Release Date: Jul 17, 2012
Record label: Def Jam
Nas appears on the cover of his 10th LP holding the wedding dress of ex-wife Kelis. But this is no Drake-style sob story. It's just that nowadays, he cuts his rhymes with midlife realism and daring empathy ("Could you imagine writing your deposition/Divorce lawyer telling how this going to be ending," he raps on "Bye Baby"). Nas discourses on parenting ("Daughters") and senseless violence ("Accidental Murderers," with Rick Ross), and shreds any doubts about his MC prowess ("The Don") over crisp, Nineties-tinged beats.
I’ll put it out there straight away; Illmatic is my favourite album of all time right now. It’ll change once I’ve overplayed it a bit but for the last few months, Illmatic has been my favourite. So when you look back at Nas’s back catalogue and you think of that debut, you can’t help but feel disappointed. After making an album that is as close to perfect as an album can come, he churns out a series of average/crap albums that make you sigh.
Like most pop music, hip-hop is no country for old men. The genre has long favored the bluster and ambition of twentysomethings over the ruminations of the middle-aged. So it’s not entirely surprising to hear Nas open his latest album like the crank at the bar still claiming he’s got it. “I’m pushing 40/She’s only 21,” he states, with characteristic braggadocio.
Nas :: Life Is GoodDef JamAuthor: Jesal 'Jay Soul' PadaniaAllow me to share my "Things To Do on Monday" list with you, dear Reader: 1) Write the review for "Life Is Good" – the much anticipated album by Nas, his first solo effort in four years, in which time he's travelled the world, gone through a messy public divorce, owed $6m in taxes, and has attacked the past year with the ferocity, hunger and energy of a teenager; and 2) Write a eulogy for my grandmother who passed away 7 hours ago. One can't help but feel that perhaps "Life Is Good" should have had a question mark placed on the end of that album title: the artwork says it all, with Nas looking pristine in the VIP section of a club, all alone, holding the only thing the Kelis left behind – part of her green wedding dress. Really, Mr Jones? Life is good? Well, an hour in the company of QB's finest demonstrates his willingness to back his proclamation up, as he proceeds to tell us: "I shouldn't even be smiling, I should be angry and depressed, I've been rich longer than I've been broke, I confess.
NasLife Is Good[Def Jam; 2012]By Chase McMullen; July 24, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetLet’s just get it out of the way: Illmatic is and certainly always shall be Nas’ greatest work. That goes without saying, and yet the elephant in the room just refuses to trot on. The majority of the initial reaction to Life Is Good – along with every LP the rapper has released since 1994 – has revolved around comparisons to the opus.
Nas has been disappointing people nearly half his life. By now, the passion play of raised and swiftly dashed hopes that occurs whenever he announces a new album has repeated itself enough times to officially qualify as farce. You'd think he'd be exhausted by now, and there were times over his last three sleepwalking efforts when he sounded just that: a guy wearily familiar with his own towering mythology, and increasingly disinterested in living up to it.
Over the course of his career, Nas has declined from World's Best MC (back in the Illmatic days) to "oh yeah, that guy" territory (pretty much everything after It Was Written). With the release of Life Is Good, he's hoping to head back to the former..
Many artists’ careers are defined by their classic material, but the way in which the ghost of Illmatic haunts Nas is unique. Because while it’s generally accepted that the other survivors from hip hop’s golden age are years past their best work, remarkably Nas has shown almost no signs of depreciation. In terms of ability at least, his voice is practically unchanged from the one you hear on his 1994 debut, he’s still a remarkable lyricist, and at his best, his flow remains pretty much untouchable.
Nearing two decades in the game, Nas is embraced with high esteem, as his mere presence demands attention given his innate knack for leadership coupled with unrelenting lyricism. We’ve watched from the sidelines as Nas achieved a lot: obvious career highlights include his prolific debut with 1994’s Illmatic, the boldly titled 2006 release of Hip Hop Is Dead, and the gall which once found him at odds with dominant New York City radio entity Hot 97 after a legendary battle with Jay-Z. Like most rappers carrying a movement on their backs (in this case, it’s arguably Queens), the impetus for stellar work weighs a ton.
It's frustrating that an 18-year-old record overshadows Nas's very much alive, still-in-demand career. Never mind that Illmatic is impossible to replicate - a perfect storm of prodigious youth, instinctual talent and sublime production - or that Nas can still effortlessly rap circles around most of his peers and underlings. Never mind that a number of his subsequent albums have been cohesive and defiant, with requisite (but tolerable) concessions for radio.
When Untitled was released four years ago, it felt like a major crossroads for Nas’ career. Two years prior he’d declared the death of hip-hop, or simply warned of its imminence depending on which publicity wave you believe. Following that gimmick with an album originally titled with the darkest racial slur in American history and an album cover featuring the letter N whip-scarred across his back (as a footnote, Nas claimed to be a Columbia Records slave on The Lost Tapes) was a risky move for Nas, one that could have seen the general public label him past his prime, unable to sell without gimmicks.
