After all the talk of allegiances and collaborations, many will be as surprised by who Nas did not work with on God’s Son as who he did work with.
There’s no mention of Murder Inc. anywhere on the album, set for December 17 release, and no tracks produced by Irv Gotti. Nas’ longtime production aces DJ Premier and L.E.S. also didn’t make it on the LP. Instead, the rapper relied on beats by the criminally slept-on Salaam Remi, newcomers including Saukrates and Agile, and fellow acclaimed mic masters Alicia Keys and Eminem.
“I carry the cross,” Nas rhymes over Shady’s plodding piano rhythms on “The Cross.” “If Virgin Mary had an abortion/ I still would be carried in a white chariot by stampeding horses/ … I’m happy the streets is back in New York.”
Em doesn’t rhyme on the last-minute addition to the album but provides the musical forum for Nas to vent about R&B rappers who “f —ed the game up” and explain that he can’t keep a girl because he won’t hold any of them in higher regard than this daughter. He also describes how reinventing himself helped him regain the title of hip-hop king.
Nas goes from throne to the battlefield, collaborating with Alicia Keys on “Warrior.” Keys, who plays piano on the song and incorporates an African drum sampled from Fela Kuti’s catalog, also sings the chorus.
“This is a song for my warriors, brave-hearted and strong/ Definition of a warrior/ Gonna keep marching on to the sound of our own beating drum.”
Nas also rhymes about trying to stay strong while realizing his mother was dying. “Mother is the closest thing to God … Wishing death on other n—as’ mothers ain’t right/ But why mine?” he asks aloud, before revealing his mom’s last words to him: “Never give up.”
Coping with the loss of his mother since her April passing is a recurring theme throughout God’s Son, surfacing on tracks such as “Dance,” where he wishes he could dance one last time with his parent; “Heaven,” where he poses the question, “What would you do if heaven was one mile away?”; and “Thugz Mansion,” which features vocals by Tupac.
“This whole year’s been crazy/ Asked the Holy Spirit to save me/ … I feel like my eyes saw too much suffering/ I’m only 20-some-odd years, I done lost my mother/ I cry tears of joy/ I know she smiles on the boy/ I dream of you more/ My love goes to Afeni Shakur.”
A similar version of the song appears on Tupac’s upcoming LP Better Dayz. While God’s Son has two Nas verses and one Pac verse, the duo’s mic time is reversed for the Tupac album. A spokesperson for Nas says Interscope has asked the rapper to appear in the video for Pac’s version in the next two weeks.
Lighter in subject matter is the bass-heavy “Hey Nas,” which features a hook sung by Kelis and City High’s Claudette Ortiz.
“Someone that’s into me but won’t f— all my enemies,” Nas says, describing his version of a perfect woman. In response, Ortiz promises, “I can be all that.”
Outside of the studio, it seems that the wild-haired protégé of the Neptunes is Nas’ real down chick. On “Mastermind,” one of three tracks produced by the Alchemist, he raps about his apparent girlfriend. “Gave the keys to Kelis/ Whispered in her earlobe, ‘Drive home’/ ‘Cause she the wife and they the freaks/ They underneath my girl’s caliber.”
Nas’ caliber of rhyme garnered him props among hip-hop’s top line-throwers in the mid-’90s. On “Real N—as,” he tells of how the competition level had many of the biggest names bumping heads at the time.
“Y’all don’t know about my Biggie wars/ Who you thought ‘Kick in the Door’ was for?/ But that was my heart/ Y’all still trippin’ off that Jigga sh–.”
Throughout the song, Nas gives an insider’s look at what was going on at that time, from P. Diddy dreaming of starting Bad Boy, RZA — whom he refers to by his former moniker Prince Rakeem — forming a new group called Wu-Tang Clan, and Clan members Raekwon and Ghostface Killah subsequently beefing with Notorious B.I.G. over biting. He addresses his baby’s mother’s alleged infidelities with other rappers and reveals how he and current advisor Steve Stoute had problems trusting each other.
Of course, Jay-Z isn’t left untouched. The Queensbridge rhyme slayer raps, “The Gift and the Curse, f— that/ The first shall be last … I was like Scarface, Jay was Manolo/ It hurt me when I had to kill his whole squad for dolo.”