During this particular moment in No Limit history, Master P’s once unshakeable empire was finding itself on shaky ground. They were still selling records, but some of their more talented soldiers had already jumped ship (Mr. Serv-On, Fiend, Mia X, Kane and Abel, and Big Ed, just to name a few) and a few would leave soon following Only God Can Judge Me’s release (Mystikal, for example). P didn’t know it yet, but he was in a lot of trouble.
P had announced his retirement from rapping a year earlier with the release of MP Da Last Don, a double-disc album that received decidedly mixed reviews. I’m sure about two people believed that P would retire for good, and the product that stems from his return is Only God Can Judge Me. Panned even more by critics than his previous release, it has been called, arguably, the worst album culled from P’s lengthy career.
This is also the first of P’s “floss” albums. In order to keep up with the Joneses, P. Miller steadily moves away from the darker sounds of the likes of Ghetto D and focuses more on flossing and balling. There are a plethora of harder-edged gangsta numbers to be found throughout the record’s 23 tracks, as well as introspective joints, but there are also a good number of tracks aimed at the clubs and other such mainstream-oriented material.
This resulted in the loss of P’s core audience, but it never really garnered him much acceptance in other circles as he probably would have liked, either. Everything else remains very much the same; borrowed hooks, cheap beats (although they are provided by different producers because, by this time, Beats by the Pound had left the label as well) and poorly written rhymes. But no matter how cookie-cutter the album is, it remains one of Master P’s most underrated works to date.
Immediately noticeable, though, is P’s over-reliance on standard club jams and typical mainstream topic matter. Tracks such as the rabble-rousing “Step to Dis,” which featured newly signed No Limit soldier D.I.G., just doesn’t seem characteristic of the P that long-time No Limit fans grew to respect. Even “Say Brah,” which guests Mac (and also contains an excellent verse from him), isn’t anything special. It seems more akin to something fellow Dirty South representatives Cash Money would have released right around this particular time; production and all. Even more cookie-cutter and clichéd is “Ice on My Wrist (Remix)” which was shamelessly jiggy and sounded even more like a Cash Money carbon-copy than I’m sure P anticipated.
The Latin-tinged “Oh Na Nae” is no better, featuring lackluster production and poorly written rhymes. The hook, however, is all that is really worth listening to.. There’s even a Jermaine Dupri feature here (“Da Ballers”) that sounds exactly like everything else JD appeared on during the ’98-’99 era (and that’s not a good thing). Generic rhymes and poorly realized production ensue.
But, thankfully, there’s much more to the album than a handful of club joints and Cash Money imitations. “Ghetto Prayer” opens up the album with haunting faux-organ and piano keys and a truly reinvigorated Master P and Magic on vocals. Silkk the Shocker guests on the rough-n-tumble “Return of da Don” which features some of P’s better lyrics and a bouncy, hypnotic beat provided by producer Dez. The bass heavy, nihilistic “Ain’t Nothing Changed” would sound like classic No Limit material if not for the complexly layered production courtesy of Pennatentire. In fact, material such as the aggressive “Y’all Don’t Want None” and the D.I.G. feature “Who Down to Ride,” which has, quite possibly, the catchiest hook on the album, are all successes. Not one of the hardcore numbers falls flat. Perhaps that’s saying something about where P’s talents lie…
Combining both the genres of R&B and Rap and calling it one became a big commodity just before the new millennium, and there are a couple of tracks that attempt this throughout the course of Only God Can Judge Me. The best of these is most certainly “Crazy Bout Ya.” It’s backed by syrupy-sweet vocals from Mercedes and a forgettable rap from Ms. Peaches. The production, however, is perfect; backed by mellow guitar plucks and hard bass. It is undeniably one of, if not the best, beats on the record. P is even unusually open and revealing, portraying a side of himself not normally heard on his albums.
The second of these tracks, “Boonapalist,” features a more mainstream R&B/Hip-Hop approach, even though the lyrics are slightly thugged up in execution. This approach does work, however, and it makes for an entertaining listen. Ms. Peaches is featured once again, this time guesting on the hook, and D.I.G. drops a short verse. A bit more meaningful than the rest of the material on the LP, but still containing a harder edge, one could almost think of this as a prelude to Ja Rule’s genre-bending Thug&B material of the early 2000s.
Even the introspective joints, such as “Where Do We Go from Here,” which features guest spots from Nas and Mac, and “Ghetto in the Sky,” which is, surprisingly, a Master P solo, are all excellent. “Where Do We Go from Here” contains some of P and Mac’s most uplifting (and best) lyrics while Nas feels simply tacked on for star power. “Ghetto in the Sky” is another revealing, introspective joint with a powerful hook, but isn’t quite as good as the former. Even the album’s intro, which is titled after the record itself, finds P mouthing off words of wisdom and spirituality. Perhaps he had more on his mind than we thought.
Only God Can Judge Me is much better than any paid critic would tell you. Most of them would probably lead you to believe that some of P’s worst work is contained right on this disc, while I believe that it is the other way around. Sure, this is where P started to pick up the “baller” mentality and that certainly began the decline in No Limit, but the rest of the material packs a mean punch. If you can find it for a decent price and you consider yourself a decent enough No Limit fan, give it a shot, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised.Powered by Sidelines