Over 18 years ago, a 20-year-old Nas released what is arguably the greatest hip-hop album of all-time, “Illmatic”. In the years since, Nas has seen the world via his multiple tours, has acted in a few TV shows & movies, and released 8 other solo albums, as of 2011. However, all of these have fallen a little short of the caliber of his iconic debut. So, with his tenth solo studio album, his last under his deal with Def Jam, Nas aims to further solidify his place as a hip-hop legend & release a successful album for the third decade in a row.
LIFE IS GOOD
1. No Introduction
Nas sets the album up perfectly with this track. He gives us three verses that cover the subject matter of most of the album, by juxtaposing his humble roots & his life in the streets with his current lavish life style, as well as weaving tales of his exploits with women & the biggest women in his life thus far, his ex-wife Kelis Rogers. The lyricism of Nas is unquestionable, and the dense rhyme schemes present throughout his discography are also in this song, and the whole album. On this song in particular, he delivers these rhymes over an anthemic J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League beat filled with piano, guitars, big drum hits & other sounds, creating a very good intro.
2. Loco-Motive featuring Large Professor
The simple three-note bass line mixed with the snare hits throughout the song make this beat literally sound like it is a locomotive train. This instrumental & the choir intro create the setting of a New York subway as Nas reminisces on his success & his life in New York. As Nas proclaims, this track was made for people stuck in the 90’s, and Nas made a solid cut out of that concept.
3. A Queens Story
Nas gives us an ode to Queens, New York here, dedicating this song to all the men who have fallen to the Queens street life. Both the fast, swelling strings throughout the song & the sampled classic Chopin piano composition of the fourth verse match the lyrical content to create a very eerie atmosphere, making this a great song.
4. Accident Murderers featuring Rick Ross
The organ & choral background vocals set a churchy feel for this track that finds Nas meditating on beef & murders in the streets, and Rick Ross delivering a relatively off-topic-yet-strong verse, much like he did on Kanye’s “Devil in a New Dress”. Not only does this song present the only rapping feature on the album, it also includes the only real hook from Nas himself. Mixed with the beat, those two things make this track stand out from most of the others in a positive way
Switching straight from two tracks about death & murders, Nas transitions right into one about a life he brought into this planet. A now separated parent, Nas struggles with the task of raising a daughter, especially in the Internet age and especially with the reputation he has. Kaye Fox’s background vocals over No I.D.’s beat accentuate Nas’s rhymes perfectly on this one, giving us a touching piece.
6. Reach Out featuring Mary J. Blige
Blige’s always powerful vocals flow seamlessly over this instrumental straight from the boom-bap era. Nas’s commentary on his lifestyle also fit nicely, and we learn that though his life is good, it still bears problems. This combination produced another good track.
7. World’s An Addiction featuring Anthony Hamilton
Nas explores the vice of people from himself, to a pastor addicted to bestiality porn, to a doctor planning to kill his ex-wife. This song is filled with a powerful string section & Anthony Hamilton’s assistance deepens the dark mood. Nas builds upon this, executing perfectly. Everything works together magnificently here in what is certainly one of my favorite cuts from the album.
8. Summer On Smash featuring Swizz Beats & Miguel
This seems to be an attempt at making a radio single, judging by the presence of Swizz & Miguel to create the hook. Although it may work as that, this is probably my least favorite song from the album. We only get 24 bars total from Nas, all about girls in the summer, and there seems to be something off about Miguel’s vocals here. This is one of the few dim spots on the album, yet it’s still at least a decent song
9. You Wouldn’t Understand featuring Victoria Monet
The instrumental and vocals of Victoria Monet create an upbeat mood for this song, and Nas’s verses have a happy conclusion. Although he starts by telling us the unfortunate outcomes of some of the people he knew, he reminds us that he made it out of the streets safely and is living the life now. Not one of the best tracks, but not bad.
10. Back When
The background vocals & MC Shan sample continue to show No I.D.’s creativeness that has been present throughout this album, and Nas capitalizes on this beat. He delivers two very impressive verses contrasting modern rap with how it was when he started. Following two songs that kind of slowed the momentum of the album down, it gets back on track here.
