Review Summary: A notable continuation of a late career resurgence
Contrary to popular critical assessment, Life Is Good
is in no way some triumphant return to form for Nas; it is merely a continuation of his latter career success story in a consistent sequence of solid records. To his dedicated acolytes it's no secret the time frame between genre classic Illmatic
and the turn of the millennium was not good to Nas, either in terms of quality or record sales. 2001's Stillmatic
was not only retaliation to Jay-Z's classic "Takeover" observational diss on this drop-off, but also succeeded in resuscitating his dying career. While not necessarily redefining or essential listening (except probably The Lost Tapes
), each following album has followed this model of using simple beats as a vessel for Nas's nearly unsurpassed lyricism.
Life Is Good
fits in as a retrospective piece in the same vein, yet with more impressive production that takes cues from 80s pop almost as much as the Golden Age. Justice League-produced "No Introduction" immediately demands attention with a sweeping orchestration and a drum heavy breakdown, shining an evident spotlight and introducing Nas better than any extraneous skit could. Veteran beatsmith (and VP of Def Jam) No I.D. handles primary duties, instilling a sense of quality control that wasn't really present throughout 2008's Nigger
. The improvement is obvious on tracks like "Loco-Motive" that find revitalized spitfire rhyming over a gritty beat, truly emulating the experience of a late night train robbery. Album highlight "Reach Out" takes an 80s approach on the beats, but the track would feel at home just as well on a Fugees record (albeit with Mary J Blige on vocals instead).
While his lyrics may not make complete sense and can be hypocritical at times, Nas is on top of his game with Life Is Good
. In terms of flow and literary/ poetic devices, his skill is unparalleled, at a minimum on that same higher level as Raekwon and DOOM. On "Loco-Motive" he raps about pizza burning his mouth - a lesser rapper would struggle making this interesting and coherent, but Nas somehow excels. Comeback single "Nasty" is an all-out brag rap attack that would not have been out of place on Illmatic
. The only blemish to an otherwise solid track list comes with Swizz Beatz-produced "Summer on Smash", a club track that tries so hard to be catchy but stumbles and falls short (not surprising with Swizz Beatz who has really done nothing of merit lately). But overall, Life Is Good
is a poignant statement; even though Nas is rich, famous, and pushing 40, he not only recalls his roots, but still has relateable issues with which to connect to his fan-base (most notably his divorce with Kelis, whose wedding dress adorns the album's cover). Hopefully his beat selection maintains this quality going forward as that is indeed the only variable for an emcee as automatic as Nas.