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God's Son

God's Son is the sixth studio album by hip hop artist Nasir Jones, better known by his stage name Nas. It was released on December 13, 2002 by Columbia and Ill Will Records. It reached #12 on the Billboard 200, and obtained a platinum certification from the RIAA a month after it was released.

The album was partly inspired by Nas' mother, Ann Jones, who died of breast cancer in early 2002. Multiple songs such as "Warrior Song" reference Ann Jones, but the song "Dance" is a direct tribute to her. In addition, Nas was nearing the end of his feud with Jay-Z at the time of the album, which also inspired its emotional and personal feel.

Background

Nas' 1994 debut album, Illmatic, received much acclaim, but his next few releases were considered to have a more commercial feel, which received criticism. Fellow New York rapper Jay-Z dissed Nas on "Takeover" from his 2001 album, The Blueprint. Nas responded with "Ether," a response to Jay-Z's "Takeover," elevating a heated feud (see Nas vs. Jay-Z). "Ether" was released on 2001's Stillmatic, an acclaimed album that signaled Nas' return to "hip hop prominence." Jay-Z later challenged Nas to a pay-per-view rap battle, but Nas rejected, and said: "Pay-per-view is for wrestlers and boxers. I make records. If Jay-Z wants to battle, he should drop his album the same day I do and let the people decide" referring to God's Son and Jay-Z's The Blueprint 2 release.

After the release of Stillmatic, Nas spent time tending to his ill mother, Ann Jones, until she died of breast cancer in April 2002. Nas has described Jay-Z's disses during this time period as "sneak attack[s]" because Nas did not want to record music while his mother was sick. Nas' mother died in his arms, and later served as inspiration for various songs on God's Son.

During 2002, fans and critics speculated that Nas was still willing to make commercial music as he started associating himself with artists from Murder Inc., a pop rap distributing label. Irv Gotti, the head of Murder Inc. claimed that Nas might sign with him, and he said: "I will definitely be affiliated [with Nas] and I'll definitely be a part of [his projects], me and my brother Ja Rule." Nas soon appeared on "The Pledge (Remix)," a song by Ja Rule in which Nas hints at signing with the pop rap label. In October of 2002, God's Son expected to be released on December 17 with production from Salaam Remi, Large Professor and The Alchemist, as well as songs recorded alongside Ja Rule in Miami. Around the same time, a music video for Nas' new single, "Made You Look," was being shot. In December, Nas appeared in the video for a 2Pac single, "Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)," a song of which an alternative version was later released on God's Son, featuring two verses from Nas and only one from 2Pac. On December 4, Nas decided to push up the release date for God's Son by a few days in order to prevent bootlegging. Commenting on this, he said,

Music

Lyrics

Although guest appearances are made by Kelis, Alicia Keys, and others, God's Son is considered to be a personal album, in which he covers lyrical themes of his own emotional experiences The personal lyrics are a result of Nas' mother dying less than a year before the album's release. He dedicates "Dance" to his mother, and references her in "Warrior Song" and "Last Real Nigga Alive." "Dance" is considered to be one of Nas' most introspective tracks, and has been described as a "a requiem for Nas' mother" that "is touching rather than mawkish." Nas' lyrics also deal with religion as the album's title conveys. He ponders the concept of heaven on "Heaven," and makes various biblical references to describe himself on "The Cross." Even with similar themes, each track is different from the rest providing God's Son with a "narrative sense." One noteworthy concept track is "Book of Rhymes" where Nas raps songs that he had written in his rhyme book years ago. At times, he stops rapping, and starts commenting on how bad some of his lyrics are amongst other things.

