RTA is taking a week-long vacation. Come August though, business will back in order. However, so as not to leave you completely empty-handed, here's some light reading.
Bobbito's 1994 interview with Nas, from RapPages magazine, and Jon Shecter's "The Second Coming", from The Source, are both pieces I have referenced multiples times over the past few months, and for good reason. Because while there can be debate on how Nas' music compares in terms of overall quality with what he's making now, there should be little argument that, strictly as an interview subject, early Nas comes off as all the more engaging compared to the Nas we've become accustomed to. Bobbito's interview is especially notable for getting the usually reserved rapper to open up. Here he breaks down his past, on a personal and musical level, lunch tables to Jah Eddie, answering with a great level of history and spontaneity. Then Shecter's article receives its own classic status from being an at-the-moment making of special on Illmatic. Published at the same time that Nas' debut hit stores, "The Second Coming" shows how Illmatic didn't need a decade to warm up to critics. As instantaneous as the rush on NY State of Mind is, Shecter and his interviewees underscore the album's immediate entry into the annals of Hip-Hop history, and more than do its coverage justice.
READ ON ...
The RapPages (courtesy of somosarte.com)
By Bobbito Garcia
Representing Queensbridge, New York, and the future of Hip-Hop, Nas is in his own state of mind.
Queensbridge's own Nas represents more than meets the eye. No doubt, Nas represents New York. His deeply-etched rhymes live and breathe the tough East Coast city streets, injecting images of hyped-up corner cyphers on cold NYC nights. And Nas definitely represents the gifted select few born to wreck mics with absolute ease. Since being featured on Main Source's "Live at the BBQ," Serch's "Back to the Grill Again," and then releasing the single "Halftime" off the Zebrahead soundtrack, Nas has followed no other MC's lead but his own. Nas' rhyme style, flow, phrases, concepts, reflections and voice are all distinctly his. The only artist that he parallels is Rakim; they both have that air of mystery about them.
I have to admit that it's Nas' mysterious demeanor that made me apprehensive about interviewing him. You hardly ever see him out at parties or functions, and when I have, I've noticed his mode of operation. He is not unfriendly, but he is definitely far from outgoing. He is the epitome of someone on the low, always to himself, which makes people around him wonder what the phukk he is thinking or feeling. Listening to his album almost clues you in. His perceived passivism is a paradox, because his attitude is really one of true active observation. Couple his acute observational skills with an ability to command the English language, and you end up with brilliant lyrics. Mix that up with a powerful delivery that does justice to beats by Pete Rock, Premier, Large Professor, Q-Tip and L.E.S., and you end up with a classic debut album.
But more importantly, Nas represents Hip-Hop. He has the potential to push this music to another level, just as Rakim has done in his career. This young street disciple was raised on breakdancing, graffiti writing, park jams, DJ mix shows, beat-boxing the whole nine. Nurtured by a culture of heartfelt expression and blessed with a mastery of words, Nas' vivid music embodies Hip-Hop's positive energy. The massive buzz on Nas' debut album, Illmatic, among those with their ear to the street reflects on both local and universal levels. It's a true testament to the kinship of Hip-Hop when someone like Nas makes it. You can feel that desire to make it from both the mega-talented artist from around the way and the peoples around him. Inevitably, the game's about going for self, but at the same time never forgetting to give props where props are due to the family (blood or otherwise) and neighborhood (especially the projects) that raised you. That's not just some "New York shit," because living the real life is universal.
RAPPAGES: You're no longer called Nasty Nas, just Nas. What's the scientifics behind that?
NAS: I had crazy names. I've been MC Nas, Rapper Nas, Nasty Nasall type of shit, so I'll just leave it as Nas. Straight to the pidoint.
RP: The first time I heard you was in early '91 on "Live at the BBQ," then "Halftime" in '92. Now it's almost three years later and the public is still awaiting your album. What's been the hold up?
