In a career that spans close to twenty years and has produced ten solo albums the career of Nasir “Nas” Jones has seen it’s fair share of peaks and troughs. Breaking out back in 94′ with Illmatic, a debut album which has since been heralded (with good reason) as an all time classic in the hip hop genre, to losing his footing and falling off, to climbing back up again. The last two decades have been quite the roller-coaster ride for the Queens MC. With his last few albums sailing between good and so-so, there was quite a high level of expectation for this LP. Upon hearing tracks “Nasty” and “The Don” prior to the release of Life Is Good, I got the distinct feeling that Nas was dialling things back on album number ten. Although there is a retrospective slant to this album, it’s met with a more polished, modernised approach. Which at points does act as a nice counteraction, but it also creates a few problems too.
Life is indeed good and to some degree this album is also pretty good too, despite an iffy opening track the album gets off to a nice start with the throwback sound of “Loco-Motive”. With it’s snapping beats and stepping bass and piano patterns, it kicks off the first of two styles fused on this record. The 90′s era instrumentation see’s Nas in a reflective mood, meditating on his life before and at the start of his career. This lyrical aspect reaches it’s highest point on the track “A Queen’s Story” which see’s the QB MC depart somewhat from the nostalgic beats to rap and reminisce over a simple breakbeat, complete with free flowing string section which trembles and soars throughout. What Life Is Good needs more of is this track, it see’s Nas work his flow over a more progressive and fluid sound. It also needs more tracks like “Daughters” and “Bye Baby” which see’s the lyrical content reflect something of a more introspective and personal nature. But instead of being built more upon these foundations, a good portion of the record rests on filler beats (“Reach Out”, “You Wouldn’t Understand”) distracting features (*Ugggh*Rick Ross) and in the case of “Summer On Smash”, clunky, meandering messes. There are few cleaner, smoother tracks like “Cherry Wine” which help to iron out a few of these wrinkles, but some of the sour and bland moments scattered throughout cant be erased.
I was hoping for a lot more from this record and although it has a number of high points, it’s overall quality is blotted and diluted by a number of weak to mediocre moments. I know that there is another great album left in Nas, but unfortunately this isn’t it.