Nas: Portrait of an Untitled Hero

It’s hard to tell what Nas is really thinking right now. From walking the beaten path of complaints yet again over his now Untitled album title to watching el Presidente Hov exit Def Jam to pursue the next phase of his career, Nas has a lot to question. The only thing Nasir Jones knows for certain is that his lyrical prowess is as sharp as ever, and that tool is most certainly needed right now in Hip-Hop. His new album would suggest that he’s ready to attack with the same illmatic intensity he harbored years back. However, if you’re looking for an enraged veteran MC bitterly beating his chest about social injustice and how he’s Superman, you won’t find him here. Contrary to the fire behind his single “Hero,” Nas is pretty laid back about the whole “situation.”Speaking semi-candidly in between airport security checks, Nas is giving a proverbial middle finger to the controversy surrounding him. He doesn’t sound like a defeatist though; more like an optimist. While Lil’ Wayne counts the figures of his album sales, the paradox of God’s Son being shamed into a corner for speaking his mind is unfortunate. He’s not mad at Weezy though, and neither should we be. As the Son’s disciples, we’re all marching to the basslines of his leaked LP in the hopes of following protocol on how to preserve Hip-Hop of substance. The solution is in Nas’ new mantra: Kill ‘em with There has been some back and forth on what the real title of your album is, so just to officially clear that up…what is the title of your new album? Nas: There is a title; it's called Untitled.

“Too many people took [the title] the wrong way. I think Al Sharpton; he didn't realize when he had lost. He lost when my record company stood with me. Jesse Jackson even had to change his tone when he saw that brilliant Black artists and White artists stood with me and understand what I'm talking about, even before they heard one song.” In the last verse of “Hero” you paint this really powerful imagery of what happened regarding the titling of the album. For those who really didn't absorb the words in the verse, how would you explain what happened and your decision to do that?Nas: Def Jam had been riding with me 100 percent every step of the way since the beginning. There has been talk that they were not riding behind me, but there has never been one point where they weren't down with my freedom of expression. There was a time when I decided, when you're getting calls from the White House, when you're getting calls from opportunists in the Black community, when you're getting calls from people trying to take this thing all the way to something like that, which is going to be a fight for Universal. So I kind of felt bad for them, because me knowing my mouth not knowing what type of s**t I was going to get us into, I kind of felt bad for them. There was a Newsweek article saying, the start of other big wigs overseas and they got really nervous about this word and me trying to handle the African-American struggle on one album. It just seemed like that way, we were about to get attacked from all angles, and part of me was like, “f**k it.” I mean those guys overseas were really scared. I was like, “You know what? Why let them stop this record from hitting the streets when I can just get my record in stores, do what I got to do and get my record in stores?” To people, when I go to the store and I go to buy an album and there's not enough copies there, I am pissed. If there is anything that stopped it, I'm pissed. I want a record when I want it. And me wanting to put it out in December, it wasn't ready, and me wanting to put it out and keep pushing it back, pushing it back. I was getting tired of the wait, and I didn't want to wait anymore. Out of all the hoopla and all of that s**t, this is music, let me put this music out, and that will be that. And people will listen to what I'm saying and people [will] take it from What do you think they feared more; the title of the album or the content in the album? Or which do you think they should fear more?Nas: I think the title if that is my intention – to remind muthaf**kers – watching and hanging out with rich friends was not enough to remove the realities of the world. I just look at life like, “Alright, I made it out the hood where it seems impossible to make it from and me just chilling out wasn't enough, and me helping a few people wasn't enough. It was too much going on.”I think initially, the title, I think too many people took it the wrong way. I think Al Sharpton; he didn't realize when he had lost. He lost when my record company stood with me. Jesse Jackson even had to change his tone when he saw that brilliant Black artists and White artists stood with me and understand what I'm talking about, even before they heard one song. They know what I'm going to say before I say it, because they know what I'm talking about. So I feel like we beat them, we made them understand