NEW YORK — "Sometimes you can tell a classic from the first listen: from the first two songs, you can tell where it's going. And then other times you can't."
On Tuesday night, a raspy and soft-spoken Nas was going back and forth with me about whether his acclaimed 11th album, Life Is Good, deserved that (very rare) certification. Everyone from opinionated rap fans to the grey-at-the-temples Atlantic had drawn up a verdict in 2012, but the Queens MC said a jury of his peers needed to consider a key criteria.
"Time tells — a lot of the time it has to do with time," he told MTV News as we sat down with him during the launch party for his partnership with Hennessy's Wild Rabbit campaign. Looking laid back in a New York hotel suite, the dapper rapper paused to reflect a little more before he picked up the thread again.
"It's cool, you can call my record a classic; I'm not tripping. Time will really make me feel it or not, and then if a year from now, another two years from now, I really feel like it's a classic and no one else does, I'm gonna make noise! I'm gonna complain!" he laughed. "I'm gonna campaign for that title."
With production credits from No I.D. and Salaam Remi, the 39-year-old rap vet laid out the slow decay of his marriage to singer Kelis in poetic detail on Life Is Good. But it wasn't just a collection of breakup songs — the New York rapper also took a long look at his early years, a precocious kid coming up in the Queensbridge housing project during the Reagan '80s. He did this over tracks that managed to sound fresh by dipping one Timberland-clad foot in a bygone era while keeping the other firmly planted in the iTunes age.
Released in July, the confessional record grabbed the peak position on the Billboard 200 in its debut, but posted just under 150,000 copies, leading some, including MTV News' own Rob Markman, to cry foul, arguing that God's Son deserved a better first week. Dissenters, though, insisted it was too soon to set the album alongside his firmly classic debut, Illmatic.
Still, Nas isn't stressed over how history will judge Life Is Good. In fact, he was pretty philosophical about it.
"If it's not a classic, that's cool," he said. "That means there's a different title for it that is a different meaning for the record. It wasn't a worldwide classic or a nationwide classic or a 'hood classic but it ... was important and it was incredible. You don't have to always be classic: You can be incredible, you can be meaningful or needed.
"You can be a much-needed album, you know what I mean?"
Is Life Is Good a classic? Sound off in the comments below!