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Life is Aight, I Guess

Nas f/ Mary J. Blige – “Reach Out” (Def Jam, 2012)

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Life Is Good is definitely a 21st century Nas album. It’s exactly the type of record he has been making since Stillmatic – 12% good enough, 63% whatever, 25% completely embarrassing. And yet it will still get hailed as a classic (because it’s Nas, yo) for three weeks before fans forget it and forever and go back to longing for him to make another album with DJ Premier. [1]

Its saddest funnysad moment comes when Nas half dismissively says my man Dion said Nas overthink the songs he writing on “Back When.” [2] Listen to your friend No ID. He’s a cool dude. He knows what’s best for you, Nas. This is deafeningly apparent elsewhere on the album, on which every Salaam Remi track is like a breakbeat… backed by a symphony… backed by a flugelhorn… with a rasta toasting on top. Then when No ID slips him some shit it’s like “yo here’s a loop, try rapping to that.” See if you can guess which style of beat Nas sounds better on.

“Reach Out” is about as stripped down as Remi gets. Nas raps like Nas and he sounds good – the line about how he used to be known as Olu’s son and now Olu is Nas’ father is such a classically Nasish one. More than that though, the track is an origami duck of hip hop references. The beat flips Issac Hayes’ “Ike’s Mood” [3] and the hook interpolates New Edition, in a combination that nods back to Queensbridge pioneer (and the track’s co-producer) Hot Day’s “Master Mix.” Mary’s involvement (singing about love and you, no less) links it back to her using “Ike’s Mood” as well, on an album [4] inspired by the very sort of R&B blends that guys like Hot Day and, later, Ron G had pioneered. [5] And then all three songs seem loosely indebted to the original and greatest Ike flip, Biz Markie’s “Make The Music,” which of course was produced by another QB great, Marley Marl. So yeah, it’s a rap song borne of a very incestuous family tree. Incest and Nas go together like AZ and Nas.

[1] I’m still unclear as to why dudes aren’t begging for a full reconnection with Large Profesor instead, especially now that it’s been revealed that Extra P was coaching his rhymes on Illmatic.
[2] Well either that or earlier in the song when he brags about his testicular fortitude.
[3] A piano loop so flippable that it’s impossible to find on Youtube, buried by endless clips of a bunch of My First MPC type goons stumbling their way through remixes.
[4] Err… whatever, I linked the Smif N Wessun remix which isn’t actually on the album. Because that’s the superior version. Here is the original album version if you want to be pedantic.
[5] Pour out a little liquor for every time some Girl Talk jocking dipshit writes a history of “The Mash Up” without mentioning a single og hip hop blend dj.

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73 Responses to “Life is Aight, I Guess”

  1. Urkel Moe Dee Says:

    “Reach Out” was produced (in part) by Salaam Remi, not No ID.

  2. noz Says:

    DOH THERE GOES MY WHOLE THESIS

  3. Blogota Rich Says:

    It really does suck that Hot Day doesn’t get more credit for pioneering the R&B/Rap blend or bringing back the Busy Bee dad’s blazer & jeans look when every other Rapper was dipped in Dapper Dan or African outfits.

  4. brytburken Says:

    What you write makes sense, since I hold “Made U Look” as the best Nas song in the last ten years… and it flips “Apache”, the most recognizable, over-used sample ever, in a new, exciting way… a very simple and very dope beat (courtsey of Salaam Remi!).

  5. done Says:

    “it flips “Apache”, the most recognizable, over-used sample ever, in a new, exciting way… a very simple and very dope beat (courtsey of Salaam Remi!).”

    Ina Gadda Da Vida & Funky Drummer too. Those Ghostface promos for Pretty Tony & Sincerely Yours Southside worked out pretty great, maybe flagging NY dudes just need old breaks to wake them up.

    I still think Nas couldve read the phone book over that beat and itd work, some stuff is foolproof. Has there ever been a rapper whos mastered playing with his minion’s lowered expectations like he has?

  6. Daps Says:

    I love that Smif N Wessun tune a lot a lot.
    Your percentage breakdown of Nas albums is absolutely on-point. Some of the tracks on Life… are embarrassingly bad, mainly due to the shockingly bad hooks.