NAS: You know how that is. I didn't even think I was gonna make [an album]--was gonna give up. I was trying to make them shits back in the days, phukking with Large Professor when Eric B was paying for studio time. It goes back to when we was in the lab doing shit when I was 15. That was '88 to '89. In ‘89 I was 16, and we had some raw shit. I was gonna come out through Eric B and them. I was young and wasn't on top of shit, so I kind of faded from everybody. I missed out and lost contact. So later on I got back in touch with Large, and me and him started working hard. I had some demos for a year I was trying to shop and I was phukking with mad niggas, trying to get signed. Then Large got a chance to put out his album. I didn't put mine out. He said, "Phukk it, just be on my shit," and that was on "Live at the BBQ." Boom. After that I was chillin', cuz I thought I had caught enough wreck. I just wanted to have my clientele on the street. I met Serch one year later, and he thought I had a deal. And I'm like, "I don't give a phukk. Just get me on wax and all respect due and good looking out." He pulled a couple of strings and got a nigga on. Boom, then [came the] "Back to the Grill" joint. Then I got signed to Columbia. I came to see you when you were A&R at Def Jam and you fronted on me and shit. But you still my man.
RP: I remember that. It's funny, cuz seeing you develop from "Live" to "Back" to "Halftime" to where you are now, you've definitely grown as an MC and as a personality too. In '91, when Akinyele, Kool G Rap and you came by my office, it seemed like on paper and on wax you were this quiet--not shy, but to yourself--almost mysterious character. I knew you would develop, but you weren't there yet. At that point, I knew Russel [Simmons] wouldn't be interested. I was more looking out for you. I didn't want to waste your time.
NAS: Like you said, I had to progress into me, into Nas. I was crazy young. I'm still the same person, but now I got a little knowledge, so I can handle my business.
RP: I've noticed you uphold a lot of mystery in your character. It seems like you're on the mad DL--you really don't say much to people. You leave a lot to people's imaginations to figure you out. Is there a reason for that?
NAS: That's just me.
RP: You've never been the outgoing type?
NAS: Never. Only time I was outgoing was when I was whylin' in high school. Running around the train hitting people in the face with a bunch of niggas. Like we couldn't be stopped. That's the wildest I ever got--that's part of growing up. But even back then I was to myself.
RP: Your pops was an accomplished jazz musician. What's his name?
NAS: Olu Dara. My whole name is Nasir Ben Olu Dara Jones. Nasir is Arabic. It means "helper and protector." Ben means "son of." Jones is the slave part. Niggas weren't trying to say my name back in the days. When we used to tag up on trains and high places, we'd climb up--I didn't want to write Nasir, you couldn't even say it--I'd just write Nas or Kid Wave. I wanted to write riddles and rhymes and make it mean something, but niggas would say we didn't have time for that. But, yeah, [my pops] got a little busy. He bust my head. Mile Davis wrote something about him in his book. My pops used to bring me up to the studio. This is when they had no belief in rap. They didn't even understand it. Just like when we was breakdancing, they didn't understand. But it's gonna stay in effect.
RP: You used to breakdance yourself?
NAS: I used to pop. I was Kid Wave. I was down with Breakin' In Action. We had the shirts, white gloves and hats that said B.I.A. My man Will used to do the windmills.
RP: It seems like on your LP, conceptually, Nas represents a lot of different stories. You have entire songs that are thematically metaphorical. Before, you just did metaphors in one verse on your posse cuts, but now there's an outgrowth.
NAS: I knew what I had to do if I was gonna rhyme on a "Symphony" jam. The only way to catch somebody's attention is to say the right shit. That's how you gotta get off on posse cuts. But when you get a chance to put a whole album together with a format, a nigga isn't gonna want to sit down and listen to some ill shit all day. He wants to get some mental gain. Like reading a book, he wants to put the tape in and feel it. Before, I knew I had to come off real quick on the mic. But now it's more like letting my shit flow. Now people are ready to focus in on me. But I wouldn't have had a chance to do that if I didn't come off before.
RP: What is your process of writing?
NAS: I used to tape off the radio. Play it the next day, all day, then for the whole month straight. After the month was up, I'd feel it and write a whole bunch of songs. Then I taped again and [I would do] the same cycle. I tape other people's songs--Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Shan, Shante, Kool Moe Dee, LL, Run-DMC--and I build off them.
RP: Is that where you draw most of your inspiration?
NAS: I listen to their style. I'm not trying to sound like anybody, but I'm hearing while they're teaching--everybody's teaching each other. There are mad different flows, and then you get your own. You see how everyone rides the beat, and then you see how you ride it. You put your whole heart into it.
RP: Who would you say your favorite or most influential MC's?
