21 years in the game, there isn’t an intro paragraph that will even speak to the enormity of this album nor this review. Nas fans and stans are some of the most vocal cats in the genre and most supportive. For all the talk of the lackluster Nas projects, of his 9 previous solo albums he has 8 platinum albums and 1 gold. It’s been 4 years since his last album and even that last one was a cowlick in the musical wave pattern of Hip-Hop at the time. We all know the many trials of Nas’ life since we last heard from him and they say that tragedy and pain make the best music. So let’s just get to the music.
1. No Introduction
Produced by Justice League
I love the drama of the Justice League track here. Most albums start off with an intro that serves as a very loose and quick table setter for the album. Far too often though, those moments tend to be more like the first skip on an album. Here Nas takes the time to basically say this far in the game, we’re beyond introductions. I’ll let you know where I’ve been, what I’ve been through, and what I plan on doing. It’s declarative moment not just for the album but for someone who’s been criticized, even by myself, for not being consistent or maximizing his potential.
Featuring Large Professor; Produced by No I.D.
Nas ends this song saying “This is for my trapped in the 90’s niggas” and he wasn’t lying. No I.D. gives you motivation to break your neck over a relentless tempo and drum hit while Nas gives us more storytelling addressing his motivation for what he does and his life. I think the song has a few meanings but the one that resonates the most is that like a train, he doesn’t stop. No matter where life takes him and how life makes victims of those he sees, he fights through to continue doing what he loves and what pays the bills.
3. A Queens Story
Produced by Salaam Remi
Salaam reaches back and grabs some classic Hip-Hop drums and some orchestra sounding strings to lay the foundation for this Queensbridge anthem. Hell, even I want to claim QB after this song (I won’t). One of the things folks like the most about Nas is his ability to paint pictures with his words. Nas uses that penchant for gritty lyricism to give this track the energy and urgency that marches you along on a brisk four and a half minute song about the streets of Queens.
4. Accident Murderers
Featuring Rick Ross; Produced by No I.D.
Seemingly picking up where his last song left off lyrically, Nas once again uses his skills for social commentary and not just flossing, as he addresses the violence of the streets and fake gangstas…however I can’t help be think that he’s talking to the studios too. I saw this mentioned somewhere and it’s a pretty good point, about how ironic it is that he has Ross featured on a song when he has similarly taken criticism for the same thing. Even still Ross provides some heat and gives us one more morsel to chew on as we wait for his next album. The production is flawless and this was an early favorite on the album. It’s a definite repeat when played for me.
Produced by No I.D.
By now we’re all familiar with this song and initially, I thought it was a good song. As I’ve had time to listen, my appreciation has grown. We all know the story and conceivably the song too so there isn’t much more to say here to add to this review, but I think it’s great that Hip-Hop is talking directly to issues that affect the community again. Everything doesn’t have to be about cars, clothes and hoes. It’s okay to talk about family, for that alone, we should applaud Nas.
6. Reach Out
Featuring Mary J. Blige; Produced by Salaam Remi, Rodney Jerkins, DJ Hot Day & Nas
When you need a hook, few are better than Mary J. She’s already used this beat too so it seems really natural. Probably one of the most commercial/radio ready songs on the album, which does feature a lot of radio friendly tracks. While the track is familiar, it’s the lyrics that really are the star on this one. Check Nas out.
3:45 am can’t sleep, can’t dream
I’m stuck, money problems pop up
How will I survive, guess it’s best to decide not to decide
So that’s my decision
Whatever happens happens
I keep makin’ my millions
Can see myself in presidential campaign dinners
But I’m gassin’ blunts around a bunch of gang members
When you’re too hood to be in them Hollywood circles
And you’re too rich to be in that hood that birthed you
And you become better than legends you thought were the greatest
And out grow women you love and thought you could stay with
Life become clearer when you wipe down your mirror
And leave notes around for yourself to remember
I like to teach and build
With brothers about how easy it is to reach a mill
All you need is some skill, then it’s grind time
Imagination better than knowledge, say’s Einstein
It’s all in the mind
7. World’s An Addiction
Featuring Anthony Hamilton; Produced by Salaam Remi
Song 7 strikes again. I’m not a huge Nas follower but I absolutely love this song. I’m not sure how you could keep a song like this so dope for so long (5 mins). The track and Anthony Hamilton are just as masterful as the lyrics. Nas is really on top of his game and at his age, few could even get close. I’d like to put all the lyrics here because any verse will do, but the 3rd is especially dope.
So many vices, habits
Mine of course, bad chicks
My response to any advice on what is the essentials of life
I’m just rebellious, not selfish
Guess we all share different definitions of what wealth is
I need the best things in life, that’s women, that’s cars
Cigars in Venice, bottle on ice, that’s priceless
The other night, just in the emergency room
A patient said she needs to see a doctor soon
Doctor busy operating on a lady who’s sedated
He can barely concentrate cause he’s newly separated
His estranged wife likes entertaining her acquaintance
In the house they were married in, mad people waiting
Some young some old, heads and stomachs aching
Filling out an application cause they all need medication
But the doctor need love or a quick vacation
Calling up his travel agent
Same time, premeditating murdering his ex wife
Life, savage ain’t it
Some need Xanax just to maintain it
We all need faith cause the world keep changing
Let go of the illusion, start some restraining
8. Summer On Smash
Featuring Miguel & Swizz Beatz; Produced by Swizz Beatz
I’d be lying if I said this song was up to the quality of the rest of this album, that’s not to say that this song is bad. You already know what steez Swizzy is on so you can predict the beat, but if you haven’t heard this song in the ride and you’re not feeling it musically, try again. It’s a banger in the ride and that’s the point. Nas spits about lavish summer partying and having a good time, no need to overthink this, it isn’t Untitled. It’s definitely growing on me even as I type this review.
