Kelis

Pain can be a great inspiration for art, and Nas has experienced plenty of it since his divorce in 2009. His new album, Life is Good has a picture of a pensive Nas, whose full name is Nasir Jones, holding the green wedding dress of his ex-wife, Kelis. This sets the mood for the rest of the album, a release which is personal and reflective. As the title suggests, Nas does not pout or self-loathe but rather contemplates the current stage of his life as an aging rapper.

Along with age comes wisdom. Nas’ lyrical artistry is as strong as ever on the album, but his perspective has become more mature. He sagaciously rebukes young kids running around shooting haphazardly in “Accident Murderers” and wonders “Tell me who you impressin’?” when he hears of them accidentally killing innocent people. He muses over his own thug days on “No Introduction” wondering, “How could I not succumb? How could I not partake?” in criminal activities but acknowledges in “Daughters” that he doesn’t want that kind of man around his children. Nas no longer has the street troubles of Queensbridge. He now has to address problems like raising a family, paying taxes and divorce.

He handles the sensitive subject of divorce without much bitterness. “Stay” is about as enraged as he gets, admitting he mostly stayed with Kelis for the physical benefits and says, “I want you dead under six feet of soil/ At the same time, want you here to witness me while you in misery.” But in “Bye Baby,” he addresses her in a much sweeter tone, one that is thankful for the memories and for their child. Of course, Nas addresses more traditional rap topics as well: celebrating his memories of the men he grew up with in Queens (“A Queens Story”) and hard-core rap reminiscent of his ‘90s days (“Loco-Motive,” which even features Large Professor from Illmatic). The only true misstep is “Summer On Smash,” a shameful attempt at a club hit.

The beats throughout the album are varied, interesting and tinged with the sounds of ‘90s hip-hop. No I.D. and Salaam Remi do most of the production, and they provide excellent beats for his mesmerizing and well enunciated delivery. Nas’ flow is as elegant as ever and equally poignant. His lyrics are resonant, and the beats sustain his lyrical energy. Nas seems to have made a resounding return to the forefront of the hip-hop scene.

“We control the dance floor,” Kelis says on the first track of her latest album, Flesh Tone. Known best for her R&B hit “Milkshake,” Kelis seems to have become more ambitious with her latest venture, which makes the transition to a dance-pop, mania sound.

On Flesh Tone, Kelis worked with some of the biggest names in dance music, including Benny Benassi, Jean Baptiste, Boys Noize and will.i.am. The ingenuity created with working with such producers is shown boldly on various tracks throughout the album, including “22nd Century,” “Home” and “4th of July (Fireworks).” Each track molds into the next, creating a continuous dance-party mix.

On the opening track of the album, “Intro,” Kelis lets her listeners know immediately that this isn’t going to be an instant replay of her previous release, Kelis Was Here, which had a more urban-rap feel to it. Instead, she creates club tracks that are sure to entice people to hit the dance floor. “It’s you, I can’t run. I can’t run to you. It’s true, I give up. I give up on you,” she sings in a voice that sounds as if it is straining to get through to the listener, yet it is perfectly fitted to the disco-style background beat and synths.

What is also refreshing about an artist who started their career in the late ’90s is that with certain sounds and rhythms, they are able to take listeners back to that place. This is seen on the track “Emancipate,” which is definitely reminiscent of the dance-club music which became prominent in that decade. The shouting chorus, yelling “Emancipate yourself!” will definitely have listeners dancing for their freedom.

However, on of the main problems with this album is that the tracks tend to stay on one particular wavelength. Maybe this is not what Kelis was going for, but a little variety wouldn’t have hurt. Though it has its flaws, if you feel like dancing, this is a good album.