Today marks the 10th anniversary since Nas released his sixth studio album, God’s Son. The release followed up his comeback album, Stillmatic, and spawned singles including the feel good hit “I Can.” To celebrate the decade since the release, XXL dug in the archives for the original review, which ran in XXL‘s March 2003 issue (also known for its iconic cover featuring Eminem, Dr. Dre and 50 Cent).
Despite a near-classic career-saving effort (2001′s Stillmatic), a battle victory over the rap game’s top MC (Jay-Z) and side battles with many of New York’s prominent music industry heads, all while mourning the death of his mother last year, Nas has created a stylistically somber album in the solid God’s Son. The LP is deeply saturated in nostalgic tracks, from the funk-filled James Brown samples (“Get Down”) to The Honeydrippers-borrowed stone-hard drum patterns (“I Can”), all given a breath of fresh air by producer Salaam Remi, who conducts the bulk of God’s Son‘s back-to-basics breakbeats.
Mastering the art of the short story on “Last Real Nigga Alive” over Ron Brownz’s production, Nas details his scathing breakdown of the New York crown wars of the ’90s, “Last…” is a worthy blueprint of what led to the battle with crosstown counterpart Jay-Z, including candid quotes from one-time/sometime rivals The Notorious B.I.G. and Wu-Tang’s Raekwon (“Big told me Rae was stealing my slang/And Rae told me out in Shaolin Big would do the same thing.”) With a plodding tempo, sharp horn hits and serenading strings provided by Eminem, “The Cross” finds Nas steadily pushing his gospel. With vivid wordplay, he details the professional and personal burdens of today’s rapper for those who want to endure the pressures of ruling the rap game.
Though Nas has quite efficiently assembled a collection of powerful tracks (not counting the Bravehearts-featured “Zone Out”) that stay true to himself, the majority of beats seem to seep deep into his sense of sorrow. Nas’ mother’s passing affects his musical voice, to the point where “Dance,” a heartfelt ode to moms, is damaged slightly by a weak chorus andforced whispered vocals. But this album isn’y about pleasing us; it’s about God’s son baring his soul, which has perfect imperfections. —Datwon Thomas