NAS: First, I think New Edition made me want to come out. I seen them and was like, "Phukk them niggas--I want to get on and be a star." I heard Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde talking about "Magic Potion" and said, "That shit is clever." Run-DMC was ill. Shan. Marley Marl used to do jams in the park. And Biz performed; Shante too. We didn't know who the phukk Biz was, and he came out doing the beatbox. It was fat. Marley on the tables, right there. You didn't pay nothing. At the end of it, somebody's ass was out. But that's how it was. It was butter, cuz we all had shows. If you was a little muthaphukka who didn't know shit about rap, but they said there was a show in the park, you were there, so now you gonna know something. The foundation was right there.
RP: Who out there now would you give stats to for being progressive?
NAS: I like just about all of them right now.
RP: Any MC's that you don't like?
NAS: Nah. [He winks at me] I just won't even listen to them. Or my people's won't even play them, so they might as well not even exist to me if they're crazy wack.
RP: You came up to the Stretch Armstrong Show that I host on WKCR and rhymed off the top of your head. You surprised me.
NAS: What I did with y'all was good for me. I haven't done that in a while, but your show is for real. I put mad niggas in my projects up on the show.
RP: It seems like there are a lot of meaningful things that you write about. What is your motivation?
NAS: I write the shit that I'm going through and what I see niggas go through. Just what's in me. It's rap. When you look back in the days when niggas was rhyming, what made them grab the mic and start talking ill shit? Check Wild Style the movie--that's the Bible. They just expressing themselves. Young Africans and Latinos trapped in a cell of hell, screaming and telling somebody, "We still surviving out here and I'm doing my thing and nobody's stopping me, but I'm gonna do it my way." If I'm writing a letter to my man in jail and he's writing me back, and shit is stressing me cuz he's doing hard time and he's mad at the world, and I'm like, "Damn, I wish he was home so we could be chilling," I'm thinking about that, so I might as well put it in a song. Everybody rhymes about smoking weed 24-7, so I'll try to not even phukk with that. But it's in my lyrics cuz it's part of my life, but it's not the focus though. The focus is universal. There are so many things to rhyme about. There's not one particular thing, like it's gotta be guns and shooting niggas and smoking weed. I just rap.
RP: You haven't confined yourself to a gimmick or one theme. Nas is like a whole...
NAS: Life. It's life and death.
RP: Some of your close friends have passed. How do you perceive death and the afterlife?
NAS: X. Unknown. X equals unknown. I can't even build on that, that shit is deep. A nigga been with you all your life, since you was young. I grew up in my man's Will crib. He used to have a big speaker. He'd play records like "White Lines"--that bass line, he'd slow it up and we'd rhyme. He'd cut it up. We used to listen to Awesome Two, Chuck Chillout on 98.7, Mr. Magic on BLS, all the old-school shit. As we heard rappers come out and progress, in our little world we was making tapes for only us to listen to. As years went by, we had like little albums, so we were progressing right along with them. Will was my DJ, but he used to rhyme. He used to do everyone's style you hear now. He used to bug and rhyme like B-Real, start whylin' like Onyx, then slow it up like Rakim. He had crazy styles off the top of his head. I was the one who would sit down and write, so it took me longer to come up with shit, but we were making tapes. You grow up, we slinging, making a little bit of cash, just the average shit. He got locked up, then he came home and then he was blowing up and shit. I had these pictures of how shit would be when he grew up. How shit would fall into place. The cipher is incomplete now, cuz my man is gone. Even though he's under, I'm still standing--that's understanding. Now I go to his crib and his moms is there, and I just feel him. Something that he left there. I look at his clothes, his equipment, his turntables, and I can feel him. So it's still there. I'm gonna represent and keep it real.
RP: Do you subscribe to any religion?
NAS: Nah. It's good to do research and study what the ancient Muslims or the ancient Christians were about and how the religion came about. Even if you're not a Five Percenter, it's good to look at the lessons and see how they tried to educate each other. I studied lessons. I have knowledge of self. I don't have no religion, but I studied my Black African History. I read up on Asian and Oriental spiritual rituals. They all similar. Right here in America, it's all about living and doing the right thing. Do the right thing, and that's righteous right there.
RP: What motivated you to do all that reading? Were you in school, or did someone guide you?