Never judge an album by its cover. Despite wearing a sad-eyed expression and having ex-wife Kelis’ wedding dress draped over his knee, life is good for 38-year-old Nasir Jones right now, and any fears that the couple’s drawn-out, lawyer-delighting divorce would lead to a self-indulgent 10th record evaporate the moment you hear his voice on opener ‘No Introduction’. He’s on ferocious form, ready to “[i]take over Goldman Sachs[/i]”, while at the same time acknowledging his status as a grand old man of rap: “[i]Don’t applaud/I’m exhausted[/i]”.Prior to the album’s release, rumours abounded that big-hitters like Kanye or young bucks from Odd Future would be recruited to revamp Nas.
Now that he's approaching the grand old age of 40, Nas is taking time to reflect on his life and, contrary to the title of his 10th album, not every aspect of it is good. His ex-wife, Kelis, is demanding hefty childcare payments for their baby son, born soon after their separation in 2009. Meanwhile, his 18-year-old daughter has started dating unsuitable men, much to her father's dismay: "One day she's your little princess/ Next day she's talking boy business, what is this?" he demands on Daughters.
When Nas released his single ?Nasty? last summer, it was clear that the Queens legend was at a certain creative place he hadn’t been in years. Over the minimal lurch of Salaam Remi?s beat, he hurtled breathlessly and breathtakingly through the song’s three minutes, meanwhile interpolating Mobb Deep?s ?Eye for a Eye (Your Beef Is Mines)?: ?Late-night candlelight, fiend with diesel in his needle/ Queensbridge leader, no equal.? It had you thinking, “Oh, this guy”, and it was easily Nas? best, most impassioned single since 2002?s ?One Mic?. For reasons unclear, ?Nasty? didn?t make the final tracklist of Nas?s tenth studio album, Life Is Good – but a batch of songs almost as strong as it did.
Review Summary: A notable continuation of a late career resurgenceContrary to popular critical assessment, Life Is Good is in no way some triumphant return to form for Nas; it is merely a continuation of his latter career success story in a consistent sequence of solid records. To his dedicated acolytes it's no secret the time frame between genre classic Illmatic and the turn of the millennium was not good to Nas, either in terms of quality or record sales. 2001's Stillmatic was not only retaliation to Jay-Z's classic "Takeover" observational diss on this drop-off, but also succeeded in resuscitating his dying career.
Until he dropped “Nasty” a few months ago, it had been a long time since anyone was talking about a new Nas song. Sure, a lot of people were talking about Nas, but that’s because every album the sleepy-eyed God MC of Queensbridge has dropped since 2002’s God’s Son has been practically engineered to get you to talk about it somehow. The cover of 2004’s Street’s Disciple portrayed him as Jesus at the Last Supper; the title of 2006’s Hip Hop is Dead pissed a lot of people off and gave rap’s talking heads fodder for years; in 2008 he released both The Nigger Tape and Untitled, which, while originally titled Nigger, still managed to retain its shock value with its cover’s painful depiction of Nas himself with the letter “N” lashed into his back.
That's Nas' ex-wife Kelis' wedding dress on the cover: she's a fellow recording artist, the two have a kid together, and she wasn't consulted about the album cover or the album itself. Life Is Good is that kind of album, and for the moment, Nas is that kind of guy. He may have recorded some game-changing albums early on, and his recent collaboration with Damian Marley, Distant Relatives, was vital as well, but this puff-chested bitch session is a completely different animal, coming off as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, although this one prefers playing to radio over playing it as landmark disc, and prefers swaggering over staying on topic.
As Tony Soprano once said, ”’Remember when’ is the lowest form of conversation.” Sadly, onetime wunderkind Nas falls into that trap on his 10th album. Given his bitter 2010 divorce from Kelis (that’s her wedding dress on the cover), the millions he owes in back taxes, and the diminishing returns since his game-changing 1994 debut, Illmatic, it’s no wonder he’d rather live in the past. Too many tracks here recount his salad days in the era ”before Air Jordans.” Still, Life Is Good‘s better moments, like the languid Amy Winehouse collab ”Cherry Wine,” manage to give his classics a run for their money — even if that money’s going straight to the IRS anyway.
Since his debut, 1994’s Illmatic, Nas has been an artist in search of his next classic. He’s produced some solid records—Hip Hop is Dead for example—but never quite hit it out of the park again. Part of the reason Nas has run into trouble comes from the baggage his albums always end up carrying. Stillmatic is uneven, but mostly hampered by the now-dated Jay-Z diss track “Ether”.
The last line of Nas’ Illmatic still rings true 18 years later. The Queensbridge lyricist never fell. He never ceased to be celebrated as one of the most revered wordsmiths in the game, but—though he’s continued to cement his legendary status with solid efforts album after album—he hasn’t come close to matching his best works in quite some time.
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to Nas. Consequently, a deceptively lucid title for his tenth studio record is juxtaposed with the white-suited MC posing on the album cover ruminatively with ex-wife Kelis's wedding dress. Similarly, any thoughts that the album title would find Nas indulging his hedonistic side and awkwardly applying his inimitably intricate and verbose flow to lowest common denominator beats from current producers du jour are jettisoned with this solid effort.
New York rapper sounds rejuvenated on his 10th solo LP. Marcus J. Moore 2012. This is the knock against Nas: his choices of instrumentals don’t match his impeccable wordplay. If they did, the New York MC would be hip hop’s all-time greatest..