Older and Wiser, yet Still Smooth: Nas’ Life is Good

Few rappers have a career as long and respected as NYC’s Nas. In the early 90s, Nas became one of the key figures and voices in Rap’s rise and, in my opinion, Golden Age. Twenty years later, Nas is still dropping his brilliance on the masses and unlike some overly boastful artists who predicted a decade of dominance, it’s Nas that seems to have come out on top.

I begin with the basics and flow from the heart,  I know you think my life is good because of my diamond piece, but my life been good since I started finding peace… – Nas

Life is Good finds Nas one year short of 40, an elder statesman of a musical genre he helped mold, develop, and hone. Unlike many of his peers who have turned from clever word-smiths to pop-song producers and impresarios, the Queens MC continues to lay down rhymes that entertain and educate. Nas version 2.012 is arguably more pensive (perhaps graying around the edges like the rest of us), reflecting on a lifetime of accomplishments (“Loco-Motive”) and oversights (“Daughters”) while observing the faux MCs attempting to steal the scene (“Accident Murderers”). In short, Life is Good is a mature and thoughtful record about the challenges of being a Rap/Hip Hop icon and still staying fresh and relevant.

Give Nas credit for bringing the old school and new school together in one space. While you listen to Rick Ross‘ rhyming on “Accident Murderers”, you get the impression that Nas is passing the torch to the Rick Ross’s of the world; I mean Ross’s free-style on this piece is sick. But, don’t write Nas off just yet. Check him out on “World’s an Addiction”, unwilling to relent and rhyming as his breath is about to draw out. Then, hear him dial it back two decades with the brilliant Mary J. Blige on “Reach Out”, showing that he can still craft a song that will keep you listening and grinding on the dance floor.  Or, listen to the 90s rap nostalgia fueled and inspired “Queen’s Story” with countless samples and allusions to Nas’ compatriots. Or, groove and chill to the 70s soul drenched “Stay”, wondering how the record switched over to the oldies dial.

But, is there any song more poignant, impressive, and well-stated than “Daughters”? In perhaps his most famous track, Nas imagines a world where we are “more conscious of the way we raise our daughters…” (See “If I Ruled the World”) Flash forward fifteen years later and hear the elder rapper reflecting on the difficulty of raising a child given his public identity and his reputation as well as an issue almost all parents can relate to: how to regulate/manage the “social media-tion” of adolescence. It’s an impressively candid reflection by one of rap’s most respected lyricists on how a parent can guide and/or condemn the actions of his child’s life decisions or choice of partners given his own past. I don’t envy Nas or any parent in this dilemma.  But, I totally respect him for willing to publicly question and criticize himself, creating an opportunity for a dialogue about the challenges of parenting in the 21st Century; this isn’t what you’d expect on rap record and that is why it’s genius.

Don’t think Life is Good is all serious and somber, Nas knows that his audience enjoys thought-provoking tracks mixed carefully like party rap anthems, and he doesn’t disappoint with the club-ready grinder “Summer on Smash” (is that Marc Anthony in the middle of the track?)* and the reggae/dub tinged “The Don”. Or, perhaps, you’d prefer the smooth groove of his sexy duet with Victoria Monet on “You Wouldn’t Understand”. Whichever road you choose, you’ll find yourself pleasantly jamming.

One could say that Nas is back, but he never left, everyone else just forgot how make great Rap records, clearly he didn’t.

Listen to Nas’ Life is Good in its entirety here and enjoy his jam before summer’s end.

*probably not I just couldn’t help myself 🙂

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