August 1, 2012

My Gut Reaction: Nas - Life Is Good (July 17, 2012)

The use of the green wedding dress his ex-wife Kelis once wore on the album cover is supposed to clue listeners in on what Nas was thinking about when he recorded Life Is Good, his tenth (tenth!) album and the final one on his Def Jam Records contract.  Where the man will end up once the dust settles is a mystery I don't feel like solving; maybe I'll hire some goofy teenagers and their dog to sniff things out.  I just hope he doesn't end up on the Maybach Music Group label.  I don't know why I just wrote that; the idea just popped into my head, and now I fear for Nas's career.


Anyway, Life Is Good focuses on the failure of Nasir's marriage and his attempt to move forward with his life, which was apparently successful, since he doesn't really mention his marriage or divorce on the album itself, save for on one track that critics flocked to because the man revealed personal insight into his mindstate at the time.  In that respect, all of the comparisons to Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear (most of which were perpetrated by Nas himself) don't make all that much sense; I actually think that Life Is Good is a valid effort to record a more mature version of what Nas was going for with It Was Written, recorded with his eyes firmly focused on his past, both personally and professionally.  Nas has been quoted in interviews claiming that he's gone from "Life's A Bitch" to Life Is Good, a valiant attempt to describe why he wrote the album in a single tagline: maybe he should look into a side career in public relations, because that's quite the spin.

Life Is Good was blessed with almost universal acclaim when it finally hit actual store shelves.  Critics praised the man's flow, which remains unchanged from when he was a teenager, and his selection of beats, primarily handled by Salaam Remi and No I.D., among a handful of others, which surprised most listeners by actually sounding decent.  The days of dreaming and wishing for a Nas album handled exclusively by DJ Premier are long gone for me; if it happens, it happens, but I just don't care anymore, as Salaam Remi seems to have filled that void. 

I don't have much more to say here, because I know you two have been clamoring for my thoughts on the actual songs ever since Life Is Good was first announced.  So have at it.

1. NO INTRODUCTION
Clearly someone has been getting annoyed at my standard “(insert artist name here) eschews the typical rap album intro trope” line that I include in nearly every write-up where there is no intro because there's only so many ways you can relay that information to the reader, since Nas actually calls the first song on Life Is Good “No Introduction”, thereby cutting me off. And boy oh boy is it awful. Our host sounds okay enough, even though it's the exact same matter-of-fact Nas, the one whose boasts all tend to sound the same and, while good with twisting a tale, lacks the capacity to enjoy the fact that he doesn't ever have to work a real job since he is so well-known in our chosen genre, but the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League instrumental was boring, hardly the kind of thing any sane rapper (or one who doesn't have to worry about releasing product to pay off the IRS and to come up with both spousal and child support, anyway) would choose. Selecting beats has never been Nasir's forte, though. At least he didn't include a shitty hook; that probably would have caused the audience to walk away right from the start.

2. LOCO-MOTIVE (FEAT. LARGE PROFESSOR)
Before you use the last paragraph (or any of my Nas write-ups, I suppose) against me in some ill-advised attempt to prove that I actually hate all rap music, let me just say that I'm not immune to our host's charms when he is paired up with the right instrumental. No I.D., Nasir's new label boss, supplies our host with a banger that chugs down the rails (hence the song's title) with a power and passion that I haven't felt in a train-inspired beat since Eminem's work on his own “8 Mile”, and Nas runs with it, sounding all “N.Y. State Of Mind” while discussing his youth, his criminal activities, and, most empathetically, the pain in the roof of his mouth after inhaling a hot slice of pizza. Although I found it difficult to not think of J-Ro's line from Tha Alkaholiks classic “DAAAM!” when reading the song title, I still enjoyed this shit. A lot. (Then again, he does dedicate the song to those in the audience that prefer to hear his Illmatic self (or, as he so eloquently puts it, “for my '90s n----s”), so of course someone like myself, who regularly bathes in 1990s hip hop and mixes it into his coffee, would find it enjoyable.) My only question: why invite Extra P over to play if you're only going to have him perform on the “hook”? What was the point of that shit?

3. A QUEENS STORY
Whenever Salaam Remi steps behind the boards, I'm always not-so-secretly hoping for lightning to strike a third time, following God's Son's “Made You Look” and, to a lesser extent, Streets Disciple's “Nazareth Savage” (which isn't as good as “Made You Look” but remains highly underrated in the Esco canon). So, to appease me, Remi has supplied at least two beats that could continue the trend: the one he crafted for the bonus track “Nasty” (which I'll get to in a bit), and the backing for “A Queens Story” (which he borrowed from his own Chopin-sampled “Queens Story” instrumental from his Prague Nosis! project), which is hurried, well-executed, and, well, it knocks, and Nasir tackles it with breathless wordplay and multiple shout-outs to fallen soldiers and the like. I could have done without the final minute, where a practically acapella Nas gives a preamble to the very next track, but up until that point, I'm not ashamed to admit that I found this entertaining.