NAS: My man Jah Eddie was crazy smart. Everyone knew him in the projects as being a baby genius. He was doing crazy good in school and he hung out and drank beer and smoked weed. He always had a book on him, and had a bag of fruits to give us. Always came around giving us lectures, and niggas would be like, "Go ahead with the bullshit, Jah." But he was a cool nigga and he understood and we used to laugh. He used to catch me on the solo tip and just drop it on me. Show me a book if I didn't believe his accuracy. He put me onto a few books. At one time, I was getting real Afrocentric, real into self. At that time, I dropped out of school. I wasn't doing shit. I didn't want to be dumb, so [I was like], I'm gonna learn something while these other niggas is whylin'. If I'm not in school, I'm gonna be DL reading shit. Helping out my dome.
RP: You make a lot of references to religious figures. Do you have animosity towards them, or what's your motivation behind that?
NAS: Me and my man Bo-he's locked up right now, one love, kid, if you read this magazine--we used to read books on mysticism, real eerie type of shit. We used to play jokes on niggas when we were little, like put an egg on top of a refrigerator and tell 'em if the egg moves he got to get out the house as soon as possible. Reading up on ill witchcraft shit--it was bugged. We used to scare niggas and tell them fake stories. In junior high school, kids would bang on the lunchroom table and rhyme. When it was our turn, we used to say shit like, "Jesus came/He asked my name/I pulled out some roach spray and a lighter and burst a flame in his face/Then I chopped him in the face" and niggas used to say, "What's wrong with y'all?" We'd tell them we the devils, take our middle finger and chase them. Me and Bo used to write that deep shit, taking it one step further, but not dwelling on it too hard. I didn't feel there was that much wrong with it. I know his name wasn't Jesus Christ. There's more science to it than what we see in the Bible. You gotta do mad research to be accurate, cuz there are lies in books. If you are really praising, you'd find out who he really was and then praise him for what he did. You can't just accept what you hear readily. Before somebody tells me not to talk about Jesus, they should find out who he really was. I know that at times went on, people added little pieces, omitted others to the Bible, so it's not completely accurate. I could say, "I went to hell for snuffing Jesus." Phukk that, what has he done for me? I'm out here in Queensbridge. Jesus ain't coming to Queensbridge. If he is, he's not Jesus Christ, he's something more powerful and much deeper than that. That's all.
RP: Where do you see your future going? Do you want to produce, bring other people out?
NAS: I want to be the first Black President. The President of the world. Somebody's gonna have to take me out. I'm not gonna reveal my secrets. I'm-a just rhyme--be the rapping President. Be up on a chair telling mad poems all day till I get old. Even if I don't have a record deal, and they stop putting records out, and they don't put nothing on the radio and said "Phukk rap" and drop me, I'll still be rhyming. I'll just bring it back to the essence in the parks, where the real niggas survive, and clown that shit where niggas want to be different and talk bullshit when they wouldn't go to the park cuz they scared. I'll be there, 29 years old.
The Source (courtesy of noz)
Issue #55 April 1994 pp. 45, 46, 84
"The Second Coming"
By Jon Shecter
Producers interviewed by Matt Life
In hip-hop, as in life, perfection is hard to come by. When a rapper makes a full-length album, he bares his mind, his soul and his skills for the world to digest. Usually, we hip-hop fans can find parts of that whole that speak to us--a thumping track here, an ill verse there, this or that sequence of cuts. But every so often--and it has become more and more fare as this music develops--unique talent and a powerful creative vision combine to create utter potency.
The term "hip-hop classic" is not one we at The Source take lightly, but Nas is no lightweight. A product of the infamous Queensbridge Housing Projects, this is an MC injecting intelligence, creativity and soul back into hip-hop. Nas captures poetic images so intense they force you to take heed, then once you're in his grasp he takes your mind deep into the essence of surviving, maintaining and dealing with life in a vicious society. His debut album, Illmatic, brings together the cream of the crop In hip-hop production--Large Professor, DJ Premier, Pete Rock and Q-Tip-for an all-star excursion that lends new meaning to the phrase "looking for the perfect beat."
Nas got his rep with an ill voice and shocking religious imagery: "When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffing Jesus…I'm waving automatic guns at nuns…" The original idea for his album cover was to depict Nas holding Christ in a headlock. But his talent lies much deeper than mere shock value. Like the legendary Rakim, Nas is a true poet and a true MC. The lyrics themselves are technical masterpieces, full of layered rhythms and meanings, and his delivery is deft, changing cadence and flow like a musical instrument. He has the attention to detail of Slick Rick, the urban realness of Kool G Rap and the vocal presence of Big Daddy Kane. But don't get me wrong, Nas (real name: Nasir, or "helper and protector") is a complete original. With a mere 20 years on this Earth, Nas has already raised the stakes in the hip-hop game, putting New York back on the cutting edge where it belongs. This is the story of the building of a hip-hop classic.
