The last line of Nas’ Illmatic still rings true 18 years later. The Queensbridge lyricist never fell. He never ceased to be celebrated as one of the most revered wordsmiths in the game, but—though he’s continued to cement his legendary status with solid efforts album after album—he hasn’t come close to matching his best works in quite some time. The tide, though, has changed with Nas’ 10th LP, Life Is Good.
As has historically been the case, Nas is at his best when facing adversity. His last two superior releases—2001’s Stillmatic and 2002’s God’s Son—were inspired by his heated rivalry with Jay-Z and the death of his mother, respectively.
Creatively, Nas continues to reinvent the wheel. He takes reckless shooters to task on “Accident Murderers” featuring Rick Ross—the LP’s only rap guest appearance—and retraces his fatherly missteps on “Daughters.” On the Amy Winehouse-assisted “Cherry Wine”—a song that sounds like a lost cut from the British singer’s Frank sessions—Nas fantasizes about his dream girl, before coming to terms with his failed marriage on “Bye Baby.” Over Salaam Remi’s sampling of Guy’s “Goodbye Love,” Nas finds closure with a heartfelt letter to Kelis. “Wanted you as my shorty since before I saw you screamin’, ‘Hate you so much right now’/Should’ve saw the man in angry Black women/Actions of a demon—I’m leaving,” he spits.
Nas’s beat selection has long been called into question, but not this time. Salaam Remi and No I.D. split the bulk of the production for a cohesive sound bed filled with soul and jazz overtones. Though the Swizz Beatz-produced “Summer on Smash” has potential to garner radio play, it feels out of place and is the disc’s only substandard moment.
Still, Life Is Good is arguably Nas’s best album since Stillmatic. In a climate where substance is scarce, Life Is Good is necessary. It’s potent from the excellent cover art to Nas’s sharp bars. It’s balanced. The Queens MC is open, but not emo. Hard, but thought-provoking. — XXL