4. ACCIDENT MURDERERS (FEAT. RICK ROSS)
And now we seem to have reached the point where, yes y'all-in, Life Is Good is fallin'...off. Now, artists tend not to have any control over the events in the real world, and on occasion the release of their work to the general public coincides with horrific true-life circumstances that, had the artist of the label been advised by their in-house psychic, would cause them to think twice. Having avoided listening to “Accident Murderers” until today, post-Aurora, where we have a dickless piece of shit taking innocent lives in response to a fucking movie based on a fictional fucking character all in an effort to become infamous, I'll be shocked if Nas still includes this track on his concert set list, as I don't think anyone really wants to hear a song about innocent people being killed, whether accidentally or not, in the current climate. Well, that reason, and this one: the song sucks. Our host sounded okay (if uninspired, since the preamble provided on the previous track kind of ruined the surprise), but the No I.D. beat was trash (save for that overly familiar drum pattern), and Officer Richard Ross wasn't the best choice for a guest cameo (I realize that Nas and Ross tend to work together a lot these days, but nobody's ever given me a good reason for that shit): obviously Def Jam was looking more at potential album sales than artistic integrity, since there are literally dozens of other rappers who would have sounded better with the concept. Most egregiously to a grammar nerd like myself, the titular phrase makes no goddamn motherfucking sense: was it really too time-consuming to say “accidental” instead of just “accident”? (I realize that, as much as I try, all music criticism (or that of any media, really) is affected and impacted by numerous factors, including outside influences, but regardless of the tragic events that took place at that screening, I have a feeling I wouldn't have cared much for this song in the first place. I just wish I had heard it before that fateful day.)

5. DAUGHTERS
Thankfully “Daughters” doesn't become the third track in a row on Life IsGood where Nas declares an opponent's gun to be “a virgin”, because that would be inappropriate as shit on here, considering that this song is about raising a daughter. I am familiar with this track, since Def Jam released it as a single, and I found No I.D.'s work on here enjoyable enough before, but within the framework of the album, it bangs. Nas sounds rejuvenated, kind of like how some people naturally perk up when they're talking about their kids: hopefully his planned remix with fellow daddy-daughter-dance-attendees Jay-Z and Eminem actually happens. Side note: on Illmatic's “N.Y. State Of Mind”, Nas expressed an addiction to “bitches with beepers”; on “Daughters” he drops a quick reference to Instagram. Kudos to God's Son for keeping up with the latest technology.

6. REACH OUT (FEAT. MARY J. BLIGE)
I have conflicting feelings about “Reach Out”. On one hand, the beat (credited to four different people, including Salaam Remi, Rodney "Darkchild” Jenkins (where has he been?), and Nas himself), simple and old-school, sounds almost insanely joyous: it's impossible to frown when it's playing. On the other hand, though, Nas sounds fucking robotic, spouting lyrics that hardly resonate with anyone after his personal IT guy instructs him to execute Program 7G.4229F: it is apparently that impossible for Nas to ever have fun behind the mic, since he always feels the need to share with the audience just how wide open his eyes are. On the third hand that I recently grew during my hiatus, Mary J. Blige's chorus, while decent, was wasted on the track, one which refuses to decide on just what the fuck it wants to be. The result is a terrible song that was fun to listen to. How the fuck does that happen?

7. WORLD'S AN ADDICTION (FEAT. ANTHONY HAMILTON)
Call off the search party, people! I found him! I found Anthony Hamilton!

8. SUMMER ON SMASH (FEAT. SWIZZ BEATZ & MIGUEL)
If this is what feeling confident and boasting an abundance of “swag” during the hottest months of the year (having your “Summer On Smash”, as it were) is supposed to sound like, then go ahead and put me in a medically-induced coma and throw me into a spider hole until fall comes, because I don't want anything to fucking do with it. Nasir comes across as so cocky and arrogant that nobody would ever want to actually be around him, and that attitude stretches to his guests, who appear to have not even shared a universe with our host when they recorded their parts. Guest crooner Miguel comes across as completely useless, even more so than producer-slash-rapper-slash-jackass Swizz Beatz, who acts like, well, himself, which, if you believe that to be a compliment, then you're just not paying attention. Fuck this shit.

9. YOU WOULDN'T UNDERSTAND (FEAT. VICTORIA MONET)
Another poppy instrumental (this time from Buckwild, of all people), another shitty and unnecessary chorus. Some of you two may believe Life Is Good to be the Illmatic sequel we all deserve, but right now to me, it's much closer to a follow-up to I Am...

10. BACK WHEN
Thanks to the MC Shan vocal sample, you two will be forgiven if you were foolish enough to think “Back When” would be all about old-school hip hop. Sure, a few legendary names pop up here and there throughout Nasir's verses, but the song is really about our host continuing to survive in our chosen genre, one which has shifted greatly since “Live At The Barbecue”. While that doesn't make the ineffective No I.D. beat sound any better, at least we know that Nas is awake: his lyrics on here aren't half bad. The song sprints past you so quickly that it'll never quite catch your eye, though.