NAS: The first time I heard rap was in my projects. In the park, outside, summertime thing, when I was crazy young. They had them old disco records and shit, cuttin' that shit up. I witnessed all that shit, the beginning, you kno'm sayin'? Mad niggas, Private Stocks, blunts, fights, music. The first time I grabbed the mic was at my man Will's house--bless the dead. He lived right upstairs from me on the sixth floor, I was on the fifth. So I used to go up his crib and shit, in the morning, when his moms go to work. He used to hook his shit up, speakers and shit. We used to rhyme on "White Lines" and that old shit. Then later on, he bought equipment, like turntables, fader, we was makin' tapes like that.
First month of ninth grade, that was my last month. School ain't shit, the teachers is full of shit, the whole system is bullshit, to me. I'm in there riffin' with the teachers, dissin' the teachers. I mean, I wanted to finish school, I didn't want to drop out of school, I wanted to finish school and do something. I was drawin' and shit, I wanted to do that, or write a movie, some ill shit. I used to write all type of shit when I was young, I thought I was blessed. But they crushed that type of shit, they crushed that in my head. I dropped out of school, start to smoke weed, that's what that was all about. I seen the other life, you kno'm sayin'? That's when we used to be runnin' around on the trains, beatin' people up, robbin' niggas and shit, on Queens Plaza, catchin' foreigners, Hindus, take their money. Young shit, wilin', drinkin' Old'Gold, you know? Me, Will, a whole bunch a niggas from my projects. That's when I did all that dumb shit, all them years.
I was just writin' on the down low. I ain't never tell niggas too much about it, 'cause for what? If I wanna rhyme one day, then they'll hear me. I just told my mans, 'cause we had a crew back in like '86, the Devastatin' Seven. They knew I could rhyme, but after them days, when the crew died out, I was just writin' on the dolo tip.
I met Large Professor in '89. And he was doin' shit for Eric B and them niggas, Rakim, G Rap and them. I met him 'cause I wanted to do a demo and shit with my own money. I was like, let me do a demo for myself, not even to shop. I ain't know what shopping was, I just wanted to do a tape for me. My man Melquan hooked me up with Large, and he had managed to get me in Power Play during the time he was workin' down there, in '89.
LARGE PROFESSOR: All along since even before "Live At The BBQ" , I was trying be on Nas' side in this game. You know, I was tryin' to tell him, "Yo, if you want the ill shit, go to these certain people." I was hooking him up with these people so it wouldn't be some formal shit where the record company sets it up.
NAS: That nigga Akinyele was callin' my crib, "Yo, Nas, man, what you doin' man? Let's go, you gotta get your shit on." And me and him used to meet up, and we was goin' all over shoppin' my shit. That's the weakest part, shoppin' your shit, tryin' to find niggas who trust you, believe in you and like your shit. I knew niggas couldn't fuck with me in certain ways, I knew I had the potential to do my thing. But shit wasn't happenin' for me. I was like, kinda givin' up.
We went down there to Serch, when he was in the studio, and he was like, "Get on this joint!" So I kicked a rhyme I had right there, and "Back to The Grill" put a nigga on, gave a nigga a little leeway again. Right there, Serch like, "Who you signed wit'?" I'm like, "Ain't nobody fuckin' wit me, man." So he was like, "Let's do this!"
MC SERCH, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Nas was in a position where his demo had been sittin' around, "Live At The BBQ" was already a classic, and he was just tryin' to find a decent deal. And I think Nas didn't know who to trust, and it seemed that no one was teaching him the ropes. So when he gave me his demo, I shopped it around. I took it to Russell first, Russell said it sounded like G Rap, he wasn't wit' it. So I took it to Faith . Faith loved it, she said she'd been looking for Nas for a year and a half. They wouldn't let me leave the office without a deal on the table.
