Today, Nas celebrates his 40th birthday today and we at AllHipHop celebrate with him. In honor of the legendary rhymester, AHH’s chief of staff Chuck “Jigsaw” Creekmur wrangled a whopping 40 things he’s learned from Nas. Read on and see if there’s anything you can relate to and add on to the lessons we’ve amassed from the 40-year-old lyrical phenom.
40) NORMAL SUCKS. Nas is the ultimate rap introvert. But, it seems, at one point he decided to be a reluctant star and totally embraced being a stand out.
39) PERFECTION? You don’t have to be perfect. When Nas came in the game, he was spitting bars so immaculate that critics and fans made him into the heir apparent to the likes of Rakim and Kool G Rap. However immaculate his rhymes, we found that Nas was far from perfect, and that made for a more interesting person.
38) THE DEVIL IS A LIE. Nas probably captured a lot of angry, rebellious youth sentiments when he was dropping all those ill rhymes early on(“I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus”). Later in life, the lesson comes and you’re actually God’s son (or daughter). Believe that.
37) KEEP YOUR FANS HAPPY. There has always been this love hate thing with Nas. But, he’s produced his best work when he’s completely honest in his life and his fans respond appropriately.
36) F**K YOUR OPINION. Greatness doesn’t concern itself with the opinions of the mediocre. Nas’s presumed foibles have generally redeemed themselves over time.
35) FEAR. “N****s fear what they don’t understand, hate what they can’t conquer.” - “Hate Me Now”
34) STAY BALANCED. Nas has always has a great mix of ill lines and conscious jewels. You could tell he cared about kids, the community as well as killing the competition. A lot of artists have tried to do this (Common, Killer Mike, Talib, Saigon, Ice Cube) with varying degrees of awesomeness, but I think Nas mastered it.
33) READING IS FUNDAMENTAL. Nas was an avid reader and that is apparent in the quality, color and depth of his lyrical content. You can travel the universe by reading.
32) EVERYBODY CAN’T MAKE THE TRIP. Nas has run with a lot of people through the years. Most of them aren’t around these days for a variety of reasons. Nas’ life has taught us that, sometimes you have to take that trip – your journey – alone.
31) TURN PAIN INTO PASSION. Stillmatic is still a beloved Nas album. On it, the QB King turned his deepest pain (loss of his mother, streets saying he was “dead”) into one of the most epic moments in history.
30) YOU CAN GO TOO FAR. I hated when Nas tried to simulate lynching Jay Z at Hot 97’s Summer Jam. It would have sullied his legacy had he been allowed. Even emcee illness has limits.
29) KNOW YOUR STRENGTHS. “Belly” is a cult classic movie, but acting was definitely not a strong suit of the “chipped tooth don” at that time.
28) BE A FATHER. Nas’ song “Daughters” was a risky move, but an inspirational one for those of us with little ladies. Still, a rapper rapping the vitues of fatherhood is a good example for all, even if it includes putting your own on blast a bit.
27) FINISH THE JOB! My homey and journalist friend Jerry Barrow is still waiting for that Nas/Preemo album. “Sometimes the thing you want to do the most is the hardest to finish,” Jerry says. Lets make that happen, Nas!
26) WOUNDS HEAL. “I had a pretty public divorce. They’re not easy – divorces – and it took me a long time to really get through.” – Nas Give it time. Wounds heal if you let them.
25) CHECK THE HOMIES, GET RESPECT. Nas has had a lot of beef, many of which come from his friends. But, he’s gotten his respect by putting them in their place from time to time. “From time to time, Nas has had to put former friends in pocket and still get their respect – Prodigy, Cormega and so on,” says edit legend Daetwon Thomas.
24) HAVE STYLE. After his first album, Nas gave up a lot of the fatigues and Tims for leather outfits and suits. It was necessary at the time and these days, he’s close to being a Hip-Hop style icon. Those rappers that dissed him are one of those “trapped in the 90’s n***as” now.
23) LOOK. “In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is the King.” – Nas on “N.I.*.*.E.R.” (Originally from scholar Desiderius Erasmus)
22) TRUST. Trust is hard and sometimes you have to have eyes every where. But, there are some people that you have to trust. Nas is one of them. When he did the “Untitled” (at first called N.I.*.*.E.R. album, I had to go on Fox News and defend Nas without even hearing the album. I trust him on this one and he came through with a dope album.