11. THE DON
I like this song much more today than I did when it first leaked, when its all-out sonic assault harassed my earbones and caused me to run away in terror (read: change the station). Today, I feel the beat (credited to Salaam Remi, Da Internz, and the late Heavy D (R.I.P.)) is actually good: unorthodox, but a fast-moving vehicle for some Nas jewels that don't sound completely awful. Save for a few, anyway: the couplet at the end of the second verse, where our host brags about Heavy D's involvement, seems tacked-on and forced: the sound quality of the rest of the verse contrasts sharply to those last two bars. I have no real proof of this, but it seems like Nasir replaced whatever he originally recorded with those two lines just to capitalize on Heavy D's passing (in a “See? I worked with him too!” capacity). Hopefully I'm wrong, but I have a weird feeling that I'm not.

12. STAY
At first I hated No I.D.'s instrumental, as I felt that its faux-jazzy feel was undermined by a slow drum loop that had no clear destination. Then, with the aid of repetition, I ended up loving it. And now that the song is over and I'm writing about it, I'm struck at how I could have loved something that was so fucking dull. I suppose my overall opinion on the beat for “Stay” is one of indifference. Can't say the same about Nas's lyrics, though: as usual, he comes across as both technically proficient and detached, as though he was watching himself write these verses without any knowledge of what his mind was up to. Which helps explain how the second verse veered from domestic abuse to hating the haters so goddamn quickly.

13. CHERRY WINE (FEAT. AMY WINEHOUSE)
I'm starting to get the feeling that Nas keeps repeating the phrase “Life is good” throughout the project (as he does roughly halfway through this track) in the hope that saying it out loud enough times will force it to manifest itself into his reality (not unlike The Secret). The power of positive thinking, man. Anyway, Salaam Remi hooks up with two of his more popular collaborators, Nasir Jones and the late Amy Winehouse (R.I.P.) for “Cherry Wine”, with the guest sounding alright on the hook (an overly wordy one, that) while Nas tries to convince both the listener and his co-conspirator in his doomed relationship (whether that be one with Kelis, or Amy, or whoever, really) that, yes, he's doing great, and he just wants to chill with you while partaking in a regional soda (just kidding; that would be Cheerwine, although “Accident Murderers” has proven that Nas doesn't believe in using spellcheck, so...). Not bad (the beat has flourishes that reminded me briefly of Brand Nubian's “Punks Jump Up To Get Beat Down”), but not the epic collaboration everyone was hoping for.

14. BYE BABY
Although he never mentions Kelis by name, “Bye Baby” is Nasir looking in the rearview mirror at his marriage and subsequent bitter public divorce, which makes this one of the most personal songs in his entire catalog, one where his clarity seems heightened because he's forced to stay on topic, lest the song not make any damn sense. Our host doesn't pass all the blame to his ex, but he does manage some passive-aggressive lines directed her way. Is this entire album Nas's way of saying that Life Is Good because Kelis is no longer a part of it? Hard to say. But he's clearly moved forward, which is all one can do in a situation that sticky, I wish him the best of luck with that. No bullshit. The song wasn't terrible either, although the beat (credited to both Salaam Remi and Noah “40” Shebib, one of Drake's right-hand men) was a bit plain at times.

The deluxe version of Life Is Good comes with four additional tracks, because labels like to pull sneaky shit like that. Because you would only purchase the fourteen-track disc if you knew that there was an eighteen-track edition also available, right? What the fuck, Def Jam?

15. NASTY
The first bonus track (and also the street single), with a Salaam Remi beat that makes it fairly obvious that “Nasty” is at least a spiritual cousin twice removed on its mother's side to “Made You Look”. This is the kind of hip hop that people who read this blog want to hear from the self-appointed Nasty Nas: unrelenting bars spit with furious venom over a hard-as-fuck instrumental. In that respect, the track does not disappoint, although it is a bit too short. Yes, somehow that was my only complaint. Weird.

16. THE BLACK BOND
Kind of awesome, actually, even though Nas loses the plot halfway through, thanks to Salaam Remi's instrumental, which reuses his own “Praguenosis” to excellent effect (I may have to track that project down now: apparently it's supposed to be Salaam working alongside an orchestra from Prague and, based on this and “A Queens Story”, it might be pretty goddamn good): the music can best be described as “cinematic” even though every goddamn critic is going to say the same thing, as though we all pull from the same bag of descriptors. It's quite befitting of Nasir's first verse, where he portrays an international playboy who carries his “fuck you” cash in duffle bage onto his private plane (so as to not let the IRS find it, I assume). The second and final verse abandons the concept entirely in favor of typical shit-talking, but even this manages to work, thanks to our host's memorable line, “You're what a thug about? I'm a fucking juggernaut”. A bit too dark (mood-wise) to include on an album entitled Life Is Good, in my opinion, but still one of the best songs Nas has released in fucking years.

17. ROSES
The beat (credited to Al Shux, a British songwriter and producer who provided the beat for Jay-Z's “Empire State Of Mind”, and Dan Wilson, who is a man) is haunting and beautiful in all the right places, but Nasir has no fucking clue what to actually do with it, essentially using the space to complain indirectly about women, mostly. This song should have been a lot better. I'm actually kind of pissed that the excellent beat was wasted on shit such as this.

