As I just noted, if Breaking Atoms is 21, in a sense, so is Nasty Nas insofar as he debuted on that album’s “Live At the BBQ”. As it is, Nas also has a new album that just came out, Life Is Good. By this time, I feel like half the album was already dropped/leaked ahead of time so the actual LP dropping is slightly anti-climactic but I’m not remotely trying to find fault here.

Given that something like 4-5 songs were leaked/released ahead of time, there’s been stronger buzz behind this release than Nas other recent releases. These two tracks, especially, had hopes raised as high as I’ve seen them in years:

This is no new insight but it’s hard to imagine another rapper whose fan base yearns for a ‘return to form’ more than Nas. To say that “people want another Illmatic” practically feels like a running joke except that folks are serious and hell, I’ve been guilty of that as some point. These days, I don’t hold out that hope/expectation – if Nas was going to pull it off, he would have done it but that’s not where his game is at and I can respect that he wants to make the albums he wants to make.

In any case, “Nasty” and “The Don” feel like outliers; there’s not much on Life Is Good that sounds similar except to say that as songs that nod to the ’90s, there’s other tracks that do the same thing, albeit not on some mega-grimy way. For example, “Reach Out” doesn’t just sound like a Mary J. track circa 1995, it features Mary J. over a track she originally debuted back in ’95 (hey, SWV reformed, they couldn’t get on here too?).

I’m all for ’90s nostalgia though, again, I’d like more ’92 and less ’98 but hey, that’s moi. At least Nas and No ID throw us a bone with “Back When” which, as the title suggests, is all about back-in-the-day.

Nas: Back When
From Life Is Good (Columbia/Def Jam, 2012)

(I can easily imagine all the wide smiles on folks when they first heard this come on).

Interestingly, most of the best songs on this album revolve around Nas’s relationship to women, dating back to earlier in the year when he dropped a video for “Daughters”:

The song is literally patriarchal in its perspective but I like Nas’s ability to half-jokingly acknowledge his own faults while still trying to push across a more serious message about the challenges of raising girls in a modern environment. He could stand to be more more self-aware of how, on this very album, he’s talking about “bad bitches” yet also bemoans how his daughter is growing into her own sexual identity but Nas wouldn’t exactly be the first MC to engage in contradiction.

In any case, I do like the 1-2 punch that ends the album: “Cherry Wine” (which resurrects Amy Winehouse to surprisingly good effect) and “Bye Baby,” Nas’s “Here My Dear“-esque ode to his ex-wife, Kelis. It’s a bit of a downer way to end the album but it feels honest and especially following on the romanticism of “Cherry Wine,” it’s an unexpected blast of sobering reality that isn’t bitter so much as it is raw.

Nas: Cherry Wine
Bye Baby
From Life Is Good (Columbia/Def Jam, 2012)

Will Nas make it to another 21? I surprise myself in thinking…yeah, I think he will.