Tenth Time’s the Charm: Nas Strikes Gold with Life is Good
Published: Saturday, July 21, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
Album: Life is Good
Release Date:July 17th
In 1994, Nasir Jones found himself in a predicament. Nasty Nas’ stunning guest verses floored fans, and his single, “Halftime,” had many calling him the second coming of hip-hop legend Rakim. But when he’s about to spit his first verse for his solo debut, Nas infamously admits, “I don’t know how to start this.”
About two seconds pass and he spits his classic verse for “N.Y. State of Mind.” Eight songs later, the legendary Illmatic has been born.
Nas is in a similar conundrum 18 years and nine albums later. The album cover shows the newly divorced rapper – who once claimed, “Props is a true thug’s wife” – wondering about the next possible step. Life is Good is touted as Nas’ Here, My Dear (the album Marvin Gaye released after his divorce), but his album shouldn’t be held back by the comparison. This album is far too good for that.
Life is Good is one of Nas’ best studio efforts of his career. The Queensbridge alumnus did have his standout tracks throughout last decade, but the whole time there was a sense that he was chasing a throne that was rightfully his.
Stillmatic and God’s Son were solid LPs, but many believed his public beef with Jay-Z and his mother’s passing threw him off-balance. Nas seemed so bent on making a social statement in the decade’s later half that making a cohesive album seemed to be a second priority. His previous untitled album, which Nas intended to title the infamous racial epithet, was a prime example.
But in Life is Good, Nas sounds self-assured, focused, and confident. A confident Nas is a force to be reckoned with.
Nas the Storyteller makes his presence known within the stellar first four tracks of the album. He reminisces about robbing a train and his conversation with the late Biggie Smalls on the album’s intro “No Introduction.”
Two tracks later, he’s opening up about the night rapper/producer Stretch got killed. Then in “Accident Murderers,” one of the year’s standouts, Nas focuses on different details with sage precision.
“Some of his boys on the corner was who your bullets entered,” Nas raps. "Two of ‘em pulled through, but one didn't/Son's finished.”
Nas the Poet also makes an appearance. At this point of his life, the 38-year-old doesn’t seem to be concerned with putting up a persona. Instead, he’s speaking on single parenting in the No I.D.-produced “Daughters,” and bearing his heart in an ode to ex-wife Kelis in the excellent album closer, (the Deluxe Editon has four bonus tracks afterward) “Bye Baby.”
It’s honest without being too self-absorbed. Nas is giving himself to the listeners instead of trying to pull them into his troubles. The result is a feeling of realness that’s so often admired by the hip-hop fans Nas shouts out in the great “Loco-Motive” (“This is for my trapped in the ’90s [fans]”).
The album’s flow is stunted slightly by the guest appearances. Rick Ross is excellent in “Accident Murderers,” but everybody else is average. The features don’t add a great deal to the stories, and they’re more akin to bookmarks than actual pages in Life is Good. The late Amy Whinehouse never melds with “Cherry Wine” as she sings the hook, throwing off the well-intentioned track.
The features’ poorest moment is in “Summer on Smash,” featuring Swizz Beatz and Miguel. An attempt to make a radio hit is understandable, but not if it sounds this poor and generic. Then again, having Swizz Beatz or Miguel on anything is a shoddy decision.
Life is Good isn’t a classic, but it's important to note that it doesn’t claim to be. Nas is content with himself and it shows throughout the album. Fans can’t be too mad if the good life sounds like this.