  7. qbd1 Says:

    Not just the hooks … the lyrics in general are bad. Although they sound cleaner. It sounds like he has a flow but it’s the same one.

    I mean, I never truly hate on Nas, he dropped Illmatic, what else can we expect? But the card he is playing today is getting embarrassing for all of us. He got dumped by Kelis, his daughter is got issues publicly, the world is in a fucked up state and he keeps pushing that “life is good” … Totally a cover for a really broken man. But props because broken doesn’t have to mean BROKE … and he’s still caking…

  8. faux_rillz Says:

    While I agree that the “2% good enough, 63% whatever, 25% completely embarrassing” formula applies to most Nas albums, I think this one departs from it in containing a lower number of really embarrassing tracks but also lacking anything that truly stands out. And I think that accounts for a lot of the plaudits–people mistaking consistency for quality. Yes, it’s consistently aaight, but it lacks a single jaw-dropper. Yes, I can listen to it all the way through, but I don’t feel a particular desire to do so. I think perhaps I have come to prefer the wildly uneven Nas record that I can treat as a three-song EP. The other thing I note is that a lot of the discussion focuses on the production–and probably rightly so, since I can’t recall a single thing that Nas says. And it’s hard to justify Nas’ continuing standing as a great rapper if he fails to get off so much as a single memorable line (“They rubbed each other wrong like a bad massage” is not the type of memorable I mean).

  9. Stunt Says:

    Faux_Rillz is completely right, which is what makes the trumpeting of this album even more embarrassing than it usually is when Nas stans tell us how great his new record is. We’ve always wondered what a modern Nas album without anything overtly-terrible would sound like, and we’ve got the answer: more underwhelming than usual. There’s nothing inherently wrong with being obsessed with a musician to the point where you want to dig through their latest shitfest to find a couple of gems, but at least have the dignity to shut the fuck up about it. I don’t get on facebook hyping up every new “BigSausagePizza” video, just because I love their body of work.

    This is a lot like when all the out of touch rap media, middle-aged black dudes, and white kids from Iowa all decided that Common’s “Be” was an instant-classic. Simply avoiding an Ashanti cameo or a Limp Bizkit remix doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not just a subtler, more granola version of the same trainwreck. Not that criticism should ever be boilerplate, but as a rule of thumb, if Time Magazine agrees with you about a rap record, that probably means you’re over the hill, and that the album in question is incredibly goddamn boring. Almost as boring as 15 comments from now, when all of those people flood here, to talk about how “devastating” Ether was, and to make an outdated joke about how anyone with the audacity to question the almighty Nas listens exclusively to ___________*

    *Whichever modern rapper all the geriatrics and liberal arts students have decided is the target of their ham-fisted derision in 2012

  10. Trey Says:

    it’s a good album. i agree that inconsistent-but-sometimes-great Nas (see “I Am…”) is better than slightly less inconsistent and good though. and yes a good few of the Salaam Remi beats are whatever (including this one, that three song mid-stretch of the album is pretty worthless)

  11. random youtuber Says:

    HEY NOZ IDK IF U SAW MY REQUEST FOR YOUR OPINION OF THE ALBUM BUT THANKS MAN NOW I AM INFORMED ON MY OWN OPINION OF THE ALBUM

  12. noz Says:

    “This is a lot like when all the out of touch rap media, middle-aged black dudes, and white kids from Iowa all decided that Common’s “Be” was an instant-classic.”

    I’m always horrified but also sorta fascinated each year when Pazz & Jop reminds me that these guys exist (and not to single out black dudes either because there are more than a few media yts in this category too). The lists are always like 1. Whatever Nas Did 2. Whatever The Roots Did 3. A Very Obvious Adult Contemporary Pop Rap Album From Jay or Kanye or Jay and Kanye 4. Whoever The Most Visible Fat Beats Approved True School Revivalist Of The Moment Is (Roc Marc/Action Bronson/this year it’ll probably be Ka or maaybe Joey Badass) 5. Some Weird Side Project From One Of The Little Brother Guys 6. Token Southern Pick From Big Boi, Bun B or Big Krit 7. Radiohead 8. A Mediocre Wu-Tang Thing 9. Something That Was Both Critically Acclaimed And “Blog Hot” But Totally Inoffensive And Boring Like Asap Rocky Or Whatever 10. Some Weird Side Project From The Other Little Brother Guy.

