Nas is on a whole other level, right now.
All I do is stay focused looking straight forward at the word, and beyond
I feel people pulling me down
I feel some pulling me up
I cant get stuck
I just keep moving forward
I got places to go man. Lets go
– Nas, Strong Will Continue on the Distant Relatives album
Just one listen to Nas and Damian Marleys new album, Distant Relatives is enough to pick up that the Nas you are hearing today is not the same Nas you heard, just yesterday.
In just the last 2 years, Nas has experienced the birth of a newborn son; been on the front lines of the war usually led by political progressives, against Fox and Bill OReilly (and by default Rupert Murdoch); received increased respect (and of course flak from the fearful) for expressing admiration for the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan on an untitled track, that the streets have re-titled, Louis Farrakhan. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yiwoDkXz6Xs); and experienced a spectacular and very public break-up with his ex-wife, Kelis.
No one comes out of a period like that the same. They are either better or worse for it.
Simultaneously experiencing great honor, public humiliation and suffering can be the highest form of education in terms of what you learn about yourself and those around you. When you listen to his verses on Distant Relatives, Strong Will Continue, Patience, and Friends, you feel some of Nas journey.
Nas appears to be in the state of mind that a great leader or entrepreneur reaches when they are prepared to take great risks. I write about it in Volume 3 of my book, The Entrepreneurial Secret, (http://theEsecret.com/) which focuses on ones personal struggle.
While many may not realize it, Distant Relatives is a risky album, and perhaps the boldest move Nas has ever made in his career.
When I say risky Im not just speaking in creative or commercial terms.
Many of you who are familiar with my writing know some of my perspective.
In 2004 I, along with Eric Canada, co-executive produced a mixtape called The Streets Are Political, which was named by The Source magazine as Mixtape of the Month. It developed a cult following, especially in Philly, New Jersey and New York. You can read about it here: http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=1187. Through music, my words, snippets and the words of others it explained that politics was about more than elections and that all aspects of human life are political. With that understanding I try to shed light on some of the ultimate aim of the rulers of this world and explain why the poor are oppressed.
The master of the masses
One has power
The other one lacks it
Guns are power
Controlled by assets
Owned by financial forecasters
Who are the masters?
They are the gangsters
They are the bankers
The ones who tax us
They are us
The sheep, the people
Divided in classes
– Nas Dispear, on the Distant Relatives album
The global powers-that-be among other things, generally fear three things: 1) the Diaspora and Africa re-uniting 2) the fearless youth of the world becoming politically and spiritually conscious and 3) the poor uniting across religious, racial, geographical and ideological lines to control and pool the wealth of their nations. Perhaps the best way to prove this is to study the history and internal documents of organizations like the FBI, CIA, Mossad, British Secret Service, the KGB, French intelligence agencies (paying particular attention to their mischief-making in Africa and what Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez calls, Indo-America).
On this point, I make an appearance in the QD III documentary, Letter To The President (http://www.blackelectorate.com/articles.asp?ID=1445) narrated by Snoop Dogg and in it I explain from documents that have been published by joint police-national security task force groups in America, their fear and belief that the rapper is the spokesperson for the gang. In an interview with Brother Ashahed Muhammad of The Final Call , I explain how this all relates to the FBIs Counter Intelligence Program (COINTELPRO) and in particular an August 25, 1967 memo where they write that no political activist or individual with an ideology that was perceived as a threat to the establishment should have access to a mass communication media.
What is Hip-Hop, if not mass communication media?
In my view, some of the major goals of the global power elite or the 10% as they are referred to in Lost-Found Muslim Lesson # 2 (the 5%, 10% and 85% concept was Authored by Master Fard Muhammad) are three things: 1) Prevent the rise of a messiah who could unify, and electrify, the militant black nationalist movement, (as quoted in the March 4, 1968 FBI memo) 2) Prevent an activist, ideologue, or any revolutionary gang from access to a mass communication media or articulate spokesperson, capable of popularizing their cause and inserting it into the cultural and political mainstream 3) To disrupt any effort to harmonize, link and connect causes, movements, and ideologies which threaten the current political, economic and spiritual world order (in this area one of the greatest fears is the re-unification of Africa and Her Diaspora in a way that disrupts America and Europes access to and control of natural resources in Central and South America and Africa).
In that light, how powerful, then, is Distant Relatives?
In response to my column last week, Africa, The Next Throne of Hip-Hop, I received an email from Brian Chitundu, serving as its Interim National Youth Director, of The Citizens Democratic Party[www.thecitizensdemocraticparty.com] based in Zambia. The CDP is an emerging political party in this African nation of 12 million which was under British colonial rule up until its independence in 1964. In Brians first email he wrote to me:
I accidentally came across your editorial today on allhiphop.com. I had somehow ended up on the site after googling a review of the new Nas and Damian album- Distant Relatives, and due to the theme of the album was intrigued and rather pleased to find and eventually read your aptly titled editorial.
