Review: Nas – Life is Good
Published on August 15th, 2012 | Jonny Abrams
So life may no longer be a bitch for Nas, but he’s still got plenty of bees in his bonnet. For once, though, the critics do not: there has long been a rule against liking pretty much any of Nas’s post-Illmatic output, barring maybe God’s Son, but in general Life is Good has been warmly received. It doesn’t feel right to say it, but it seems as if his “brutally public split” with Kelis has coaxed a degree of soulfulness out of him that had perhaps got lost in amongst all the “Flat screens and condominiums / Brazilian women on Xannies they pulling off panties” detailed on opener “No Introduction”.
Coming straight in on a stately arrangement of piano and strings, “No Introduction” builds into something quite grandiose as Nas treads a thin line between introspection and flat-out bragging with lines like “I’m pushing 40, she only 21 / Don’t applaud me, I’m exhausted, G”, as well as throwing in a curiously isolated political call-to-arms with “Really what’s in my mind is organizing a billion black motherfuckers / To take over JP and Morgan, Goldman and Sachs / And teach the world facts and give Saudi they oil back”.
From then on in it’s almost all about himself, and why not? Write about what you know, they say, and it seems as if Nas has gotten to know himself rather well over the years, chastising himself for his unfaithfulness as a husband, expressing love more so than bitterness. Heck, he even dedicates the Large Professor-featuring “Loco-Motive” to “my trapped-in-the-’90s niggas” with what sounds like a certain degree of fondness.
A spectacular-in-both-senses-of-the-word string arrangement dances and weaves around Nas’s still-breathless flow on “A Queens Story”, before a double-whammy of issue-confronting comes in the form of “Accident Murderers” (featuring Rick Ross) and “Daughters”, the former seemingly inspired by the shooting of a friend, the latter casting aspersions on his own, non-strict parenting style in the wake of his teenage daughter posting suggestive pictures on Twitter.
Nas may be a mess of contradictions, but whether by design or not he has managed to capture that to perfection with one of the album’s key hammer-blow lines: “They say the coolest playas and foulest heartbreakers in the world / God gets us back, He makes us have precious little girls”. Awww. (Sort of.)
There is no dramatic dip in quality from here on in – “Reach Out” nails the “Too hood to be in them Hollywood circles / And too rich to be in that hood” conundrum that recurs throughout, features the tightest of tight rhymes and a sublime cameo from Mary J. Blige in doing so, while even the lyrically disposable “Summer on Smash” is strangely compelling – oh, and “You Wouldn’t Understand” boasts the kind of sun-drenched, plastic string groove that bring to mind a lost Tupac classic – but it’s not until the final two tracks that Nas truly matches his finest moments.
The Amy Winehouse-featuring “Cherry Wine” would still be affecting even without the tragic context: it’s so warm, twinkly and hazy, like the warmth of the sun on the back of your neck. Winehouse sounds wonderful, Nas’s words about wanting a girl who could be “out of the hood or work for the president” as long as she’s real and not just seeking material gains…well, it all adds up to an instant classic, status that can also be conferred upon closer “Bye Baby”, a dazzling, technicolour production that fondly recalls his relationship with Kelis with lines like “You screaming at the racist cops in Miami was probably the highlight of my life“.
Nas’s relentless earnestness across Life is Good might weary you a little, but it plays host to too many strong tracks not to give it…
Rocksucker says: Four Quails out of Five!
Life is Good is out now on Mercury. For more information please visit nasirjones.com