This CD cover image released by Def Jam shows “Life is Good,” the latest release by Nas. (AP Photo/Def Jam)
On the cover of his 10th album, “Life Is Good,” the urban troubadour known as Nas is dressed in a white suit, glumly holding his ex-wife Kelis’ green wedding dress — the only thing left behind after the couple’s publicly acrimonious divorce. By way of his art, Nas both washes his laundry in public and shows he has moved on.
Producers No I.D. and Salaam Remi give this very personal record an aura of nostalgia, a throwback to the golden age of hip-hop, by using classic beats. Collaborations with artist like Mary J. Blige, Rick Ross and Swizz Beatz and Nas’ solos arrange themselves into a coherent necklace made of discreet gems. Old mixes with new, noir enters the flow and the lyrics are tinged with both vulnerability and brutality.
Nas is the same master wordsmith as he was when he first bowled over critics with his 1994 debut “Illmatic.” He tackles thug life, chrematistics and the pursuit of status, yet shows signs of growth by considering more personal topics like parenthood, love and his relationship with his celebrity.
Songs like “Daughters,” where he raps about his own real-life parenting struggles with his teenage daughter or “Bye Baby,” where he addresses the breakdown of his marriage and his subsequent bleeding heart, show a touching self-awareness. “Cherry Wine” featuring the late Amy Winehouse paints him in a surprising light where he is unshackled by the stereotypical rap views of women. Nas manages to make a clean break with the past by submersing himself and us in it.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: “You Wouldn’t Understand,” with its fast beat enhanced by Victoria Monet’s crystalline voice.