“This album is to Nas what a journal is to some people.”
Since Nas released his ninth studio album Untitled four years ago, he embarked on a quiet musical vacation that may appear like he had fallen off, or been swept away by the ever-changing times in music; until the year 2012. And after much anticipation, The Don (as he calls himself) released Life Is Good halfway through July, and indeed it is for the Queens rapper.
Welcoming the listener with the classical “No Introduction”, produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E League; sampling Kirk Franklin, Nas bears his soul, and sounds like a man who has lost everything and gained peace of mind by confronting his own pain. Following it up with “Loco-Motives” and “Queens Story”, loyal fans and old school rap purists will relate to the two songs’ boom-bap feel, as he takes it back to the 90′s rap era on grimy beats that are reminiscent of a chipped-tooth Nas rapping on projects’ stairways.
As we all know that storytelling is one of his fortes, he lives up to that perception from start to finish on the album, while reflecting on New York’s fast-paced hood life. For lack of a better description, he became one with the beats. Even as the fourth song, “Accident Murderers” kicks in, it feels like an episode from the same series and he doesn’t drop the ball with the narration. However, Rick Ross as a guest on the track is quite a mismatch. He doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard from him before.
To quote a song called “Trust”, produced by Boi-1Da for the iTunes bonus, Nas says “The artist that truly suffers, his stuff is the best, ‘cause his heart bleed on his sleeve.” I echo this sentiment because songs like “Daughters”, “Bye Baby”, “Roses”, and “Stay”, have him being as personal and sincere as never before. You get to hear his vulnerability, his fears, including a side of him that ends all media speculation about his marriage, finances and role as a father. This album is to Nas what a journal is to some people. It is musical therapy that uses sincerity as a remedy for an artist who’s been known to distance his private life from the media, wrapped up in an amazing delivery.
The difficulty in rating this album a classic is sparked by one collaboration. Swizz Beats is a talented producer and as a fan of his work, the beat he made for “Summer On Smash” has to be the weakest link on the album, plus Miguel as his guest makes it worse with his attempt to rap. The song is plain, and apart from the owner’s verses there’s nothing to it. In fact, one of the deluxe cuts like “Nasty”, or “The Black Bond” should’ve replaced it because it doesn’t live up to the rest of the album’s standard of production.
No I.D, Salaam Remi, Buck Wild, Al Shux, Da Internz, 40, and the late Heavy D all brought their best to the project. Even Anthony Hamilton on “World’s An Addiction”, Mary J Blige on “Reach Out”, and the late Amy Winehouse on “Cherry Wine” are very much on point as guest vocalists. A special mention goes to a lady called Victoria Monet. Apart from her amazing delivery on “You Wouldn’t Understand”, nothing is known about her despite featuring on what sounds to me like a potential hit single. I don’t think I’ve ever heard Nas spit as viciously and flow as diverse with sick wordplay as he does on Life Is Good, and the best beat on the album happens to be the one he raps the best on. “Where’s The Love” featuring Cocaine 80′s, is a crazy song that has Nas doing what Neo did in the first Matrix – when he went inside that agent and ripped him to pieces. It’s like he’s spitefully dope; like he’s outshining other rappers on purpose. And I ain’t even mad.
In essence, Life Is Good is a beautifully produced and sincerely written account of his personal experiences expressed in 19 songs. A solid album, this will be remembered as one of his best works; a Hip Hop collector’s item to say the least.
And so, I raise my glass to the man who saved 2012 Hip Hop from the colourful fuckery… *let’s all say it together now* Life Is Good!
Writer: Lerato Finiza (@LeratoFiniza)