18. WHERE'S THE LOVE (FEAT. COCAINE 80S)
Because Def Jam's newest Executive VP No I.D. has his fingerprints all over this motherfucker, he couldn't let Life Is Good slip away for mastering without giving his loose collective, Cocaine 80s, some shine. Not that I blame him one bit: this beat by Dion can only really be described as “badass” (and a far cry from his work on Common's The Dreamer / The Believer, on which I only really liked maybe two songs). Nasir responds appropriately, with descriptive rants and braggadocio that don't reveal anything about him but sound goddamn impressive; I especially enjoyed the imagery at the very beginning, where he describes staring out of the window at the Wynn. Stay classy, Nas. A pretty good way to end things, all things considered.

The iTunes version of Life Is Good contains a fifth bonus track, the Boi-1da-produced “Trust”, but I've really only heard about a minute of it, so I can't give any official opinion. Unofficially, though, there was a reason I only listened to one minute of it. You know what I'm saying? You don't? You don't get I'm trying to tell you that I had to leave to go to work and had to cut it short? Wait, what did you think I meant?

THE LAST WORD: Here's the thing: Life Is Good is merely alright. Some of the songs bang, while others actually knock the entire goddamn genre down several pegs within popular culture; still, I can only imagine maybe one or two of these tracks still getting any play six months from now. Nas, typically, struggles with consistency on here, his infamously tin ear for beats having been replaced with a prosthetic that can actually differentiate music from noise, but still only functions properly about thirty percent of the time, leaving the listener with an annoying experience occasionally broken up with flashes of brilliance. Nobody ever questions Nas's ability behind the microphone, but honestly, maybe we should: the guy's verses all tend to sound alike, a problem he didn't have on Illmatic (granted, nobody knew who he was back then, so he could have written ten songs about his cat and we probably wouldn't have thought twice), and over certain instrumentals I have no qualms with that, but Nas raps the same way (and usually about the exact same things, save for the songs which are supposed to have a specific theme) over every goddamn beat he can get his hands on, and that grows tiresome. That said, if I really wasn't rooting for the dude, I wouldn't give a fuck about his back catalog (Untitled and Distant Relatives write-ups coming soon!), and I appreciate and respect his capacity as an artist and have nothing but admiration for the way he has somehow remained relevant in a musical genre that famously eats its young (and yet also plays only to them, guaranteeing that folks like Nasir Jones will never earn any new fans). Now keep in mind that the next sentence comes from a guy who hasn't really listened to Nas's work since Hip Hop Is Dead: Life Is Good is better than what I was expecting, and overall, I liked it more than most of his recent work. But when a guy keeps making the same mistakes, eventually you grow weary and look elsewhere for guidance. Take that how you will.

-Max

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59 comments:

  1. I am fascinated by Nas and his lyrical capabilities, but I don't listen to ANYTHING he's done post-It Was Written. An artist who can't put together a good album is not worth my time, and he hasn't done that for an eon. With that being said, I loved Cherry Wine and The Don, and some other songs on here were impressive, but I'll never buy this album. It's just more of the same.
    The Dan Wilson line was hilarious btw.

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  2. Great review, as always. I still can't believe that Nasty was merely a bonus track, because it's better than anything else on the album. The last paragraph you wrote was terrific. Keep it up.
    -Danny C.

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  3. "Reach Out" jacks New Edition's "Once In a Lifetime Groove". Thought you would've noticed that,

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    1. Good catch. I haven't listened to all that much New Edition in the past, oh, fifteen years?

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  4. Who are you anyway Max? (No disrespect, love the website<3)

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  5. what do you think of the song ''classic'' by dj premier,nas,krs one,rakim and kanye west?

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    1. I've only listened to it a few times, and that's more because of the audacity of the guest list than because I remember liking any of it. But that's just it: I can't remember any of it.

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  6. I thought you'd comment on the Reach Out sample being used on Royce's T.O.D.A.Y. since you seemed to be a pretty big fan of Death is Certain. Overall a decent album that seems better in juxtaposition with his last release...or three releases.

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  7. i have been a huge fan of your blog for a long time. I always have respected when we disagree. But now i seriously can't take you serious..

    I'll admit, i was not a fan of "No Introduction" for the first couple weeks i had the album but to call it "awful" is so fuckin absurd. Have you forgotten what other "awful" music is constantly played elsewhere. so over dramatic..

    this is where you kill me "Accident Murderer's" has a terrible beat.. haha okay.

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  8. Nas rapping along side Rick Ross. He did call it when he said Hip Hop is dead, didn't he? Anyway, The Don beat is a banger. Good review, great blog. You've earned another loyal reader.

    Just-Ice

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  9. I agree with basically everything you said here Max. Nas is Nas, we should know what to expect by now. Still, the review had the feeling that you really gave this a chance, which I liked. I also appreciated you saying that at least you're rooting for him to make a stellar album, but it may be a long time before that happens again. (Or happens at all)

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    1. i realize commenting 7 months after the fact makes it so not many people will see this...but anyone looking for a re energized Nas should listen to Distant Relatives w/ Damian Marley. It borders on corny, but Nas was spitting fire the majority of that album

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  10. I think Max actually summed it up best when he said "Life Is Good" sounds like a follow-up to his 1999 album "I Am", 'cept much more focused in comparison. Though i do like some songs on here, this album did take a little while before it grew on me.. which is not really a good thing in my opinion.

