Everything leading up to the release of Life Is Good including the unveiling of the cover had this writer doubting the possibility that I would be satisfied with the finished product. Nas is an immensely talented MC whose career has been plagued by inconsistency and, to me, a “no, but who are you really” problem. Nas has gone from skullies to mob-style fedoras to mink hats to kufis and we have been asked to accept each incarnation as him simply being complex. This album is a pleasant surprise to me and I’ll tell you why, track for track.
- No Introduction – Perfect introduction to what you’re about to get into.
- Loco-motive – First, let me say that this song is a complete waste of the presence of Large Professor, a point I’ve been harping on for some time. Large Pro is a legendary producer and also a rapper with an album dropping soon, but here his contribution is limited to simply talking between verses, almost acting as a hype-man to Nas. Large Pro is bigger than that and I would have appreciated him on the boards as opposed to this meager contribution. Nevertheless, the track works and that beef doesn’t eclipse how dope the actual song is. Nas says “For my trapped-in-the-90’s niggas” at the end of the song, which is a nod to those of us who remember when skills were recognized in hip-hop over glamour, even in the mainstream.
- A Queens Story – To me, this track is easily one of the highlights of the album and brings back the fire and grit of classic Nas material. This is a modern “Memory Lane” where Nas reminisces in abstract fashion on various happenings in Queensbridge history. The song is basically perfect and what I wanted to hear from Nas at this point in his career.
- Accident Murderers -Rick Ross and Nas make a good pair. When Ross is faced with a collaborator who presents a challenge and not his MMG cronies, he manages to produce some gems, though some will never give him his just due for whatever reason. It’s also refreshing to hear Ross on something other than what we’ve come to know as “a Ross beat” in recent years. Hopefully, God Forgives, I Don’t brings a little of this energy back home.
- Daughters – This song addresses Nas’ relationship with his teenage daughter and a very public incident in which his daughter posted some inappropriate photos on Twitter and Instagram.
- Reach Out – OK, this is just horrible. Mary J. Blige totally screws this one up with iffy vocals, making it hard to even get into Nas’ flow, as the dated R&B hook makes the song unlistenable. Straight to the recycle bin.
- World’s An Addiction -This one’s a very atmospheric track made ten times stronger thanks to the vocals of Anthony Hamilton. This is “conscious Nas” at its finest.
- Summer On Smash – This track I had to Magic Johnson no-look-pass into the recycle bin with the speed of Hermes. Somehow, rappers continue to allow Swizz Beatz to slither into the recording booth and add his ad-libs where they’re not needed. The addition of Miguel puts the nail in the coffin for me, showing that Nas went into the studio with the intention of making something that would get radio spins. The result comes off as tired. Once Miguel started speaking in Spanish, I had to go ahead and tomahawk dunk this one into the recycle bin with great urgency.
- You Wouldn’t Understand – This joint grew on me the more I listened to it, although I usually am skeptical of R&B hooks. The singer, an unknown to me named Victoria Monet, has an interesting enough voice to pull it off.
- Back When – Dope.
- The Don – The late great Heavy D contributed to this track’s production. Unfortunately, the first thing I thought when I heard this was that it comes off like a clone of the Cam’ron & Vado banger “Speaking In Tungz”. While it isn’t bad, it just sounds dated, which seems to be the common thread of the weaker songs on the album.
- Stay – This is a masterpiece. While rhyming about everything from groupie chicks to haters and enemies, Nas floats over a jazzy arrangement effortlessly.
- Cherry Wine – The late Amy Winehouse delivers compelling vocals on this track, making for a pairing that is better than I had expected. Very enjoyable.
- Bye Baby – This is what I call TMZ-Rap. On this track, Nas gives the play-by-play of his relationship with Kelis, which officially ended in divorce in May 2010. It’s one thing to do a “Song Cry” and pour one’s heart out about past relationships in an artistic fashion and another thing entirely to simply air one’s dirty laundry (appropriate, considering Nas’ album cover choice) to an audience that already knows what happened. As a fan, I was looking for Nas to move on to the next phase of his career, not to backtrack and show people he’s still looking for the attentions of his ex-wife. I’ve yet to hear any music from Kelis discussing this situation so explicitly. Either way, once you drill down past the politics of it, of course Nas is on point artistically and his flow is ill, so overall it’s not enough to ruin the album.
In closing, Nas has given us a good album. The airing out of old dirty laundry and the obvious reaches for radio relevance are fumbles that keep the project from being stellar, but it’s clear here that Nas is really taking a serious approach to enlisting better, more consistent production help. The executive production team of Nas himself, Salaam Remi, and No I.D. gives the album a cohesion that’s missing from previous efforts. One major fumble here was the features. I would have loved to see an AZ appearance somewhere and it would have been a serious nod to the fans who have been around since Illmatic and have been fiending for them to work together again. Instead, we get an abysmal Mary J. Blige feature and complete trash from Miguel and Swizz Beats. All in all, this is a rare LP in this day and age. Well done and worth a purchase.
Check out this website called Rap Genius, where Nas breaks down some of the lyrics on the album.
Stay x Nas
A Queens Story x Nas