Life is Good (2012)
The Classic: "Daughters"
With “Daughters” there was finally a song on which Nas’ casual fans and his cult followers could agree. The beat is big, but not bloated. The R&B element is sugary but not overpowering. Above all, Nas found a way to rap about his family life in a way that was as forceful and vivid as his crime narratives. The song is a letter from a grown-up player to his beloved daughter, but it’s never didactic. Rather than turn his message into a lecture, Nas turns his concern for his daughter’s well being into an opportunity to interrogate the choices he’s made in his own past. It’s a courageous statement, rarely seen in rap music.
The Stinker: "Summer On Smash"
There’s just no way to win with a phrase as corny as “Summer On Smash” and the rest of this song follows in the footsteps of its all-too-trendy title. Nas’ opening line—“Little overweight, hit the gym, let’s go get the abs in”—offers a second of hope that this could turn into a self-deprecating subversion of the typical summer rap jam, but no. It’s worse than the typical summer rap jam—smelly, sweaty, and overcrowded, just like a New York City beach in August.
The Buried Treasure: "You Wouldn't Understand"
For all its gloss, “You Wouldn’t Understand” has the glimmer and finesse that is so sorely lacking in “Summer On Smash.” A newly single Nas seems to be basking in his midlife moment, reliving the yacht-sized Mafioso dreams of the old days. “Now holla at a millionaire,” he says. “Rollie, Hublot and Audemar, deciding which one to wear/Who to screw, what to drive/550 with the cream guts inside.” From one of the original self-made rap millionaires, Nas provides a lesson to generation Facebook on how to blow old money with style. And what other rapper could fit the term “medulla oblongata” into his celebration of conspicuous consumption?