Nas’ “Life” Is Good for Hip HopJuly 18th, 2012
By Gee King
On his revered 1994 classic debut Illmatic, Nas explored adolescent angst in the streets, famously lamenting “Life’s a b—h, and then you die.” Almost 20 years later, Nas has grown into one of the most accomplished and respected legends in the game. The QB native channels the energy of his current state brilliantly on his 10th album Life is Good, which shares a decidedly different tone than his classic collaboration with AZ.Despite personal and romantic woes, media scrutiny and never-ending comparisons to foe-turned-friend Jay-Z, Nas seems completely at peace with everything in his life. From his intimate but critical reflection on fatherhood “Daughters” to the Salaam Remi and Noah “40″ Shebib concocted “Bye Baby,” which finds him speaking frankly on his divorce from Kelis, Nas is moving on all cylinders as an artist and entertainer throughout the album. With rave reviews coming in and an optimistic spirit rising above the summer air, Life Is Good is a sign that hip hop is good.
No less than six years ago, Nas lamented the state of the culture on Hip Hop Is Dead, which became a rallying cry for the elder statesmen of the game to take the culture back to its roots and was received by younger artists as a slight. But any gap that Hip Hop Is Dead created has been bridged in the years since, thanks in large part to Nas and his fellow veterans. Collaborating with young artists like Drake and Tyga may have raised eyebrows for some of Nasty’s diehard fans, but now his greater vision is coming into focus. Generation gaps are inevitable, but by delving into the realities of the present — adult themes like marriage and fatherhood — instead of chasing the past and bemoaning the artists of the future, Nas stepped up and helped save the culture he once pronounced deceased.
But while his growth as a person has always had a profound effect on his content, Nas still stays true to his musical roots. As he declares on the Large Professor-produced “Loco-Motive”: “This is for my trapped-in-the-’90s-n—s.” And while the bursts of lyricism that take listeners back to the Illmatic days are still the definition of Nas at his best, he also sounds right at home on more modern cuts like the Rick Ross-assisted “Accident Murderers.”
From content to execution to presentation, Life Is Good is one of Nas’ best. And anyone who’s been paying attention for the last 19 years can tell you that’s an accomplishment in itself. But the greatest accomplishment of Life Is Good is its cultural significance. Jay tried to do it prematurely on Kingdom Come, and artists like Common and OutKast have done their part to influence that maturation of hip hop for a while, but Life Is Good sets the bar for “adult” hip hop. Relevant, relatable and of the highest quality, this is what hip hop has grown into. Nas satisfied adult fans and set the bar for the new school instead of heckling them. Olu taught him well. This is how you bridge the gap.