Album: Life is Good
Label: Def Jam
Release date: 7/17/2012
“Life is good” are the last words anyone would expect Nas to exclaim after being marred by arguably the most grueling and exhausting trials of his career since the release of Stillmatic. Indeed, one look at his very telling album cover, which shows a disgruntled Nas posing with Kelis’ wedding dress draped over his knee, suggests that his life has been everything but. After nearly being depleted financially and emotionally by his divorce and the IRS, it was almost unimaginable to believe Nas had the resiliency to move forward, let alone to drop another album. With an obscure and incredulously optimistic title like Life is Good, it was even more unimaginable to surmise the direction of his forthcoming album. While the QB rapper showed no objection in answering stinging questions concerning his finances, Nas wished to reserve the most pertinent, unanswered question on his album. Now that the smoke has cleared and his album has finally been released, Nas addresses all on Life Is Good.
Indeed, promising many that they’ll either be laughing at him or laughing with him by album’s end, Nas begins with the magnum opus “No Introduction.” Produced by the J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, the powerful and cathedral-like album intro shows the “graphic, classic song composure” detailing his rags to riches journey from “syrup sandwiches and sugar water to Brazilian women on Xanies pulling off panties.” It is then followed by the much anticipated collaborative track “Loco-Motive,” which has Nas and Large Pro invoking the same stellar magic they had on their last classic cut “You’re Da Man.” Considering it’s been 11 years since the Queens duo has worked side by side, it’s incredible to hear that their chemistry is still visibly intact. Although Pro’s braggadocios commentary doesn’t add much to the cut and would’ve been better omitted, No ID’s menacing boom bap production forces Nas to spit the razor under his tongue again, which results in Nas lyrically putting “scars on n**gas.” Indeed, even when naysayers question his relevancy, Nas fires back perceptibly with lyrics like, “ They ask how he disappear and reappear back on top, sayin’ Nas must have naked pictures of God or something’, to keep winning is my way like Francis as long as I’m breathing I take chances.” Much like “Loco-Motive,” a bulk of the album is nostalgically tinged with Nas spitting counter-clockwise for the majority of the album. Songs like “Queens Story” and “Back When,” for example, examine the lifestyle of Nas before and after his career, social retrospection like whereas melancholy and robust songs like “Stay” and “Bye Baby” center around the album’s most translucent theme: love lost.
While thick with retrospection, Nas delivers more poignantly on vulnerable cuts such as “Daughters,” “Cherry Wine,” and “Bye Baby.” On his lead single “Daughters,” a track that surely resonates with single fathers, Nas apologetically reexamines his parenting approach and the mistakes he’s made as a father. The very moving and jazzy cut “Cherry Wine,” which features the late and great singer Amy Winehouse, shows the impeccable chemistry shared between Nas and Winehouse even after her untimely death. Even still, the two manage to exchange shots of cherry wine clairvoyantly while imagining how fulfilling their love lives would’ve been if they had found their soul mate. The most revealing cut, however, is the album closer “Bye Baby.” Here, Nas pours out his heart and finally addresses the questions of long-time fans who wanted to know his half of the story. With lyrics like “the reason why you don’t trust men, that was your daddy’s fault, he in the grave, let it go, he no longer living, said you caught him cheating with mom and other women, the f*ck it gotta do with us,” it’s obvious that Nas is still a little bitter about his current relationship status. Nevertheless, Nas explains he has no regrets about how his relationship with Kelis turned out, and that’s he’s hopeful he’ll find true love the next go around.
While kudos goes to Nas for delivering one of his strongest solo albums in years, a few disappointing blunders prevent it from being a flawless album. The glaringly awful Swizz Beats produced record “Summer on Smash,” which features Miguel, can be easily seen as a desperate attempt by Nas to chart the billboards. Although this isn’t the weakest “club banger” put together by Nas and Swizzy (anyone remember “Braveheart Party”), the song is haphazardly placed and should’ve been reserved as a bonus cut much like “Nasty.” Even his more potent single, “The Don,” which is without a doubt the most lyrical lead single fans have heard in years, would’ve provided the album with more cohesion had it been reserved as a bonus cut. Lastly, “Reach Out” featuring Mary J Blige, suffers not because of the lyrical content, but because both Blige and Nas have recycled the Isaac Hayes’ sample “Once in a Lifetime Groove,” in the early half of their careers. Although trivial, anyone who’s been a long time fan will quickly be able to point out this regurgitated and familiar instrumentation and that neither was able to cook up anything more delightful since their last collaboration.
In spite of these blunders, however, Life is Good shows how much Nasty Nas has grown since his days of “snuffin Jesus.” Although some may disagree, Life is Good is arguably the most mature and most personal album we’ve heard from Nas since God’s Son. Even with most of his personal life being drawn into the public, Nas didn’t bite back at naysayers and onlookers venomously. Instead, he reexamined the direction of his life and went further by dropping jewels from his skull as he once did on Illmatic. And as blasphemous as this may sound, this is the most cohesive and well produced albums Nas has put together since, I dare say, Illmatic. Although I personally questioned whether Nas’ latest efforts would sit reclusively in his discography, Nas has proved he’s still one of Hip-Hop’s most gifted lyricists. Yes, for those who’ve been a fan of Nas since Illmatic, at album’s end, you’ll definitely be laughing with him.