Life Is Good (Nas album)

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Life Is Good
Studio album by Nas
Released July 13, 2012 (2012-07-13)
Genre Hip hop
Length 58:12
Label Def Jam
Producer Al Shux, Boi-1da, Buckwild, Da Internz, DJ Hot Day, Heavy D, J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League, Nas, No I.D., Noah "40" Shebib, Rodney Jerkins, Salaam Remi, Swizz Beatz
Nas chronology
Distant Relatives
(2010)
Life Is Good
(2012)
Singles from Life Is Good
  1. "Nasty"
    Released: August 9, 2011 (2011-08-09)
  2. "The Don"
    Released: April 3, 2012 (2012-04-03)
  3. "Daughters"
    Released: July 17, 2012 (2012-07-17)
  4. "Cherry Wine"
    Released: September 19, 2012 (2012-09-19) (radio)

Life Is Good is the eleventh studio album by American rapper Nas, released on July 13, 2012, by Def Jam Recordings. His last album for the record label, it was recorded at various studios in New York and California, and produced primarily by No I.D. and Salaam Remi. Nas wrote the album after his divorce from recording artist Kelis and compared it to Marvin Gaye's 1978 album Here, My Dear. He wanted to vent personal feelings and address moments in his life lyrically and pursued 1980s hip hop influences for the album's production in order to complement its nostalgic tone.

Life Is Good features personal subject matter, themes of adulthood and nostalgia, and reflections on Nas' personal life and experience in hip hop. His rapping is characterized by a relaxed, plainspoken flow, internal rhymes, and a tone that veers from malicious to nostalgic and introspective. The album's production incorporates orchestral elements and musical references to both contemporary and golden age hip hop, including boom bap beats and old school samples.

Upon its release, Life Is Good received universal acclaim from music critics, who praised Nas' lyrics and mature themes. It debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200, selling 149,000 copies in its first week, and reached the top 10 of record charts in Canada, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. It was promoted with three singles—"Nasty", "The Don", and "Daughters"—five music videos, and Nas' touring during June to December 2012. By February 10, 2013, Life Is Good had sold 354,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

Background[edit]

Nas' direction for the album was influenced by his divorce from Kelis.

In 2010, Nas released his tenth studio album Distant Relatives, a collaboration with Damian Marley that reinvigorated Nas creatively.[1] However, he became distracted with tax problems and an expensive, highly publicized divorce from his wife Kelis months before their son's birth, events that influenced his direction for Life Is Good.[2][3] His songwriting on the album was also influenced by adjusting back to life as a single man.[4] Nas also wanted to write more original subject matter rather than another album "about how you came up in the hood and how you had to make it out of the hood".[4]

Although he did not find his album "quite so much about the marriage or the divorce", Nas likened Life Is Good to Marvin Gaye's 1978 album Here, My Dear,[2] which was written by Gaye in response to his own deteriorating marriage and released as a financial settlement.[5] Nas said of the album's personal subject matter in an interview for Billboard:

When I started working on the record, I tried to avoid it. The timing was just calling for me to not avoid all the shit that was going on out there. It was like a 10,000-ton gorilla in the room watching me. This is the way I got it off of my chest. This album talks about life, love and money. It talks about the fact that marriage is expensive. Life Is Good represents the most beautiful, dramatic and heavy moments in my life.[5]

The album's cover depicts a forlorn Nas in a polished white suit, sitting in a night club's VIP lounge, and holding over his knee Kelis' actual green wedding dress,[2] which he said was the only item she left.[5] When writing the album, Nas also reflected on aging and maturation, fatherhood, and his 20-year experience in hip hop music.[2]

Recording[edit]

Recording sessions for the album took place at the following recording studios—4220 Studios, Conway Recording Studios, and East West Studios in Hollywood, Instrument Zoo Studios in Miami, Jungle City Studios and Oven Studios in New York City, Record One in Sherman Oaks, and Westlake Studios in Los Angeles.[6] Nas worked with several musicians, including Amy Winehouse, Mary J. Blige, James Poyser, Anthony Hamilton, Miguel, Large Professor, and Hal Ritson, among others.[7]

