Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Nas - Life Is Good


Nas is an artist who needs no introduction...No pun intended. Illmatic is undeniably a hip-hop classic, forever buried in the memories of the supreme hip-hop fanbase. DJ Premier produced Illmatic, but it was Nasir's flow and lyrical guidance that caught the ears of so many. N.Y State of Mind captured the essence of 90's hip-hop in one clean and imaginative lyric, "Straight out the fuckin dungeons of rap, where fake niggaz don't make it back." Illmatic acted as a diving board, with Nas taking the plunge. The reality is that Nas peaked on his debut album. He will never meet expectations because Illmatic is regarded so highly.  It's not as if his 'other' albums are bad, they're genuinely authentic and respective. 'If I Ruled The World' featured Lauryn Hill and gave Nas some RnB class on his follow up album 'It Was Written'. Nas is older, wiser and experienced. A collaboration with Damian Marley on 'Distant Relatives' was released in 2010. This saw Nas experiment with a hip-hop/reggae fusion, a step in the right direction if you ask me. Two years on and he releases his tenth studio album. His tenth, many people wouldn't be able to name three Nas albums, well now they can remember Life Is Good.

The production has been taken care of by a number of famed names such as No I.D and Salaam Remi. Production 'teams' take care of some of the album tracks, whilst No I.D and Salaam control the 'single' output and prosperous tracks. The album's opener entitled 'No Introduction', has a weak instrumental with orchestral features. It sounds clustered, especially when Nas rhymes so softly and realistically. The reverberated claps and thumping drum beat bears no marking. It's an opening track and the production kind of let's Nas down. His lyrics namedrop many high-class brands. In usual Nas style, he adds nostalgia to his work, looking back at the 90's just as the listener does. He raps, "I am a graphic classic song composer" / "Some of y'all might know Kelis, well this goes to her." No Introduction has a little bit of everything tucked away. The later lyric referring to the Nas/Kelis relationship which ended in divorce.

'Loco-Motive' has a brilliant bass heavy beat. The ghetto style lyrics work, with Nas reminiscing the old days. He rhymes about his previous living address in Queensbridge, with guest 'Large Proffesor' bigging up Nas in the breaks. This track has an old-school golden age hip-hop feel. The final verse is excellent with Nas telling how he listens to 'The Great Adventures of Slick Rick' in his truck, to then go on and say how his Rick's imagination is 'sick'. I feel the Slick Rick name dropping has reached a new high in recent years. Nicki Minaj even gave him a plug on the annoying pop/dance-hop thing 'Super Bass'. In retrospect, Nas ends with 'For my trapped in the 90's niggas."

This album has been made for 90's kids, bringing back a classic sound whilst sounding modern. 'A Queens Story' has a similar instrumental to Life Is Good's opening track, but Salaam makes good use of structures backing up Nas. The vocal is clearly the focus again, with Nas delivering a classic hip-hop vocal on top of a straight forward beat. Queens is the lyrical focus, and Nas pays homage to his youth, mentioning residents, deaths, places and cultural differences between the NYC boroughs. 'Accident Murderers' features Florida's Rick Ross. Nas delivers his vocal in the first half. Yet another story-telling, nostalgic track. Rick Ross gives his rag-to-riches story, surpassing Nas if you ask me. Rick Ross rhymes with clarity, age and grit. Ross doesn't have the flow Nas has, but Ross can write hard, and rap hard. Good stuff.

Previously released as a single, and among the better of tracks on Life Is Good. 'Daughters' tells the story of Nas's baby little girl growing up along side his charismatic and away from home career. He talks the listener through the stages of her life, up to present day, modern world. It may be slightly embarrassing to have your dad rap about your condom stash, however when your dad is Nas, it doesn't really matter. The beat is friendly, memorable and sweet. The piano has been utilized effectively with the percussion based beat. It's Nas at his honest best. 

'Reach Out' has Mary J. Blige as a guest vocalist. She adds the 90's dance/soulful groove on this very stark beat. The funky guitar breaks are tasty, as is the piano loops taken from Isaac Hayes. Another RnB track in 'Worlds An Additction' features Anthony Hamilton on vocals. He acts as the soft and sweet chorus and summary. Nas speaks heavily over another orchestral beat. These beats are different, but they don't sound memorable. They act as backgrounds for a fast past Nas vocal. I want more from these instrumentals other than some orchestral sounds and light percussion. It does set the mood, but it doesn't grab me.

