Yes, Nas is easily the most consistant rapper in the game. While Eminem may be the most technically amazing, and Jay-Z the one with the biggest catalog of hits, as XXL has put in their perfect rating of Life Is Good, Nas’ career has stretched the longest. If Biggie’s reign on the top was short like leprechauns, that of Nas is comparable to a giant.
True, Nas did have a few years of sub-par albums after Illmatic, but since around Stillmatic, he’s maintained a scary stride of consistency with each consecutive release. While rap’s collective editorial consciousness couldn’t agree all at once at which of those albums was a certified classic, each one has been called as such by each respective publication, at one time or another. (For us, it was Untitled).
We live in a different era than Illmatic, one where hip-hop has taken on so many different forms that each listener has their own definition of what can make or break the “classic” status. Nas’ latest – Life Is Good – is undoubtedly one of the strongest records of his career, but like all of his others, some will call it classic, others won’t.
Life Is Good starts out remarkably with “No Introduction” – despite being a bit overproduced – Nas is at his best here, letting listeners know what he’s been up to since the last time we heard his voice. This leads into the very Illmatic-esque “Loco-Motive” (feat. Large Professor), which proves Nas could easily craft a true sequel to his classic debut, if he wanted to. But he doesn’t need to, as proven on tracks like the cinematic “A Queens Story”, the fake-gangster blasting “Accident Murderers” (which features a blistering verse from Rick Ross), and the incredibly penned “Daughters”, where Nas laments “What he date, he straight a chip off his old papa / who she date, we wait behind the door with a sawed-off…”
But after “Daughters”, the album takes an unexpected turn, with a quartet of R&B fueled offerings – some that work better than others. The cookie cutter “Reach Out” is a throwback to the Bad Boy era of R&B-over-hip-hop-beats; except we’ve heard this one before, as Mary J. Blige is found singing over virtually the same track used for her own 1995 single “I Love You Pt. 2″, featuring Smif-N-Wessun. The Anthony Hamilton featured “World’s An Addiction” fares better, but Nas’ intricate lyrical display outweighs Hamilton’s heavy handed hook. The lone stinker on the album is “Summer On Smash” – a poor attempt at a club hit, dominated by Swizz Beatz’ hook and Miguel’s random musings – “Oochie Wallie”, it’s not. Finally, this subsection is closed out with “You Wouldn’t Understand”, featuring Victoria Monet. This is perhaps the best track of the set, with almost early Firm swagger; you can almost re-imagine Escobar once again donning the pink suit.
The album gets back on track right after this – and let’s be truthful – it never really derailed in the first place. “Back When” is another post-Illmatic banger, classically crafted by No I.D., while “The Don” is a dancehall fueled, Super Cat sampling New York anthem, sure to mash up the place. Closing out with a gorgeous pairing of Salaam Remi’s two greatest collaborators – Nas and Amy Winehouse – on the long overdue “Cherry Wine”, and the bittersweet dedication to his ex-wife, Kelis, on “Bye Baby” – it’s safe to say that Nas has recorded one of the best albums of his storied career.
Life Is Good is easily Nas’ most personal album to date, which amazingly is one of the first albums to peel a layer away of Nas’ armored exterior – something that’s been largely kept quiet throughout his career. Like Hip-Hop Is Dead and Untitled before, Nas has crafted another amazingly solid concept album. And we’ll put that on every last one of his classics.
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