nas-life-is-good-interview

Nas Talks 'Life Is Good,' Wanting Eminem and Jay-Z for "Daughters (Remix)"

First, let’s get it out of the way. Nas’ Life Is Good is worth the proverbial hype. The tenth release from the celebrated Queensbridge, New York lyricist is also his best effort in years—a work that is as brutally honest as it is ambitious. Yes, much of the talk surrounding the project revolves around its startling, barebones personal content, a project that finds Nas brilliantly detailing his very public divorce with R&B vixen Kelis, his tax issues and fatherhood. But to Nas’ credit, Life Is Good is more than just bold a dissection of tabloid headlines. It’s hopeful, infectious, defiant, redemptive and at times nostalgic. VIBE caught up with Nas to discuss his bold new work and his legacy within the hip-hop landscape. It’s Nasty Nas, y’all.—Keith Murphy

There’s been a lot of talk about the influence Marvin Gaye’s landmark Here, My Dear had on you during the recording of Life Is Good. How much of an impact did that album have on your creative writing process?
A lot…just Marvin’s overall genius. It’s an album that I really love and a lot of people still have never heard it. Marvin wasn’t afraid to put it all out there. He was very open with [the break up] of his marriage.

From the album cover, which highlights Kelis’ wedding dress, to some of the personal details you reveal about your own divorce, were you initially apprehensive about sharing personal details of your relationship?
It just came naturally. It really bothered me because we are in the Internet age. There was no way to avoid everything that was out there. To me that’s what shaped this album. I couldn’t escape all the stuff about my marriage or questions about [my finances]. So my answer was putting Kelis’ green wedding dress on the album cover. The music and the reality of my life go hand-in-hand. Life is poetry and that’s what this new album is. I haven’t had a record out in a long time. This is the way I got it all off of my chest.

Can you talk about what the creative process was like working with No I.D.?
With No I.D. at first it took us a while to really see what train we were both on. We both seemed to agree on a lot of things, but to work together we had to make sure we were on the same page. His take on the album was for me to just be myself. Forget everything else…just do what’s real. That’s always been the formula with me and Salaam [Remi]. So it was no different with No I.D. We would just spend sessions talking. Those conversations really kept me on point. No I.D. is a brilliant dude.

One of the songs on Life Is Good that showcases your fruitful collaborative relationship with No I.D. is the single “Daughters,” which talks about your at times rocky relationship with your teenage daughter Destiny. Can you describe the first time she heard the song?
She was there when I was recording it. We were in a big studio so Destiny was doing other things, but she walked into the room where I was recording it and heard a few words and said, ‘What’s going on?’ The whole room just started laughing and she kind of smiled and walked backwards out of the room. She didn’t know what it was about and she didn’t want to listen to it, but later on she heard the song.

And what was the verdict?
I think she understands where I was coming from. She can hear me saying that I wasn’t always around and I wasn’t always the best dad, but I care. And there are a lot of fathers like me. To me, ‘Daughters’ lets all those fathers out there know, ‘Hey, don’t end up like me in terms of not being there all the time.’ You should really pay attention to the most precious thing in the world. Destiny and I hang out all the time. She never beefs with me about it.

What did you learn from working with Swizz Beatz this go around?
Working with Swizz was great. We both have been through divorce. Me and Swizz both been through baby mama drama. We both have an undying love for hip-hop. And we are in great places in our life. He’s probably in a better place when it comes to his love life because Swizz is married to the amazing Alicia Keys. But we’re both in a great place in our lives.

There are some very savvy features on this album such as Rick Ross, Anthony Hamilton, and the late Amy Winehouse. Were there any other artists that you wanted to collaborate with that didn’t make it on the album?
One of the only other rappers I thought about was AZ. And I wanted Eminem for a remix for “Daughters,” but he had already expressed that he’s spoken so much about his daughter throughout his career that he had done that subject too much. And me and Jay-Z talked about doing some things, but our schedules were so crazy.