Production

God's Son featured production from various producers, including Salaam Remi, Eminem and Alchemist. Remi produced five tracks while all other producers work on two or less tracks. Serena Kim of VIBE supports Nas' use of a variety of commercially risky producers saying, "The risks he takes with the production are a big part of the allure of God's Son. In a time when a Neptunes beat is as essential as a savvy marketing plan, Nas goes in the other direction, giving producer Salaam Remi plenty of room." "Get Down" is a funky rework of "The Boss" and "Funky Drummer" by James Brown, while "Last Real Nigga Alive" contains a simplistic beat dominated by eerie keys that seem to be made by a Casio keyboard. Remi samples many genres of music from classical (Beethoven's "Für Elise" in "I Can") to deep funk (Incredible Bongo Band's "Apache" in "Made You Look") while other producers do not rely on samples at all. "Dance," a Chucky Thompson production, contains a simple beat consisting of a bass guitar riff and faint drums, neither of which are sampled. Another track that is notable for its lack of sampling is "Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)." Produced by Claudio Cueni and Michael Herring, it contains a beat consisting solely of an acoustic guitar riff. These diverse productions are summed up by Brett Berliner of Stylus Magazine:

Although there is no actual band for God's Son, various musicians play instruments on it; Mercedes Abal plays the flute, Jeff Bass plays the keyboards, Nas' father Olu Dara plays the horns and Michael Herring plays the guitar.

Singles

"Made You Look"

"Made You Look," the first single on God's Son was released on February 12, 2003. It features production by Salaam Remi that samples "Apache" as performed by Incredible Bongo Band. Jason Birchmeier of Allmusic claims that the first single on God's Son "announces Nas' periodic return with fury and bombast" and is a "Marley Marl-fashioned track." Jon Robinson of IGN.com claims that "Made You Look" shows Nas' "lyrical genius." Additionally, Ethan Brown of New York Magazine, says it to be "extraordinarily powerful." It was the second most successful single on God's Son reaching #32 on the Billboard Hot 100. It reached #16 and #47 in "Singles of the Year" lists from Blender magazine and Pitchfork Media respectively. Q magazine also ranked it as the 903rd best song ever in 2003, and Blender followed suit, ranking it as the 185th best song from the 1980s to the 2000s in 2005.

"I Can"

The second and most successful single, "I Can," was released as early as March 4, 2003 internationally. It boasts production from Salaam Remi, who samples from "Für Elise" by Ludwig van Beethoven and "Impeach the President" by The Honey Drippers for the song's beat. It's lyrics are positive encouraging the youth to stay drug free, and pursue their dreams. The lyrics also detail various events in African history, but Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone magazine labels "I Can" as "a silly stay-in-school ad attached to a Beethoven sample." This comment may be attributed to the "singsongy" call and response chorus featuring the voices of young children. Other reviewers appreciated "I Can" more: Jon Robinson of IGN.com claims that on his second single, "Nas delivers some of his most inspiring lyrics to date." "I Can" received significant commercial success reaching #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #7 on the Rhythmic Top 40 charts.

"Get Down"

The third and final single on God's Son, released in July 2003, is "Get Down." Produced by Salaam Remi and Nas himself, it samples James Brown's "The Boss," the percussion from James Brown's "Funky Drummer," "Rock Creek Park" by The Blackbyrds, and a speech from an unknown source. Its lyrics detail three loosely-described criminal stories each from different locations. The first story takes place in New York City where an alleged criminal steals the gun of a court officer, and starts shooting in the courtroom. The story may be inspired by a similar real life incident that occurred in 1970, in which Jonathan Jackson (brother of then-incarcerated Black Panther Party member George Jackson) burst into a courtroom armed with a machine gun and demanded the release of the aforementioned older brother, taking the presiding judge, Harold Haley, hostage in the process. The second story deals with cocaine dealers from Tennessee who provide Nas with a laced blunt. The final story takes place in Los Angeles where Nas goes to a violent funeral in Crenshaw with his cousin, and later ends up killing three people. The stories are linked together by a sampled speech from an unknown origin that implies that black people will never "get up" if they "get down" in criminal activity. Christian Hoard of Rolling Stone considers "Get Down" to be the best song on God's Son as does Serena Kim of VIBE. It was not much of a commercial success, and it failed to reach the Billboard Hot 100 altogether.

Music videos

Music videos were made for "Made You Look," "I Can" and "Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)." The "Made You Look" music video was directed by Benny Boom. It contains footage from all five boroughs in New York and cameos from hip hop artists including Jadakiss, DJ Kayslay, Killah Priest, Fat Joe and Lord Jamar. The video has the theme of "showing love" to the streets, and shows images of a Big Pun mural as well as Rucker Park. The video for "I Can" was directed by Chris Robinson, whose work on "One Mic" earned Nas a Video of the Year nomination at 2001's MTV Video Music Awards. The "I Can" video was shot in Los Angeles, and contains footage of Nas rapping while children stand around him. The video starts out with the music from the introduction of "Get Down," but it soon transitions into "I Can." As "I Can" starts, a girl plays a piano in a vacant lot, and later one can see children jumping on a mattress in the same lot. The video also contains footage of breakdancing and famous Egyptian structures. The "Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)" music video was released to promote 2Pac's album Better Dayz, but the song appeared on God's Son as well. The David Nelson-directed video contains various actors and their interactions. One character plays the acoustic guitar to the song, while a sad black girl sits on a sidewalk. Nas can be seen rapping in a television within a shop, but 2Pac had died by the time the video was made.

Reception

Critical

Although God's Son is rarely considered to be Nas' best album, some consider it to be a notch below Illmatic and Stillmatic. It is considered to be highly emotional and personal, but some consider Nas' self-involvement to be a weakness. Others feel that the album's production is a weakness; Jon Robinson of IGN.com states, "What drops the CD down a notch isn't the lyrics--and it's definitely not Nas' smooth flow--it's the production of the tracks. Nas delivers some remarkable lines over some of the most unremarkable beats heard in years." Beyond those two weaknesses though, most publications had a positive outlook on God's Son. Ethan Brown, a New York Magazine writer, says "God's Son is not simply a great album, it's a reminder of what we've been missing. [...] here Nas brings hip-hop back to the basics with a rough break-beat and a well-told story." Some critics simply did not like certain tracks on God's Son, and one said "Honestly, if Nas had chosen to drop about four tracks and cut it down to Illmatic's ten, it would be in the class of Stillmatic, and we’d be talking about it as Nas’ fourth classic." Stylus Magazine writer, Brett Berliner explained Nas' consistency on God's Son:

Commercial

God's Son peaked at number 12 on the Billboard 200, a chart position that Nas had not fell to since his first album, Illmatic. God's Son remains Nas' poorest charting album in relation to his other eight full-sized album releases. Nevertheless, it reached #1 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and was certified platinum on January 14, 2003. Additionally, its three singles performed well on the charts. "I Can" was a Rhythmic Top 40 and Top 40 Mainstream hit that reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100. "Made You Look" reached #32 on the Billboard Hot 100 while "Get Down" peaked at #76 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart. These singles allowed God's Son to obtain platinum certification from RIAA just as all of Nas' previous albums did.

Feud with Jay-Z

After the release of the song "Ether" and its album Stillmatic, Nas gained acclaim as the best rapper in New York, also known as the "king of the New York". God's Son was a chance for Nas to either reassure his prolific status or prove to be an inconsistent artist. In a review of God's Son, Joseph Jones of PopMatters says: On God's Son, Nas referenced his feud with Jay-Z on various tracks. Most notably, Nas references Jay-Z's attacks on Nas "Last Real Nigga Alive" as "sneak attack[s]" while he was caring for his mother. This track also revealed roots of his feud with Jay-Z including his feud with Jay's friend and now-deceased rapper, The Notorious B.I.G.. In fact, Nas ends the first verse of "Last Real Nigga Alive" by saying, "There's more shit than wanting to be this King of New York shit." Similarly, on "Mastermind," Nas says: "This King Of New York shit only last 15 minutes." Additionally, on "The Cross," Nas explained how he was the old king of New York rap, but later sold out, and soon reinvented himself to reign again as New York's king.

