Review: Will McGee
An album of humility, personal confessions, musings on society, and a reminder of a still-formidable technique, from a man who’s seen a deficit in those departments for years. It’s not as though NaS has ridden for nearly twenty years solely on the success of Illmatic, but a few of his releases throughout the years have seemed to be a strange mix of delusion and simply running out of ideas, and hopes for Life Is Good were not necessarily the highest.
A comparison not often drawn is one between this and My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, although the opening tracks’ preference for pianos and strings might suggest at least a similar aesthetic. This instrumentation creates an interesting contrast. In My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, they elevate Kanye West to the status of a god among mortals; in Life is Good, No I.D. and Salaam Remi use strings and pianos to create an essentially human drama. NaS no longer talks like he’s a hip-hop messiah or the undisputed king of hip-hop. He talks like a man who grew up on the streets in terms of gritty realism. He talks like a man who just came out of a difficult divorce. He talks like a father. It’s the realest he’s sounded in years. The stories here sound like they come from a man who’s lived them, or knows people who has. Even the ones that don’t have obvious relations to Nas’s personal life (see: Daughters, Bye Baby) still carry weight. Accident Murderers, for example, is a track about the innocent bystanders who lose their lives when a would-be gangster tries to end a beef with bullets and find out that aiming a gun is harder than it seems in the movies. It’s the kind of story that made NaS famous on Illmatic, but now with the modern touch of a solid verse from everyone’s favorite person-who-really-ought-to-put-a-shirt-on, Rick Ross.
Discussions of NaS’s relatability as an artist aside, he’s also on top of his game as far as his technique is concerned. His flow is impeccable, his vocabulary is stellar and his cultural references are clever and relevant. The hooks are solid when they’re there and when they’re not his verses are consistently entertaining, often with a lightning-quick delivery, as on one of the bonus tracks, the hit single ‘Nasty’ (for this and for the other above-average bonus tracks I recommend the deluxe version, it is worth the extra few bucks.) Hooks are more often than not handled by a guest, and these vary from Anthony Hamilton’s haunting chorus on ‘World’s An Addiction’ to Amy Winehouse’s soulful hook on ‘Cherry Wine’ (and don’t worry, she’s not on here just for attention; the two had collaborated before on Amy’s ‘Like Smoke’). The one disappointment on this album comes courtesy Swizz Beatz, Miguel, and a repetitive and forgettable track called ‘Summer On Smash’. It’s inoffensive enough that the next time you listen to the album, you won’t so much be dreading it as you will have totally forgotten it was even there to begin with.
After a strong opening (‘No Introduction’ and ‘A Queens Story’ are both great tracks), the album settles into a good groove that is only interrupted by Swizz Beatz’ annoying hook and continues all the way through the end of the album and even on into the bonus tracks. In addition to having solid singles like ‘The Don’ and ‘Daughters’, Life is Good is one of the most solid albums, track-for-track, that I have heard all year, and it’s the best hip-hop album I’ve heard from 2012 so far.
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