For the album, Nas wanted the production to complement his lyrics' nostalgic themes with 1980s hip hop influences.[2] He primarily worked with hip hop producers No I.D. and Salaam Remi, a frequent collaborator of Nas.[1] Remi said that he wanted his production "to be something that a mumble-mouth rapper can’t rap on. You better have something to say and be speaking up."[1] Along with producer Swizz Beatz, No I.D. and Nas related to the latter's lyrics concerning divorce during the recording sessions.[5] During the sessions, Nas recorded the song "No Such Thing as White Jesus" with singer Frank Ocean and producer Hit Boy, who misplaced the track while sorting through music he had produced for Jay-Z and Kanye West's album Watch the Throne (2011). Although he later recovered it, the song was not included on Life Is Good.[8]

Music and lyrics[edit]

Life Is Good leaves Nas in his comfort zone, where the vital music of his youth proves a rousing platform for commenting on matters of middle age.

— Evan Rytlewski, The A.V. Club[9]

The album incorporates musical references to both older and contemporary hip hop.[10] Its production features live instrumentation,[11] orchestral music, R&B, and boom bap elements.[12] Music journalist Evan Rytlewski denotes "boom-bap drums, lush keyboards, smooth saxophones, and the occasional Run-D.M.C. and MC Shan sample" to be "tasteful accents" from golden age hip hop.[9] Ryan Hamm of Under the Radar views that Remi and No I.D.'s production "lean[s] toward opulent and epic",[13] while Pitchfork Media's Jayson Greene writes that the latter's produced songs "exude the warm TV-fireplace crackle of ... throwback production."[14] Anupa Mistry of Now writes that "boom bap classicists Salaam Remi and No I.D. weave a raw, funky, orchestral lattice customized for Nas's age-appropriate raps".[15]

Life Is Good features nostalgic and adult themes,[12] including aging and maturity.[12] Nas' transparent lyrics address moments in his life, including his youth and the recent events leading up to the album.[10] Erika Ramirez of Billboard observes "stories of internal and external battles, some of which he won and some he lost."[10] David Dennis of The Village Voice writes that his lyrics address hip hop's "golden era" and "the trials and tribulations of adult relationships", with "close-to-home perspectives".[16] Brandon Soderberg of Spin asserts that his lyrics "constantly remind nostalgics that the good ol' days were often chaotic and desperate".[12] Slant Magazine's Manan Desai finds Nas' comparison of his album to Gaye's Here, My Dear apropo, writing that "like Nas, Gaye was pushing 40 when he recorded his album; he'd cemented his position as one of R&B's greatest, and yet, he never sounded more anguished about where all that fame was leading him. There's something similar going on throughout Life Is Good; the more we hear Nas repeat that titular refrain, the less convincing he sounds."[3]

Nas' rapping is characterized by internal rhymes and a relaxed, plainspoken flow.[9] Allmusic's David Jeffries comments that Nas "prefers swaggering over staying on topic" and characterizes his lyrics about his divorce as "unfiltered carpet bombing of love and marriage".[17] Both Jeffries and Jason Birchmeier of Allmusic characterize the content as "venomous".[17][18] Conversely, Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone views that Nas "cuts his rhymes with midlife realism and daring empathy".[19] Ken Capobianco of The Boston Globe writes that the songs "mix anger, nostalgia, and insight."[11]

Songs[edit]

Nas tries to reconcile his growing distance from "the streets",[9] while referencing his financial troubles, on the track.[20]

A modal jazz rap,[21][22] the song features wooly saxophone,[14] somber bass, and venomous lyrics.[23]

Problems playing these files? See media help.

