(AllHipHop Opinion) I will never forget defending Nas when I wasn't so sure. The year was 2007 and the Queensbridge rapper was set to drop his controversial album, which was originally called NI**ER. I didn't like the title at all, but I had some context to it from a historical perspective. I scrambled to interview legendary activist, author, and comedian Dick Gregory, who wrote an autobiography of the same name. I also had context from other greats like Richard Pryor and Redd Foxxx who used the word regularly in their routines.
On October 16, 2007, I found myself on "The Big Story" with John Gibson, the ultra-conservative Fox commentator that was nearly a carbon copy of Bill O'Reilly. He was a nicer guy, but when the cameras were on, he was there to sic whoever was on the other side. Well, Nas had named his album NI**ER and we didn't know what to make of it. All I truly knew was: THIS IS NAS AND I TRUST NAS NOT TO MAKE ME LOOK STUPID ON FOX. So, I defended Nas blindly as they hurled lyrics from songs like "Show Discipline," which is a Jadakiss song, in an effort to undermine the Poet Laureate of Hip-Hop. Ultimately, the title was changed to Untitled and stands as one of Nas's enduring works.
Some of the leftovers of Untitled are on Nas's latest work, The Lost Tapes 2. Last night, The Don previewed the album to a frenetic group of industry vets, Millenials, and staff at the Mass Appeal offices in downtown Manhattan. When Nas released "Jarreau of Rap (Skatt Attack)," the first single from the new album, The Lost Tapes 2, it stood out in a most curious way. Some people hated it. Some people loved it. But, we noticed and we talked about it. Me? It made me laugh. It also made me realize I had to once again trust Nas like I did so many years ago.
That is not an easy matter in these days and times. Long gone is the Golden Era and most of the artists from it. Nas endures for several reasons, including his fanbase longing for more from him. I believe this opus is Nas giving his fan that classic vibe without the same current pressures artist are under to operate at a cosmic level.
“I put out the last Lost Tapes 17 years ago. Since then you can imagine I have piled on a lot of songs. I got enough for a Lost Tapes 2 now, and a 3 and a Lost Tapes 4. The next one won’t be 17 years. Each one sounds different. Each one sounds different than the last one," Nas told the audience, which feasted food from Sweet Chick, his swanky restaurant. "Each one is different because I’m different. [These songs are from] the Hip-Hop Is Dead album that didn’t make it, Untitled album that didn’t make it, Life Is Good album that didn’t make it. And some stuff in between."
I thought a bit during the listening party, as Statik Selectah repeatedly chided the audience for talking too much. "This is Nas," he said, "Show some respect!" At times, the DJ/producer completely stopped playing the music until the crowd was silenced. All of this got me thinking. This world is a noisy place full of distractions and drama, all of which override Hip-Hop music in most places - the internet, social media, the parties and more. Like our minds. It is hard to keep our collective attention.
When Nas talks, even if we don't like the song, we listen. He took time to bless the young listeners with some unsolicited, but welcomed, words of wisdom. After talking about The Lost Tapes 2, he paused then spoke his peace.
"I really want to inspire you all to do what you need to do, to never be distracted by naysayers. People that don’t know what it is that is making you tick that is pushing the blood through your veins to do great ," he said. "Think about what your goal was a young ‘un until now. You been dreaming this shit for a long time. Don’t let someone tell you something that will tear you a part from your dream and your journey."
Nas talked further about his evolution, one that has him now a full entrepreneur and investor. Still, music is his heart and rumor has it Mass Appeal Records has signed a slew of new talent under Nas's lead.
"This is important right here, because this is my label. To put a record on Columbia Records or Def Jam Records - and this is still Def Jam family - but its important to put it out on my label," Nas told everygbody. That's what it’s all about…to get to that point - from a perspective that you can all relate to. Everybody here and have a label. You don’t gotta ask nobody."
I'd be lying if I said Nas didn't inspire me. I feel ready to start a label right now! I'd also be lying if I didn't say he's frustrated me to the point of nail-biting at other times. I suppose that's the nature of genius and artistry. Lucky for us, Nas's throwaway material is better than most modern recorded material and The Lost Tapes 2 is a blessing. "I got some of the greatest producers in the world to do sh*t for me and it was just like a blessing," he said as a projector underscored Kanye West, RZA, No I.D., Pharrell, Swizz Beatz, Statik and others.
And, no everything isn't going to hit everybody the same way, but at least you feel something.
"Some sh*t [on The Lost Tapes 2] you might throw up when you hear. Some shit you gonna vibe too," he ackknowledged. "All of that [praise and criticism] I appreciate - anything you say, because at least you gave a f*ck."
It all goes back to trust.
You can you trust in Hip-Hop in the year 2019? Last year's Nasir was a difficult propostion for a lot of us die hard Nas fans. And yet the brand integrity has been maintained through it all thanks to The Lost Tapes 2. In Nas, we have always trusted.
The Lost Tapes 2 comes out July 19 on Mass Appeal / Def Jam.