|Recording information: 4220 Studios, Hollywood, CA; Conway Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; East West Studios, Hollywood, CA; Instrument Zoo Studios, Miami, FL; Jungle City Studios, New York, NY; Oven Studios, New York, NY; Record One, Sherman Oaks, CA; WEstlake Studios, Los Angeles, CA.
|That's Nas' ex-wife Kelis' wedding dress on the cover: she's a fellow recording artist, the two have a kid together, and she wasn't consulted about the album cover or the album itself. Life Is Good is that kind of album, and for the moment, Nas is that kind of guy. He may have recorded some game-changing albums early on, and his recent collaboration with Damian Marley, Distant Relatives, was vital as well, but this puff-chested bitch session is a completely different animal, coming off as Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear, although this one prefers playing to radio over playing it as landmark disc, and prefers swaggering over staying on topic. Know that he's willing to take all the credit for his own Illmatic here, too, boasting that he's the best in the game before shooting insults at easy targets and his ex-wife/father-of-his-children, who never should have left because as "Roses" states, "I'm an ass magnet." This trashing without rebuttal is worth arguing about, and snarky and vicious aren't admirable qualities, so the best way to approach this unfiltered carpet bombing of love and marriage is thinking about how heartbreak can make a man go cold (808s & Heartbreak) or in this case, irresponsibly start fires. Well-funded fires, too, as Swizz Beatz's "On to the Next One" soundalike "Summer On Smash" gives Nas a bona fide club killer, and when it comes to headlines, that's the late Amy Winehouse on "Cherry Wine" in one of her last recordings -- on a track as intoxicating as its namesake. Don't let that vicious guy on the cover know that a woman also assists on the album's other truly rich moment, with Mary J. Blige in top form on "Reach Out," while Rick Ross winds up the album's top thug thanks to "Accident Murderers," a majestic street track with No I.D. on production and a reference to Illmatic's Jerome character, even when bringing that one up is sticky, seeing as Life Is Good isn't even in the same ballpark. Still, Nas doesn't seem to care, putting a Jim Jones-styled blast of boss talk called "Nasty" on the same album he pulls the heartstrings on with the well-written personal number "Daughters," but he sells it all, delivering everything here as if its classic status was assured and will never fall into an embarrassment trap, as long as the cover art isn't brought into the debate. If the game needed Illmatic, this is the one Nas needed to get out of his system, acting as a clearinghouse for all venom and bile, plus some gloss that doesn't fit but needed to go as well. ~ David Jeffries