanna be. He’s also typically innovative with the structure of ‘Book Of Rhymes’: the verses double as discarded pages of his rhyme book.
By ‘Warrior Song’ and ‘Revolutionary Warfare’, an air of militancy has crept in, that stems from an interest in the ’60s Black Panthers. Yet, this is, in turn, offset by the penultimate ‘Dance’ and the closing ‘Heaven’- two genuinely moving tunes that touch on the death of his mother, the former in detail, the latter doubling as a ‘what are we doing to ourselves?’ call to the streets.
Truly, ‘God’s Son’ is the work of a man in his prime.