Expectations rose exponentially with each leaked song for the 10th studio album from Nasir Jones. But are those great expectations proven justified or does Nas lead the fanfare with egg on his face? The BT tries to find out.
A single word to describe Life Is Good would be ‘cinematic.’ Its sprawling soundscapes are filled with dramatic strings and piano keys, hard-hitting drums, detailed, imaginative storytelling and honest introspection. But like life itself, it’s not completely perfect; the album sags a bit in the middle, where the Swizz Beatz-produced “Summer On Smash” adds nothing to the overall arch. The most important thing about Life Is Good though, is that it feels mature. Nas doesn’t try to keep up with the young’ns thematically, he rather spits about topics that matter to him. Jay-Z seemingly intended to do something similar with Kingdom Come, but while his former adversary’s age showed mostly through cosmetic choices, Nas passionately raps on matters of the heart and mind of a 38 year old man. Something ostensibly individual but of great value to the genre, putting him at the forefront once again, almost 20 years after his classic debut album.
I was so happy when I saw how often Nas was dropping leaks on his SoundCloud and it was all butters – “Nasty”, “The Don”, “Accident Murderers” all had me open. And lyrically, Nas is doing the damn thing. Life Is Good has a lot of points being touched on, one of the most obvious being “A Queens Story” seemingly being fleshed out within “Accident Murderers”, or the touching reflections of Nas as a more grown individual in “Daughters” or “Back When”. “Bye Baby” is an open letter, and that track is the perfect soundtrack to Nas’ woes. The LP has a great cinematic feel running throughout. Little things like Nas merking tracks sans-drums helps make his verses more poignant, but the missteps like “Summer On Smash”, “Reach Out”, “Cherry Wine” and others keep me from giving this album a certified stamp.
I don’t have much to say but THANK YOU NAS!!!!! Nas has shown to be a true hip-hop representative, emcee, and elite. Life Is Good was dope and shows as a shining example that rappers don’t have to be in a box to create a solid enjoyable album with high replay value.
Nas’ last three albums- Distant Relatives, his untitled album, and Hip Hop is Dead- found him looking at the world around him for inspiration. With Life is Good, Nas digs deep down inside himself to create his art. “Bye Baby” feels like a moment of closure regarding his relationship with Kelis, while “No Introduction,” is a look back on certain moments of his life. Of course, this is Nasty Nas we’re talking about, so there’s bound to be some lyrical marathons, such as “Loco-motive” and “The Don.” The production on this album is progressive; it is at once hardcore and elegant, creating an epic soundtrack for Nas’ strong lyricism. There are many themes of life on this album; love, regret, lust, violence, etc. But Nas sums it up best when he says, “No matter what, life is good.” Life is Good didn’t blow me away; most of the songs were good, not great. Nonetheless, it is an artful, worthy and memorable album.
Remember all of the things that you love about Nas? The intricate rhymes that pepper the grit of a New York City street scene with the wisdom of a man who has seen much more of the world than his age could seemingly allow for – that Nas is back. Remember all of the things that you hate about Nas? The tangential nature that is the curse of his brilliant mind that often makes his rhymes unfocused and the ear for beat selection that reminds you of something you never wanted to be reminded of ever again – that Nas has left the building.
On Life is Good, Nas is focused; and focus is the single determinant which separates this album from Illmatic. This album was crafted where his debut classic was simply recited and released. Illmatic was an honest telling; delivered with raw talent where Life is Good was meticulously designed to be exactly as great as it is. And how great is it?
Life is Good is a collection of songs that show that Nas is a lyricist above all. He weaves the tales of his travels in and out of verses like a bike messenger through Manhattan traffic with a depth of emotional honesty that is hard to find in this genre; and he does it all with a level of focus previously unseen on any album that he has delivered. The words of each song (even each verse!) are so true to their theme that they exist in your mind as short films or vignettes more than songs. The music and production move
between instrument-driven, soft melodies to hard-hitting, bass-heavy monuments to the bygone boom-bap era with only one or two choices (if we’re being critical) choices that miss the mark. The guest-list was pitch-perfect with regards to tone and subject matter even if not for the purposes of name recognition and will now hold the distinction of being featured on Nas’ best album since 1996.