My life is feeling good after listening to Nas’s 10th studio album released this past Tuesday. Entitled “Life Is Good”, Nas’s new album takes the listener through the present, the past and future, rhyming with the hunger of a young rapper right off the block despite his now two decades in the rap game. After only a couple days of listening to the album, I think it’s already safe to say that this is the best thing I’ve heard from Nas in over a decade.
Nothing will ever come close, in my opinion, to Nas’s first album “Illmatic”, a Hip-Hop classic both in its beats and production but also in Nas’s lyrical ability to tell urban, street tales in a way that no had before or since. But since 1994, in order to gain more mainstream appeal, Nas, like many rappers, has had to learn how to make music that straddles both street and underground appeal (which “Illmatic” certainly had) while still having a clean sounding mainstream radio appeal. With “Life Is Good” Nas has managed to accomplish both; an album that stays in the tradition of good old beats and rhymes but with a modern sound that should satisfy both old-school Hip-Hop and underground heads as well as mainstream radio listeners at once.
Nas’s 15-tracks all tell different stories but also manage to create a diverse soundscape making this album easy to listen to from start to finish as every song sounds very fresh and different. He manages to capture the raw street sound of Hip-Hop (tracks such as “Nasty”, “The Don”, “Loco-motive”); the late ‘80s early ‘90s sound of R&B and Dance (“Bye Baby”, “Reach Out” featuring Mary J Blige, “You Wouldn’t Understand” featuring Victoria Monet and a vocal sample of rap legend Rakim from 1986’s “Eric B is President”); groovy/funky/jazzy based productions (“Daughters” a beautiful tribute to his daughter and the experience of fatherhood as his daughter ages, “Stay” a Large Professor production featuring smooth Motown-esque background vocals and saxophone, “Cherry Wine” an awesome groovy collaboration with now deceased Amy Winehouse); and last but not least more mainstream, contemporary Hip-Hop sounding club-bangers (“Accident Murderers” featuring Rick Ross, “Summer on Smash” featuring Swizz Beats and Miguel).
What has often made some of Nas’s albums inconsistent has been the beats and production. On “Life is Good” however, every track is on point, different and never monotonous; Saleem Remi and No I.D. brought their A game. Nas impresses me more than ever in his ability to stay relevant in Hip-Hop. In one verse he raps “I’ve been richer longer than I’ve been broke I confess” and therefore knows the inauthenticity of rapping about 2012 street life at this point in his life. Rather he uses his past experiences growing up in poverty, and rise to fame, and experiences as an adult and icon to tell stories that only someone with all those experiences could. What is the thread that holds this whole album together? Meaningful, passionate story telling from one of the most gifted rappers of all time over some of the best Hip-Hop beats I’ve heard in a long time.