“So much to write and say, I don’t know where to start/So I begin with the basics and flow from the heart”. Nasir Jones is well and truly back. With his 10th LP, “Life Is Good” marks the return of Nas at his raw, lyrically dexterous, narrative best. As much a therapeutic outlet for the MC as it is an autobiographical tale for the audience, it depicts a sentimental yet savage wordsmith who clearly has a lot to get off of his chest.
Proceedings kick off with such grandeur as J.U.S.T.I.C.E League’s floating piano and soaring strings are matched with simple but just as hard-hitting drums; with Nas painting an introspective of his trials and tribulations en route to critical acclaim and superstardom. Similarly, the immediate tracks that follow , the Large Professor assisted “Loco-Motive” and “A Queen’s Story” act as a blend of old war stories and odes to his surroundings; with hood bravado and vivid imagery the driving force.
Momentum then shifts to a more deeper-rooted essence with one of the lead singles, the heartfelt “Daughters”. A dedication to his now not-so little girl, Nas discusses his worries for his daughter whilst questioning his own behaviour as a father. It’s this frankness that adds so much depth to the album. And so begins the alternating current to “Life Is Good”. One minute you’re screwing your face up to Nas’ rapid delivery a la “Illmatic” on tracks like “Nasty”, “Back When” and the anthemic “The Don”; the next tracks like “Stay”, “You Wouldn’t Understand” and “World’s An Addiction” force you to kick back and really appreciate the story behind the words.
With her wedding dress draped over his knee on the artwork, “Bye Baby” is the track that addresses his time with his now ex-wife, Kelis. Undoubtedly somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster; one minute Nas’ is singing his former flame’s praises before switching and venting his anger towards her.
My personal favourites find Nas accompanied by two of the finest female vocalists. “Reach Out” combines the host with Mary J. Blige on some throwback, smooth 90’s ish as the harsh drums and piano loops serve as the perfect canvas for Blige’s powerful harmonies. The highlight however has to be “Cherry Wine”, the collaboration with the late Amy Winehouse. Sharing the same birthday, perhaps they’re kindred spirits but the two fuse together over Salaam Remi’s jazz-laced production to create a pure masterpiece. Words would struggle to do it justice; it needs to be heard to be fully appreciated.
Such is the strength of the LP that with No I.D’s epic church organ, tinkling ivories, high-hat hammering mash-up “Accident Murderers”, even Rick Ross’ please-ignore-the-fact-I-used-to-be-a-prison-officer-as-I’m-now-slingin’-kilos-of-coke-and-letting-off-shots-like-John-Wayne drawl becomes palatable. Pretty impressive.
In all honesty, I’ve got very little beef with “Life Is Good”. The only track that raises an eyebrow is the Miguel and Swizz Beatz assisted “Summer On Smash”. Now don’t get me wrong; few do the glorified, materialistic anthem better than Mr. Alicia Keys but in an album that oozes the nostalgic Nas sound and substance, it stands out like a sore thumb. Similarly, whilst we’re on the throwback hype, where the hell is the DJ Premier link-up? Premo and Nas re-united would definitely be the icing on the cake.
With the exception of “Distant Relatives” (the Damian Marley collabo), I’ve not really felt the last few LP’s from Mr. Jones. They’ve all seemed to lack a certain ‘je nais ce quoi’ that was interwoven in his best material. Thankfully, Nas’ latest venture finds him re-united with this missing ‘element’ and creates such a well-rounded offering that personally, I think “Life Is Good” should be held in the same regards as dare I say “Stillmatic”; possibly even with an eye towards his ultimate classics. The more I listen to the album in its entirety, the more I wonder whether it also serves a higher purpose. Perhaps it’s his maturity shining through but the way in which Nas chronicles his rise from street corner hustler to supreme wordsmith, via fatherhood and marital misgivings; it’s almost as if he’s summarising his career. Whilst there’s been no bold declaration of “retirement” (however brief) like his one-time verbal sparring partner, Nas sounds just as relaxed, composed and content as Jay Z did on his supposed fanfare, “The Black Album”.
Either way, the bottom line is that this shit bangs. Hard. It’s rare to find an artist that nearly 20 years and 10 albums down the line, can create a body of work that sounds and carries the same impact that his debut offering did. Nas is unquestionably one of the finest to ever grace the microphone and I shouldn’t even have to contemplate suggesting that you might want to take a listen. This is most definitely an essential addition to any music collection so you know the deal…
Download “Life Is Good” from here – http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/life-is-good/id540716248
Review by Mike Pattemore @beats_n_pieces