Album Review: Nas – Life Is Good
Those who have closely followed Nas’ career will be familiar with the sentiment Eduardo Galleano eloquently describes in this passage from Soccer in Sun and Shadow, about Uruguayans and their national soccer team:
“Uruguay’s success at the ’24 and ’28 Olympics, and at the 1930 and 1950 World Cups, owed a large debt to governments policy of building sports fields around the country to promote physical education. Now all that remains of the state’s social calling, and of soccer, is nostalgia. Several players… have managed to inherit and renovate the old arts, but in general Uruguayan soccer is a far cry from it used to be.”
Nas’ seminal debut album Illmatic quickly vaulted him into the echelon of Hip-Hop legends. Like the Uruguayan national team, his performance since initial brilliance has been rife with mediocrity, causing fans to long for a return to the glory days. Although his lyrical prowess has only slightly wavered across a twenty year career, a lack of focus and poor production have plagued most of his studio albums since.
Thankfully, both of these issues are resolved with conviction on Life Is Good. Veteran producers No I.D. and Salaam Remi were aptly chosen to handle the bulk of the production, and they didn’t disappoint- the album features some of the best beats of Nas’ career. Prior to release, No I.D. stated that the album would be a “return to the basics,” and with a few exceptions, he and Remi achieved that goal. From the subway train effects and moody Piano sample on “Locomotive” to the cool summer-inspired chords on “Cherry Wine”, the music is equal parts throwback and new school, allowing Nas to simultaneously return to his roots and explore new territory. Buckwild and J.U.S.T.I.C.E League also chip in with a quality beat a piece on “No Introduction” and “You Wouldn’t Understand.” One blemish comes in the form of Swiss Beatz’ lone contribution, as the Bronx producer continues with his played-out formula of club-ready synths and unoriginal hooks on “Summer On Smash.”
Lyrically, Nas is at his most hungry in years. Fans hoping for the return of “Nasty” Nas are in for a treat, as “Locomotive” and “A Queens Story” offer the incredibly vibrant narratives of New York City life that made Illmatic so special. Life Is Good is not simply for fans “trapped in the 90s” though, as Nas personal growth is evident on tracks like “Daughters,” a rare Hip-Hop account of the struggles of fatherhood. “Bye Baby,” the song that directly addresses his divorce with R & B singer Kelis, catches Nas reminiscing on the best moments of their relationship, rather than the heavily publicized aftermath.
Life Is Good is a welcome return to form for the Queensbridge Emcee, adding some much needed depth to his contention as the greatest rapper of all time.
Album Rating: 9/10