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Nas – Life is Good

I’m not going to sit here and write, pretending that I am the foremost authority on rap music in this day and age.  I am a huge fan of the genre though, and some of my first music memories were listening to Public Enemy‘s, Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black on casette that would soon get confiscated by my parents.  The late 80’s and early 90’s were a time of musical revolution for the rap genre.  In my opinion, it’s all been downhill from there.

One artist I’ve always payed attention to however is Nas.  No matter what he comes out with I’m one of the first people to scoop it up.  Now I’m not going to say that everything he’s done in his career is pure platinum, but he’s always been consistent with his prose even on the bloated double album Street’s Disciple.  His first two albums Illmatic and It Was Written are two of the high marks in rap over the past 20 years.  Illlmatic is completely raw and stripped back, while It Was Written shows the evolution of an emerging icon.  While listening to the majority of Nas’s catalog I can’t help but continually go back to those first two albums, and while I’ve enjoyed every release since, none of them have even come close to their perfection.

Life is Good marks his 10th studio album, and deals with the dissolution of his marriage.  Nas has stated that it’s a very personal album to him, and at first listen it sounds like a return to form.  Eventually it’s clear that it’s more of the same from Nas.  Unfortunately that’s the problem with the album, and kind of the issue with Nas in general.  As he’s gotten older and progressed as an artist he’s gotten more involved with studio tricks and sample gimmicks to propel his music, along with guest star, after guest star, after guest star.  Unnecessary.

There are flashes of that young artist in stripped back songs like Daughters, The Don, and  Loco-motive, in which he even states “This is for all my trapped in the 90’s n!**az.”   Apart from that though the album dives in to mediocre territory.  How many times do I need to hear about popping Hennessy and Champagne bottles?  This has been the issue I’ve had with Nas’s past seven releases.  There’s always too much filler thrown in the mix. Cherry Wine, a duet with the late Amy Winehouse being a prime example of this.

I’ve been saying this for a better part of a decade, but I feel the biggest problem with rap music is the excess of it all.  The excess of performers themselves, the excess of their lifestyle, the excess of songs on albums, and collaborations from 20 different artists.  It’s all too much.   That first Nas album was 10 songs and only 39 minutes of music, built and written in a run-down project in Queens.  It had substance, and is a landmark album in rap.   Life is Good is 14 songs that run almost an hour long, and if Nas’s intention was to record this raw, emotional record about the end of his marriage, then he kind of fails by adding songs like Reach Out (featuring Mary J. Blige), and Summer on Smash (a weak attempt at a bonafide summer jam).  We get flashes of his greatness in Life is Good, just as we’ve gotten flashes in every Nas release, but he’s never fully on point.

Grade:  C