By Richard Wink
Nas has been cursed ever since he fired such a deafening opening salvo. Containing quotable rhymes, compelling storytelling and raw timeless beats, Illmatic is considered to be a hip hop masterpiece.
Nas, like most MC’s has always had a competitive streak running through his veins, and obviously felt a burning desire to better his debut, to get outside of Queens and take on the world. He couldn’t, but still he tried, and though he has created some stellar tracks throughout his career – ‘Nas is Like’, ‘Got Yur Self A…’ and ‘Bridging the Gap’ to name but three, he could never put together an album that was anything better than reasonably good. In recent years Nas has appeared to accept Illmatic’s timeless significance, and worked more on taking artistic risks, of getting back to his roots, being an uninhibited creative. During this period (post Hip Hop is Dead) we have witnessed him collaborate with Damian Marley and bury his long running beef with Jay-Z.
Though his abilities as an MC can never been questioned, the majority of Nas’ albums have lacked urgency and been full of nagging disappointments, mainly because he has been trying too hard, striving, rather than relying on his natural flow. Interestingly a new source of inspiration has come from his personal travails, significant huge tax problems and a divorce from Kelis has seen the swagger replaced by sensitivity. I’m not sure if the recent success of introspective hip hop stars such as Drake has allowed the elder statesmen to drop the tough guy act and talk about their feelings, but Nas has always been a keen social observer, only this time, he’s a Dad showing concern about his daughter’s shitty boyfriends on ‘Daughters’. The closing track ‘Bye Baby’ muses thoughtfully on the breakdown of his marriage.
For me the crowning moments on Life is Good come when Nas shows us that he can still make some heavy hitting club bangers. ‘The Don’, ‘Accident Murderers’ and ‘Summer on Smash’ sample some forgotten greats as Super Cat’s ‘Dance Inna New York’, MC Shan’s ‘The Bridge’ and Norman Feels’ ‘They Said It Couldn’t Be Done’. It somehow seems apt for Nas to be revisiting the past in such a way, demonstrating he can still hold the mic with authority.
Life is Good is a decent hip hop album, thankfully light on filler. Though at the moment Nas seems to be a wandering nomad, traipsing across the hip hop landscape completely on his own; whereas a stale Jay-Z teamed up with his buddy Kanye on Watch The Throne, Nas has no such allies to call upon. ‘Loco-motive’ the track with the most fire is “for my trapped in the nineties niggers”, and though many, including myself can’t move beyond the brilliance of Illmatic when considering Nas, Life is Good is a sincere statement from a man at peace with who he is and what he has accomplished.