    I’m not talking about the few true school/purist critics who have grown disinterested in the dominant sound of popular hip hop but are actively parsing the outputs of Elzhi/Oddisee/Rhymesayers/etc, we still need them. It’s the ones who have totally lost the fortitude to carve out their own taste or seek out new artists that they can appreciate in any lane who need to be put out pasture. What a miserable existence it must be. Dudes get shackled to this genre professionally and just hate everything about it. Everyday they walk into the source offices or wherever and look at the calendar with a sigh like Yo can’t the next Sean Price album just drop already?

    I can only hope that one of you has the courtesy to shoot me in the head if I ever become this dude.

  13. noz Says:

    (Though I would like to nominate Gucci Mane as the Nas of our generation if this does come to pass. Trap Back is better than Stillmatic, son!)

  14. Ghost Says:

    You’ve become that ridiculous writer already but just replace dick-riding East Coast hiphop to dickriding the South. Stating Gucci Mane is the Nas of our generation is the most off-landish statement. Nas has had a far greater influence on rap, Gucci didn’t invent that sound (DJ Toomp, Shawty Redd etc) and he didn’t even do it the best either.

    You’re also missing a huge huge part of what makes Life Is Good brilliant and that’s context. This is Nas’ 10th album and he’s reflecting on the highs and lows of his career. The crazy 90s New York, the divorce with Kelis. It’s very interesting, honest and unique. The listener can still pick up references to his past life after multiple lessons. Who’s real enough to say they are 40 and banging 20 year olds, but don’t applaud them? This is a grown man rap album and Nas’ best in a decade. He’s truly focused. The only weak songs are Summer on Smash and The World’s An Addiction. Don’t be dumb.

  15. noz Says:

    Ghostfacepalm.gif

  16. roc belushi Says:

    you are usually right but you are wrong on this one noz. This is Esco’s finest work in a time and it’s grown man rap full of maturity and wisdom something seldom heard at this level in the rap game. And that Gucci comment is so out of line that I will pretend that you never wrote it

  17. nico Says:

    thanks noz

  18. noz Says:

    ” This is Esco’s finest work in a time and it’s grown man rap full of maturity and wisdom something seldom heard at this level in the rap game.”

    No, it’s really not.

  19. Stunt Says:

    The reason that Gucci Mane isn’t the Nas of our time is that, while the distance between “Illmatic” and the bootleg of “I Am” is the same as that between “Chicken Talk” and the three “Cold War” tapes, the Gucci fans know he didn’t fall off 20% of the way into that run.

  20. petter417 Says:

    I would also like to be shot in the head if I ever become that dude

  21. brytburken Says:

    I can’t even listen to Nas rap anymore. Its like he’s trying to hard, forcing his voice, every record is overthought, he sounds dishonest, etc.

    He should stick to that monotone ice cold Rakim cadence… which makes him great…

  22. Fat Pat Says:

    Im here lurking on a hipster white boy conversation where they feel they know about hip-hop. fascinating..(*pulls out binoculars and safari hat*)

  23. Noz Says:

    yep im so fucking hip that ive dedicated the past decade of my life to earnestly researching and writing about one specific subject. it’s a long running ironic gesture and the punchline will be revealed shortly after I die.

  24. Jonathan Says:

    Andrew, did you really just write that Gucci Mane is the Nas of our time?

    What are you smoking out there in the Bay?

  25. Hello Rap Says:

    Gucci Mane > KRS-One, Nas, Large Professor, Doug, Hey Arnold, Charlie, Rap, Canned Soup, Arnold, Bart, Cars

  26. white people say shit Says:

    good grief. more bullshit about the GOAT from a white boy (and obviously his readers) who thinks cause he name drops / researches obscure southern DJs, he is the authoritative voice on rap. just step away from your lap top for a day or two, get Gucci and Lil’ B’s dicks out your mouth, and realize maybe you have developed biases that no longer allow you to enjoy, appreciate, and analyze rap that isn’t short bus niggaz talkin’ bout their bitches, guns, money and hood over synths, 808s and some autotune. fuck you’re as annoying as Toure. y’all like Superman / Biazrro versions of each other.

  27. DV Says:

    How dare you research obscure Southern DJs.

