Year’s Best: Okayplayer’s Top 12 LPs Of 2012

Eddie "STATS" Imported from Detroit.

Nas "Life Is Good" album cover

1. Nas – Life Is Good.
With 10 #1 albums under his belt–not to mention a debut record that many rate as the gold standard of rap music, any year with a Nas album in it already has at least a candidate for album of the year. Of course more than 1 of those 10 #1 debuts were also candidates for ‘most disappointing album of the decade’. Here’s why Life Is Good is different–and one of 2012’s best. 1) It is a Nas album. 2) It is a Nas album with zero clunkers–“No Introduction” and “Stay” may not be as memorable as “Queens Story” but there are no wrong notes on here, really, and some of the record’s quietest albums cuts–like “You Wouldn’t Understand” with Victoria Monet–provide some of its most satisfying moments. Yet 3) Its louder, radio-ready cuts constitute a more consistent run of bangers–“Loco-Motive” (below); “Queens Story”; “Daughters”; “Accident Murderers”; “The Don”; “Cherry Wine” and “Bye Baby”–than his last 3 projects combined. In fact, about half the songs on the tracklisting are potential song of the year contenders, taken separately. But an album of the year title is not built on joints alone. What really makes this record work is 4) the depth of the subject matter, addressing the emotional battles of his real life–including parenthood, divorce and death–with blunt eloquence and a grown man’s perspective favored over lyrical showmanship. Just as important it’s all tied together with 5) a consistent sonic palette of Marley Marl-inspired drums and soulful strings that consciously channel Marvin Gaye‘s Here, My Dear. Which might be the most telling thing about Life Is Good; in spite of the plethora of singles, none is consciously commercial in the sense of courting radio-play or current club trends, a prime reason for past clunkers. With a debut like Illmatic hanging over his head, one might expect that Nas could have spent a career trying in vain to repeat it. But his 10 #1 LPs have mostly recorded the sound of him trying not to repeat the heavily-bootlegged classic, which famously failed to go gold on its initial release. Life Is Good may just be his second-best LP not so much because he tried to repeat his best–but because he stopped trying to run away from it.

>>>Purchase Life Is Good on iTunes

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