Leaving His Soul On The Paper
New Yorkers everywhere traveling on the MTA everyday must think there is something in the water. I have been looked at like I have three heads while bumping to the fire coming through my headphones via Nas’ new project, Life is Good… and I know there’s a million of ya’ll just like me. This album is proof that with enough life lessons, a legend can be reborn. I think it is safe to say that not only Nas fans, but fans of the everlasting sub-culture turned global phenomenon known as hip hop, took in a deep breath of fresh air when they hit play on the first track of this album. I, for one, was blown away, for lack of cliché sayings. Nostalgia hit me, and I found myself bopping my head as I would if I were listening to an early 90’s Big L or Wu Tang cassette. From Nas’ raw freestyle-like flow to the old school samples, I heard him prove and proclaim his title as one of the greatest to ever do it. He took his experience with love and betrayal, essences of human existence that we can all relate to, and channeled them into a true work of art. During a time when hip hop folks are accustomed to hearing overly-produced songs with flashy lyrics, coming back to disappointed fans with material that sounds vintage couldn’t have been easy. Only a true legendary artist could make this possible. I can imagine him sitting in the studio, writing away, leaving his soul on the paper, knowing that this round would be critical….and man, he won by a knock out. It is extremely rare to listen to an entire album without skipping a single song, and I did just that. I won’t go through every track because I love them all and can write forever, but I’ll shed some light on a few of the gems:
Vintage Nas came through HEAVY on a track called “Nasty”. I felt like I was in a basement standing in a circle, listening to a freestyle, drinking 40s, with my “oh shit this is DOPE” grill face. Spitting rapid fire, he just declared that the Nasty Nas we all fell in love with on 1994’s Illmatic was still very much alive.
Of course, he had to pay his dues to his beloved borough. On “A Queens Story”, he sampled other Queensnatives RUN- D.M.C’s classic “Peter Piper”. It was a love song to the borough that birthed him, the streets that raised him. I understood the intimacy of this song riding throughQueenswith my friends that are from there. As the track played, they were all buggin’ out, connecting to all the references he was making….then towards the end, when the bass line exits and all that’s left is a classical piano and his voice, the song became that much more dramatic. A true classic ode to NYC.
Moving on to the extremely soulful “Stay”….WOW. The first line “Peace to the five percenters”… does what good hip hop songs do. Makes you ask questions. This is a song that you just sit and take in as a poetic lesson. His delivery was impeccable, his voice like velvet over the “Seven Steps to Nowhere” sample. The Black Bond was another 4 minutes of awesomeness. It’s a very sexy song. The dramatic beat, sounding like a 1940s silent spy movie score, adds to the mystery of the track, and the overall nostalgic feel I mentioned before.
Kelis inspired “Bye Baby” shows Nas’ vulnerability, and humanizes him. We’ve all had or will have heartbreak… a few. This song solidifies the fact that we can all connect and relate through the darkest of times. It’s a song about finally being able to step back and analyze a failed relationship, after the initial reactionary (and sometimes irrational) emotion has been released and can now be controlled. Reminiscing on the good times, seeing how sometimes saying goodbye is the best thing to do.
Finally, the last track I’ll share my thoughts on will be Cherry Wine. I am biased because I love Amy Winehouse like it’s no one’s business. (A.D.D. Sidenote: Reach Out goes IN…All hail Mary J Blige! Lol ok back to Cherry Wine…) This song is just pure beauty. Amy’s voice never disappointed over an R&B beat with an old sound. The main reason I love this track is because the collaboration sounds like a true team effort, instead of a battle. They both complimented each other excellently. The lyrics are so hopeful, inspiring resilience. Like I said, I could go on forever, and I know you all have busy lives. That being said, let me leave you with just a few more words:
Some say Nas was stuck in the past with this album. I say the failure of his marriage could have been the best thing to ever happen to him, artistically. Every track is a diamond. Nas is a story teller. Point blank period. The production, the lyrics, the delivery, the engineering, everything is impeccable. Life is good for Nas, and life is better for us hip hop fans after this album. Let’s pour some cherry wine. Everything is good, everything is fine.
Written by Janelby Ramirez. Janelby Ramirez is a music connooisseur and writer. Follow her at @obiwajanelby.