  28. lol contrarianism Says:

    “yep im so fucking hip that ive dedicated the past decade of my life to earnestly researching and writing about one specific subject. it’s a long running ironic gesture and the punchline will be revealed shortly after I die.”

    you are the most objective, knowledgeable critic on the net and i bow before you.

  29. lol contrarianism Says:

    also Gucci Mane is better than nothing. maybe the man is a Metaphorical Genius and maybe certain people don’t feel him cuz of tru-skool stodginess. with me it’s just that his raps are mushmouthed to all hell.

    however i have not listened to rap my whole life (‘course Nozir didn’t listen to “Ready to Die” ’til later on so maybe that invalidates his opinions) so my opinion iz irrelevant

  30. done Says:

    “nas” trigger X 10

  31. bk Says:

    Nas and Gucci comparison is interesting. I feel that Nas squandered his artistic potential, from a fully realized 1st album, in order to chase monetary success (he wishes he could effectively both dumb down and double his dollars instead of just dumb down a la “Summer on Smash”). Meanwhile, has Gucci ever fully realized his artistic potential (I mean, beyond just within a single verse)? I keep hoping though… but maybe I’m an idiot wanting albums from a genre that focuses on singles.

    And godammit, for the dudes always complaining with meta-commentary… How is this helping? Try offering some content for once.

  32. bk Says:

    To be honest, I feel sorry for music critics. With the deluge of music in every genre with super short shelf lives, I am happy to have the choice to step away and listen to nothing but silence and not have some looming pressure to quickly assess a “Life is Good” or “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”. How has the shelf life been for the latter, anyways?

  33. PurpleKushY Says:

    Pre-Ordered this before I even heard it, like a good Nas stan. Between the IRS and Kelis tryna shake dude down for every last dollar, dude needs all the help he can get.

  34. noz Says:

    “Andrew, did you really just write that Gucci Mane is the Nas of our time?”

    I wrote a string of similar words, then I followed them with a very significant conditional. That’s the great thing about words – you can alter their meaning by putting different words next to them.

  35. noz Says:

    If you guys couldn’t tell from the recent comments, the critical thinkers at the Okayplayer message boards were kind enough to link this thread. Never change, Okayplayer users.

  36. frank Says:

    thanks for writing about this Noz and eff these commenters. “grown man rap” is the worst compliment you could give to a rapper. I still can’t listen to Action Bronson that much because bout the time his album and Odd Future were popping some middle aged white dude wrote that AB felt like rap for grown ups as opposed to that…other thing.

  37. Basa Says:

    Yet another white hipster who hates Nas because he won’t give them a nod and pretend he likes Grizzly Bear and Wilco and Bon Iver and whoever the hell else Jay and Kanye are pretending to give a fuck about these days to gain more white fans.

  38. mitch Says:

    yeah, it’s definitely the HIPSTERS who hate nas

  39. Caesar Says:

    Hipsters will listen to doo doo over a beat if they see another hipster bobbing their head it. Funny thing is, hipsters don’t ever think they’re hipsters.

  40. noz Says:

    THEREFORE ANYONE WHO DOESNT THINK THEY’RE A HIPSTER MUST BE A HIPSTER

  41. Basaglia Says:

    If the completely unnecessary scarf and wrinkled, musty ass smedium t-shirt fits…

  42. AmpGeez a.k.a. Chief Heavy Says:

    Troll Blogging.

  43. Stunt Says:

    Has anyone ever asked Questlove how he feels being the unintentionally ringleader of the myopic rap police? For a guy that oftentimes seems to get it, he certainly spends a lot of money on bandwidth that gives the B-Boy Fred Phelps contingent a clubhouse to collectively sharpen their pitchforks in.

  44. noz Says:

    “Has anyone ever asked Questlove how he feels being the unintentionally ringleader of the myopic rap police?”

    Unintentional? It’s what he built his brand on.

  45. faux_rillz Says:

    Jeezus, did this really deteriorate into an apparently straight-faced discussion of whether Nas is a hipster?

  46. faux_rillz Says:

    “…but, but, he did a song with Project Pat!”

