Life Is Good
6:00PM ET July 20th, 2012
Contributor: Todd Williams
A Rocky Williform Company
Nas has had one of the more frustrating careers in hip hop.
Indisputably a legend, one of the greatest rhymers to ever pick up a pen, the Queensbridge rapper has shown himself to be capable of some of the most inspired music the genre has ever seen and some of the most head-scratchingly unlistenable music an A-list emcee has ever put to wax. The unmitigated brilliance of Illmatic is countered with the mediocrity of Nastradamus, the inspired Stillmatic sits uncomfortably next to the banality of Street's Disciple. Nas has always been very hit-and-miss.
But hasn't everyone who's career has spanned two decades?
On his latest opus, Life Is Good, Nasir Jones mines his own personal turmoils--the dissolution of his marriage to pop star Kelis, the struggles of being a playboy father trying to raise a teenage daughter, etc.--for some of the most focused and inspired music of his career. Many have compared the album to Marvin Gaye's classic 1978 album Here, My Dear or Blood On the Tracks, Bob Dylan's acclaimed divorce-themed LP from 1975. Life Is Good sits comfortably alongside both of those projects, but it would do this album a disservice to not acknowledge its own identity and the unmistakable vision and voice of its creator. It's subject matter has been tread before, but Nas isn't aping his predecessors. He's telling his story his way.
On "No Introduction," the album opener, the 38 year old spits as only he can over a bombastic production, reminiscing about dark stairwells, syrup sandwiches and sugar water and acknowledging that he's made it to where he is today because of where he's from. The stellar "Loco-Motive" features rapper/superproducer Large Professor, and as could be expected, musically echoes Nas' mid-90s Illmatic-era--a fact that he mockingly acknowledges during the outré ("This for my stuck-in-the-90s n***as.")
The Rick Ross-assisted "Accident Murderers" is an album standout, with both Nas and Rozay offering inspired rhymes (over one of No I.D.'s best productions) about the violent crimes that some commit for reputation and status while not grasping the true repercussions of their actions. One of the album's most talked-about tracks, "Daughters," is Nas' ode to fatherhood--and is one of the more honest moments on this album or any other rap record that's been released in recent years. Acknowledging the difficulty in being single-and-swinging star while raising an ever-maturing girl, some will decry the song's undeniably patriarchal stance--but patriarchy is, after all, "of the father." Nas explains his conflict with the same unflinching realism and compassion he's always brought to his street tales.
"Summer On Smash," produced by Swizz Beatz, could be dismissed as the obligatory 'radio' song--and it is--but it stands well against the album, even if it does feel like a concession. "The Don" is classic Nas, a NYC-repping rave-up that reminds everyone how ferocious Escobar can spit when he's focused and given an aggressive backdrop to go nuts on. Victoria Monet's sweet vocals accentuate the 80s-inspired production of "You Wouldn't Understand," another standout an album that's full of them.
The album closer, "Bye Baby," is the most explicit reference to his failed marriage and high-profile divorce. Nas posed on the cover with Kelis' wedding dress, so its no denying that the split is the catalyst for the entire album--but the rapper doesn't allow bitterness to define the track. Instead, he offers an honest look at his hurt feelings and bittersweet memories, and closes the song admonishing those men who clowned him but don't have the nerve to marry the women that have held them down for years. Its one of the most mature responses to heartbreak that a rapper has committed to wax--in a genre that too often resorts to juvenile "F**k these hoes" sentiments when men have to deal with the wounded pride that can surface after a breakup.
Life Is Good is an always compelling--and at some points, riveting--look at a mature rapper who's lived enough to see through the haze of the lifestyle that his genre celebrates; and an introspective entry into Nas' catalog that stands alongside the best of his work. The rapper who began his career as a project teen writing about his baby daughter and blunt-rolling has become a millionaire man writing about his flaws as a father and husband while reveling in the joys of his journey.
Life is good, indeed.