On the opening track "No Introduction", Nas reflects on his impoverished upbringing and maturation into a "graphic, classic song composer".[24] The song's subject matter ranges from lifestyle boats to revolutionary ideals: "Hood forever, I just act like I’m civilized / Really what’s in my mind is organizing a billion Black muthafuckas / To take over JP and Morgan Goldman and Sachs / And teach the world facts and give Saudi they oil back".[20] "Loco-Motive" has an underground vibe and keyboards similar to Nas' 1994 song "N.Y. State of Mind".[25] "A Queens Story" has boom bap and classical elements in its production, including classical piano,[24] orchestral strings and funky drums.[3] Its lyrics pay homage to Nas' native Queens and his creative influences.[3] "Accident Murderers" incorporates pipe organ in its production,[24] and its lyrics addresses senseless violence with a rags-to-riches narrative by Rick Ross.[10][19]

On "Daughters", Nas is bewildered at the responsibilities of fatherhood, as he addresses his daughter's social networking activity and worries about his past undermining his parental authority.[9][14] Killian Fox of The Observer writes that Nas' observations on his ex-wife's "hefty childcare payments" and his 18-year old daughter "dating unsuitable men" are resonated by his "recollections of his early years as a Queensbridge hustler – just the kind of unsuitable young man he's warning his daughter about these days".[26] "Reach Out" features Mary J. Blige and incorporates the piano loop from Isaac Hayes' 1970 song "Ike's Mood".[10] Its lyrics address Nas' feeling displaced "when you're too hood to be in the Hollywood circles, you're too rich to be in the hood that birthed you".[4] "You Wouldn't Understand" addresses life struggles and features a mellow production and neo soul influences.[10] "Back When" has flickering production and mytholigizing lyrics by Nas: "check out the oracle bred by city housing".[14]

The up-tempo "The Don" samples Super Cat's 1982 song "Dance inna New York" and has a 1990s hip hop sound.[10][19] Its lyrics extol both Nas' rapping prowess and New York City.[10][19] According to No Ripcord's James McKenna, "Stay" mixes soul and jazz elements, "bringing to mind Low End Theory era A Tribe Called Quest and Tupac's Me Against the World, and lyrics "questioning the line between love and hate".[27] "Cherry Wine" features vocals by Amy Winehouse and a narrative between ill-fated lovers.[3] The song was titled after Winehouse's guitar, which she called "cherry".[23] Jesal Padania of RapReviews cites it as "quite possibly the best 'ladies number' that Nas has ever delivered, though it is infinitely classier than that label."[23] On "Bye Baby", Nas' lyrics address his ex-wife and recount their marriage in a narrative that follows the wedding, counseling sessions, marriage counseling, and the legal process of their divorce.[3][10]

Promotion[edit]

Nas promoted the album with television appearances and performances on The Colbert Report, Late Show with David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel Live!, and 106 & Park.[5] He also headlined the Rock the Bells music festival and emarked on a three-week European tour during June and July 2012.[5] Nas co-headlined the "Life Is Good/Black Rage" tour with Lauryn Hill, performing from October 29 to December 31,[28] when he performed an exclusive show at Radio City Music Hall in New York City with Elle Varner as the supporting act.[29]

Three singles were released in promotion of the album—"Nasty" on August 9, 2011, "The Don" on April 3, 2012, and "Daughters" on July 17.[30] A music video for "Nasty" was filmed by director Jason Goldwatch in Queensbridge, Nas' hometown in New York,[31] and released virally on October 11, 2011.[32] A video for "Daughters" was directed by Chris Robinson and premiered May 27 on MTV Jams.[33] Its storyline chronicles the relationship between Nas and his daughter through her point of view.[33] On April 27, Nas released the Aristotle-directed video for "The Don", which featured lavish images of Nas' lifestyle.[34]

On August 30, Nas released a video for "Bye Baby", featuring scenes of Nas in an empty home, at his divorce proceedings, and in a setting that revisits the cover image of Life Is Good.[35] It also featured singer Aaron Hall of Guy, whose 1988 song "Goodbye Love" is sampled on "Bye Baby".[35] A video for "Cherry Wine" was also released on October 2.[36] It was dedicated to guest vocalist Amy Winehouse,[37] who is featured as a projection on a wall in the video's scenes.[36] On September 19, "Cherry Wine" was sent to radio in the United Kingdom.[38]

Commercial performance[edit]

