Nas: Critical Condition

Twelve years ago, you’d never catch Nas in the streets without a ton of reefer. Today, the King Poetic has turned over a new leaf, and no longer splits the leaves of his cigars. Perhaps it’s a new frame of mind for a 33-year-old rapper who went from snubbing Jesus to being the same age as the Christian messiah at his death. Perhaps this maturity has created a new perspective for the Queensbridge icon. With the forthcoming Hip-Hop is Dead Nas is candid about his mature views on the music that so many critics say he advanced a decade ago. But the question remains, if Hip-Hop is dead, can Nasir Jones – or anybody else for that matter, revive it? Just before the last rites, Nas arrives with one mic. If Hip-Hop is dead, who killed it?

Nas: Corporate America and DJs, radio programmers, video/TV programming, the rappers, us. We all just had a whole bunch of fun. We had too much fun. Because you got to live your life, know what I mean. And it’s a business. And business, it kills it, you know what I mean, business then kills it and s**t. Well you maybe out and Hip-Hop is dead, so you referring to a specific chapter or just a general, conclusive data? Nas: I mean, it just came to me from people. I just heard people talking and I was just in the streets. So I would say the streets named the album. So you’re just saying the street does it, that doesn’t mean that you necessarily agree? Nas: I totally agree. Yeah it’s just dead man. I’m free now. So you’re not making Hip-Hop anymore. What are you making if Hip-Hop -- Nas: I don’t know what it is - some s**t right. Crack music, whatever. It’s f**ked up. Well, I mean the reason you give, then you mentioned working with a different caliber of producers for this next album. Give us a little insight as to who we can expect to hear from the album… Nas: Well, some people I’ve been working with, you know Salaam Remi, L.E.S., you know Dr. Dre, not as much but Dre. Premier, you know -- What happened to the Premier/ Nas album? Nas: Yeah, well that’s some s**t we want to do, you know. I think we really got to set aside some time to do it. You know, ‘cause when I’m ready to do it, I’m ready to do it at a certain kind of way and Premier got his way of doing it. We just got to really settle down because I want it to be an idea thing, like a concept from beginning to end, the theme you know. Okay, I see you. So I also heard that you have Will.I.Am… Nas: Oh yeah Will.I.Am. I’ll definitely have. So you know that throws a lot of people left because there’s a lot of people in Hip-Hop and your fans kind of regard you as above ground, with underground sound, know what I mean? Nas: Yeah, yeah. Do you even give a damn what people think? Nas: Um --Yeah, well Will.I.Am is the truth. He’s the truth, man. That dude is… he’s advanced. He loves Hip-Hop so much, he could out break-dance anybody. He’s all the way involved. Don’t be surprised you catch him doing graffiti on subway somewhere. You know we don’t get a chance to see that because his group [Black Eyed Peas] is so large, you know. We don’t get to see who he really is. So what do you say to your fans who feel like you basically like sold yourself out in signing with Jay?

Nas: I signed with Def Jam. I didn’t sign with Jay. You know what I’m saying? Like, I’m not signing with Roc-A-Fella. I’m signing to myself, joint venture situation with Jones Experience [Nas’ new label]. And I’m actually still in with Sony. This album is a collective thing with some [people], but it was my idea to, or it was my thing to, you know help make the situation [work]. I had to go in there as a royalty act on Sony and deal with people knowing that [Sony] was a sinking ship for me, and it was my time to leave.

So you know there’s… you respect the Clive Davis’ and a lot of other Lyor Cohen’s, but who else will respect a movement of two Black men resolving something that started, this whole battle, situation for the last four-and-a-half years, where eHip-Hop's gone crazy and it’ll probably kill New York rap, just from “Ether” and "Takeover." Who else will respect us? They don’t care if the music and the culture suffers. So if we don’t stand up and come together in positions of power… this is God’s plan. This is not, there’s no disrespect, but other than a non-Black executive that would honor the situation. This is not a sellout. This is everything that was intended for the truth to be expressed this time. Well where would you place yourself in the top MCs if you had to? Where do you think is your position in rap history when it’s all said and done? Nas: When it’s all said and done they all come after me, every last one of ‘em, White or Black. Who’s that -- Nas: Rappers. They all come from me, you know what I’m saying? At some point in time, whether it’s the shock value in these guys’ verses from when I first started, and you heard them start regurgitated and different artists talk about doing things and Jesus is now he’s dead, the shock value sound [referring to lyrics like, "I went to hell for snuffin' Jesus,” lyrics or the lyrical pattern, or it’s the consciousness upbringing. It’s the balance upbringing. This all belongs to me. And that’s a lot, a lot of times I see what’s happening with New York rappers, they don’t have enough style in their personality, in what they talk about off the records, when they not rapping. When they not rapping, they like back in the days I couldn’t get on say, like [disrespecting] Rakim’s wife or Big Daddy Kane’s son, and I’m gonna diss him in a record. That was blasphemy. You never did a record that, now it’s so messed up and New York is the kings of savvy and style. But we up here, lost and confused, disrespecting each other, that’s not how it’s done. Old school, some of that old school used to hate on us. My place now is to say y’all all my kids. But Ice Cube can really say it. KRS can really say it, but I’m having fun saying it too. But I mean here in New York you know, this whole New York, bring back to New York, what is that about? Do you co-sign that?