The next track kind of brings Life Is Good down a notch. A rapper/producer I don't rate at all, Swizz Beatz delivers a repetitive and horrible vocal. He previously entered my listening habits on Kanye West's overrated My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Delivering the awful vocal, "One hand in the air if you don't really care. Two hands in the air if you don't really care." Basically, Summer On Smash has a modern beat which could have been made on FL-Studio. The synth sounds are extremely dated, and not in the Nas sense. The vocals are in your face, dark and boring. This ones for the trash can. 'You Wouldn't Understand' starts well with a light Eric B & Rakim sample, 'Eric B. Is President'. This track is far more light and mellow than the previous few. The beat is at a faster tempo and the instrumental seems to be full of nice little stabs, it's the synth line that shines through as the mood decider. Victoria Monet delivers a vocal which adds to the tracks RnB nature. It doesn't sound like a Nas track at all, which can be taken in many different ways. Victoria Monet's vocal and the 'different' beat puts the Nas vocal in full effect.

'Back When' is another nostalgic golden age hip-hop look back tune. It begins with 'The Bridge Wars' feud between Boogie Down Productions and Juice Crew. Nas is from the same hood as Juice Crew, sampling MC Shawn's single 'The Bridge'. Nas delivers an insightful vocal on the 80's NYC hip-hop music scene. This track is interesting as well as soulful. Nas incorporates a gospel like feminine vocal which surrounds the atmosphere as Nas raps over the MC Shawn sample. Hip-hop history is something that interests many people, and Nas covers the basics, a story of a feud which escalated and became one of the most effective and serious rapping feuds of all time.

'The Don' is the shortest and tightest track on Life Is Good. The beat was, according to Nas, made by Heavy D who gave it to Salaam for Nas to rap over. The lyrics tell several stories of a luxury life Nas now leads. This site will give you info as to what most of this track means. In short, Nas was once poor, now he's rich. The beat is heavy with an exciting bass that booms through the speaker. It's so simple, yet agonisingly compact. Nas raps, "Twenty years in this game, looking seventeen." I dig the Super Cat sample and the simplistic bass here. The following few tracks are not as habitual as The Don, however they have elegance. 'Stay' features an L.A. Carnival samples, 'Seven Steps to Nowhere'. The funky jazz instrumental is mellow and steady, with Nas rapping about his personal life. Every bit of soul has been put into the later half of this track with the backing vocals sounding supreme. Stay spawns my favourite lyric on the album, "Some seek fame cause they need validation. Some say hating is confused admiration." Nas gives an honest vocal throughout this album, and stay is the most efficient at validating his honesty.

The late great Amy Winehouse performs on 'Cherry Wine'. Her life has been edited and depicted as a rollercoaster of drug use and alcohol abuse. In the music worlds, she was actually a unique vocalist that actually had something which we take for granted these days, talent. Her soulful albums were produced by Salaam Remi, a close friend of Amy's. Thus Cherry Wine, the six minute dramatic thriller. Salaam drops an incredible beat with sophisticated jazz loops, fitting for Amy Winehouse. The track seems a little too forced and 'remember Amy' like. It seems since her death, hundreds of colabs have been released.. Amy died in 2011 and hadn't released a track since 2007.

Nas talks directly to Kelis on the final track 'Bye Baby'. He talks about his relationship in depth, mentioning many personal life details about Kelis. I'm not too familiar with their relationship, but it seems to have effected Nas enough to dedicate an album to his ex-wife, and rap about their relationship Marvin Gaye style. It's more of a personal track between Nas and Kelis, than a track to be listened to by literally thousands/millions of fans worldwide. Nonetheless, it ends the album on a bittersweet note. Ending a period, something Nas has wanted to do for years.. Something he has finally achieved on Life Is Good.

The album cover depicts the wedding dress worn by Kelis, with Nas looking sad, humble and holding a glass of champaign. I don't think he's celebrating. Life Is Good is a comeback album that's not really a comeback, because Nas never left. I've highlighted the weak tracks exclusively. Most of these 14 are delicious nostalgic hip-hop tracks with a youthful Nas delivering contagious rhymes with many guests from the 90's. The odd instrumental lets him down. Some are not as memorable as the pre released singles, as expected. Nas has something he can work on for the future.
~Eddie

7.8

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