that we are apart of them. Where a lot of elders look down on the Hip-Hop generation and disassociate themselves and cut themselves off the younger generation, which to Black people seems insane. How could you stand for them to look down on me because my music reflects the lifestyle on the corner? That makes you look like you're out of touch, so that was my message. But then the record started to turn into the attention only for people to battle me with the title, and that's not what this s**t is about. This s**t is about for my kids, for rap fans and we laughing in the face, throwing a middle finger back in the face of those who want to use Hip-Hop as a scapegoat, and use Hip-Hop as a platform to grandstand on, and point the finger at us, and say that we're responsible for the crimes of America because of the music. It was a middle finger back in their face, like everybody forgot them, everybody left the hood, everybody made it, and everybody got educated and got the hell out. And we made it by talking about what was happening there, whether America likes it or not, no matter how ugly language, no matter how many people get shot at the concert, no matter how many girls want to dress in tight jeans and be called hoes and bi**hes on record. There is hoes and bi**hes in the world, there are ignorant n*****s in the world. It's brilliant men in the world; it's brilliant women in the world. Everybody needs they music to dance to or move to. If the music reflects the reality of the corner, the block, then we are going to expose the people who ain't of that and really don't want to see us come off the block with that attitude. What we did was turn that into money. I'm explaining that on some of my songs too. We are turning our nightmare into a dream, into a great dream, a beautiful dream come true. And that is a beautiful triumph, an incredible triumph that needs to be awarded, not looked down on. And that's what thy’re doing to us, looking down at Hip-Hop, so by stating the album title “n****r” it was a middle finger back in those conservative, nose in the air, don't know where I came from, mad at my own people, lost and confused Negroes. This album is for them.

“The hustlers are rhyming; the gangsters are rhyming, that's crazy. Lil' Wayne is living proof that Hip-Hop Is Dead is something that pushed a lot of people forward.” The title of the Hip-Hop Is Dead album was challenged as well. Once you dropped that album, everybody from award ceremonies to live performances got up and the first thing they would say is: “People like to think that Hip-Hop is dead,” and they really challenged it. Originally wasn't Hip-Hop Is Dead supposed to be called the N-word, but then you went with Hip-Hop Is Dead? What changed back then for you and how do you feel it reflects now?Nas: Right. I think it was great for the game. I think it was beautiful for the game and that's a great thing. I know people somebody at Universal is like, “Who in the hell signed Nasir Jones? What was L.A. Reid thinking? What is going on?” But then there has got to be somebody at Universal like, “Wow we got this guy on our billings?” That has got to mean something. So it's just provoking people to think and talk, and that's everything to me right now. Do you think it says a lot that you changed your album title and people were outraged with it, but Lil Wayne breaks the one million in sales mark and they say he is saving Hip-Hop?Nas: He is. I heard the song “Dr. Carter” when he breathes it, and to me that is the best s**t ever to hear…that “Dr. Carter” song and [Lil Wayne] breathing life into Hip-Hop. You know n****s, they’re cheering, Lil Wayne love Hip-Hop. He does in his BET performance at the Hip-Hop Awards "I am Hip-Hop" and he said it at the BET Awards performance he said it again. It's in the end of the Nelly video. Some girl even has a shirt on that says, "Hip-Hop Ain't Dead." Keri Hilson has the T-shirt on [the singer on Nas’ track “Hero”].Nas: Oh. Yeah so that's a beautiful thing, man. Lil Wayne is here to show how much he loves it. You starting to see how people love Hip-Hop you didn't even know cared about Hip-Hop. The hustlers are rhyming; the gangsters are rhyming, that's crazy. Lil' Wayne is living proof that Hip-Hop Is Dead is something that pushed a lot of people forward. That statement With Jay-Z no longer the president of Def Jam, does it change your comfort level with the label? Jay being an artist himself seemed like he was championing for artists too.Nas: Two reasons I came there were L.A. Reid and Jay. And the big reason I came there was to squash our s**t and move on, but it's inevitable that [Jay-Z] is going to make moves. I'm going to make moves; people grow. He is somebody that is business sharp, so he is about growth. I wish that he was still there, but at the same time everything is going to grow, everything is going to move. The other reason I'm still there is L.A., so it’s still good. I spoke with Common [recently] and he was discussing working on his new album and he said...once the money has already been made and you’re not worrying that the album will do well to actually feed you, and you can actually make music for the sake of making music, you feel so free in your approach to Hip-Hop. Do you agree with that?Nas: Yeah. I think once you spend a lot of time in [Hip-Hop], I think where ever you are, if you sell records and make money rather than just getting by, if you spend your time in it, you start to get comfortable in it. And you feel you can creatively navigate how you want?Nas: Oh no A lot of tracks are leaking from the album. Was that at all intentional?Nas: No, that's the basics of two weeks [of] free music. Once it's out of your hands, once it's out of the record company's hands somehow it happens, because other people have to hold it. The plants, the manufacturing, it's in lots of hands so it's going to happen. If you want to hear it, it's going to happen. Every one of my albums has been bootlegged worse than these days. I'm actually looking forward to the two weeks before the album drops when the music leaks. It's kind of cool because people want to hear it and people get to talking, it helps. You have listed some crazy producers on the album. You have, Mark Ronson and The Game even helped produce a track, is that right?Nas: Yeah “Make the World Go Round.” How did you go about picking these producers for this album, because they seem to be really diverse?Nas: Yeah, I wanted to make sure it was people with open minds. Somebody like has a real strong approach when it comes to Black matters, matters of our people. He has a real strong approach, he is very knowledgeable and it was like really important that I work with people who had that kind of knowledge. It couldn't have been just give me beats from anybody. You have to have some type of knowledge of what we’re doing, and it was a process not just give me beats let me rhyme to them. Somebody like Mark Ronson is open-minded and from the UK, he is a nut you know what I’m saying? So his s**t is not only going to come one way, I already knew how his s**t was going to come before I had even heard it. He took his time and worked on the music and we talked about it, talked about it, talked about it. He didn't know what I was going to do to it, until I sent it to him. But we just talked about it and talked about it, so it was a whole lot of fun.

“I'm like a boxer when he hears the bell; I'm going to throw my hands up, I'm going to get my feet in position. I'm like a Vietnam vet when the truck [backfires]; I duck. I'm trapped in it forever, the album says toward the end, 'This n****r is like he hasn't created his favorite song yet.'” The timing of your album coming out is actually perfect, given the type of commentary while at the same time the rise of Barack Obama. What is your whole standpoint of America finally embracing the idea of a Black President?Nas: Are they finally embracing it? I think the whole world has been ready for it. So I think it has been a great thing, it puts the cool back in America. America lost its stature in the world, and it was caught up in old times and old ways and old people. Everything has to die so there can be a re-birth. Certain sounds of Hip-Hop are dead and there has to be a rebirth, you have to have new artists out here – Lil Wayne, Rick Ross, Kanye West save Hip-Hop period. So you have to have that in order to keep me motivated, to keep the whole game motivated. A lot of the guys who was hot in the ‘90s, producers, rappers and even DJ's, their moment is a great moment that we can always look back to, but it’s not the forefront of Hip-Hop no more and they’re frustrated because of it, but that's like a Bush. They have a George Bush mentality; they want America to stay the way it was in the ‘80s. It has to change, and whether you like it or not it has to change. And when you really don't want it to change, it's going to change in ways you hoped it wouldn't. [Obama] is a great example of change. When do you think Nas will retire?Nas: When I'm dead. I look at B.B. King; I'm trapped in it. I'm like a boxer when he hears the bell; I'm going to throw my hands up, I'm going to get my feet in position. I'm like a Vietnam vet when the truck [backfires]; I duck. I'm trapped in it forever, the album says toward the end. “This n****r is like he hasn't created his favorite song yet.” It is what it is, forever. I used to have a lot people around me saying, “Yo, I ain’t going to be rapping when I'm 25 or 30,” and now they’re 30. “I'm not going to be rapping when I'm 40.” That is the stupidest thing; it doesn't even make any sense. Now people realize that was the dumbest thing. Ain't no way out of this except when we leave and even then s**t is immortal. Because they’re going to play your s**t, so we are in this forever. So keep rapping, catch Nas in Vegas. I will give you a free ticket to the Nas show at Vegas in 2024.