11. The Don
This song moves along really quickly with Nas’s clean, rapid-fire rhymes, the hectic-yet-refined drum-heavy beat, and the great Super Cat vocals. I honestly don’t see anything wrong with this track. The hardest-hitting beat on the album with three of the best verses. Love it
We get another drastic transition here, as we move straight from the most up-tempo song on the album to the most laid back one. The smooth, saxophone-driven beat is complimented by some clean vocals which set Nas up to rhyme in an apparently effortless style. He tells us of two complicated relationships he has, one with a freaky woman dating another famous person, and another one with a man Nas has beef with. This transitions the album into a more personal section, and does so in great fashion.
13. Cherry Wine
The drum-line sampled from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” is accentuated by some bells and more background vocals. Nas once again seems very relaxed here, delivering two verses about his soulmate, whom he can’t seem to find. The post-humous Amy Winehouse hook finds her giving the female side of this song, also trying (and failing) to find her soulmate. This is a great duet, as the two really seem like they had good chemistry.
14. Bye Baby
The woman who wore the green wedding dress pictured on the album cover makes one of her first appearances here, and she gets a whole song dedicated to her. Nas gives us many of the details of his marriage here, from the day they wed to their divorce. At one of the pauses in the beat, Nas delivers one of the most powerful lines of the album, letting us know that money isn’t the only thing he lost in the divorce. Nas’s rides the beat with ease once again, present another great song. Notably, the “Bye Baby” chant of the hook can be a bit ambiguous here, as it can not only wave goodbye to Kelis, but also conclude the album, with the standard version ending here.
DELUXE VERSION ADDITIONAL TRACKS
Nas gets back to his heavy rhymes with this track that wouldn’t seem out of place on Illmatic. The breakbeat, scratches, lyricism, lack of a hook, everything; it all is what originally let us know of Nas’s return, back when it was released over a year ago. If it tells you anything of this song’s quality, it was voted the number one hip-hop song of 2011 by RapGenius users
16. The Black Bond
With a heavy bass line and strings that seem like they were pulled straight from a horror film, Salaam Remi did a great job of creating a dark mood for this piece, even though there’s hardly anything dark about the lyrics. Nas tells us of a couple of his girls & a man who’s hating on him. Although I feel like Nas could have definitely utilized the atmosphere the beat produces much more, it’s still a good track.
Nikki Flores’s vocals mix with the minor keys to create another dark, chilling atmosphere. Nas spins a tale of the women he dated while he was married to Kelis which led to their divorce, and the animosity she has harbored towards him since. He uses to the beat to his advantage much more here than on the last song, with a positive result.
18. Where’s The Love featuring Cocaine 80’s
In the last cut of the deluxe album, Nas reminds us of his roots in the streets. Over this drum-heavy beat, Nas gives us 54 bars broken up by a great Cocaine 80’s hook, telling us of the risk of the streets with the cops lurking and jail waiting around the corner. This is a perfect example of Nas’s notoriety for delivering incredible rhymes illustrating the streets over a well-picked instrumental.
All in all, this a great album, from start to finish. This is one of those where if I play the first song, I don’t skip any tracks & I can’t pull myself away from the music until it is over. Not many people can stay relevant in the rap game for 20 years, and Nas proved with this album that he definitely can. The breakbeats Nas has used dating back to Illmatic are still present, and so is the impeccable lyricism & dense rhymes; throughout the years & everything Nas has been through, though, his subject matter has expanded, and he also rhymes over a wider array of beats.
This isn’t quite a flawless album, as there are surely some things that could have been left off and others that could have been added, but it’s certainly a great album. There’s no doubt in my mind that this should make everyone’s end-of-the-year lists, and I feel that a few of these songs will stand the test of time.
Judging by the fact that there were no songs I truly disliked here, and quite a few that I truly liked, I’d give this album a high 8 or low 9, on a scale to 10. A very strong album, and here’s to hoping that Nasty Nas has more to come in the future.
–RapGenius Moderator Screv6
Nas – Cherry Wine Lyrics
Nas – World’s An Addiction Lyrics
Nas – Back When Lyrics
Nas – The Black Bond Lyrics
Nas – Bye Baby Lyrics
Nas – Where’s The Love Lyrics
Nas – Daughters Lyrics
Nas – Loco-Motive Lyrics
Nas – Reach Out Lyrics
Nas – The Don Lyrics
Nas – Summer On Smash Lyrics
Nas – Nasty Lyrics
Nas – No Introduction Lyrics
Nas – A Queens Story Lyrics
Nas – Accident Murderers Lyrics
Nas – Roses Lyrics
Nas – Stay Lyrics
Nas – Trust Lyrics
Nas – You Wouldn’t Understand Lyrics