    Nas can do better than this as an artist, but the reason he doesn't is in the title of the album itself.."Life Is Good". Nas isn't hungry and young, he's old and fat, and by fat i mean successful. Hip hop is one of the few genres and cultures that is about energetic aggression, and that is only capable form someone who is young and/or extremely hungry. Nas has more than likely accomplished everything he's ever wanted to. When you get to that level of success, it's no longer possible for you impress on the level you once did. He's still a skilled hip hop artist and i'll always hae love for the dude, but he needs to hang it up if he's not gonna give us one last album that blows our minds.

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  11. I haven't listened to this and probably never will, but let me just say that nas has never reached the the artistic heights of illmatic with his later albums for one reason: when he made illmatic he was just a kid having fun. Max you hit the nail on the head, after 10 albums rhyming sounds like a chore to the man, damn i wish he could be 20 years old again. PS: Max i would like to know how and when you were introduced to and developed your love for hip hop culture? I think it would give me a greater understanding and appreciation of your opinions regarding the music.

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  12. Seriously. I thought you had a good taste for music.. This album is much better then you make it out to be.

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  14. funny as hell review! great work Max, take your time with the reviews, it seems to work!

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  15. You're right about what you said about the last two bars on the second verse on 'The Don', he said so himself on 106 & Park that he changed it as he recorded the track without knowing Heavy D passed it to Salaam Remi to give to Nas

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    1. Boom! Nailed it! Thanks for the confirmation.

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  16. 2nd ChildhoodAugust 02, 2012

    Oddisee - People Hear What They See.

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  17. I just feel you critique Nas way more than say Jay-Z. I didn't mean to sound so disrespectful on my earlier post but I suppose some people will just never cross over..

    I feel Nas's lyrics save Reach Out and you feel they are what ruins it. While i agree "You Wouldn't Understand" is somewhat poppy i very much enjoy the '80's vibe it gives. Almost like an early G Rap, Big Daddy Kane record or something

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    1. I probably do, but in a weird way, I expect more from Nas. Following up something like Illmatic is a curse more so than following up a Reasonable Doubt, in my opinion.

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  18. I honestly 98% agree with your review on this album, but for some reason I like the Summer on Smash beat haha which is hard for a fan of hip hop to admit.

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  19. Amy Winehouse and Nas both have the same birthday. 9/14 ten years to the day.. interesting fact

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  20. Max-
    I typically like your reviews. I have to say I totally disagree with most of your thoughts on this. Nothing in particular I'd like to debate, just thought it was much better than you. The fact that you haven't kept up with him since Hip Hop Is Dead is a sign that you aren't a fan of one the greatest of all time. Name something that has come out in the past 2 years that is worth mentioning..I can't think of much better than this.
    Tracks that stand out- Loco-Motive, Daughters, Back When, The Don, Stay, Bye Baby, Nasty, Black Bond and the song you never played all the way through is actually pretty good. Also thought the Intro was one of the better intros I've heard. Agree to disagree I guess....

    Chris aka hiphop_4life

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    1. this dudes trippin' ..i could name several albums that dropepd in the past two years that are WAY better than "life is good"

      1. Talib Kweli - Gutter Rainbows

      2. Action Bronson - Dr. Lector

      3. Ghostface Killah - Apollo Kids

      4. 9th Wonder - The Wonder Years

      5. Mudmowth & Metabeats - Sledgehammer Kisses

      6. Gangrene - Gutter Water

      7. Pharoahe Monch - W.A.R.

      8. Rapper Big Pooh - Dirty Pretty Things

      9. M.O.P. & Snowgoonz - Sparta

      10. Strange Fruit Project - A Dreamer's Journey

      11. Common - The Dreamer, The Believer

      12. Sunz Of Man Presents 60 Second Assassin - Remarkable Timing

      see?? i had to stop because i couldve made this HUGE list of albums released in the past two years that totally shitted on "Life Is Good"

      you really need to expand the circle of hip hop that you listen to. i can tell you dont dig deep for good hip hop music. you kinda suck making inaccurate remarks the way you did!!

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    2. I'd have to disagree with The Dreamer/The Believer personally, and, surprisingly, I have yet to listen to the 60 Second Assassin project (I'm slacking in my Wu stannery), but I'm glad to see Apollo Kids getting some love, since that album surprised the hell out of me.

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  21. and not one thing on "Worlds An Addicton"? One of the better tracks

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  22. Mr MidnightAugust 05, 2012

    Interesting review. My take on everything...and this is not for shock. I know people who feel the same as I do...

    This album is better than Illmatic. Lyrically....its not better. Illmatics best songs contain some of the best English/Ebonics/poetry, whatever, you'll read or hear in life. But notice, I said its BEST songs. However, Life Is Good is no slouch and has some great lyricism of its own. A FEW songs are on Illmatics level lyrically, but top notch, bar for bar levels of lyricism does not =/= great music.