Nas: Yeah, but I mean New York is New York. It ain’t going nowhere. Yeah, I mean the thing is you know everybody else is having fun while everybody else is doing what they do. Up here, you know, everybody is confused; they [are] lost. You know [in the] ‘80s, we used to look up to you know a lot of different people from different walks of life. And you know everybody…I wear white t-shirts everyday too, but that’s an L.A. thing. You know what I’m saying. It’s more melting pot and that’s good because we all connecting with each others’ style and everything but then New York, I remember you know what we do. So in your opinion, to bring New York back we need to get that swagger back, basically? Nas: To bring New York back we got to take it seriously, you know what I’m saying? They gotta take they selves seriously. Everybody’s like microwave music now, know what I mean, ‘cause it’s the way to eat. When I was doing this early on, [I did Hip-Hop] because I loved it. Now, they not artists, they opportunists. So it’s just a way to eat now. And that’s cool. But then of course, the music is gonna suffer. You mentioned The Jones Experience. So you have two label brands, along with Ill Will?

Nas: I have Ill Will for my release records, not over here in Def Jam. This Def Jam is Jones experience. Okay. And what about Ill Will because I know you had big plans for the label but never really -- Nas: It never came to fruition and I kind of wanted to put it to rest; it’s like, because it didn’t come to fruition, my dude was just part of the shine over me, getting me to do the slave s**t, know what I’m saying? And whatever happened to Quan? Nas: I don’t know. You have no idea? Nas: No. So what’s this treadmill? I feel that you get linked with cats and you’re supportive of them and they just kind of like -- Nas: It’s a hard place. It’s a hard road to travel. You know it’s not easy to move. You got to be like, a lot of people think they gonna get…it’s real. You can’t get in this and expect you gonna be Michael Jackson tomorrow. You got to put it down. You gonna have to take some, you gonna have to put your, you know, get in shape man, and let’s go at it. ‘Cause you know I’m not in this for faking. You know what I’m saying. And a lot of people think like you know why didn’t you sign me or why didn’t you sign me? It’s like I don’t think you’re the next Snoop Dogg. Do you think they’re the next Snoop? I got it, like asking these artists, do you really think you can pack [Madison Square Garden] one day in five years, ten years. How? What are you talking about? I’m looking for someone who can grow. They don’t have to do it overnight, but I’m looking for someone who really loves what they do. They take it down and you know it really come from the heart. They’re ready to go in and go hard. So, you’ve been at this a long time, what would you say the biggest difference with the game now than when you got in? Nas: It wasn’t as much paper. Paper changed a lot. It wasn’t as easy to get in. You know dudes got it made today. Well you just said it was easier for you to get in back then ‘cause it -- Nas: For me, yeah. But it wasn’t a bunch of [imitations] out there. You had this guy, we had, we had everybody get airtime. Everybody got whatever happening label. Everybody’s doing it. You know you can’t walk down the street without some n***a without a record label and rap. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Nas: I think it’s great that we all love the rap game and that we all into it. I think it’s not good with the misunderstanding of what comes along being in it. You know they say like that less than 1% of n***as out here is gonna make it to where they see they selves supposed to be, and that’s kinda harsh reality. Word has it you have stopped smoking?

Nas: I smoke cigars. I’ve always smoked cigars. That’s you can mature with it man, so you can’t smoke a hundred blunts in one day. You know, you got to party, but every day? For what? A blunt for breakfast. Nas: A blunt for breakfast… What’s the favorite album you got?

Nas: I don’t have one. Come on now, you have to have one. Nas: Definitely don’t have one. Why wouldn’t you have one? Nas: I don’t know what’s on each album. Really?

Nas: Nah, I get confused sometimes [with] what songs are on what album. What would you say is the biggest misconception about you? Nas: That I’m not in total control, of every step of the way. Elaborate on that. Nas: A lot of the weed smoking was the stage that set me free. And I never messed with any of these industry cats because there’s too many, I knew how easy it was for you to be behind a jail cell over one of these flunkies, you know. One of the kookie n***as that have you all tripped up. That ain’t no man s**t. That ain’t even gangsta s**t [to] get tripped up off one of these goofball n***as. So the thing about it, I stayed in my haze. [My] state of mind was perking all day long because I didn’t pay attention to none of that stuff. So how does Nas the rapper different from Mr. Nasir Jones? Nas: I love being on stage. It’s everything to me, but sometimes people don’t know when to turn it off and the way they treat you is like it’s on every day. It’s all about rap, rap every day. They don’t know about life and stuff like that. You know, you gotta have a quality of life. So that’s real important to me. You see dudes frowning up all the time, paranoid and they’re [acting] 16, dude. They’re a grown man with kids, man. You smile. Nas: Yeah. I smile all the time. What is your idea to stay connected with the youth?

Nas: It is what it is. Youth don’t want you to dumb down, ‘cause they not dumb. So you can’t, you got to do youth. You know they can understand that. [The] same way I understood the dudes that were over me when I was 12, 13 there wasn’t no 12, 13 year olds rapping. They were at least four years older than me if I bought their records. It was always like that.