Album Review: Nas ‘Life is Good’
Nas is generally agreed to be one of the greatest rappers of all time, but he hasn’t always seen the kind of success that his accolades should warrant, especially not in the latter half of his career. He has always been somewhere near the top of most people’s lists of favorite wordsmiths, but never has he commanded the culture, nor has he really been able to reach a very diverse audience. He’s probably not going to appeal to many who aren’t already deeply interested in rap and street culture with Life Is Good, either, but this could be his best effort since 1994.
This record feels like the product of a forgotten era, when rap music was most often a kind of catharsis or an airing of grievances, and even though there was still a lot of posturing, it was less about swag and more a matter of proving oneself as an ambassador to a harsh reality. For all of the negativity that sort of subject matter can bring up– drugs, murder, racism, etc– the message would still tend to be a positive one. For most of us it’s meant to be a wakeup call or a public service announcement on the prolific injustice of life for lower income families, while for those living in a similar reality it can stand as a beacon of hope.
Which is really where today’s insubstantial hiphop culture comes from. At some point “You can make a better life for yourself” became “Look how great my fucking life is, loser”, but not for Nas. There is a little of that, but for the most part this is a record to be taken pretty seriously.
The opening track, ‘No Introduction’, goes for a large and epic feeling, as Nas gives a selected life’s history. It’s the kind of grandiosity that is very much expected to open an album by a big-name hiphop artist, and from that point onward the mood of the album is quite dark, with few exceptions.
It’s not just violence and anger, though. This feels like a deeply personal album for Nas, and a part of what makes it clearly superior to his last few releases is that he is looking in on himself and things that are very close to him, rather than speaking broadly as a philosopher about the world as a whole. He ends the album with ‘Bye Baby’, a completely open song about his failed marriage to Kelis.
As refreshing as the record is for its content, it is not only slightly dated in the approach Nas takes to songwriting, but in its sound as well. Even though it’s kind of nice to hear a rap album in 2012 that doesn’t rely on dubstep for all of its punch, it’s a little disappointing that Life Is Good offers so few new ideas. I may be splitting hairs though, because the oldschool sound has its place, and on ‘Loco-Motive’ Nas openly pines for his golden era of rap music, ending it by saying, “This is for my trapped in the 90s niggas.”
Life Is Good may seem at first to be a mildly sarcastic title, because it’s a record full of pain and struggle, but I’d sooner think that Nas is taking a zen-like perspective on the state of his life. Even though things have been difficult, he’s okay with it, and maybe he needed a bit of a shake to record another album as good as this one.
Release Date: July 17, 2012
Image Courtesy of Def Jam