The resurrection of Nasir (Nas) Jones is one of the more fascinating hip hop stories of the year. After dropping the seminal classic Illmatic in 1994, many predicted big things for the pride of Queensbridge. Unfortunately, both personal and professional drama led to some questionable career choices (anyone remember The Firm?) and some slow selling/critically slammed late-90s releases.
It’s amazing how a little beef with one of the game’s most famous names has brought Nas back into the rap spotlight, after seven years of obscurity. The Nas/Jay-Z feud has been covered in all the New York tabloids, the hip hop magazines and even in a 30-minute “investigative” piece from MTV.
For those who haven’t been following, the short version of the feud’s beginnings is pretty easy to recap. Jay-Z drops the Takeover single live at New York’s “Hot 97FM Summer Jam”. There’s a throwaway line dissing Nas in it. Nas responds a month later with Stillmatic which was released on an underground mix tape. Jigga adds a new verse to Takeover and releases it on his Blueprint LP. Nas follows with Ether off of his December 2001 release.
There are varying opinions on who is “winning” this feud. On the streets, most heads are giving the slight edge to Nas. If retail sales are the measuring stick, then Jay-Z has it all over Mr. Jones.
These days, Nas is the hardest working man in show business, with apologies to James Brown. God’s Son is Nas’ third release in 12 months (counting much of the previously bootlegged material on the Lost Tapes album). Speaking of the Godfather of Soul, Nas sets it off hot with the opening track, Get Down. Using a James Brown sample, Nas spits fire as he displays the lyrical dexterity that put him on the map in ’94.
Unfortunately, God’s Son really never seems to reach the bar that Nas has set so high on some of his previous work. Sure, there are some flashes of brilliance. Most notably, the first single Made You Look and Hey Nas, which is a surprisingly sincere hip hop search for Miss Right. However, the runaway winner for best track goes to Warrior Song. Alicia Keys has a blazing cameo and even produced the track, which is equal parts a tribute to Mom and a day-in-the-struggle.
There are far too many other tracks that fall into the “good, but not great” category. Nas is figuratively all over the place on Book of Rhymes. It’s a unique concept, whereby Nas appears to be going through outtakes of a studio session, but it just sounds unfocused and sloppy.
On Last Real N Alive, Nas lobs some overt bombs towards Jay-Z and others. What hurts this track in the ridiculously complicated set-up in the first verse and the choppy lyrical flow and delivery. The acoustic NY version of Thugz Mansion is also here, but it sounds no better than the original. Don’t get me started on the up-with-people vibe and painfully grating kiddie hook from I Can.
The most disappointing performance is left for Revolutionary Warfare, where someone called Lake refers to himself as a “modern-day Hitler”. Disgusting.