Track listing

# Title Length Songwriters Producer(s) Performer(s) Samples
1 "Get Down" 4:04 Nasir Jones
Salaam Gibbs
Nas
Salaam Remi
Nas

  • Contains samples from "Funky Drummer" as performed by James Brown
  • Contains samples from "The Boss" as performed by James Brown
  • Contains samples from "Rock Creek Park" as performed by The Blackbyrds

2 "The Cross" 3:47 Nasir Jones
Marshall Mathers
Jeff Bass
Eminem Nas
3 "Made You Look" 3:22 Nasir Jones
Salaam Gibbs
Jeremiah Lordan
Salaam Remi Nas

4 "Last Real Nigga Alive" 4:07 Nasir Jones
Rondell Turner
Ron Browz Nas
5 "Zone Out" 3:48 Nasir Jones
Jabari Jones
Michael Epps
Salaam Gibbs
Salaam Remi Jungle, Nas, Wiz
6 "Hey Nas" 4:06 Nasir Jones
Salaam Gibbs
Allan Felder
Norma Wright
Kenni Burke
Salaam Remi Claudette Ortiz, Kelis, Nas

  • Contains Interpolations from "Risin' To The Top Bill" as written by Allan Felder, Keni Burke and Norma Wright

7 "I Can" 4:14 Nasir Jones
Salaam Gibbs
Roy Hammond
Salaam Remi Nas

8 "Book of Rhymes" 3:54 Nasir Jones
Alan Maman
David Camon
Alchemist Nas

  • Contains samples from "For the Dollar Bill" as performed by Tommy Tate

0 "Thugz Mansion (N.Y.)" 4:07 Nasir Jones
Tupac Shakur
Larry Loftin
Claudio Cueni
Michael Herring
Johnny Jackson
Claudio Cueni
Michael Herring
2Pac, J. Phoenix, Nas
10 "Mastermind" 4:07 Nasir Jones
Alan Maman
Alchemist Nas
11 "Warrior Song" 4:42 Nasir Jones
Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys Alicia Keys, Nas
12 "Revolutionary Warfare" 3:29 Nasir Jones
Alan Maman
Patrick Adams
Leroy Jackson
Terry Phillips
Alchemist Lake, Nas

  • Contains samples from "We Made It" as performed by Black Ivory

13 "Dance" 3:34 Nasir Jones
Carl Thompson
Chucky Thompson for The Hitmen Nas
14 "Heaven" 4:42 Nasir Jones
Jully Black
Amani Wailoo
A. Griffith
Sheila Holman
Eddie Holman
Agile
Saukrates (co-producer)
Jully Black, Nas

  • Contains samples from "I Love You" as performed by Eddie Holman

Bonus CD

Early pressings of God's Son included a bonus disc with three extra tracks.
# Title Length Songwriters Producer(s) Performer(s) Samples
15 "Thugz Mirror (Freestyle)" 1:50 Nasir Jones
Salaam Remi
Alchemist Nas
16 "Pussy Killz" 4:38 Nasir Jones
Carl Thompson
Chucky Thompson for The Hitmen Nas

  • Contains samples from "My Hero Is a Gun" by Diana Ross

17 "The G.O.D." 2:39 Nasir Jones
Kasseem Dean
Swizz Beatz Nas

Chart positions

Album

Chart (2002) Peak
position
U.S. Billboard 200 12
U.S. Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums 1

Singles Chart Positions

Year Song Chart positions
Billboard Hot 100 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks Hot Rap Singles UK Singles Chart
2003 "Made You Look" #32 #12 #9 #27
"I Can" #12 #7 #6 #19
"Get Down" - #76 - -

References

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