    Musically, Illmatic is predictably formulaic. Cut the crap. It gets by based on the names behind the music. Save for a few standouts, the overall song structure and production technique did more harm than good. Illmatic is truly a product of its time (in a bad way) and the production hasn't aged well as other classics (hello ATLiens, Reasonable Doubt and LabCabInCali). But Nas is so focused lyrically, that you overlook that. Shit, I know I did.

    But that's where Life Is Good CLEARLY outshines Illmatic. And the reason its better is because we aren't in the presence of an emcee who's relying on his producers and the overall songwriting. Life Is Good has music that straight up KNOCKS, it has dusty jazz, it has hella soul...the music is varied and its done right. You have hooks/choruses that are tastefully done and go outside of repeating the song title ad nauseum and vocal scratches.

    Fact is, I'll put Life Is Good's best 9 against Illmatic. Like I said earlier, bar for bar, Illmatic takes it. But Life Is Good is the whole package.

    I love Illmatic and it changed my life because before I heard it, I didn't pay much attention to lyrics. But I grew up as a Hip Hop and MUSIC fan. Illmatic is great if you want lyrics. At one point in time, that's all I wanted. But I've come to want more out of my music due to hearing albums that took me there as far as music experience goes (with skillful lyricism as well). Life Is Good is part of that list....and Illmatic isn't.

    Flaws: Summer On Smash (The Don and Nasty both go harder. Don't see the need for it.), the extra shit on Worlds An Addiction, the 2nd verse on Stay...I get it somewhat but another verse on relationships/working things out for the child would've helped IMO...Ross straying off topic on Accident Murders

    Peace and keep going Max

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    1. BWAHAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!! OK stop it man.. youre liek making me choke on my laughter.. i can barely breathe

      you should be a comedian.. youre hilarious

      there's no way in HELL, that life is good is even approaching Illmatic, let alone being better than it

      you are so cluless its criminal

      you can put Life is good's 9 best against Illmatic's?? BWAHAHAHAAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!

      First off, Illmatic is only Tentracks.. and every track is pretty much classic. At best, Life is good's tracks were tight..AT BEST!!

      you really need to stop trying to be different and stop listneing to pitchfork's reviews!!

      Life is good, BETTER THAN ILLMATIC??? BWAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!

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    2. Mr midnight compares illmatics 9 against life is good's top 9, and you correct him by saying Illmatic has 10 tracks without acknowledging the intro? Are you sure you've heard Illmatic?

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  23. Mostly agree. save for cherry wine--which bumps. a get the brand Nubian comparison though, once i thought about it. But i like the classy feel, swinging beat, and the flow feels effortless-- a sign that he's at his best (check take it in blood, purple).Likewise, 'Stay' initially annoyed me, but later became the one song who would linger in my mind, like the flavor light and crispy prinlge. Anyway, I disagree most with your stance 'Understand'-- the beat is well crafted. I can't explain it but its complex and simple, and Singing itself doesn't render raw shit poppy-- here it ssits under the track like it should be -- its its nice and 'pleading' (as I just heard Melba perfectly describe Angela's Boefield's voice), as good soulful ghetto singing should be. And though its has a quite heavy impact, the beat is still patient enough to allow to come off quite pimpish and greasy with the slang.., ya dig. I enjoy it.

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  24. lol @ The beat (credited to Al Shux, a British songwriter and producer who provided the beat for Jay-Z's “Empire State Of Mind”, and Dan Wilson, who is a man)

    interesting review, i had a feeling you'd say near enough what you did. album was mediocre but had some good points. my favourite would be track 12 however i am slightly bias on jazzy rap as it's my favourite sub-genre. i'm surprised you reviewed this so soon though, normally you wait a few months unless it's a wu release :p

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  25. Long time lurker, first time poster

    Very nice bloggin going max, you know some interesting shit, and i enjoy even though you surprise me every now and then - I just cant find the consistency in your taste. whatever, your opinion is interesting. sometimes you fuck it up big time though.

    Just have to ask you about your gut reaction reviews?
    How can you review on a just a few spins? Dont you ever experience albums that just grow on you, even though were boring as fuck 1st time?

    Last question: Those times when you seem totally off (to me) are on the albums that are easy to critique 6ft deep if you spin them like a scientist and go into the details of beats and lyrics (fx All eyez on me) - but if you just put these albums on and let them ride along, they just have a sonic output that just instinctively appeals. If you never feel that, youre missing out man.

    keep ya head up
    O

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  26. mr midnight

    you are an complete ido , ah whats the point

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    1. Mr MidnightAugust 06, 2012

      LOL at me being an idiot because I don't think Illmatic is his best album. I march to the beat of my own drum. Not yours or anyone elses. But go ahead, speak your mind bruh. Like it or not, at least I was able to articulate why I feel LIG >>>> Illmatic.

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    2. well done you must be proud

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  27. Well, the reason people don't give this album a chance is because people still like to praise Illmatic as his best work ever. But to be honest, it was his first album and it sounds dated to this day. It's great for what it was but hey. Life is Good is a great album that's very cohesive, except for that on Smash shit.

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    1. At least most of you are with me regarding "Summer On Smash".

