“Ay yo, god.” Some may hear that as a prayer. Indeed, it could be one.
It’s a greeting near similarly used as Judaism’s “Shalom” or Islam’s “As-Salam-u-Alaikum.” In effect, it’s the salute of one fellow community member by another. The lingo is influenced by the Five-Percent Nation and is not literally translated as a bid for peace. But rather it’s a supreme acknowledgment.
These three words (sweet and simple) open the Grammy-nominated song “The Essence.” Rapper Nas invites long-standing partner in rhyme AZ to a concert featuring soul singers Deniece Williams, Stacey Lattisaw and Tina Marie.
Mary Jane Girls’ “Musical Love,” the ‘80s Rick James composition, shores up the song’s melody. Producer Baby Paul repurposed the “Musical Love” chorus and provided the preeminent sound for “The Essence.” He churned “We’d like to turn you on to love” into something unintelligible and more visceral–an enchanting cathedral’s choir. The tune rings reminiscent of a lullaby that begets a–believe it or not–child-like innocence to a sampled Rick James arrangement.
Then there’s an exchange between Nas and AZ. And it sounds like it occurred on the sunset of a velour-suited racquetball match of positive affirmations.
Nas: “Son, who laced you with the ill haircut?”
AZ: “Lenny, he blessed me with the sharp blade. That n****’s paid.”
Nas: “He make a pretty penny.”
AZ: “Yo, you hurt em with them new Pradas.”
AZ: “Check mines. They royal blue.”
Nas: “My s*** is baby blue.”
AZ: “They powder blue.”
Nas: “Yo s***s is hotter.”
AZ: “You hotter with those frames on.”
Nas: “N****, you James Bond. And you stay low.”
AZ: “You know my style bay-bro.”
Nas: “Yeah, make dough. Manicure, facial, face glow.”
AZ: “F*** it, if you say so. I keep it P.I!”
It’s a performance of mutual respect with cozy compliments. Consider how being well-groomed, dapper and spa-treated could hearten the diffident. Add in endearment, and self-esteem gets launched to the heavens.
Creators of songs like “Mo Money Mo Murder,” “The Flyest,” and “Life’s A B****” may not convince lay listeners to believe that the two are righteous and have the keys to geniality and closeness. Yet from first breath on “The Essence,” one brother speaks life into another.
There’s even a benediction for us. AZ gives wise counsel that deserves to be proverbial.
Nas: “We throwing ivory dice across the concrete.”
AZ: “And of course that don’t make em ya man because yall palms meet.”
It’s an aphorism with biblical resemblance:
“But Jesus said, ‘Judas, would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?'” (Luke 22:47-48, NLT).
Don’t be fooled; a mere act of fondness does not necessarily reflect loyalty.
There’s some more theological backing to “The Essence,” its three syllable preamble in particular.
“No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is brought to full expression in us” (1 John 4:12, NLT).
Witnessing love is the closest things we could get to actually seeing God. And if God lives in us when we express love, then addressing one’s brethren as god remains justified.
The pair nominated in 2003 for best rap performance by a duo or group enacted a ripe response to a humanity-aged challenge:
“For he does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20, NKJV).
Coming from two artists who would normally rom-dram the idyllic side of crime, commerce and all other things Mafioso rap, “The Essence” makes for an exceptional phileo-love ballad.
It embodies love through both name and substance. Essence is the intrinsic nature of something. And if we ever needed a pithy one-liner for God’s something, we have it.
“Ay yo, god” is love.