9. You Wouldn’t Understand
Featuring Victoria Monet; Produced by Buckwild
I spoke out when it seemed like Lupe Fiasco just ripped a beat and rapped on it to get a hit, I won’t be a total hypocrite here either. Nas takes “Let’s Start Love Over Again” by Miles Jay and lays some bars down. I’ll even admit that I find it different because this wasn’t a Hip-Hop classic that he used. After saying all that, I never said that Lupe’s song was bad for doing so, and this one certainly isn’t either. As a matter of fact, older cats like myself may even find this particular sample by Buckwild endearing and more acceptable to our age as it blends the old soul music with Hip Hop, it’s the best of both worlds. Lyrically, as the title suggests I don’t understand that lifestyle. He speaks about where he’s from and some more extravagant spending and shopping that I’m not privy to. It’s simply not important that I understand, because it sure sounds good.
10. Back When
Produced by No I.D.
I’m a sucker for soulful music and MC Lyte’s voice so nevermind putting this song on repeat as well. Up to this point, Nas has been very vocal about his beginnings. This time around, he goes a step further and talks specifically about his past as it relates to Hip Hop. It’s not the “story of Nas” or anything of the sort, but a look back on how the culture shaped his career and how he looks at the culture that pays his bills now. He takes a few random shots at nameless folks and speaks fondly of that have passed on. The No I.D. production is dope as hell and the entire song just feels good and classic. Great nostalgia to this entire song.
11. The Don
Produced by Salaam Remi, Heavy D & Da Internz
Man, look here…if someone has any issues with this song they’re full of shit. I’ll keep this one short because there is no need to do more. This song is a banger, classic, neck-breaker, best song on the album, song of the year type shit. Rest in peace Hev, cause lawd knows y’all rockin’ to this beat in heaven. Producers need to be shamed letting this man out-produce you from the grave.
Produced by No I.D.
This is another song right in my wheelhouse. Soulful horns and harmonies backed by a sweet bassline make this one another favorite. Switching back to introspective mode, Nas keeps it all the way real as he raps about relationships. Specifically in this song, he spits a cautionary tale followed by a story of someone that we all can name. You know, that one person in your life that you can’t STAND dealing with…but you continue too because no matter how tough things get, you can’t imagine the joy without the balance of pain that person brings. Initially I thought it was about Jay but I don’t see it. There are other lyrics in the song that makes me think he’s either speaking generally or about someone NOT Jay. Nonetheless, the song is dope.
13. Cherry Wine
Featuring Amy Winehouse; Produced by Salaam Remi
Even I can’t front on this song. By this point, if you’ve been rockin’ with the Fro, you know that I’m not a fan of Amy Winehouse and not too big on Nas either, but this song proves to be the exception. I love the production and combination of the two here. It’s kinda chilling if you think about how Amy is singing the hook asking “where is he” and Nas is rapping about the same thing as if she’s the ghost he’s singing too. However, even if you don’t wanna put all that on it, it’s simply a song of Nas rapping about his dream girl and it’s done well.
14. Bye Baby
Produced by Salaam Remi & 40
I don’t think it’s possible to go wrong with a Guy sample. This may be the most personal song as it relates to his failed marriage. This song is also the moment that I officially got excited about the album. I’d heard a few other songs but when I heard this one, I was really looking forward to the album. I haven’t been disappointed yet.
Produced by Salaam Remi
Hey trapped in the 90’s niggas, this one’s for you too. Quite honestly, if you like the culture, this shit is for you. It’s made really simple here, a emcee and a mic. Nas shreds a throwback feeling track complete with scratching and dope breaks. Back on his Illmatic shit, Nas goes in and dismantles those that try to oppose him. The man is still rapping like he’s 17! (I only reviewed this one because I think it’s the best of the bonus tracks).
So here we are, the album is done and everyone who read this (or skipped right to this part) wants to know what will I score it. At the end of this album, I’m certain of a few things. First, I can no longer deny Nas’ skill. While I still think there are albums that I don’t think are as good as the masses do, while preparing for this review I’m pretty sure that my doubt about him falls mostly on production, not lyrics. Secondly, I haven’t been this excited about an album after hearing it since, hell I don’t remember. I’ve come across Charity Starts At Home and Untitled both of which I commented that I would have given 5 stars too (I still stand by the 5 star for Untitled) …and this is better than both of those. So that leads me to this, nappyafro’s first 5 star album. My homie ribbed me for giving Relapse such a high score (I still stand by that one) asked me if I thought this album would change the face of music like The Blueprint, ATLiens, The Score, OB4CL, Ready To Die, Illmatic, Doggystyle, etc. My response is that I don’t think a classic has to magically change music, but it should be definitive of some sort of quality or beacon in what is a fog of like sounding music. Ready to Die redefined how music was selected for an album blending sounds, eras and ideas into one beautiful project. The Blueprint proved that commercial doesn’t have to be wack and that one man can move a culture with his words. ATLiens proved that there are alternatives to the norm and that those alternatives don’t have to be watered down or sacrifice quality. Now with Life Is Good Nas has done something that those before him haven’t done, and that’s delivered an album with this quality 21 years later. He constructed an album that manages to be open and honest, heartfelt but no parts soft. He constructed an album that people that love Hip Hop have been clamoring for. He constructed an album that has one, maybe two less than amazing moments, but the rest of the album shines so brightly that those instances are forgivable and non important. Nas constructed a classic album that may not change the face of music, but will definitely redefine how good someone can be…how good someone should be this late in their career and not rest on the legend title, but strive to prove it.
Now where do I mail this Album of the Year vote, I think it’s over.