That would have been worthy of pushing back the album, huh?
[Laughs] Well, I know we both are probably going to be upset that he didn’t make it onto the album because I really look forward to working with Jay. But I didn’t want a lot of people on the album since it’s been four years for me. Next album I’ll do more features, but on this one I didn’t want to have a lot of people on the album. I also have Mary J. Blige on vocals. I’m drawn to that soulful sound.

There seems to be a real synergy between you and Rick Ross. Were you surprised how well you complimented each other lyrically?
Not really. People see him as a Biggie…but I see him as an Isaac Hayes or a Barry White when it comes to his actual sound. He has soul. His voice is soulful. And where he raps from is very soulful. That’s how he resonates to me. So that’s why I wanted him on the record.

This is probably the most stripped down Nas album fans have heard in a long time. Did you have any of the Def Jam suits complain that you weren’t being commercial enough with this release?
Let’s be real, this is a business. It’s always about money, but when it came to Life Is Good I told Salaam and No I.D. that I wanted to make music that was age appropriate and real to who I am. And that was still connecting with today’s hip-hop fan. But the truth is, we don’t know that market. We don’t know who that consumer is. So that no longer became the focal point for this album. Now it’s about doing what we love. To make music with No ID and Salaam, who were both poppin’ in the ‘90s and still poppin’ today, they were the perfect producers to work with me. This record took on a feeling of an era that’s been gone for a while.

Having worked with Nicki Minaj, what are your views on some critics who say she is not real hip-hop?
I think the hip-hop purists are purists through and through. They’re here to criticize all of us. That’s just how it is. We as MC’s criticize each other. That’s the nature of hip-hop. But to say that Nicki is not hip-hop is inaccurate. She wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t hip-hop. We saw her come up in the streets and virally with all the YouTube videos. She earned her position. She came up through the ranks. She came from nothing and became the one female that’s holding it down for hip-hop.

Before you released your landmark album Illmatic, you were barely 18-years-old when you made your recording debut on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbecue” in 1991. What goes through your mind when you listen to that verse decades later?
It gives me the chills. I’m thinking to myself, ‘The balls of this young man!’ [laughs] The curiosity in his rhyme and the heart and the voice. I was saying to the world, ‘It’s about to go down…I’m about to do some things.’ From that point on, I would have never known that I would be the guy with probably the longest hip-hop career that has been able to stay strong and have a meaning. I feel like I’ve been able to keep it diverse and creative. I think I’ve had the longest career of strength, focus, and still being able to sell records. I think I’m that guy.
I’m still blessed with the opportunity to make music and pass out a message like life is good to the world.

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Kevin Mazur

Eminem Reignites His Rage With 'Music to Be Murdered By'

It became easy to hate on Eminem going into the 2010s. Starting with 2009’s Relapse, his first album in five years after taking time off to recover from drug addiction, the Detroit legend’s peerless mic wizardry became increasingly overshadowed by plodding production and below-the-belt potshots at pop stars. Never mind that that album contained some of Em’s most pristine, conceptually-driven bars; to a maturing fan base, the retreads of previous themes and a liberally-employed new accent missed the mark. And though Recovery seemed to be just that for him, culminating in some noteworthy hits like the Rihanna-assisted “Love the Way You Lie,” Marshall Mathers spent the rest of the last decade releasing a series of uninspiring missteps leading up to 2017’s forgettable Revival. Fortunately, Music to Be Murdered By is an ably produced late-career triumph, with some of Eminem’s most poignant and exquisitely crafted lyrics in in recent memory.

What better backdrop for Eminem’s refocused angst than that which is invoked by the shoveled-dirt sounds and an eerie drop—announcing the album’s macabre title—by a Hitchcockian narrator on the intro? From jump, it’s a way of keeping things fresh and thematically consistent for a potentially daunting 20-song stretch. Suddenly those lazy strays by far too many on Rap Twitter at his supposedly lame “skippity be bop de boo” rhyme patterns seem moot when the 8 Mile representative comes off newly enlivened in his grown-man vent, with one of the best openers since Meek Mill’s “Dreams and Nightmares.” Over woofer-caving bass and a dramatic organ, he spits, “They said that they hated the awake me/I lose the rage, I’m too tame/I get it back, they say I’m too angry.” It’s thrilling to hear him sounding this focused—no funny voices or childish slurs—while defending the humorous and reflective aspects of his legacy and persona.