Nas' eleventh studio album,[39] Life Is Good was released by Def Jam Recordings; it was his last album for the label.[40] It was first released on July 13, 2012, in Germany,[41] where it reached number 24 on the Media Control Charts.[42] In the United Kingdom, it debuted at number eight on the UK Albums Chart,[43] on which it spent three weeks.[44] The album also debuted at number two on the Canadian Albums Chart and sold 5,700 copies in its first week in Canada.[45] Life Is Good charted for four weeks and peaked at number 33 in France, and in Switzerland, it charted for five weeks and peaked at number eight.[46]

In the United States, the album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 149,000 copies in its first week.[47] It was his sixth number-one album in the US.[47] In its second week on the Billboard 200, the album sold 45,000 copies.[48] By February 10, 2013, it had sold 354,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan.[49] The album charted for 16 weeks on the Billboard 200.[50]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 3.5/5 stars[17]
The A.V. Club A–[9]
Entertainment Weekly B–[51]
The Independent 4/5 stars[40]
NME 8/10[52]
The Observer 4/5 stars[26]
Pitchfork Media 8.3/10[14]
Rolling Stone 3.5/5 stars[19]
Slant Magazine 4.5/5 stars[3]
Spin 7/10[12]

Life is Good received universal acclaim from contemporary music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 81, based on 30 reviews.[53] Kevin Perry of NME called it "a grimy, back-to-basics return to form".[52] Pitchfork Media's Jayson Greene commented that "you can't recapture lightning in a bottle, or age backwards, but you can settle gracefully into strengths. Nas isn't back; he's just here."[14] Ken Capobianco of The Boston Globe viewed the album as an improvement over Nas' past work, which he said occasionally "went off the rails when it became more about ego than hip-hop."[11] Slant Magazine's Manan Desai found Nas "inspired" and praised the album's "narrative unity" as "a wide-angle look of the artist as a grown man."[3] Evan Rytlewski of The A.V. Club complimented Nas' "beautifully expressed" lyrics and called the production "as thoughtful as his prose".[9]

Chris Schulz of The New Zealand Herald preferred the songs he felt were aimed for "hip-hop purists" and cited Life Is Good as "Nas' most mature, most complete album since his classic 1994 debut, Illmatic".[54] Randall Roberts of the Los Angeles Times called it a "thoughtful, fierce, honest and – most important – heavy-duty work" and stated, "Nas has gotten better at rolling with the punches – and you can hear it in every verse".[55] Erika Ramirez of Billboard found it "refreshing" for Nas to "explore himself and his life before us" rather than contemporary hip hop's "luxury rhymes".[10] Carl Chery of XXL felt that it is "arguably Nas' best LP since Stillmatic" and asserted, "At this juncture—21 years and 10 solo albums in—no other MC has ever rhymed at such a high level this deep into their career. Not Rakim. Not Kool G Rap. Not Slick Rick. Not Big Daddy Kane. Not LL Cool J. No One."[20]

In a mixed review, Matthew Fiander of PopMatters found its production to be "uneven" and calculated "as product", with "half-done ideas".[56] Allmusic's David Jeffries called it a "puff-chested bitch session" and felt that "Nas needed to get [this album] out of his system, acting as a clearing house for all venom and bile, plus some gloss that doesn't fit but needed to go as well."[17] Jon Caramanica of The New York Times found Nas' narratives "sometimes distractingly fanciful" and his lyrics occasionally "overstuff[ed]", although he called the album "a simulacrum of the sound that made him legendary, capturing Nas in his vintage prime without coming off as anachronistic."[57] In his consumer guide for MSN Music, Robert Christgau gave the album a three-star honorable mention ((3-star Honorable Mention)),[58] indicating "an enjoyable effort consumers attuned to its overriding aesthetic or individual vision may well treasure."[59] He cited "Daughters" and "Accident Murderers" as highlights and quipped, "Reflections of a bigshot who, as he mentions several times, is damn big".[58]

Accolades[edit]

Life Is Good appeared on several critics' year-end top albums lists. It was named the best album of 2012 by The Source and Okayplayer.[60] The album was also ranked number 18 by Rolling Stone,[61] number 12 by Complex,[62] number 16 by James Montgomery of MTV,[63] number six by Martin Caballero of The Boston Globe, and number seven by Jon Caramanica of The New York Times.[60] Life Is Good received a Grammy Award nomination in the category of Best Rap Album for the 2013 Grammy Awards.[64] It is also currently nominated for Album of the Year at the 2013 BET Hip Hop Awards.[65]