Now I should state that our organization is in its infant stage, but has set a very strong foundation and accompanying agenda. As Youth Director I play a very pivotal role in the direction of our organization, due to the fact that we have what I may refer to as a young nation-the youth population takes up an unbelievable 70% of our total population. Being considerably a young leader myself, we have unorthodox approaches such as hip-hop to reach out to our peers. Furthermore, our organization was founded by myself and other peers of my age group, and it is only recently that we have the older generation finding their way into our leadership ranks, as we grow and expand towards being a broad-based party I hope you have purchased yourself a copy Distant Relatives which made me write you in the first place! That album is officially a soundtrack to our organizations youth wing – I only wish I could get in touch with Nas and Damian to let them know the motivation it has provided us with!
In our ongoing email exchange Brian and I have been discussing my interview at Africa PreBrief on economic development (http://africaprebrief.com/pages/posts/whatrsquos-next-for-african-economic-development-and-investment-q-a-with-cedric-muhammad-founder-africaprebrief-25.php) and the current economic issues facing his country; Zambian economist Dambisa Moyo and her book, Dead Aid; and our respective views on what may impact next years elections in his country.
But that very high-level discussion began with Brian Chitundu being attracted by Hip-Hop and specifically the new album from Damian Marley and Nas.
Which track on the album is influencing this young man from Zambia? Brian writes to me, Cedric I am stuck on Tribes at War.
Tribes at War, is one of the albums hottest tracks featuring an incredible verse by Somali-born rapper Knaan breaking down how civil war and in-fighting destroys families, clans, communities, and nations.
On it Nas spits:
Man what happened to us?
Geographically they moved us
From Africa, we was once happiness-pursuers
Now we back stabbing, combative and abusive
The African and Arab go at it, they most Muslim
We should be moving in unison, disputes would end.
As I have written before, I was blessed to interact and form a relationship with Nas in the earlier stages of his career, and when we were both young in our Hip-Hop professional careers. Here is how Ive described some of it:
I will never forget the experience of being invited in the Fall of 1995, by Nas to visit him while he was recording tracks (in November at Sony Music Studios) for his highly anticipated album, It Was Written.
We had been building for over a year since I had interviewed him for The Final Call newspaper, with me visiting him several times at his place in Long Island, first, and then Queens. When we got together it was always to discuss two subjects his music career (the many avenues he could take in marketing himself after his first album) and the knowledge of self (we watched tapes of Minister Farrakhan and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and discussed the Lessons). I was honored to have been a guest meeting his then companion, Carmen (who always was so kind to me), and even his beautiful baby daughter Destiny when she was only 4 days old.
So while I would not claim to be a close friend of Nas, I can say for a nearly 18-month period we had a very Brotherly and always sober interaction (even if he did light it up a lot smile).
That rapport and respectful interaction, and the way in which I met him, allowed me to have very serious discussions with him and which earned enough of his trust to the point that when I presented a couple of ideas regarding producers or artists I thought he should work with, or entrepreneurs he could do business deals with, he allowed me to make outreach to those camps on his behalf.
It was a very informal but forward-looking relationship which I continue to look back on fondly. He was a star then and despite many ups, downs, twists and turns he is now a legend, one of to best to ever do it, an artist I continue to admire and support to this day.
On that cold November day I was excited to have the chance to sit in a toasty studio room and watch Nas, and the late Producer Stretch (who was murdered right around this time) go to work. The track they were working on was Silent Murder, (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQmPCJY3mA8) which would end up included on limited editions of It Was Written.
Several minutes after I arrived, Nas came out of the booth and sat with me. I had two gifts for him a couple of books, which I gave him and which he immediately went through. One was called What They Never Told You In History Class by Indus Khamit Kush. After he went through them for a minute, Nas told me, I got something in here for you, check this out.
Nas then went back in the booth and continued to lay down lyrics, as I listened closely.
I noted Nas line, in the second verse: They say the arms of Nicky Barnes would be enough to blast/ A lot of rich n-s failed and started pumping gas/ Was it the mind of CIA that bumped off Malik Shabazz?/ Fk what they teach in class Im a teach the mass.
Nas gave me a knowing nod and smile. What he had done remained understood and unspoken. Although I had nothing to do with writing his lyrics, they were responsive to what I just showed him and on the level of the material we had been building about for the last couple of years – reflected in the two books I gave him as gifts.
The other book I gave to Nas as a gift, that cold day in 1995, was Our Saviour Has Arrived by Elijah Muhammad.