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  28. And whether we hip hop fans care to admit, he takes chances and he has arguably the best overall catalog than any MC. With Nastradamus being at the bottom

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    1. I actually don't think he really started taking any chances until after Nastradamus. It Was Written, I Am..., and Nastradamus were dominated by an unintelligible need to appeal to the mainstream (even that Firm album fell into this trap). Only after he outright failed (and released the worst album of his career) did he even bother to open his eyes and not coast so damn much. (Although, as I wrote above, I expect more from Nas.)

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    2. I feel like NAs is an artist that is stuck in a genre that he can't win , He can't be philosphical and at the same time battle the throne for NY Hip Hop with JAy-Z and Biggie . He went through the era of Hip hop where Wu-tang reigned supreme , then Bad-Boy and their pseudo- West Coast sound married to New York urban sensibilities. The music soundscape has changed so much and fans clamored to hear what was current from the Main stars of the Genre .... I haven't bought a Jay-Z album since reasonable doubt and yet he has been proclaimed the greatest ever by many . Nas cannot win . He's an MC for people who want to think ; want to hear his take on World events , he's a poet who doesn't truly need music to convey his ideas .... not a rapper who drops puchlines . I actually loved the direction he went with this album while noting that there were some songs that would have been better left off . But the maturity , the honesty and honestly this is probably his most cohesive output since illmatic and It was written . I don't know ; I loved this album

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    3. I don't hold Nas in the same class as a Jay-Z or a Biggie; Nas is, in fact, the rapper that most rap fans WANT to like, in my opinion, but can't fully commit to, thanks to his many poor decisions, which greatly outweigh the admittedly great stuff he does have in his catalog.

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    4. Mr. MidnightAugust 12, 2012

      Nas isn't in the same class as Jay since when? Are you still going off pre Kingdome Come Jay? You must be because Jay-Z hasn't put out anything close to high quality besides American Gangster since his "retirement". Blueprint 3 was downright disgraceful and Watch The Throne was an overblown mess with a few great moments where Jigger wasn't "bullshittin with bars".

      You may not like Nasir's beat selection or his choice of choruses, but from an emceeing standpoint, Nas has been the better emcee of the two for the past 4-5 years and has sounded better than ever. I think Jigger did have the one up on Nas from 97-2000, 2003 but to say Nas isn't in the same class as Jay is ludicrous.

      And Biggie? That's even more ludicrous. Biggie had all the charisma and humor but Nas had the bars. Now musically, that's a different story.

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    5. Although it's no secret that I prefer Hova to Nas, what I was trying to say is that I don't hold them in the same class because I consider Nas to be a better technical rapper. Probably could have made that clearer, though.

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  29. I thought this was pretty good, particularly Locomotive and Nasty. For an Album called Life is Good, this album should have had more 'fun' songs in my opinion. Nas' new music can sound pretty depressing, although not as much as anything from Jay Z's latest The Blueprint Three (My God that was a shitstorm). Keep up the great reviews!

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  30. I read that snoop dogg is working on a reggae album under the alias 'snoop lion' following his recent conversion to rastafari (news to me) sounds interesting, any chance of a review when it comes out?

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    1. I'm a fan of Major Lazer (who is allegedly producing the entire album), but I'm still undecided, given how far behind I am on Snoop's overall catalog.

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  31. I plan on (finally) making a Nas playlist so I can listen to it a million times and never be disappointed. The last album I could listen through without skipping was Hip Hop is Dead. Untitled I can't listen through completely because of the obligatory pop tracks, which also bring this album down in the same way. I haven't listened to Nastradamus since I bought the CD DESPITE all the bad reviews I read. Great review though. You pretty much summed up how I feel. Nas needs to go out on a high note with his next album and just make Illmatic 2 with songs that all sound similar to "Nasty."

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  32. I really like the album I felt like it was something you could give to both parties.
    People who like the old an nas and those who like the new . Some what to that nature of Watch The Throne where they had " New Day " Nas In life is good gives us "Nasty" .

    I think some samples in the album that are a bit abstract and not many people will like them , but to me I love the sound he has found here with songs like " Roses " " Where Is The Love " .

    I found this a very easy listen and what I was looking for from nas in 2012 . Where I can Listen to the album from start to finish , Unlike that of Watch The Throne where my interest fade to the end of the album ..,...

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  33. quietreader__NOTAugust 20, 2012

    wow! apparently something has changed here - as I rank #50something on the comment section with only 2 weeks into after the write-up :) That, indeed, is really nice to see Max!

    Anyways. Yeah, the album (again) was so-so, not as bad as some other stuff but as you pointed out correctly - other than a song or two being randomly played on shuffle, will it ever see daylight other than on accident_again?

    Wait, why did started my first comment on here? Ah right: So why don't you already get into telling us more about Nas' "Untitled" album already?
    I don't assume you haven't listened to it yet, but when you do once more, keep in mind the year, the time, the circumstances it has been released to us. ahm okay, I guess that is more or less inevitable. To me he hasn't solely proven himself on a musically/artistically level with this but (without wanting to drift off and sound too cheesy) so much more.
    guess that should be it.

