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.