Imagine, if you will, you are Jay-Z. It's early December (2001) and you are getting' ready to celebrate your birthday with a large group of friends and family. Christmas is right around the corner, your multi-platinum album The Blueprint is still goin' strong, and you have a highly anticipated "unplugged" album set to drop.
Ahh, all is well in Gotham. Then . . . WHAM! (the street release single "Stillmatic"), BAM! ("Got Urself A Gun"), BOOM! ("Ether"). You're suddenly blind-sided by a series of napalm bombs, courtesy of one Nasir Jones. Jay Hova had been lyrically annihilated quicker than a Taliban Toyota pick-up caught in the crosshairs of a next generation smart bomb.
The obvious question arose. Would he rebound, would he seek revenge with a "Takeover, part deux" A-Bomb of his own? Everyone was waiting, but instead, Jay rushed his reply and came out with the infinitely weak, "Superugly", an attempt at redemption ridiculed by everyone from Allen Iverson to Jay's own mother. Jay confirmed his defeat by appearing on the radio the next morning, sounding like a whining, broken individual. His voice cracked, he sounded hurt, scared, and shook up, talking about how the vulgarity of "Ether" was offensive to him as a man. The King of New York had been knocked from his throne, but for how long? Well, if his recent release The Blueprint 2 is any kind of indication, it may be a while. And to make matters worse, and more to the point, Nas keeps putting out the hottest music in rap, as evidenced by both tracks like "Doo Rags", "Purple", and God's Son's lead single "Made U Look", as well as his guest appearances with Scarface, 2Pac, and J. Lo earlier this year.
God's Son is monumental in terms of the current power struggle in hip-hop. Whether you like it or not, "Ether" did this. With God's Son, Nas has the opportunity to cement his status as the King of N.Y., at least for another 3-4 year term, or he could prove that he is not the savior that hip-hop fans should be pinning their hopes on.
As if anticipating this, Nas comes out with all guns blazin' on "Get Down", where he provides the kind of mental imagery that only he can. Simply put, kid is sick and very few MCs on this earth can match him verse for verse.
One such master of the mic who could go tit for tat with the Queensbridge native is the man many right-wingers are calling evil incarnate these days, my melanin deficient brother Slim Shady. Em took a lil' time out from promoting 8 Mile to provide the bumps for the hot little ditty "The Cross".
Now before you start fantasizing about Marshall and Nas spittin' back and forth at one another, go ahead and kill that thought. For reasons unknown, the virtuoso of venom does something more producers should take note of these days and lets the artist do their thing while he just mans the mixing board. Never the less, the track is dope.
The lead single, "Made U Look", has been getting' mad airplay for a while now and should make any rapper tryin' to either establish, maintain, or elevate his/her status take notice. No Beyonce, no Bobby Brown, just some bangin' ass lyrics. And that pattern continues on the cut "Last Real Nigga Alive", where we find Nas discussing the complex inter-personal dynamics between NYC artists, ranging from himself to Jay-Z, Puff, the Wu, and Biggie.
On "I Can", the listener finds a rather simple hook and an elementary beat wrapped around a noble message. A positive track encouraging kids to stay focused and never give up on their dreams, instilling the belief that anything is possible, it's easy to overlook the cut's production shortcomings.
Claudette Ortiz of City High and The Neptunes' good pal Kelis, of ODB's "Got Your Money" fame, drop in to sing the infectious hook on "Hey Nas", a joint that makes me wanna dial up Nelly & Ja Rule to tell 'em how to make an R&B joint and still stay street. This jam and a re-working of the acoustic version of 2Pac's "Thugz Mansion" only add to the album's appeal.
The most introspective Nas track in years, "Dance", has our man pleading for one last opportunity to express his gratitude towards his recently deceased mother Anne. One can feel the guy's pain, giving us a glimpse of the kind of humanity rarely seen from someone in his profession.
While this album isn't quite as good as the now legendary Stillmatic, it is one of the best hip-hop discs to drop in some time. A collection of volatile, insightful, thought-provoking lyrics set upon a variety of sonic backdrops, it's a must have for anyone who dares to call themselves a connoisseur of hip-hop.