The former aspect is on display on “Unaccommodating,” his link-up with Young M.A, the first of several well-placed features here. Em’s lighthearted lines—in all their hacked-algorithm complexity—about “getting head like a Pillow Pet” blend unusually well with the Brooklynite’s loose, languid flow. And far from the workmanlike thud of past Slim Shady beats, the song’s hypnotic, bells-driven melody adds some much-needed verve and bounce, helping modernize and stabilize a beloved MC whose verbiage tends toward rigid and caffeinated.

“Cause, see, they call me a menace and if the shoe fits, I'll wear it. But if it don't, then y'all will swallow the truth, grin and bear it” #Renegade #MusicToBeMurderedBy pic.twitter.com/2aIFk2kz8a

— Marshall Mathers (@Eminem) January 23, 2020

But those revitalized hijinks of Em’s soon give way to some of the headier material that one one would expect on such a darkly-themed project. “You Gon’ Learn,” with a guest spot from Royce da 5’9”, is a moving meditation on the inevitability of struggle. Whereas his longtime friend recalls his past with alcoholism, Marshall ruminates on the existential dilemma of being white and poor in a Chocolate City: “Didn't have knots, I was so broke/On my last rock, for my slingshot/Better haul ass, don't be no slow poke/Through the tall grass, run your ass off/Oh no, got your pants caught on the fence post/Getting chased, by them Jackboys.” These sepia-toned snapshots, emboldened by world-weary synths and hard snares, bristle with a fuming blue-collar furor, reminding us once again of Em’s remarkable triumphs over adversity.

But what about those well-crafted bars? Not only does Music to Be Murdered By possess them in spades, it also astoundingly manages to bring the ever-illusive third verse back to the forefront. Its inclusion on “Yah Yah” is obvious, if not expected alongside such heavyweight spitters as Black Thought and, again, Royce da 5’9,” though Em makes it indelible: “And I'm like a spider crawlin' up your spinal column/I'm climbin' all up the sides of the asylum wall/And dive in a pile of Tylenol, you're like a vagina problem/To a diabolical gynecologist tryna ball a fist.” More surprising, however, is “Lock It Up,” a hit waiting to happen, which features Anderson .Paak and a third verse whose heading-spinning quatrain (“Get a whiff of the doctor's medicine/Like sedatives you'll get popped, Excedrin/'Cause you can get it like over the counter/Like I just left the damn concession stand”) seems all the more outstanding amid Dr. Dre’s lucid and infectious guitar stabs.

Less a radio-ready earworm than a morbid monologue, “Darkness” is a tragic narrative in the tradition of “Stan.” In under six minutes, Eminem embodies a deranged shooter, self-medicating backstage with Valium and alcohol before opening fire on his audience then killing himself. The song ends, significantly, with Eminem highlighting gun debate loopholes and playing news clips from the 2017 Mandalay Bay Hotel shooting in Las Vegas as well as the 2019 shooting in Daytona, Ohio among others. This is social commentary with the subtle implication that white male privilege in this country far too often hides an unchecked anxiety, along with the observation that these mass shooters aren't as far from us as we may think. It may fall flat with some listeners since just several songs earlier he makes a punchline out of the deadly bombing at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, but for an artist who has previously likened himself to the Columbine shooters, the song is growth.

A more suitable conduit is the punk-rock-like Stepdad,” where Marshall blows up on his guardian for abusing him and and his mom to the point where “I’m startin’ to think I’m psychotic.” What would otherwise serve as a welcome reprieve, “Those Kinda Nights,” a saccharine ode to hitting up the strip club, with Ed Sheeran on the hook, falls flat. It’s not that we don’t want to hear Shady at his ease; it’s just that with such a formulaic setup (not to mention a clunky line about D12 member Bizarre and a lap dance—something no one really ever needs to visualize, no disrespect), it dissipates some of the album’s bullet-point intensity.

That eye-of-the-tiger ferocity is, thankfully, flexed on “Little Engine,” which revisits the zany worldview introduced on his debut some 20 years ago with bars like, “I'm still the one that your parents hate/I’m in your house eatin' carrot-cake/While I sit there and wait and I marinate/I'm irritated, you 'bout to meet a scary fate/And come home to find yourself starin' straight into a fuckin' barrel like Sharon Tate.” Elsewhere, “Marsh” mines a similarly combative mode while showcasing more breathtaking internal rhymes: “A pad and pen'll be great, but a napkin'll do/Return of the whack sicko/Head spinnin' like Invisibl Skratch Piklz/Yeah, Shady's back, see the bat signal.”

But it’s “I Will,” which boasts the remaining Slaughterhouse members, that marks his newfound penchant for score settling. Here, instead of coming for R&B songstresses who are for the most part defenseless against him, Eminem trains his sights, finally, on someone who’s fit for the smoke. In a blistering swipe at former Brand Nubian and frequent VladTV affiliate Lord Jamar, he observes: “Yeah, your group was off the chain, but you were the weakest link.” If it seems like presumption to go at one of the culture’s pioneers like that, it’s thanks to a buildup of bad vibes that have long been brewing between the two. It’s a sentiment he echoes in the aforementioned “Lock It Up,” where he addresses the proverbial elephant in the room, regarding Joe Budden’s exit from Slaughterhouse, degradingly referring to the podcast host as “Trader Joe.” Eminem doesn’t merely get mad here; with Music to Be Murdered By, he also gets even.

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Premiere: 12-Year-Old Rap Princess That Girl Lay Lay Introduces Tha Slay Gang With Fun "Long Hair" Video

It all started with some freestyle raps in her Dad's car that went viral on social media, now Houston's 12-year-old superstar rapper, Alaya High aka That Girl Lay Lay, is poised to take over the teen market and y'all grown-ups need to watch ya back too!

With an infectious hook game and bars that topple stars, Lay Lay burst onto the scene in 2018 with a crowd pleasing appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. That's the same year she dropped her Tha Cheat Code music project to adoring fans that were clamoring for a full body of work from the energetic artist. Having laid claim to signing a record deal as the youngest female rapper ever to her own label, Fresh Rebel Muzik/EMPIRE, Lay Lay is wasting no time in bringing her girls on this ride with her.

Pushing their first single, "Long Hair," Lay Lay and her two bouncy "Tha Slay Gang" group members, Sweets (hailing from South Carolina) and Sugar (repping North Carolina), are sure to dominate every pre-teen birthday, graduation and youth celebration party from here on out. The uptempo track is fun, super engaging and chorus friendly for the hyper masses. Lay Lay explains, "This is one of my favorite songs because its fun and something everyone can dance to. It’s about my friends 'Tha Slay Gang' and I sticking together, working hard and not getting into any drama! We try to demote bullies, and show the world that working hard pays off.”

The video takes place at a neon'd out roller skating rink, with the ladies leading a group of kids in a lit chant of the vocals and letting off one liners galore like: "I don't want no drama/If you go dumb then I'mma go dumber/hot girl winters and hot girl summers/If you knew me Daddy I'm Balenciaga Momma!" Just got to love the kids.

Check for Lay Lay in national tv commercial campaigns with Old Navy

and Mitsubishi.

So much more is on the way for this uber talented MC.

 

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Dave J Hogan

New Music Friday: Eminem, Mac Miller, Dreamville And More

Eminem fans were greeted with a pleasant surprise today, with 20 new tracks from the rap legend. But there's plenty of new music this week: Mac Miller fans are left with a final musical memory from him, Dreamville revamped their Grammy-nominated compilation, and Thundercat released a new single with Steve Lacy and Steve Arrington. Look below for today's New Music Friday.

Mac Miller – Circles The passing of Mac Miller in Sept. 2018 was one of the toughest losses that hip-hop has had in years, with the rapper/singer/producer’s kind spirit and immense artistic growth touching the lives of many. Today, his legacy continues with the release of Circles, his first posthumous album. According to a note from his family, Mac was “well into the process” of recording the Jon Brion-produced album, which was meant to be a companion piece to Swimming, the last album he released months before his death. Apple Music | TIDAL

Eminem – Music To Be Murdered By In the first major surprise release of the year, Eminem has surfaced out the blue with Music To Be Murdered By, the follow up to his 2018 surprise release Kamikaze. Eminem tweeted that the album was inspired by filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock, and the 20-track final product has guest appearances by the likes of Young M.A., Juice WRLD, Black Thought, Q-Tip, Anderson .Paak, and a partial Slaughterhouse reunion. Apple Music | TIDAL

Dreamville – Revenge of the Dreamers III: Director's Cut The Dreamville crew’s Revenge of the Dreamers III compilation made history in 2018, uniting over 100 musicians from around the world for a “rap camp” in Atlanta and earning a Grammy nomination in the process. Now, they’re releasing a deluxe edition with an extra 12 tracks from the same lineup that made the first edition special. Apple Music | TIDAL

Thundercat - “Black Quails” Jazz maestro Thundercat announced a new album this week, and the beautiful first single “Black Quails” has him playing and singing alongside Steve Lacy (of The Internet) and Steve Arrington. Apple Music | TIDAL

2 Chainz ft. Future - “Dead Man Walking”

Bad Boys For Life Soundtrack Will Smith and Martin Lawrence reunited for the third installment in their hit Bad Boys buddy cop franchise, and DJ Khaled flexed his superstar rolodex for the film's soundtrack. Meek Mill, Rick Ross, City Girls, The Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull, Nicky Jam, and more make contributions. Apple Music | TIDAL

Stretch and Bobbito + The M19s Band – No Requests Stretch and Bobbito are largely known for hosting the Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, a New York radio program from the 90s that welcomed many of the greatest rappers ever before they officially blew up. But they're music fans first, and their new album showcases their tastes to brilliant effect: the two DJs compiled a playlist of their favorite songs to DJ, and then they enlisted the handpicked M19s Band to play them live. Their foundation is hip-hop, but No Requests is a diverse set of Latin, afrobeat, samba, jazz, reggae and soul. Apple Music | TIDAL

Theophilus London – Bebey Theophilus London’s new album, Bebey, is “a celebration of self-love and represents a return to Theophilus' roots, inspired by his Caribbean heritage and the Brooklyn neighborhoods he grew up in, steeped in Dominican, Puerto Rican, Jamaican and his native Trinidadian traditions,” according to a press release. Tame Impala, Lil Yachty, Ian Isiah, Raekwon, Giggs, Ariel Pink, Gemaine, and Kristian Hamilton provide guest appearances. Apple Music | TIDAL

070 Shake – Modus Vivendi Many music fans discovered 070 Shake with her standout vocals on the G.O.O.D. Music run in 2018 with Kanye’s 2018 album Ye (“Ghost Town,” “Violent Crimes”), Pusha T’s Daytona (“Santeria”), and Nas’ Nasir (“Not For Radio,” “Everything”). Since then, the rapper/singer has been steadily taking her time to drop her G.O.O.D. Music debut, Modus Vivendi. Apple Music | TIDAL

Madlib and Oh No – The Professionals Recent years have seen all-time great producer Madlib enjoy critical acclaim after his two albums with Freddie Gibbs, and this year he's teaming up with his blood brother Oh No, a talented producer and rapper in his own right, for an album called The Professionals. Apple Music | TIDAL

Raekwon – The Appetition Three years after his stellar album The Wild, Chef Raekwon has teamed up with Red Bull to release The Appetition, a three-song EP of new songs with producers and songwriters from Red Bull Songs and created at Red Bull Studios in NYC. Apple Music | TIDAL

Tech N9ne – Enterfear Level 2 =One of the most prolific rappers of all time, indie or otherwise, Tech N9ne follows up his 2019 studio album N9NA with the EP ENTERFEAR Level 2. Apple Music | TIDAL

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