Track listing[edit]

No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "No Introduction"   Kenny Bartolomei, Kevin Crowe, Nasir Jones, Erik Ortiz J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League 4:15
2. "Loco-Motive" (featuring Large Professor) Jones, Ernest Wilson No I.D. 3:40
3. "A Queens Story"   Jones, Darryl McDaniels, Salaam Remi, Joseph Simmons Salaam Remi 4:35
4. "Accident Murderers" (featuring Rick Ross) Chris DeGarmo, Jones, William Roberts, Norman Solomon, Marlon Williams No I.D. 4:37
5. "Daughters"   Patrick Adams, Gary DeCarlo, Dale Frashuer, Jones, Paul Leka, Wilson No I.D. 3:20
6. "Reach Out" (featuring Mary J. Blige) Dante Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Rodney Jerkins, Jones, Christine Perren, Freddie Perren, Remi, Richard Wyatt Salaam Remi, Rodney Jerkins, DJ Hot Day, Nas 3:46
7. "World's an Addiction" (featuring Anthony Hamilton) Anthony Hamilton, Jones, Remi Salaam Remi 5:01
8. "Summer On Smash" (featuring Miguel and Swizz Beatz) Kasseem Dean, Jones Swizz Beatz 4:19
9. "You Wouldn't Understand" (featuring Victoria Monet) Eric Barrier, Anthony Best, Tommy Brown, Michael Claxton, William Griffin, Jones, Victoria McCants Buckwild 4:35
10. "Back When"   DeGarmo, Barry Forgie, Jones, Shawn Moltke, Williams, Wilson No I.D. 3:22
11. "The Don"   Earnest Clark, Jones, William Maragh, Dwight Myers, Marcos Palacios, Remi, Nkrumah Jah Thomas Heavy D, Salaam Remi, Da Internz 3:02
12. "Stay"   Lester Abrams, Jones, Wilson No I.D. 3:45
13. "Cherry Wine" (featuring Amy Winehouse) Jones, Remi, Amy Winehouse Salaam Remi 5:56
14. "Bye Baby"   Tim Gatling, Gene Griffin, Aaron Hall, Jones, Remi, Teddy Riley, Noah Shebib Salaam Remi, Noah "40" Shebib 3:59
Samples:[7]
  • "No Introduction" contains samples of "Don't Cry" by Kirk Franklin[66]
  • "A Queens Story" contains samples of "Peter Piper" by Run–D.M.C. and "Queen's Story" by Salaam Remi.
  • "Accident Murderers" contains samples of "They Said It Couldn't Be Done" by Norman Feels and "The Bridge" by MC Shan.
  • "Daughters" contains samples of "Dust to Dust" by Cloud One and "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" by Wayne McGhie and the Sounds of Joy.
  • "Reach Out" contains samples of "Ike's Mood" by Isaac Hayes and an interpolation of "Once in a Lifetime Groove" by New Edition.
  • "World's an Addiction" contains a sample of "The World" by Salaam Remi.
  • "You Wouldn't Understand" contains samples of "Let's Start Love Over Again" by Miles Jaye and "Eric B. Is President" by Eric B. & Rakim.
  • "Back When" contains samples of "Double Agent Jones" by Barry Moore Combo, "Live Routine" by MC Shan, and "The Bridge" by MC Shan.
  • "The Don" contains elements of "Dance inna New York" by Super Cat.
  • "Stay" contains samples of "Seven Steps to Nowhere" by L.A. Carnival.
  • "Bye Baby" contains samples of "Goodbye Love" by Guy.
  • "The Black Bond" contains samples of "Praguenosis" by Salaam Remi.
  • "Where's the Love" contains samples of "Brooklyn-Queens" by 3rd Bass.

Personnel[edit]

Credits are adapted from the album's liner notes.[7]

Charts[edit]

Release history[edit]

Region Date Label
Germany[41] July 13, 2012 Def Jam Recordings
United Kingdom[56] July 16, 2012
United States[56] July 17, 2012

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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