21) BE REVOLUTIONARY. Earlier this year, at the 2013 Grammys, Nas said, “Peace, god.” Most people didn’t get it, but it was that was a revolutionary moment. Keep it revolutionary.
20) BE SPECIAL. “Anybody can be a rapper, but not anybody can be a classical artist.” – Nas
19) CLASS ACT. Do it with class. The general public doesn’t quite know all that Nas gone through in his personal life. One thing is for sure, he’s been a class act dealing with it, unlike so many Hip-Hop artists with messy lives.
18) GET HELP! On Illmatic, Stillmatic and Life Is Good (and others), Nas reportedly allowed other people to pick the beats he rapped over. That’s not a knock against him, but he’s never been regarded as the created A&R. He’s a better artist because of it.
17) BE A LIVING EXAMPLE. A lot of rappers have come and gone, but we only examine a few by the full breadth of their lives. Nas is different in that we’ve watched him go from boy to man in all the tests that go with that. There are a lot of lessons in a public life like that if you look closely.
16) STUDY THE GREATS! Nas wasn’t mentioned in the same breath as the early greats like Rakim, Kane and Kool G Rap for no reason. He studied those guys and then took it to another level to augment his own greatness.
15) HISTORY. “Make history before you go.” – Nas on “Life Is What You Make It”
14) CHALLENGE YOURSELF. One of the hardest challenges of any great artist is topping your own greatness. Nas has done this by evolving with the times, and taking his craft into uncharged waters, all the while silencing his critics. A lot of people were disappointed by his second album, It Was Written, but its still his most commercially successful album to date. Shout out to The Trackmasters!
13) THE REWARD COMES LATER SOMETIMES. Honestly, “Oochie Walley” is one of my least favorite Nas records. Still, every time it plays in the club, we rock to it.
12) THERE IS A FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH. Nas found it. He looks younger than most rappers half his age.
11) FALLING OFF AIN’T SO BAD. One of my best friends, Chris reminded me that Nas has fallen off a few times and taken lots of backlash for his failures. That only makes the comeback so much sweeter.
10) NEVER GIVE UP – AllHipHop scribe, Biba Adams says, “One of the things I’ve learned from Nas is to never give up even when all looks lost.”
9) WATCH AND LISTEN. AllHipHop writer Keith Nelson told me that Nas taught him to listen and watch. “Nas taught me to take your surroundings and understand there’s a story everywhere. The girl you see with the ballers is probably a ‘Black Girl Lost.’ Those bullets on the ground have a story too (‘I Gave You Power’), letters you write are art as well (‘One Mic’). Nas was and will always be the greatest Hip-Hop storyteller ever to me.”
8) LET OLD BEEF GO. One of the best moments in Hip-Hop history was when Jay Z and Nas ended their beef. They were better for it and so were we.
7) KEEP IT HONEST. Nas’s career is arguably book marked by his best two albums Illmatic and Life is good (excluding The Lost Tapes). Part of that is because those albums are extremely relatable but also reflective of his life and times.
6) KEEP ON MOVING. Nas’s divorce had everybody hating Kelis, but not Nas. He wrote about his wrongs and their relationship in “Life Is Good,” keeping it so honest his ex didn’t take issue with it.
5) GIVE WISDOM. I’ve always appreciated that Nas gives wisdom through his art. Tumblr has a whole world of Nas quotes to take in.
4) FOCUS. A lot of people wanted Nas to be the consummate business man like Jay Z. But, Nas seems in a great space now, where he’s happy being who he is, where he is.
3) ETHER. One of the best times to go after your enemies is when they think they have beaten you. They thought Nas was finished after Jay dropped “The Takeover.” They couldn’t have been more wrong.
2) SLEEP. “I never sleep, ’cause sleep is the cousin of death.” – Nas on “New York State of Mind.” This lyric literally changed my life and the lives of millions. The metaphor can be taken a number of ways, choose one.
1) NAS LOST. Really? You can lose, but you never lose the chance to get back up. “Nas Lost.” You’ve heard it over and over and there have been lost of jokes. But character is built more through trials and tribulations more than victories. Nas had definitely had his share of set backs – personally and professionally – but this is what endears us to him. “I want to have fun. It’s a beautiful life. You learn, you win, you lose, but you get up.” – Nas
In fact, if you get back up, you don’t really lose.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY NAS!