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  34. This is the most intense beats out of all nas's album. His old albums, the chorus and beats arent as heavy and kinda cheesy. Let me start with the beats, enough said about that. I mean nas got soft, where's the old school beats?! nahmean. Now he's close to lupe fiasco. Great lyrics but beats are walking on tennis balls. C'man.

    This is no close to illmatic, shits classic. I could blast that shit all day. ITS 100% DIAMOND. shits a gem and should be in pandoras box. Indeed nas's illmatic should be locked in a cell. Most of his albums: timeless. Now i dont know about this one. The beats are lame as lullabies. This aint something i can stand and pull off everyday depending if im PMSing and ragging. I gotta be in half assed mode next time i pull this outta my rack.

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  35. Pathetic review. Album is on point

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  36. WOW. This review is... interesting.

    Granted, I'm glad you didn't go on the dickriding crusade most people did, but this album is waaaaay better than you're giving it credit for being, and is pretty much the best thing he's dropped since Stillmatic. Everything else he's put out since then has been half-assed, but this one feels like Nas was really in a zone. I think there's certain things you might be overthinking (to be honest) or simply don't "get".

    The 'Reach Out' joint does have me feeling like Nas coulda lightened up a bit considering the feel of the song... but it's a very classic-feeling record because it's a joint that was popular on mixtapes back in the day- the New Edition acapella over that breakbeat. MJB's more recent collabs have bored me to tears but she was perfect for this one.

    "You Wouldn't Understand", to me, sounds like the Nas of '96. And I know that to some that era of Nas was polarizing, but IMO that was him at his most complete, and it really sounds like he channeled that whole vibe there.

    It's some joints that don't grab me on this album, but I think this review was CRAZY hard on it... Nas sounds more focused, and most of all, COMFORTABLE. I think he knows he's not the guy who's gonna make big mainstream tracks for the radio (even tho' he couldn't help himself from trying one), but instead of being a snoozefest of rapper (like on his last three albums), he actually woke up enough to deliver with some charisma and dexterity again. I'm actually impressed, because I was absolutely ready to hear it and keep about 5 tracks like I've done with most of Nas' post-'01 albums. I stood corrected here, and actually came to like this way more than I have a Nas album in a looooonnnnng time.

    -D!

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  37. I think this is the best Nas album since 96's "It Was Written". Not that every track is hittin' the mark, but save for "Summer On Smash", every song is very listenable to downright amazing.

    I pretty much agree with DANJ! Nas sounds very comfortable on this album.
    Has a little influence from almost every of his albums displayed here and delivers great product. It cannot stand up to Illmatic, but come on, what will??

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  38. Nas has been my favorite MC ever since the days of It Was Written and through all the ups and downs he remains as such. This is exactly why it has been fucking agonizing following his career for the past 2 decades.

    Illmatic of course is close to perfect and It Was Written, minus a few missteps, was also brilliant. After that it seems that both his ear for beats and his consistency in crafting coherent, compelling lyrics went right out the window.

    Most of his albums post IWW have at least a couple magic moments in which gripping lyricism and worthy production coincides, but all too often we're left to settle for one without the other (and yes that includes The Lost Tapes!!).

    Honestly, I think over the years homie has smoked away most of his brain cells which would otherwise govern his good taste and good sense.

    Thematically, Nas is always aiming too high (his pedantic attempts at politically charged raps), or too low (Summer On Smash, nuff said). Add to that, his tendency to stray away from the topic in the middle of a verse. And even as early on as IWW, he showed his hand at not being particularly sharp at handling hooks. One strength Illmatic holds in that regard is that he had Primo, AZ, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and his boy Wiz handling hook duties for him.

    Why in spite of my many gripes do I hold Nas as my favorite MC? It's because when he is on, NOBODY has a voice, a flow, a mastery of imagery, the combination of bravado and vulnerability that speaks to me like Nas does.

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  39. Ugh... first I am a gigantic Nas stan, and you've made it known that you're the opposite of it (you're a Jay supporter). I'm not going to try to change your opinion or anything, but compared to Nas's last 2 solo albums, Life is Good was a freaking breath of fresh air. The beats were a lot better, Nas is able to stay on point through most of the songs, and every song (outside of the Swizzy dud) is at least listenable to pretty darn good.

    I actually liked "You Wouldn't Understand" - it sounds very poppy but at the same time it has a very strong 80s aesthetic. "Stay" is by far one of my favorites: Nas raps from the perspective of someone going through a really bad breakup and describing the aftermath, with an incredibly fitting instrumental that I absolutely love. "The Don" is almost like a sequel to "Made You Look". Overall, I loved Life is Good.

    Again, not trying to change your opinion (and you're pretty hard-headed Max; it'd be fun to see you do a simultaneous review with Robert Christgau), just mouthing off some thoughts.

    Also, will people please stop telling Nas to go back to Illmatic? Illmatic was a once-in-a-career thing, and Nas has made it pretty clear he's not going to make an album about things he was doing 20 years ago. I think Jay-Z said it best: "Hov' on that new shit, niggas like 'How come?' Niggas want my old shit, buy my old albums". It's called being progressive....

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