Despite filing his retirement papers in 1998, Master P was back at it again just over a year later with the release of 1999’s Only God Can Judge Me. He rolled out his new production team, brought in guests from outside the No Limit camp (such as Nas and Jermaine Dupri) and promised it would be “the biggest rap album ever.” After all was said and done though, the project stalled at gold – a steep fall from Da Last Don’s 4x platinum certification.
So, what went wrong with Only God Can Judge Me? Was it a product of artistic decline and/or No Limit fatigue? Or, was it actually a quality project that people simply overlooked? Today, Newtral Groundz takes a look back at a controversial piece of P’s catalogue on its 20th birthday.
The album begins with the spoken-word Only God Can Judge Me and finds Master P getting a lot off his chest. It’s notable for its UGK shots (Pimp C had been screaming “fuck No Limit” at concerts) and the debut of guitarist Dani Kartel, of Slow Motion fame. Ghetto Prayer is the first true track and does nothing to silence critics accusing No Limit of biting. Everything from the “Hail Mary” chants to P’s cadence is overly Pac-ish and takes away from an otherwise enjoyable Magic performance. Step To Dis is OGCJM’s first single and features Master P in his element – unapologetically brash over a scratch-heavy Rico Lumpkins production. No Limit’s rookie of the year, D.I.G., also receives more spotlight and delivers nicely. It doesn’t possess the charm of a Make Em Say Ugh!, or even Hoody Hoo, but has aged well.
Silkk The Shocker channels his inner Tony Montana on Return Of Da Don, a two minute teaser of a track that actually works well paired with a gritty performance by P. Say Brah is next and after one listen, it’s painfully evident that this should’ve been the album’s lead single. XL (fresh off the heels of a stellar performance on World War III) provides a glossy backdrop while Mac delivers a catchy, CMR-esque hook. Only God Can Judge Me might’ve shipped platinum if this got the initial push.
Boonapalist (I’m still trying to figure out what P was thinking with this name) is a softer, more melodic ode to his thug queen. Laughable title aside, songstress Ms. Peaches couldn’t be in finer form. Where Do We Go From Here is a rare collaboration with the King of New York, Nasir Jones. As a reference track later revealed, No Limit’s own lyrical jewel, Mac, ghost-penned P’s verse before delivering one of the most thought provoking of his own career. This somber number, featuring a Sons of Funk hook, remains a cult classic amongst No Limit heads.
Ice On My Wrist (Remix) is a slightly updated take on Magic’s recently-released song of the same name. In short, it’s a shameless copy of Cash Money’s blueprint. The difference here is that there’s no Mannie Fresh to be found. Thankfully, P takes it back to his Ice Cream Man days with Stop Playin’ Wit Me, one of the more open-book, aggressive songs he’s ever laid down. He details everything from his come up in the Calliope to selling dope with his dad, Big Percy, over Ke’Noe’s grimy bass.
Ghetto In The Sky looks like, and ultimately is if we’re being honest, your obligatory “is there a heaven for a G?” song but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t have replay value; credit to Suga Bear for its light groove. D.I.G. and Magic return for Ain’t Nothing Changed – another thuggishly blunt effort that just works. Master P sounds especially motivated, even managing to throw a few jabs at crosstown rival Cash Money Records:
“Y’all phony niggas try to look like us and try to be me…
Nigga talk shit when I ain’t around, fool holla when you see me…
Y’all lil soldiers be yourself, nigga fuck stuntin’…
If you ain’t got it, go get it, never put bitches over money…”
The newly rechristened Young Gunz (formerly of the Gambino Family) pop up for OGCJM’s Commercial, a quick platform for a few 8 bar appearances to pad the album. Oh Na Nae is P reaching for radio with a bouncy, slightly Spanish track but it’s a miss with minimal effort. Ghetto Honeys follows with a nice Mac verse and an eerie Ke’Noe instrumental, a vibe P has taken advantage of throughout the project. Next is the Mystikal-assisted Y’all Don’t Want None, an underrated response to both Pastor Troy and Cash Money. C-Los flips UNLV’s classic Drag Em In The River (a Mystikal diss itself) for 2/3 of the original 504 Boyz to bust on.
C-Murder makes his first appearance on Life Ain’t Easy, a song with the potential to be the best on the entire album if it weren’t inexplicably cut short. Damn. D.I.G. returns for a commanding 4th (!) and final time on Who Down To Ride. Suga Bear’s tiptoe-ing strings and drums keep this one in heavy rotation. Unfortunately the subsequent entry, Y’all Don’t Know, is a dud. The Ghetto Commission (particularly Holloway) deliver as usual but P is back in forced Makaveli mode and falls flat.
Nobody Moves is another menacing cut with animated verses from Magic and P. Silkk also joins but probably would’ve been better left off in favor of brother, C-Murder. Da Ballers is OGCJM’s 2nd official single and features So So Def CEO, Jermaine Dupri. The idea of two insanely rich bosses talking next-level money is intriguing, but it comes across as a hollow attempt to remake Money Ain’t A Thang.
Crazy Bout Ya, with Mercedes and Ms. Peaches, is another R&B cut sandwiched between straightforward thuggery. It’s not the worst but feels terribly out of place here. The Intro to Get Yo Mind Right only clocks in at 21 seconds but the song itself is a personal favorite and a perfect closer to the album. The production is as New Orleans as anything No Limit ever released (complete with a buck jumping Second Line feel) and Master P and C-Murder bring it all the way home.
In hindsight, Only God Can Judge Me was a more than serviceable entry in Master P’s lengthy discography. The title heaped on even more criticism and it’s nowhere near classics like Ice Cream Man or Ghetto Dope, but I would argue that elements of this album are superior to Da Last Don. The problem is that it never really finds its groove and sticks with it. Every classic number is surrounded by two or three okay songs and, at a whopping 23 tracks, it can feel crowded at times. Nevertheless, it has its moments and is absolutely worth revisiting.
Overall Vibes: 6.8