Nas – Life Is Good
For those who remember, or have come to appreciate, how hip hop used to be, Nas has always been somewhat of a beacon in the mainstream. His incomparable skill in piecing together a narrative, based predominantly on his rocky childhood in Queensbridge, New York, (coupled with DJ Premier’s legendary beats of course) was partly what made his 1994 debut Illmatic so ridiculously acclaimed. The famous refrain of “life’s a bitch and then you die” may be immortalised on that record, but as this LP’s title suggests, the east coast rapper is following a very different line of thought here.
It is to be expected. Nas is “old” and rich without suffering the interfering realms of success of former rival (and now technically his “boss” at Def Jam) Jay-Z, and so perhaps of course he’s lost his bite to some degree. Oddly enough though, Life is Good is, in spite of its seemingly dull perspective, a success. Age has softened his mind, but not his ability – his flow is as thoroughly impressive as ever, his rhyming schemes varied and his storytelling still second to none (See ‘A Queen’s Story’). The introspective ‘Daughters’, accompanied by a well-judged video, is the finest single he’s released since ‘One Mic’ all of ten years ago. Every element is just impeccably precise, with his introspective rhymes cutting beautifully over the nostalgic harmonies.
Sure, Nas still flirts with braggadocio, but not in the same disconnected, breathless manner that say, Lil Wayne does. There is a real soulful edge to a number of the beats here, with Mary J. Blige and Amy Winehouse (RIP) making appearances, and piano and strings grabbing attention at more than a few points. ‘Cherry Wine’, the Winehouse duet, is particularly notable, as the jazzy beat and her stunning vocals establish the fairytale mood that Nas’ success-fuelled rhymes demand.
It is doubtful that the self proclaimed ‘Don’ will ever again release something of a pace-setting calibre, but this is arguably the closest thing to a filler-free album we’ve heard from Nas since his debut. Okay, ‘Summer On Smash’ is a misstep – it’s just crap and hungry to chart – but the majority of the tracks here confirm the title’s assertion that Nas is in a good place to make good records. He sounds comfortable but not lazy; contemplative but not detached from what’s going on. Nas is good (still).