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Nas

Life is Good

Nas
Nothing is ever simple when it comes to Nas. Consequently, a deceptively lucid title for his tenth studio record is juxtaposed with the white-suited MC posing on the album cover ruminatively with ex-wife Kelis's wedding dress. Similarly, any thoughts that the album title would find Nas indulging his hedonistic side and awkwardly applying his inimitably intricate and verbose flow to lowest common denominator beats from current producers du jour are jettisoned with this solid effort. Well, there is the Swizz Beatz-helmed "Summer on Smash," but the less said about that egregious inclusion the better. Instead of the attention-baiting album titles addressing outward concerns of recent years, Nas mines his life for material, revealing more than he has in years. After laying down a number of gritty narratives and self-portraits crafted with a keen director's eye (such as "Loco-Motive," which screams out for a Ghostface verse), Nas gradually eases his vulnerabilities into the shot as a character wrestling with his adulthood responsibilities. On "Daughters," he offers a sometimes-unflattering critique of his parenting skills. "Bye Baby" traces the dissolution and fallout of his marriage to Kelis. And even his description of an ideal soul-mate on the exquisite "Cherry Wine" is bittersweet because of the fine feline vocal turn from the late Amy Winehouse. Only occasionally, as on staunch throwback "Reach Out," do you feel Nas might be cracking a smile, heartily assuming his role as mentor and key influencer. To address the Illmatic-sized elephant in the room, Life is Good obviously cannot compare to Nas's groundbreaking, revered debut, but it is definitely a consistently more satisfying affair than some of his recent releases. Life is Good is a well-crafted entry from a seasoned veteran that displays his vitality and vintage flow 20-plus years into his career in a genre where many MCs don't age gracefully. Thankfully, Life is Good isn't just good. Just like the real thing, it demands your attention and unapologetically embraces complexity. (Def Jam/Universal)
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