Life is Good's Future Impact

By:

On April 19th 1994, Nas released the album that forever changed Hip-Hop, Illmatic. It’s often regarded as the G.O.A.T in terms of albums and deservedly so. To this day, its influence is evident, especially in the production of an album.

Prior to the Illmatic, one artist would primarily produce an album. The Chronic, Midnight Marauders, and 36 Chambers all used the one producer formula quite effectively. However, this wasn’t the case with Illmatic. It had a slew of notable producers: Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock, Q-Tip, and L.E.S. They each provided the album with classics beats like “N.Y State of Mind” and “One Love.” Today, this “multi-producer approach” is the norm. Take a look at Good Kidd m.A.A.d City; it has twelve songs and thirteen producers.

Furthermore, Illmatic is also viewed as fundamental in the revival of east coast Hip-Hop. The Chronic, released in 1992, was the album that led the west-coast movement that existed before Illmatic.

With that being said, Illmatic—despite its profound impact—was also a bit overlooked upon its release. Shortly after the album’s release, Nas lost The Source’s lyricist of the year award to Biggie. Also, the album is ironically Nas' least successful in terms of sales. That brings me to his recent release—Life Is Good. It seems to be going down a similar path that Illmatic went down. Although it debuted at number one and received excellent reviews, the praise has died down since Kendrick’s release, and it has yet to be regarded as a game changer. Could Life Is Good have an equivalent impact to Illmatic that isn’t yet apparent? I certainly believe so.

Last year, I saw a video—attached below—of Young Guru, Jay-Z’s engineer, discussing the lane of adult-contemporary Hip-Hop(at the 10:00 mark). It made me realize that Hip-Hop, for the first time, is accepting of older artists; Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas are all 39 or older and doing well commercially. Although their success is primarily a result of attracting young listeners, it is also related to them being able to maintain the fans who supported since day one. The seventeen year-old fan that Jay-Z captured in 1996 is now thirty-three with kids. These aging fans have been fundamental to the success of older Hip-Hop artists.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVdq5BHa3rk

Although some may say that the first generation of Hip-Hop fans—who supported artists like Run-D.M.C, Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim—have already aged, the difference is that Hip-Hop wasn’t the commercial giant it was during the 80’s. Jay-Z, Eminem, and Nas made a lot more fans than the legends of the 80’s did, not because they were any better but because Hip-Hop was more universal.

However, The real test of maintaining this success is forthcoming. The fans in their twenties—who grew up on Stillmatic rather than Illmatic—are aging, as well. This group of fans is probably the biggest Hip-Hop audience today. Without their support, Eminem wouldn’t have sold 750,000 records the first week. Therefore, artists like Jay-Z and Eminem—whose retirements aren’t yet comprehensible—will face one of two options. They can either attract a younger audience or maintain a larger portion of the new wave of aging fans and establish them as their bread and butter. If they go for the latter, you can call the birth of the new sub-genre “adult contemporary Hip-Hop,” and credit Young Guru for its name. You may also want to regard Life Is Good as the blueprint for this sub-genre.

Like Young Guru said in the interview, in order to make music in that lane, rappers must progress with their music. Their topics have to evolve into one that caters to that demographic. On Life Is Good, Nas does this to perfection as raps about his teenage daughter, reflects on his teenage years with a nostalgic tone, and discusses the frustration of marriage and divorce. However, he doesn’t just discuss the mature topics. He delivers each of them with verses that provide a mature perspective and his signature smooth flow. Just look at the second verse of Stay, where he raps about his bittersweet view of his enemy. “Some seek fame cause they need validation, Some say hatin’ is confused admiration.” That verse is not delivered with the aggressive hatred a rapper typically throws at an anonymous enemy; it displays a more mature mind state.

Although some may look at other rappers who have touched on mature subjects as the proprietors of this style of Hip-Hop, no commercial rapper has displayed maturity consistently over the course of an album the way Nas has. Also, none have paired the mature subject matter with a mature sound. The smooth, jazzy production of “Stay” is different from the EDM sound that is prevalent throughout Watch The Throne. The soul of “Cherry Wine” is more likely to attract an adult than the dub-step “Who Gon Stop Me.”

In my view, Life Is Good has established this lane that Young Guru spoke on in the video. The album’s influence will be evident as aging rappers are increasingly being forced to evolve their music the way Nas has. Many agree that he changed the game back in 94. However, it seems that Nas has done so twice.

—MK