Review Summary: Despite the many trials and difficulties that we must overcome on a daily basis, the rap veteran urges us to remember that “Life Is Good”.
There are not many artists out there with a collection as raw and impactful as Nas. Album titles such as God’s Son, Illmatic, and Stillmatic might come to mind. While some Hip Hop purists may want to deny this, there’s evidence to suggest that Nas never truly sold out. He’s certainly made attempts at radio appeal, but never throughout his career has he really ever gotten the respect that should go along with an artist of his talents. Nasir Jones is a name in Hip Hop music that certainly should be cemented in solid plated gold (Life Is Good is another reminder of why this needs to be done at some point). Historically, Nas has always been superb at delivering an excellent flow, but he’s always had this conversational style to his raps. It’s not so much to say that he’s preaching to you over some excellent production in his rhymes, but many have felt the powerful impact of his words throughout the many albums he has put out. Nas originally started out as an aggressive Queens native with a bombastic flow that could scare even some of the most dedicated and respected emcees (remember Ether?). While Nas has always had an intellectual collection of topics to attack in his raps, his last couple of albums have shown him evolve into a conscious rap artist more along the lines of Mos Def or Lupe Fiasco. Then again, it could just be that some of the topics in rap music have become so generic and shallow that it actually makes artists such as Nas come off as that much more versatile with their sandbox of topics. When everyone else is dishing out music faster than the latest dubstep remix of the latest radio hit it often becomes easier to see where the genuine gold is in the music industry because it comes off as that much more listenable. This is not of course to say that I don’t like dubstep; I just can’t stand the recent bandwagon of people that listen to that genre in hopes of impressing their peers.
Social stigma is one of the most horrible atrocities that can ever be attached to an individual. Because dubstep becomes important in the making of a respected listener, those who avoid this staple and listen to their own selective audible pleasures might be stapled and socially labeled as a music “hipster” or “elitist”. Whether it’s an underground rapper, an incredibly underrated band or a producer experimenting with new sounds in his electronic productions, I can almost guarantee that you might get curb stomped by the mainstream appealing sound of the time. Nas however is an artist of progression and how many of you would actually bump his latest LP while you’ve got friends in the car? The Don isn’t leaving my rotation even if some really nice chick comes by and complains about the loud music. That’s selective on my part though because I’d probably fall into conformity too and come within seconds of blasting the latest Lil Wayne tune only for my inner conscious to come out at the right moment and say “you’re better than this”. This is the moment where you say “*** the social stigma” and proceed to kicking the chick in your side seat out of the car in order to cruise around and find a woman that can appreciate your musical taste (fine ladies with alternative lifestyles such as being bisexuals might be an acceptable choice). So with that said let’s dive into what Nas has prepared for us on his 2012 LP.
Nas opens up Life Is Good with a track entitled “No Introduction”. We all know who Mr. Jones is and the piano comes in quite nicely as it eventually evolves into a nice setup for the New York native to unleash his nostalgic flow over some really nice urban style sampling. East coast rhyming is at its best on this tenacious and daring introduction to the album. (4.5/5)
Here comes the train on track two as the “Loco-motive” flow finds its way into the station. Upon hearing this track, you’ll understand why this is a standout on the album among its many gems. The song opens up with these haunting female vocals (I wonder who contributed them) and soars into this “Illmatic” style production that will immediately send any Hip Hop head back into the glory of the 1990’s. A stellar performance by Nas only seals the deal on a lyrically driven track like this. (5/5)
“A Queen’s Story” has got to be one of the most compelling and memorable tracks of Esco’s career. The passion in the soundscape of the production is clearly evident as Nas unloads the epic tale of a crack bust and a soaring BMW M3 with a rattling engine in the background. The listener should be advised that many visual images will pound at your head quickly. It may take several listens in order to truly grasp the mastery of a great story being told here. (4.5/5)
“Accident Murderer’s” is a socio-political song, but it’s message will not be distorted as a surprisingly good Rick Ross contribution only adds to the strength of this powerful ballad. Nas seems to be fully warmed up at this point on the album/ (although the order of its recording is unknown) Esco’s flow begins to break the sound barriers as his lyrical marksmanship becomes clearly apparent as he speaks….
“Violent adolescents, homicidal with weapons
Not a lot of knowledge inside of they minds, that I'm guessin'
Tell me who you impressin'?”
Nas ends this lyrical assault by allowing the listener to scramble to his feet as he or she attempts to decipher the deeper meaning of the track. People are simply killed when they become targets of nothing that was entirely their fault. It’s a concept Esco has worked with before. Does anybody remember this verse from “One Mic”?