I have not been in the same room as Nas since 1996 (when he, his manager at the time, Steve Stoute, myself and some of the members of Wu Tang Clan attended a birthday party for a stockbroker we knew). I share all of the above regarding our interaction because I want to make a point about Nas evolution and that of all of us. We go through stages of growth. We all learn in five ways: conversation, observation, reading, experience, and revelation/intuition. Experience is the most painful. Revelation/intuition is the quickest.
When Nas and I were building during that 1994-1995 time period we never discussed nonsense. We had fun but we discussed the most serious issues. And we discussed Africa. We knew what we knew about Africa primarily from books, documentaries, movies and speeches. Again, we were young and had not traveled to study Africa, in the physical sense. Yet, we traveled, mentally. I bear witness that Nas was already extremely concerned and interested about his people and their unity – in America and abroad, from the very first time I spoke with him in 1994. He already had it in his soul and mind to do powerful things that would connect people on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. 16 years later he matches that concern not only with book knowledge, and a career that has given him the experience of traveling throughout the world, but with a new album that is impacting the world, and setting the stage for some even more powerful events.
For the past few days Ive been involved in a heavy dialogue about Distant Relatives with Zavara Mponjika from the WaPi movement and Karengera Eric Soul of the AFROGROOV movement. Its been a three-continent, three-dimensional conversation critiquing the album, creatively and in terms of its potential influence, and what it lays the base for. Listening to the album is one thing, but discussing it with individuals from Africa, and the Diaspora (Europe, the United States, and the Caribbean etc ) takes the experience to another level. In this era of the Internet, social media, FaceBook, Twitter and Skype, this should be easier than ever to do.
Nas, to me, in terms of talent and knowledge, has now reached a stage of intellectual development and consciousness, as an artist, in the world of Hip-Hop culture and industry, that I believe only KRS-ONE has attained. The only difference and what may separate the two is that Nas has yet to do the kind of movement and coalition building that KRS accomplished, with the Stop The Violence (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bzU6YycLv0&feature=related ) Movement and H.E.A.L. (Human Education Against Lies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yZBtdWtDCuw&feature=related).
As young as the Queens native still appears, he is now the conscience of this generation of artists and an elder statesmen with enough credibility to organize them and industry professionals, around causes, if he were to choose to do that. Perhaps in Distant Relatives and how it solidifies his position in America and abroad he may have found his biggest calling the unity of artists and people, separated by history, oppression, cultural and ideological barriers.
Some may dismiss this possibility because of Nas laid back demeanor, because he is from New York, and now into his 30s (and probably with more older fans than younger ones), but that would only be because they are not looking at Nas ability to influence his younger peers for the better.
It may be his influence over the younger generation that ends up being Nas greatest accomplishment.
I rest my case with the ill verse of the supposedly non-conscious rapper Lil Wayne on the track My Generation (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kMPgYMNc0FU&feature=related) off of the Distant Relatives album:
If you weather that storm
Then that rain bring sun
Been a long time coming
I know change gone come
Man I gotta keep it movin to the beat of my drum
Last night I set the future at the feet of my son
But they thinkin that my generation gotta die young
If we all come together then they cant divide one
Dont worry bout it, just be about it
Got a message from God heaven too crowded
But I say hey young world youve never looked better
And I heard change started with man in the mirror
This generation, Ima represent
A generation led by a black president
Now hows that for change?
Who knew that could change?
I dont even look at the flag the same
So when you finish reading Revelations
Thank God for my generation
Some may find Lil Waynes verse confusing, in light of the image he projects and in terms of his expressed view of America, but I dont. What I see in his lines and appearance on Distant Relatives is a sign of his own growth and continued willingness to take risks (I love the fact he tried to do a rock album), and perhaps even deeper, his respect for Nas.
Who else could make Lil Wayne feel comfortable enough to spit lines that sound so strong they could appear on the Self Destruction collaboration of over 20 years ago?
In terms of talent, mass appeal, consciousness, and the potential for social influence, Nas is now the most dangerous MC in the world.
Maybe we can now truly understand the refrain at the end of Nas Memory Lane on the classic Illmatic album, the most dangerous MC is .coming out of Queensbridge : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndtbyt0I-h4).
And even if we dont realize it, J. Edgar Hoover from the grave – still does.
Cedric Muhammad is a business consultant, political strategist, and monetary economist. He is a former GM of Wu-Tang Management and currently a Member of the African Unions First Congress of African Economist. Hes the Founder of the economic information service Africa PreBrief (http://africaprebrief.com/) and author of The Entrepreneurial Secret (http://theEsecret.com/). Cedric can be contacted via e-mail at: cedric(at)cmcap.com