Bias notice: Los is from Baltimore, so I’m rooting for him
After being sorely disappointed with my first Los project, Zero Gravity 2, just the name of his new album, God, Money, War, is cause for hope. Why? Because that mixtape felt like a dump of songs with disparate styles, so this album’s title hopefully signals a much-needed step towards musical cohesion and importance. Turns out, I was mostly right…
God, Money, War is definitely better than anything I’ve heard from Los before. He gave glimpses of depth before, but he’s clearly spent more time than ever before on this message, that God and money battle within people over their souls. Sure, there’s some crap around the edges, songs like Can’t Fade Us, Blame It on the Money, and Glory to the Lord, but much less than that last mixtape. And those songs still fit the theme, because they’re about money and the related frivolous endeavors that take us away from our higher purpose. But they still aren’t songs that I want to listen to. I can’t put my finger on exactly why, but reveling in money and sex just isn’t what I think Los does well. Can’t Fade Us is still the best dumb song I’ve ever heard from him, but Ty Dolla $ign and the beat are what make it listenable, not anything that Los does.
Still, I’ll gladly skip those songs to get the meat of the album. Los explains the theme succinctly on the title track:
God… money, war
If heaven free, what we kill for money for?
They say when it rain it pours, but it rain on the poor.
So you ain’t really rich, if what’s rich ain’t in your core
God, save us
Money, slave us
War, left bodies on the floor
I like there’s not much abstraction here; the message is easy to grasp and Lost just spends the album making his point. And that point feels more authentic because he has songs where he himself might be losing that war. These are the songs that I referenced above as serving a purpose well even though I don’t like them.
Even on To Be Honest, he’s telling haters to look critically at themselves, but he also spends a good portion of the song bragging about his own success. Clearly, the fight against the corrupting influence of money isn’t easy, which he acknowledges on songs like Confidence and Balance is Good, both about things we need in order to lead a righteous life. These proverbs feel like encouragement instead of judgments, which make his moments of excess easier to accept. The only song that feels preachy is Slave, because it takes the album’s direct approach a bit too far, with its hook obnoxiously repeating “you a slave!” It even starts with a “message!” clip from Don’t be a Menace! And even if Los is including only himself in that declaration, which may be the case since the verses are first-person descriptions of an enslaved-by-money life, I couldn’t help but feel judged after the eighth time that line was said.
But Slave also bugs me because its screeching beat is the opposite of what I like the most about this album’s sound. The best songs have emotional instrumentals that emphasize the theme without feeling at all forced or corny. The best example of this is War, an earnest conversation where Los and a friend, one who’s losing the thematic war, argue their opposing perspectives on what’s important in life. A choir hauntingly vocalizes in the background of the sparse beat, and Marsha Ambrosius ends the song urging people to embrace each other and “make love not war.” It’s a powerfully effective song that could be made better only by using Marsha much more than just at the very end of the song.
In interviews, Los has said that God, Money, War was originally a mixtape that his label convinced him to package as an album. That origin, plus the theme, explains the few missteps here, mainly the catchy songs about money and sex that went too far in those directions. But I still completely agree with the label’s decision. Los seems to be ascending to Kendrick-ish levels of artistry and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
- God, Money, War
- Black Boy (one of the all-time best rap songs about fatherhood)
- To Be Honest
- King (Los slipped in one song just to remind people that his rhymes are still murderously good. His boy Mark Battles is pretty good too.)