DJ PREMIER: Everybody that really know hip-hop will always remember that record "Live at The BBQ." Just hearing how his flow was on that record let me know that he was destined to be out here to last for a while. When I heard "Half Time," that was some next shit to me. That's just as classic to me as "Eric B For President" and "The Bridge." It just had that type of effect. As simple as it is, all of the elements are there. So from that point, after Serch approached me about doing some cuts, it was automatic. You'd be stupid to pass that up even if it wasn't payin' no money.
When it comes to beats, Nas is super picky. It's many times when I gave him tracks, and he'd call the next day and say, "Yo, I can't get with that." But it don't bother me 'cause I told him, "I want you to be happy, it's your record." There was many times when he liked a track, and then he was like, "Naa, I want to change it." I'd go back in there and change it, which is what happened to "Represent."
MC SERCH: Nas was very picky--no lie, we went through at least 65, 70 beats on this album to find the ten that made the album. The most enjoyable sessions for me were the Primo sessions. I mean, Primo and Nas, they could have been separated at birth. It wasn't a situation where his beats fit their rhymes, they fit each other.
NAS: Then Large introduced me to Q-Tip, and he played some exotic shit. I was like yeah, he understand where I'm comin' from. I mean, everybody could make a rhyme about bein' a ill nigga with a ill, rough, rugged beat. But I like to take a nigga to another part of this shit, you kno'm sayin'? Get away from all that mass hysteria goin' around in the projects. That's how my music was, that's how the vibe was. When you chillin', not buggin' out like a little wild adolescent. I mean, when you mature over all of this, when you got a little common sense in the game--I try to make songs like that.
Q-TIP: Large Professor told me that Nas had wanted to work with me, so one night he brought Nas and Akinyele by my crib. I played him a couple beats, and he just said, "That's it right there." Later that night, he called and told me the concept for "One Love."
NAS: My man Will was up north--bless the dead. He used to write me, call my crib collect, or I write him. All my peeps got locked up, my brother too. I never got locked up. I was in jail one time, in a cell, a little ass cell, 'cause a dumb ass, stupid punk cop wanna tell me I can't smoke weed in my own projects! My whole projects is on probation, man. And that's all they talk about, is who they seen in there, who they left in there, who they was chillin' with, who they had beef with, who was makin' noise and how they tryin' to survive now that they home.
The Bridge is the biggest projects in the whole country--and that's a fact, you can look it up. Stars is bom out there. We got some NBA players from out there and the whole shit. Queensbridge added a lot to hip-hop--we just put more science into the whole chemistry. Marley Marl was on some ill shit back then. MC Shan, "The Bridge," that's the anthem right there.
So when I was a kid, I just stayed in the projects, that shit is like a city. I ain't never go nowhere. Everybody's mentality revolves around the projects, just trying to survive. Everybody gotta eat, you know what I mean? It's just the attitude out there, it's just life. You can't be no sucker.
L.E.S.: I live in Queensbridge--been around for a long time--used to run with Shan and Marley back in the days. I knew it was just a matter of time before a brother would look out. Being that he had all these big name producers on his album, I felt kinda good that Nas picked me to do something. I was never really presenting shit to Nas though, and he ain't really come to me for a beat. We was just in the crib chillin', playin' shit, you know, going through shit, and he was like, "Yo, that's it." What we was really doing was trying to put something together for an interlude, but Nas was just feeling it. The kid AZ, who's on , was there at the time, so he felt it when Nas felt it, and it was all right on time.
NAS: Large took me down to Pete Rock's basement years ago, back when Pete was DJing on Marley Marl's show. When we went to the studio , he laid the beat down to "The World Is Yours," but he had to break out. And me and my man stayed, I laid one verse down, my man made up the chorus, sung it. Then the next session we had to finish it, Pete Rock came, he checked it out, he was like…he felt that he could sing it better.
DJ PREMIER: After I heard brothers like Q-Tip and Pete Rock's joints, I was like, "Oh shit, I gotta go back to the lab." Them niggas represented with they shit. When we did "Memory Lane" towards the very end, he said he wanted something that was way different from the other stuff they did. Q-Tip's track kinda set a new tone for the album, along with "The World Is Yours" and "Memory Lane." Not anybody could rhyme to that. Most MCs would probably reminisce about situations like he did, but the way he did it is the way the niggas like to hear it, and we the hardest ones to please.