  47. Stunt Says:

    I’m not suggesting that Questo isn’t guilty of crotchety “true school” posturing at times, but I’m reluctant to accuse him of any straight-up Karl Rove-ian tard-manipulation. I’d say, at worst, it’s sort of a Ron Paul “I single-mindedly believe in this specific worldview, and because it only functions in a vacuum, I choose to conveniently avert my gaze when all the other fundamentalists barge through the door I left open”

  48. Trey Says:

    politix.

  49. Nuggi Says:

    I’m not going to come here and throw the classic word around just ’cause it’s a nas album because it’s not. But come on, you can’t be telling me it doesn’t have its bright moments. Loco-motive is just what the average nas fan wants for a whole album. The Don is different for a nas track but he delivers and its the most commercial oriented track on there. I like it. not a good cd, but it’s ok and like i said it has great tracks and good rhymes.

  50. bk Says:

    noz = nas = gucci = radical = che guevara = jay-z
    noz = jay-z

    questlove = hipster = okayplayer = conservative = mitt romney
    questlove = mitt romney

    ..but jay-z is a conservative in radical clothing, therefore..
    noz = mitt romney

  51. noz Says:

    “I’m not going to come here and throw the classic word around just ’cause it’s a nas album because it’s not. But come on, you can’t be telling me it doesn’t have its bright moments.”

    Uh the post is about one of the bright moments.

  52. keyshia jones Says:

    i love this beat. i like to switch it up though and also listen to Number 1 Playaz. their track ‘Put Me In The Game’ is always stuck in my head. too good y’all http://bit.ly/MXs7dK

  53. David Says:

    “bk Says:
    July 29th, 2012 at 11:46 am
    Nas and Gucci comparison is interesting. I feel that Nas squandered his artistic potential, from a fully realized 1st album, in order to chase monetary success (he wishes he could effectively both dumb down and double his dollars instead of just dumb down a la “Summer on Smash”). Meanwhile, has Gucci ever fully realized his artistic potential (I mean, beyond just within a single verse)? I keep hoping though… but maybe I’m an idiot wanting albums from a genre that focuses on singles.”

    gucci has minimum 8 mixtapes better than this album

  54. bk Says:

    “gucci has minimum 8 mixtapes better than this album”

    Well I’m inclined to agree, and even more likely to revisit I’m Up or Trap Back than this.

  55. ninetimes Says:

    “9. Something That Was Both Critically Acclaimed And “Blog Hot” But Totally Inoffensive And Boring Like Asap Rocky Or Whatever”

    Why did it take you so long to make a statement like this? Maybe now that he’s blowing up, I guess…

  56. like sound Says:

    There are 2 obvious critical traps this album sets up:

    A) ZOMG Nas is BACK! (We’ve all been down this road before…)

    B) FUCK YOU DUDES NAS IS NOT, NOR HAS HE EVER BEEN, BACK.

    Imho this is an above average Nas record. It’s flawed, but he sounds reinvigorated and is writing / rapping better than he has in awhile. It’s ambitious in a way that jives with all this grandiose stadium rap (Kanye, Ross, Jay), imo that doesn’t really suit Nas but in the past he’s been guilty of aiming too low so it’s interesting to see what he comes with, he’s obviously pushing himself.

    and ftr, Gucci is the shit, easily one of the most creative and influential rappers of the past 5 years, and he’s still killing shit.

  57. Trey Says:

    Gucci & the dinky synths

  58. Trey Says:

    “Maybe now that he’s blowing up, I guess…”

    dunno ’bout this guy specifically but generally every previously obscure rapper Noz hypes and gets embraced “late” by critics for allegedly the wrong reasons, it’s the death of them. not hatin’, just sayin’

  59. noz Says:

    http://www.mtvhive.com/2011/11/02/is-aap-rockys-free-mixtape-worth-3-million/

  60. Trey Says:

    exceptionz

  61. roc belushi Says:

    ASAP ROCKY NEEDS HELP. GOOD WORK ON CALLING HIM OUT

  62. roc belushi Says:

