Album Review: Nas – Life Is Good

Posted: July 17, 2012 in Hip-Hop, Music Review

Artist: Nas

Album: Life Is Good

Release Date: July 17, 2012

Label:  Def Jam Records

“A caterpillar can’t relate to what an eagle envisions” is what Nas says in “Trust”, a song that is on the iTunes edition of Life Is Good, looping over the somber keys and strings orchestrated by Boi-1da. It’s a track that should have been on the actual album and not just a bonus throwaway, as he has fits of paranoia through associates and his current status. And it’s fitting, as Nasir Jones has seen it all: Growing up in the borough of Queens, N.Y. and building a legacy that is as vulnerable musically as it is personally. From the album cover alone, Nas sits comfortably in his cream suit with Kelis’ wedding dress lying willfully on his lap as he ponders, painting a picture of irony contrary to what the title states.

It’s here on Nas’ tenth solo effort where he comes into his own, shedding light on his journey and coming full circle with it all. From the aptly-titled opener “No Introduction”, armed with the illustrious melodies of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and an audience cheering in the background, Nasir feels the air of triumph surrounding him. It’s a good start, as it quickly turns around with a punch in the chest with “Loco-Motive”. Nas proudly states it being for the ones “Trapped in the 90s”, which could hold a double meaning for listeners that want that Golden Age era in Hip-Hop back or for how those living in that time hustled in streets of Queensbridge.

The highlights are few and far in between with the highs being really good to great, and the lows being easily forgettable. A strong portion of that is attributed to the production, handled mostly by Nas’ right hand man Salaam Remi and Chicago Hip-Hop powerhouse No I.D.; the latter especially displaying surprisingly great chemistry with the Queens emcee. From a gritty keys and hi-hats of “Loco-Motive”, to the chilling organ keys of “Accident Murderers”, it is Gospel and Soul-laden, lush with early Hip-Hop elements modernized but so familiar in its essence. One of the strong gems is “Stay” as No I.D. loops a sax solo from The L.A. Carnival’s “Seven Steps To Nowhere”, providing the perfect jazzy backdrop for Nas to rap about random women and former friends in his life.

Lyrically, Nas is stronger than he’s ever been. Dating back to his monster feature on Common’s “Ghetto Dreams”, he has been on a tear ripping through tracks and he shows no signs of stopping now. The explosive “Don”, has Nas using a switching from double-time and back in his flow effortlessly (Fuck sadness, had this been you having this lavish/Habitual happiness at me you wouldn’t look backwards). It’s the most invigorated I heard him since God’s Son, and it makes sense as he’s tapping more into his personal matter than looking to bring a certain concept in. With his previous outputs in Untitled and Hip-Hop Is Dead focusing more on the forced social commentary for record sales, this is more cohesive in direction.

It’s when Nasir really opens up on his personal life where the output comes out for the better. On “Bye Baby”, he pours out his heart on his previous six-year relationship with Kelis. Instead of the anger he displayed on the Distant Relatives cut “Strong Will Continue”, he’s more reflective and happy with the time they had and finding closure. The heartfelt “Daughters” also stands out, remembering how he is not the perfect father figure, does his best to show how much he loves Destiny.

With songs like “A Queen’s Story” and “Stay” come off as home runs, “Reach Out” and “Summer On Smash” are contrived attempts at radio hits, which Nas have a long track-history of struggling on the pop charts. The latter featuring Swizz Beatz and R&B standout Miguel, flustered overall with Miguel rapping a midverse in Spanish and spiraling a would-be party jam off its tracks. The love tune “Cherry Wine” hits, with the unused vocals of the late Amy Winehouse providing the hook duties for Nasir’s quest for the perfect ride or die. It may not be the collaboration that was meant to happen, but it gives the hopeful “What if…?” if they were able to pair up for a track or two.

Life Is Good is the culmination of a 20+ year career that reflects on the humble beginnings, bitter endings, and beauty that is in between. It’s nowhere near a perfect album, or maybe at the tail-end of Album of the Year contenders, but it is definitely worth the wait. It is as good as a modern Hip-Hop album that appeals to all listeners can be and shows that Escobar has a whole lot left in the tank.

Overall: 8/10

Highlights:

  • “Loco-Motive”
  • “Accident Murderers”
  • “Daughters”
  • “The Don”
  • “Stay”
  • “Bye Baby”
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Comments
  1. George says:

    Good review man. Nice links to back catalogue.

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