NAS: I knew that I could take this shit right here and put it in niggas' heads and have them listening to me. This is my hustle right now, this rap shit. When I'm bored, stressed out, no money, no bitch, no fuckin' nothing, no friends, I'm by myself, I'm like damn. Or I might be fucked up in the game--my man get killed, or my man get robbed. Now we gotta go over here and do what we gotta do with them. Shit like that gets stressful, and you can blow your whole fuckin' melon thinkin' the shit, buggin' out. You could just go outside and just bust somebody--you know, that's how a lot of shit happens, stressful shit. When I was young, I was writin' rhymes like three songs a day like it wasn't shit. Now I don't hardly write no fuckin' rhymes, shit is different now. When I'm bored, and I'm thinkin' about all the shit that's going on, I get back to my old hobby. I just start writin' things down in a poetic form, you kno'm sayin'? My little talent on the side. My whole thing is this: me gettin' established in this game, and then get my moms right, so then my brother could be all right. I'ma be all right regardless. My pops? That nigga broke out when I was like six. But we always stayed in touch, he a cool nigga. He played the horn on "Life's a Bitch," at the end of that shit he played the trumpet. He played jazz and shit.
FAITH NEWMAN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: Nas has an old soul, you kinda get the feeling he's been around before in the way he observes life. His mind is always kind of operating at a very mystical level. The people who are the most respected producers in hip-hop have a certain sense of awe when it comes to him. I have never, in all the 15 years that I've been listening to rap, ever heard anybody express something so vividly and perfectly as Nas. He doesn't have to shout to be heard. It's so effortless. You listen to his music, you get this mental picture of where he's coming from. It's not gratuitously violent or sexist, it's just real. It's touching too.
NAS: This was '92, in May, May 23rd. Outside on my block, on Vernon and shit. We was throwin' a party the next day, and everybody had to give up money to contribute to a party for us. We was gonna bring the speakers out, have a cookout and everything. This dumb bitch was runnin' her mouth and shit, and Will was drunk, so he did whatever, I think he snuffed her or something. And then she wanted to call some niggas on the down low out here and gas them up. Corny niggas, they came out here. Came to my projects and just started wettin'. They seen Will, they was like, "What's up?" They wet Will up, shot him in the back, then they shot my brother in the leg. He layin' down there, dumb-ass police lookin' at him, ain't doin' shit. And then we see an ambulance come, cool, we jump in a cab. We get to the hospital, Astoria General. We get in there and we chillin' like "Yeah, I hope he all right." Then 15 minutes later they just gettin' him in there! So now we dissin' 'em. Then like an hour later they come and tell us he ain't make it. And then them bitch ass niggas got locked up the next day, snitched on each other, scared like bitches. Still, it ain't over until it's over.
Q-TIP: Nas ain't got no gimmick to his style, you gotta sit and decipher what he says. He got a little Old School in him too, but his shit is just raw. Aside from the shit that he writes, his voice is what's so ill about him. His voice is just butter.
NAS: I used to read lessons, Actual facts, Solar facts. I read books on African history. I used to read books on Egyptian times and shit, how they had shit locked down back in the days. And motherfuckers from all over the world was comin' to Egypt to learn, that was college for the world. Back in the breakdancin', Zulu Nation, ballbreakin' days, there was this kid, this God, that was enlightenin' all of us that we was God. So we took heed to him, and then I took it upon myself to seek more knowledge, and that's how I started leamin' lessons and shit like that.
My moms used to make me and my brother go to church, when we was little kids. I used to look at them like jokes, screaming around like fuckin' clowns. I'm like, if you wanna get technical, Mr. Preacher Man, let's go all the way back to the origin of all of that. You gonna sit here and talk about Jesus Christ and do this. We wasn't even up on it until Black people came to America.
MC SERCH: If you trace hip-hop, every three or four years there's a group that breaks the mold. Nas is the new heart of what hardcore hip-hop is going to be about. Besides being the most prolific artist I've ever heard in my life, he is pound for pound, note for note, word for word the best MC I ever heard in my life.
NAS: This feels like a big project that's gonna affect the world, that's what it feels like we're working on. We in here on the down low, confidential, FBI type shit, doing something for the world. That's how it feels, that's what it is. For all the ones that think it's all about some ruff shit, talkin' about guns all the time, but no science behind it, we gonna bring it to them like this. We got some rap for that ass.
Nas: Represent (original beat)
Nas et al: 1993 WKCR Freestyle