Nowadays it seems that rappers are multiplying like gremlins. Some are good, some are awful, and some I can’t even consider as an artist. As a music listener, I have tried to evolve and keep an open mind to all aspiring talents; however, I always seem to gravitate to the emcee’s that I’m used to. It has been almost 20 years since I first started listening to hip-hop, and I’m still in search of the PERFECT album. Nasir Jones is perhaps the only emcee who has come close to accomplishing that feat as his debut album, Illmatic is arguably the best album ever released. Nas has seen his ups and downs as an emcee, but none are as important as the 1994 release of his debut. After releasing his tenth solo album this week entitled Life Is Good, Nas has once again poured his personal life into his music and created a gem. However, just as we always do, we have to dissect the body of work in order to truly appreciate if life is in fact good or not.
The production on this album is very traditional and expected from a legendary emcee like Nas. The album cuts have a similar sound all the way through, which give it a great feel from start to finish. They’re all very emotional, very passionate and give Nas a beautiful blank canvas to create masterpieces. Some uptempo songs, and some not so much, at times you get a feeling of familiarity, but in no way is that a bad thing. Horns, piano keys, symbols, snares, melodies and samples give the album a wonderful sound. It’s as if each beat gives off that classic vibe giving the listener the pleasure of enjoying the good ole ways of hearing the tracks. I hate to be one of those people that’s say, “man this is old school”, cause it’s not… But I love the nostalgia that is created in every track. Even the more “radio” friendly sounds… Still have infectious 808’s and loops that make you want to blow out your speakers or simply vibe out while having a lazy day around the house. I do feel that a few of the beats are a bit to similar, but that’s just me. I would have much rather heard No I.D. or even DJ Premier do the entire album instead of having so many big names producers. Again these are just small irritation that I had… I can’t love everything about it right?
Whenever an artist can visually paint a picture using only words, the listener knows there’s a true lyricist on the mic. Nas is perhaps the epitome of a real emcee, he is a lyrical genius and has been since his introduction. This album is no different, it is probably his most personal and touching display of his life’s hardships. Dealing with a much publicized divorce, losing money, his battle between fatherhood and stardom and everything else in between. Esco gives us profound lines such as, “A soldier coming home 20 years old and no legs/Saying there’s no sense to cry and complain, just go ahead/So much to write and say, yo, I don’t know where to start/So I’ll begin with the basics and flow from the heart.” Examples like this, demonstrate how Nasir puts his personal touch into every track. Nas deals with perseverance, something that he knows a lot about as he has endured the New York Hip-Hop scene for years. Another great display of Nasir’s lyrical prowess is when he spits, “Years ago they ate the hearts of a slain enemy/We enemies but your hatred could never enter me/Some seek fame cause they need validation/Some say hating is confused admiration.” Arguably one of the best verses on the album, Nas deals with haters and his desire for them to keep their distance. One of my favorite lines, might be a simple one, but it sheds light on how he views himself after many years in the game, “When you’re too hood to be in them Hollywood circles/And you’re too rich to be in the hood that birthed you.” It comes as no surprise that this category is Nas’ best, he is the true definition of a wordsmith.
The album consist of 18 tracks (including the bonus cuts) and with only 7 features, the listener gets plenty of Nas’ magical verses. The amount of radio friendly tunes compared to “true” hip-hop songs balance out well. Mary J Blige and the late great Amy Winehouse give the project a much needed R&B feel with songs like “Reach Out” and “Cherry Wine.” However, the Anthony Hamilton assisted “World’s An Addiction” shines much brighter, as it gives off a very somber feeling but it is infectious at the same time. Miguel and Swizz Beatz provide the album with a much needed hit with “Summer On Smash,” as explained in the title the song is a major success. Large Professor and Rick Ross each contribute well in their respected songs, but “Loco-Motive” just comes out sounding much better. My top three favorite songs would have to be “Bye Baby,” which is a dedication to Kelis,“Daughters,” which deals with the struggles brought on by being a Hip-Hop father and “You Wouldn’t Understand” that features a great hook from Victoria Monet. I have to say that the songs “Nasty” and “The Don” are way to similar in sound, and “Roses” or “Where’s the Love” should have made the final cut list. The problem with that is, having to remove one of the previously mentioned tracks. I want to pick at something else, but honestly I can’t due to the fact that the album is simply stacked with great songs.
It’s hard for me to find a negative aspect about this album; it has a normal track list with 14 songs and 2 or 3 amazing bonus offerings, (depending on your liking), and the album is full of tremendous sounds and lyrics. After 10 albums, it’s hard to believe that Nas can keep up and stay relevant for this long. It’s great to hear an album that isn’t filled with idiotic dance music and dumb downed pop rap. Nas has helped define the golden era of Hip-Hop, he might even be considered for the Mount Rushmore of the genre and this just adds to his statistics. Life is Good is a great way for new listeners and fans to be introduced to the legendary emcee. He balances out all sounds and content, I have no problem saying that this is by far one of the best albums this year. I could have perhaps done without one or two of the R&B assisted songs for something more ground breaking and a high profiled collaboration. Regardless of what I wish I could have gotten from this album, there’s no denying the greatness of this project. Life is truly good for Nas, let’s just hope he keeps treating us with gems such as these… so that our lives can be equally as good.
Review by Edgar Gomez for Defsounds.com