Hip-Hop Fridays: Album Reviews, Nas - God's Son and GZA - Legend Of The Liquid Sword
If you are talking straight lyricists - artists who can paint pictures in your mind with the use of clever wordplay, metaphors and words with double-meanings, it doesn't get any better than Nas and GZA. Both steeped in consciousness, MC battles, commercial success and New York City folklore, you would be hard-pressed to find any two MCs better than the Queens and Brooklyn-natives.
Nas: God's Son
This may be Nas' best album, lyrically. And in a pure sign of maturation and self-confidence, Nas selected production that is complimentary rather than overpowering. The music plays more like a soundtrack than a jukebox. To flip a phrase from Jadakiss : Nas doesn't use beats for help, he helps the beats.
God's Son is a theme album, a rare occurrence in Hip-Hop, where an artist is able to stay disciplined enough to emphasize a handful of important points over music that forces you to listen to the album rather than simply bump it in your system or leave it on as background music. No track-skipping necessary. You actually want to go where Nas is taking you.
Don't get it wrong, cuts like "Made You Look," "Revolutionary Warfare," and those on a bonus disc (there are 17 tracks altogether), certainly make your head bob and nod, but the star of the show is Nas' matchless ability to paint a picture. He is Hip-Hop's best pure novelist. Not story-teller, but novelist. On this album Nas shows that there is a difference.
Anyone who missed the Nasty Nas who blazed "New York State of Mind" in his 1994 debut album, Illmatic, need not worry, he has returned, as God's Son. And you don't have to wait long, Nas sets it off in the album's first track, "Get Down," (murdering an instrumental that Wise Intelligent from the Poor Righteous Teachers obliterated almost 12 years ago). That same flow of commentary, description and parables is evident on virtually every other cut on the album. Nas thoroughly addresses Jay-Z's legitimate criticism and that of others over which Nas will appear today - the materialistic, misogynist player; or the grand wazier? On this album Nas is 90% wise man. Finally.
The track that is sure to get everyone's attention - indeed already has everyone talking - is "Last Real N**** Alive" where Nas takes you behind the genesis of some of the drama taking place in the early '90s NYC Hip-Hop scene between Bad Boy (Biggie) and Wu-Tang (Raekwon) and Nas' relationship with both, and he even fits Jay-Z's emergence into that context. Deep and short. Nas gets it all done in a couple of minutes.
The initial reaction to learning that DJ Premier, Large Professor and Irv Gotti were nowhere to be found was that of surprise. It appeared that Nas was committed to marrying his foundational style with hot commercial tracks and an established squad. It looked like finally Nas might be able to have the best of both worlds, if he could figure out how to merge properly with Ja' Rule and Ashanti without having to show us how down with Murder Inc. he really was. Handsigns and all.
Nas obviously thought better of it and decided that his soul was more important than having it all. He "found" a gem of a producer in Salaam Remi, who has been putting it down for years, and an a la carte of production from Eminem, Alchemist, Chucky Thompson and even Alicia Keyes. Don't know how, but it works. Not necessarily feeling the collaboration with 2Pac in "Thugz Mansion" or "Zone Out" which features Bravehearts but these are a mere distraction rather than a disruption that destroys the album flow.
Don't expect Stillmatic II. It isn't that kind of party. Nas is more sage and teacher than baller or avenging rapper. He's social commentator, "Look how we treat pregnancy, women in the 'hood. Our values so low. Our values are no good." ("Book of Rhymes"); He's Big Brother, "B-boys and B-girls, listen up, you can be anything in the world , in God we trust. An architect, doctor, maybe an actress, but nothing comes easy it takes much practice..." ( "I Can"). And most poignantly of all he's a grieving son, mourning the loss of his mother on "Dance."
He is - a man, and with God's Son, the soul of Hip-Hop.
GZA - Legend Of The Liquid Sword
All you have to do is listen to three tracks if you still doubt why RZA says that GZA is the best at what he does in all of Hip-Hop. 1) "Animal Planet," where GZA virtually takes the whole animal kingdom, their unique qualities and characteristics and uses them to paint a picture of life in the real human "jungle." Part history of evolution. Part description of a dog-eat-dog-world. Unbelievable. 2) "Fame" where GZA takes the names of every celebrity from Puffy to George Burns, Patty Hearst, Chaka Khan, Redd Foxx, Rosa Parks, Ted Turner, Jesse Owens, Larry Bird, Richard Greer, Jason Kidd etc...and weaves it into a flawless, masterpiece of wordplay. The wiseman of Wu-Tang at his witty best (Witty, Unpredictable, Talent All Natural Game)
Then, if that is not enough, to make a point, listen to "Highway Robbery" where GZA weaves in the cadence and flow of Big Daddy Kane's "Ain't No Half-Steppin" into his perspective of the degeneration of Hip-Hop and the strength of his rhyme skills and crew. So deep, it is hard to put into words.
Like, "God's Son," this album is not for the Hip-Hop fan who has been bumping Nelly, Ludacris or Mystikal for the last few years, with all due respect for what they do. Legend Of The Liquid Sword is a thinking man and woman's moment - thought-provoking lyrics, wordplay, metaphors and consciousness, sober commentary over a bed of boom - bap beats and plenty of strings and keys for good measure. And of course the Genius provides the customary and always brilliant indictment of the music business in "Did Ya Say That," where GZA rhetorically asks in the chorus, "Did ya say that? Record execs want to push the album way back? And hold back my advance? He didn't pay that. Producers want 7 points? He didn't play that."
Die-hard Wu fans should appreciate the appearances of RZA, Masta Killah, Inspectah Deck and GhostFace Killah, and although RZA only produces one track on the album; the 15 track album has sufficient melodic loops and system and headphone-knocking production. And of course, there is the mandatory assortment of 5% imagery produced by overt and veiled references to the lessons.
GZA even finds a way to weave in some worthwhile chorus and background vocals from the R&B leaning appearance of Anthony Allen from Roc-A-Fella, on "Legend Of The Liquid Sword"; and from the rock-leaning Santi White on the guitar-laced "Stay In Line."
If you were looking for a compass to point you where the streets, conscious Hip-Hop, pure lyricism, and the foundation of New York-based Hip-Hop - with hints of where the genre is headed - GZA provides it.
Visit The BEC Bookstore To Obtain The Hip-Hop Fridays Books and Music Package - Own The New Nas And GZA albums; DMX and Russell Simmons' Autobiographies; and Kevin Powell and Ernie Paniccioli's Hip-Hop Photobook At An Over 20% Discount Value!
Friday, December 13, 2002