Nas previews ‘Life is Good’ album in New York | Recap + Video

Whose world is this?

Moments ago as I perched, humming on the rim of a potted tree by the Hudson River, an intriguing bird joined me and strutted inches away while I mused on the events of last night. In similarly close proximity 12 hours prior (June 14), I watched as Queensbridge representing Hip Hop legend Nasir “Nas” Jones stepped before a Hennessy and Belvedere sipping intimate music/media crowd at the Skyline room of The New Museum, New York to exclusively share snippets of nine tracks from his new album. Life is Good.

Among the event’s 100-150 attendees were Erick Sermon, Marsha Ambrosius, Skyzoo, Nas’ brother Jungle, and Bronx-raised Grammy-winning producer Swizz Beatz – who crafted several cuts on the new album alongside No I.D. (“The Train,” “Daughters”) and Salaam Remi (“Nasty,” “The Don,” “Black James Bond”).

“When I came to Def Jam the artist I was most excited to work with – and even just be around as a fan – was Nas,” President of Def Jam Joie Manda told the room before introducing him. “This album that he made, I think, is one of his best. I think he continues to raise the level of excellence… and you’re about to hear it.”

Enter Nas.

Life is Good…” he addressed us all, individually acknowledging his friends and fam in the room before setting the context; “Thank God for live, cause this shit is beautiful. I been going through a lot of shit, but we all go through our shit. No matter what life is still good. I feel good-er than a motherfucker. This shit feel beautiful. Now I want to take you – with me – through this shit.”

A shiny red Dell lay centre-stage helmed by DJ D. Prizzy, as a fresh-faced Nas calmly sipped a bottle of champagne to one side behind the speakers, a fat unlit cigar in hand. Dressed in dark Gucci shades and two gold diamond chains, a tattoo poked out from above the rapper’s white vest, paired with striped shirt, white jeans and matching Adidas shelltoes. Blaring through stacked speakers with healthy bass, little information was provided on each track – the music spoke for itself.

“So I decided, now I’m in charge” – the first track opened with Nas verbally attacking the beat, fluid storytelling and personal, reflective lyrics flowing passionately over an even-paced, thumping bassline. “Some of y’all might know Kelis; this goes to her with love…” My eyes wander to the green gown draped over his leg on the album cover.

“I live it and I speak it, my religion is Ether” he spits ferociously on the next number, with a raging guitar opener and lyrical flow representing well “for my trapped in the ’90s n***as.”

Loaded with rich orchestral samples, solid basslines and a fighting flow from the lyricist, the playback session earned reload after reload, Swizz Beatz nodding fiercly in a Life Is Good fitted cap as he stood next to Nas, whose crew rocked animatedly behind the decks, 20 deep.

The opening notes of “Daughters” brought Nas rapidly back to front of stage, framed by the speakers, mic in hand, passionately reciting the lyrics live over the track just inches from the front row of the eager, receptive listeners.

“This is some ghetto shit, this is how it supposed to be though,” Nas smiled from the stage at the hot, reactive room. “It’s a very nice place, we made it hood though!” Acknowledging fellow fathers and enjoying his moment, the energy of Nas’ evident hunger, passion and progression filled the room.

“This is a great album – and I don’t even talk about my albums like that,” he shared before taking it back to the music. “This record is very fucking important, goddamnit! I don’t need no fuckin’ money – I just need New York to feel good on that real shit.”

With a banging ’80s sample of New Edition‘s “Once In A Lifetime Groove,” Nas’ rapid piano-backed verses proclaim “I was the good seed, he was the wild flower.”

Guest features on the album include Maybach Music’s Rick Ross on “Accidental Murderer” with his “memoirs of a rich n***a,” whilst “Summer On Smash” features Miguel – the latter’s producer Swizz joining Nas onstage to play hype man and announce, “We come up from the streets… and in the streets we have fun too – this is our Hip Hop fun record,” before bounding back into snippets of the lively, club track baring a frivolous, feel-good chorus [“look at baby girl showing her ass,” “neck got a whole lotta glass,” etc].

Joking with the small crowd about bottles being thrown at the event, Swizz alluded to the rumoured Chris Brown and Drake/Meek Mill kaffufle at Teyana Taylor‘s New York launch party a few nights earlier. “I got my blazer on and my hawk in my pocket – let’s go!” he cracked, bounding across the tight mini-stage.

The impressive selection we were teased with thus far was more than solid, but the final track of the session truly sealed the deal.

Quickly shouting out Erick Sermon in the audience Nas screamed a question at the room: “Can I take you to the motherfucking darkside??” Likening the sound and impact to that of the Diddy/Bad Boy era a la G. Dep‘s “Special Delivery,” Swizz promptly spazzed on the mic and enlisted the room of willing participants to the next song’s opening chant – “This that street shit n***a, fuck that weak shit!” – bouncing around the small stage and knocking the all-important laptop off its stand, almost breaking the damn thing as Nas spat; “My instincts got me in this Kurtis Blow culture.”

We never got to hear the whole song, as wanton as the room was. By now the music desk was a mess with knocked glasses and bottles, the party as much on stage as in the crowd and Nas concluded: “We got one,” adding, “we might drop that tomorrow…” – Swizz vigorously agreeing.

I can’t personally recall attending an industry playback with as much genuine interest and passion in recent years. And having captured hearts and minds around the globe since his 1994 debut Illmatic, Nas deserves it. “This shit was hot and hood – and I love that shit,” he concluded before saying his thanks, goodbyes and exiting.

Back with a hungry flow, rousing soundscapes and the pure but ferocious energy early Nas stans crave, could his new album be an Illmatic for 2012?

Life is Good. Out July 17.

Video By: Versetti

Bonus: Nas interview: “We don’t chase pop, pop chases us”

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