The rapper who once declared “Hip-Hop is Dead” is anything but lifeless on his 10th studio album.
For starters, Nas is obviously working through some unresolved issues with Kelis, the R&B singer he married in Atlanta in 2005 and split with four years later.
There’s the green wedding dress draped over his leg on the album cover – the one thing he said she left behind after moving out. Then comes the early shout-out in “No Introduction” when he announces, “Some of you might know Kelis. This goes to her with love.” And as a coda to his swirling emotions on the closing “Bye Baby,” he wonders, with equal parts pride and rage, how it all went wrong when, “I was your Johnny Depp, you were my Janis Joplin.”
“Life is Good” is achingly personal throughout and Nas never recoils from honesty.
He also has a lot to say, all of the time. “Loco-Motive,” with Large Professor, is a loping song containing lyrical gallops, while “Daughters” is a touching recitation of all of the ways he’s failed as a father and role model and his mild panic at witnessing his daughter growing up unprepared because of his shortcomings.
Musically, Nas is a whirlwind as well, injecting “A Queens Story” with cinematic flourishes worthy of a John Williams score and fluidly rhyming against Mary J. Blige’s unmistakable pipes in the funk-rock thumper “Reach Out.”
The gem of the album, though, is “Cherry Wine,” with its posthumous Amy Winehouse cameo. Produced by Salaam Remi, who worked with Winehouse on both of her studio albums, the song spotlights her sweetly smoky voice as it follows the melody with woozy charm. Nas raps over a hollow drum beat about wanting a real girl, “someone to talk me off the bridge,” demonstrating again that “Life is Good” might be the most cathartic album of the year.
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By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene