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Producers No I.D. and Salaam Remi incorporated orchestral elements and musical references to both contemporary and golden age hip hop, including boom bap beats and old school samples. Nas wanted to draw on 1980s hip hop influences in order to complement the nostalgic tone of his lyrics, which he used to vent personal feelings and address moments in his life and rapping career, lending it themes of nostalgia and adulthood. Life Is Good was written after his divorce from singer Kelis, whose original green wedding dress was featured in the cover photo, and Nas has compared the album to Marvin Gaye's 1978 divorce-inspired album Here, My Dear.
In 2010, Nas released his studio album Distant Relatives, a collaboration with Damian Marley that reinvigorated the rapper creatively. He soon became distracted by tax problems and an expensive, highly publicized divorce from his wife Kelis months before their son's birth, events that influenced his direction for Life Is Good. His songwriting on the album was also influenced by adjusting back to life as a single man. Nas also wanted to write more original subject matter rather than another album "about how you came up in the hood and how you had to make it out of the hood". Although he did not find his album "quite so much about the marriage or the divorce", Nas likened Life Is Good to Marvin Gaye's 1978 album Here, My Dear, which was written by Gaye in response to his own deteriorating marriage and released as a financial settlement. For Life Is Good's album cover, a photo was taken of Nas in a polished white suit, sitting in a night club's VIP lounge, appearing forlorn, and holding over his knee Kelis' actual green wedding dress, which he said was the only item she left him.
When I started working on the record, I tried to avoid it. The timing was just calling for me to not avoid all the shit that was going on out there. It was like a 10,000-ton gorilla in the room watching me. This is the way I got it off of my chest. This album talks about life, love and money. It talks about the fact that marriage is expensive. Life Is Good represents the most beautiful, dramatic and heavy moments in my life.
Life Is Good features nostalgic and adult themes, including aging and maturity. Nas' rapping is characterized by internal rhymes, a relaxed, plainspoken flow, and transparent lyrics addressing moments in his life, including his youth and the personal events leading up to the album. Erika Ramirez of Billboard observes "stories of internal and external battles, some of which he won and some he lost." David Dennis of The Village Voice writes that his lyrics address hip hop's "golden era" and "the trials and tribulations of adult relationships". Brandon Soderberg from Spin asserts that his lyrics "constantly remind nostalgics that the good ol' days were often chaotic and desperate".
Nas' comparison of this album to Gaye's Here, My Dear is appropriate, according to Slant Magazine's Manan Desai: "Like Nas, Gaye was pushing 40 when he recorded his album", Desai wrote. "He'd cemented his position as one of R&B's greatest, and yet, he never sounded more anguished about where all that fame was leading him. There's something similar going on throughout Life Is Good; the more we hear Nas repeat that titular refrain, the less convincing he sounds." AllMusic's David Jeffries said the lyrics about his divorce were "unfiltered carpet bombing of love and marriage"; both Jeffries and Jason Birchmeier of AllMusic characterize the content as "venomous". Conversely, Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone views that Nas "cuts his rhymes with midlife realism and daring empathy". Ken Capobianco of The Boston Globe writes that the songs "mix anger, nostalgia, and insight."
Illmatic was awarded best album of 1994 by The Source. Steve Huey of AllMusic described Nas's lyrics on Illmatic as "highly literate" and his raps "superbly fluid regardless of the size of his vocabulary", adding that Nas is "able to evoke the bleak reality of ghetto life without losing hope or forgetting the good times". About.com ranked Illmatic as the greatest hip hop album of all time, and Prefix magazine praised it as "the best hip hop record ever made".
In 1995, Nas did guest performances on the albums Doe or Die by AZ, The Infamous by The Infamous Mobb Deep, Only Built 4 Cuban Linx by Raekwon and 4,5,6 by Kool G Rap. Nas also parted ways with manager MC Serch, enlisted Steve Stoute, and began preparation for his second album, It Was Written. The album was chiefly produced by Tone and Poke of the Trackmasters, as Nas consciously worked towards a crossover-oriented sound. Columbia Records had begun to pressure Nas to work towards more commercial topics, such as that of The Notorious B.I.G., who had become successful by releasing street singles that still retained radio-friendly appeal. The album also expanded on Nas's Escobar persona, who lived a Scarface/Casino-esque lifestyle. On the other hand, references to Scarface protagonist Tony Montana notwithstanding, Illmatic was more about his early life growing up in the projects.
In late 1998, Nas began working on a double album, to be entitled I Am... The Autobiography; he intended it as the middle ground between Illmatic and It Was Written, with each track detailing a part of his life. In 1998, Nas co-wrote and starred in Hype Williams's feature film Belly. I Am... The Autobiography was completed in early 1999, and a music video was shot for its lead single, "Nas Is Like". It was produced by DJ Premier and contained vocal samples from "It Ain't Hard to Tell". Music critic M.F. DiBella noticed that Nas also covered "politics, the state of hip-hop, Y2K, race, and religion with his own unique perspective" in the album besides autobiographical lyrics. Much of the LP was leaked into MP3 format onto the Internet, and Nas and Stoute quickly recorded enough substitute material to constitute a single-disc release.
After trading veiled criticisms on various songs, freestyles and mixtape appearances, the highly publicised dispute between Nas and Jay-Z became widely known to the public in 2001. Jay-Z, in his song "Takeover", criticised Nas by calling him "fake" and his career "lame". Nas responded with "Ether", in which he compared Jay-Z to such characters as J.J. Evans from the sitcom Good Times and cigarette company mascot Joe Camel. The song was included on Nas's fifth studio album, Stillmatic, released in December 2001. His daughter, Destiny, is listed as an executive producer on Stillmatic so she could receive royalty checks from the album. Stillmatic peaked at No. 5 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart and featured the singles "Got Ur Self A..." and "One Mic".
Initially friends, Nas and Jay-Z had met a number of times in the 1990s with no animosity between the two. Jay-Z requested that Nas appear on his 1996 album Reasonable Doubt on the track "Bring it On"; however, Nas never showed up to the studio and was not included on the album. In response to this, Jay-Z asked producer Ski Beatz to sample a line from Nas's song The World is Yours, with the sample featured heavily in what went on to be Dead Presidents II. The two traded subliminal responses for the next couple of years, until the beef was escalated further in 2001 after Jay-Z publicly addressed Nas at the Summer Jam, performing what would go on to be known as Takeover, ending the performance by saying "ask Nas, he don't want it with Hov". After Jay-Z eventually released the song on his 2001 album The Blueprint, Nas responded with the song "Ether", from his album Stillmatic, with both fans and critics saying that the song had effectively saved Nas's career and marked his return to prominence, and almost unanimously agreeing Nas had won their feud. Jay-Z responded with a freestyle over the instrumental to Nas's "Got Ur Self a Gun", known as "Supa Ugly". In the song, Jay-Z makes reference to Nas's girlfriend and daughter, going into graphic detail about having an affair with his girlfriend. Jay-Z's mother was personally disgusted by the song, and demanded he apologise to Nas and his family, which he did in December 2001 on Hot 97. Supa Ugly marked the last direct diss song between Jay-Z and Nas, however, the two continued to trade subliminals on their subsequent releases. The feud was officially brought to an end in 2005, when Jay-Z and Nas performed on stage together in a surprise concert also featuring P Diddy, Kanye West and Beanie Sigel. The following year, Nas signed with Def Jam Recordings, of which Jay-Z then served as president.
After Nas was removed from the 2002 Summer Jam lineup due to allegedly planning to perform the song Ether while a mock lynching of a Jay-Z effigy took place behind him, Cam'ron was announced as a last minute replacement and headlined the show instead. Nas appeared on Power 105.1 days later and addressed a number of fellow artists, including Nelly, Noreaga and Cam'ron himself. Nas praised Cam'ron as a good lyricist, but branded his album Come Home With Me as "wack". After Cam'ron heard of Nas's words, he appeared on Funkmaster Flex's Hot 97 and performed a freestyle diss over the beat to Nas's "Hate Me Now", making reference to Nas's mother, baby mother and daughter. Nas did not respond directly but appeared on the radio days later, calling Cam'ron a "dummy" for supposedly being used by Hot 97 to generate ratings. Nas eventually responded on his 2002 album God's Son on the song "Zone Out", claiming Cam'ron had HIV. Cam'ron and the rest of The Diplomats, specifically Jim Jones continued to attack Nas throughout 2003, on numerous mixtapes, albums and radio freestyles, however, the feud between the two slowly died down and they eventually reconciled in 2014. 2b1af7f3a8