I’m not entirely sure why anyone needs a new Nas record in 2012. If you read reviews of Life’s Good, the consensus is that it’s a mature album about Nas’ divorce from Kelis and parenthood from a master emcee in his fourties. It’s supposed to be a return to form for Nas. Grown man rap. The kind of developed music we want to hear from the elder statesmen of rap. Life Is Good is not that album.
To be fair, Life Is Good is a competent and cohesive endeavor for Nas, who has been consistently inconsistent on his full-length albums. Songs like “Daughters” have that vintage boom bap that immediately evokes a warm feeling in your heart. Before Nas even utters a word, you can imagine New York beautifully lit at dusk, little girls playin’ double dutch and little boys engaged in games of tag. On the flip side there’s “Loco-Motive” which sounds just as New York, but has a minor key piano riff that evokes crime, crime, and dirt. “A Queens Story” is a lush and symphonic production, it’s as big as you could imagine. When you hit “Stay,” with it’s trumpets, somber pianos and soul vocals you get the old man of rap vibe perfectly. It sounds like the musical equivalent of an uncle or mentor sitting you down for a talk. Imagine what the music would sound like when Morgan Freeman gives dudes advice in movies — it’s that.
For once the problem with a Nas record isn’t the beats, it’s Nas’ lyrics. While there’s no question that Nas is masterful at the art of rapping in it’s technical aspects, there’s not much that he actually has to say here. “Daughters,” about Nas’ daughter acting like a damn fool on instagram, doesn’t really offer much insight on parenthood. Nas realizes that fucking a bunch of chicks and not hanging out with his kid is responsible for her less than stellar behavior — this isn’t really an amazing revelation — but over that beat it sounds like it should be. Emblematic of the faux philosophy and knowledge jewels is “Reach Out” where Nas raps “how will I survive? Guess it’s best to decide not to decide. So that’s my decision, whatever happens happens…” This is essentially, a combination of Rush’s “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice” line and Drake’s YOLO philosophy. We give Rush a pass for goofy lyrics because they’re Canadian and write songs about dragons. Drake is fucking Drake — nuff said. We should expect more from Nas.
On, “The Don” Nas reminisces about his crime days over a beat that sounds like a Ron Brownz throwaway. The problem here is that for a dude that’s been rapping about crime and the streets for two decades the song is wild generic. Compared to someone like Raekwon who still paints vivid pictures of crime gone wrong, “The Don” comes off simplistic and paint by numbers. “A Queens Story” has Nas rapping about Queensbridge pride and crime, but for one of the best rappers ever, it comes off really lifeless. At the end of “Loco-Motive” Nas screams “this is for my trapped in the 90s niggas…” sadly, most of his lyrics are still trapped in the 90s.
The songs where Nas speaks about his life with Kelis “Cherry Wine” and “Bye Baby,” work a lot better. Here we get Nas speaking sincerely and openly about the demise of his relationship and his hope for future love. It feels real and honest without a bunch of TMZ style details. Nas’ acceptance of his relationship with Kelis for what it was and desire for new love, comes from a place of maturity. On “Bye Baby” he sounds like one of the best rappers ever, in his forties, dealing with real life issues. Unfortunately though, the rest of the album doesn’t quite measure up.