    BUT I STILL MAINTAIN YOU MISSED THE BOAT ON THIS “LIFE IS GOOD” ALBUM. IF YOU ARE UNDER 32 YOU MAY NOT APPRECIATE THIS ALBUM THE WAY SOMEONE OVER THAT AGE WOULD. WHAT COULD YOU NOT LIKE ABOUT “LOCOMOTIVE?” SORRY I SET YOU UP TO ACTUALLY TELL ME WHAT YOU DON’T LIKE… “BYE, BABY” IS RELATABLE TO A MARRIED MAN OR A MAN IN A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP OR SOMEONE DIVORCING. THE MARY CUT HARKENS BACK TO AN ERA WHEN HIP HOP WAS JUST ABOUT STREETLIGHTS AND MIXERS…CHERRY WINE IS NICE AND MELLOW, BLACK BOND A VERY GOOD CONCEPT RECORD… WHEN IN THE PAST NAS HAS SOUNDED FORCED OR RUSHED OR PLAIN DISINTERESTED THIS OFFERING GAVE US CONSTRAINED, CONTEMPLATIVE AND FOCUSED. THIS IS THE ALBUM THAT NAS STANS HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR SINCE GOD’S SON. I PERSONALLY THE MORE PAIN THE BETTER THE PRODUCT HE PRODUCES. PEACE YOU STILL MY DUDE THOUGH ( NO FRANK OCEAN)

  63. hamadi Says:

    yay! didn’t realize it was gone till it came back, but i really missed the CB comments!
    @Stunt: good assessment of the Okayecosystem
    @noz: yr P&J breakdown hit home, lol
    2. Whatever The Roots Did
    Tried to like undun… came away disbelieving that that shit contains any narrative at all, in reverse or otherwise.
    4. Whoever The Most Visible Fat Beats Approved True School Revivalist Of The Moment Is (Roc Marc/Action Bronson/this year it’ll probably be Ka or maybe Joey Badass)
    Just off the phone with my dude enjoying the 1999 tape, like, “older heads without publicists aint getting enough shine! joey aint bout that life!”
    9. Something That Was Both Critically Acclaimed And “Blog Hot” But Totally Inoffensive And Boring Like Asap Rocky Or Whatever
    Live.love was so listenable, it was scary, thought my inner Okayplayer
    10. Some Weird Side Project From The Other Little Brother Guy.
    phonte got bars!

    thanks for that STOOPID recommendation. not as listenable as live.love, but more fun

  64. bstyles Says:

    Did you really just shit on Phonte?
    Man ….I’m done with this shit , keep trying though.

  65. daddy Says:

    i dont like the whole album but it do have some whoa type songs “bye baby” “stay” “you wouldnt understand” but than boo boo too much gotdamn orchestration pianos and damn man. nas on stillmatic it was written i am… thats his peak . he got so many classics. have him n kanye do a cd that would be a waaaaay bigger hit than nas n premo. dreamin vs nas is like both hits but whats hot counts too

  66. kyle Says:

    well, the shelf life of this comment section lasted less than a month, not bad

  67. hey Says:

    hey! love the blog, twitter commentary and all; wanted to sort out travis scott stuff since he’s being 14 about it (he’s actually 21, not 20). Would love to get in touch via email with you!

  68. ellie Says:

    The number of comments in this blog are actually proves that nas has songs that a lot of people love. Personally, I think the song rocks much like this one: http://www.squidoo.com/smith-iii-they-were-born-to-shine

  69. hmm Says:

    “Im here lurking on a hipster white boy conversation where they feel they know about hip-hop. fascinating..(*pulls out binoculars and safari hat*)”
    Noz did you ever consider forgetting this whole rap critic career because you’re white? maybe because white people aren’t “real”? In any case, white people couldn’t possibly know anything tangible about rap music.

  70. Mothra Jones Says:

    next shit: NAS ON ICE, rapping ‘a queen’s story’ with ice skaters doing triple axles in the foreground.
    just another really sensible comment i figure id add since everyone else is talking out their ass in these comments.

  71. Chris Says:

    Pretty much agree spot-on with the mini review, a 21st century NaS album and not a 90′s throwback

  72. jasa pembuatan website sekolah Says:

    I love that Smif N Wessun tune a lot a lot.
    Your percentage breakdown of Nas albums is absolutely on-point. Some of the tracks on Life… are embarrassingly bad, mainly due to the shockingly bad hooks.

  73. jasa pembuatan website pekanbaru Says:

    “Maybe now that he’s blowing up, I guess…”

    dunno ’bout this guy specifically but generally every previously obscure rapper Noz hypes and gets embraced “late” by critics for allegedly the wrong reasons, it’s the death of them. not hatin’, just sayin’

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