“Bullets tear through the innocent/ Nothin is fair”
So it’s a concept Nas has worked with before. So what? While not entirely original, the production and lyrical presence nonetheless makes this an incredible listen. (5/5)
The next track becomes more personal to Esco’s own life as he addresses the sometimes impulsive and erratic behavior of his daughter and “Daughters” in general. He’s not necessarily taking on the role of a preacher here, but he is telling society to question the morals and values that they hold up for the generation that follows. Some superb production in the background with a really nice baseline sample puts some quality icing on the cake. (4/5)
I couldn’t help but compare the next track “Reach Out” with Jay-Z’s material on Reasonable Doubt. This comparison is not because of the shear nature of Hova and Esco’s historical beef but more so because of the eerily similar subject matter and sound of this particular song. Go and reference “Can’t Knock The Hustle” off the 1996 release and you’ll understand what I’m getting at. Still, they don’t make East Coast tracks like these anymore on the mainstream level. (4/5)
The “World’s An Addiction” enters new territory for Nas as the emcee drops some more conscious and thought provoking rhymes over a very soulful RnB type instrumental as there’s virtually no drums or bass on this track. Still, I can’t complain at Nas for going in on new sounds and expanding his general repertoire. Even as long as he’s been in the game, he’s not afraid to tackle more experimental ground and he makes it turn out quite well. The chilling vocal contributions of Anthony Hamilton only add to the dark and saddening feel of the track. (4.5/5)
“Summer On Smash” is just the ridiculous epitome of filler. Miguel sounds whiney on the hook and I don’t even know what Swizz Beatz is trying to do here (facepalm). I’m sorry Esco but what the hell is this doing on record? Not only is the chorus and bridge simply annoying, but it really would turn the listener off to this entire gem of an album if it was the first track they dove into. Bad choice of final cuts for the album Mr. Jones; fortunately for us all this is only a minor speed bump on an epic album. (2.5/5)
People often deal with this issue of knowing where they’re going and where they will be at certain points in their life. The track “You Wouldn’t Understand” is a pretty effective way of delivering the insecurity of not knowing what will happen next. Esco seems to be tackling a theme that many of his contemporaries and past pioneers of other genres also have struggled with. Like Kurt Cobain of Nirvana, Nas is beginning to understand the true meaning of “it’s better to burn out then to fade away”. Relax, I don’t think Mr. Jones is at the point where he’s going to give up on life or music anytime soon, but this track really shows us the maturity and wisdom that the veteran emcee has acquired over the years. This is easily one of my favorite tracks of all time. (5/5)
“Back When” is another soulful ballad complete with an epic Nas flow and a warning introduction that tells listeners to prepare for yet another aerial jump into the mind of Nasir Jones. (4/5)
Let’s be honest. If this is your first time listening to Nas, then I’d really like you to press play on this song first. “The Don” is heavy, dynamic and mellow all at the same time. It capitalizes on the Queens man’s incredible lyrical structures and shows you just how rapidly this guy can punch out the syllables. Get ready for a change of pace from the mellower points of the album as this track changes samples several times. (5/5)
Oh yes, one of those nice mind settling jazz samples. I don’t know what it is about these type of songs, but they’re just great for a summer drive and really gives you time to reflect on the realities of life to appreciate what you have. Nas continues to keep the listeners here so they can “Stay” and appreciate the majesty of another dope song. (4.5/5)
“Cherry Wine” is a posthumous collaboration with Amy Winehouse, but man is it a banger. The song clocks in at about six minutes and it is a little bit of a slow burner to start off with, but it ends with Nas doing his usual thing. This one might take a couple of listens to get into, but the sampling here is very similar to what we saw on The Lost Tapes. (4.5/5)
“Bye Baby” gets more emotionally potent, but Nas continues the mellower feel of the album that started after the conclusion of the track “The Don”. It’s within my understanding that Nas is trying to really grasp the attention of the listeners at this point in the album. The genius songwriter has so much to say, but he’s changing the rapid pace of the album here to make sure listeners are focusing on the lyricism which is highly understandable. This track is kind of sad as it points to the realities of Hollywood where Nas opens up on the insecurities of women and how so many women out there are suffering from emaciation (extreme anorexia). Nas states that if he ever finds love again, he wants the women of his life to be strong and confident in her self image to ignore what society says about what an attractive female should look like. He wants there to be a physical attraction between the two, but he says that personality is equally important. (5/5)
If you really want to break out the check book or credit card, it might be worth it for the final mix of songs, but ultimately I’ll leave this up to the Sputnik Nation.
“Nasty” is bombastic, creative and reminiscent of Esco’s earlier days (it’s a simple reminder that Nas really never lost his touch lyrically or flow wise). (4.5/5)
“The Black Bond” is more or less an average to good song. Nothing ground breaking here, but it’s still a nice song to have on rotation. (3/5)
“Roses” should have found its way on the album somehow (maybe they could have taken “Summer On Smash” off the rotation, might have been a good idea). Regardless, I like the way the samples merge together on here and Nas continues to assault the microphone in ways I never thought possible with yet another haunting piano sample to start the song. (4.5/5)
A nice 80’s Cocaine feature wraps up the deluxe edition of the album as Nas doesn’t really answer the question of “Where’s The Love” but rather keeps us guessing with the inclusion of topics that address human morality and…..a rant about FBI agents? (4/5)
Life Is Good is an excellent listen although modern rap fans might be turned off by the mix of 1990’s nostalgia and modern sampling techniques. Of course, you could always conform to the social stigma of listening to uninspired dubstep tunes. You could go out and see that there’s experimentation in that genre too. You could pay your bills and debts to friends on time this month. You could stop complaining about other people’s lives (wait these are my problems, my apologies). You could pick up this album…