With his album dropping on July 1, hip-hop legend Nas sat down with Press editors Najib Aminy and Laura Cooper before his performance. Nas is considered one of hip-hop’s most profound lyricists and challenges societal norms with his music.
The Press: Your father was a jazz musician, how much influence do you think that has had on your music?
Nas: Big time, he just showed me another world. Wow, he showed me a whole world that was something like…everything you saw on television and all these superstars and all these amazing people. When you had somebody in the household who did things that they do and… kind of put you in that same bloodline with the people who wind up making it and making this shit. I mean, that’s just too much. He is just been the guy that has made want to do music.
The Press: There is much controversy with you dropping the N-bomb on July 1, 2008, What made you come up with that title?
Nas: I felt like I put out a lot of records and I always try to… you know…everybody everyday has different feelings. You learn something different everyday about yourself, people, the world, whatever it is. So at that point, I had gotten everything out of me up until that point and with records, and I mean albums and albums through the years. And up at that point, it felt like things were starting to look a lot better when I started to think about the album. Things in the world were starting to look a lot better for my peers in hip-hop and you know. Coming from the street with no where to turn, hip-hop became the answer for people like myself. So things started to look good for people like myself, but it was like I can’t fall for that. I know there is a trick, there is a trap for people like myself also. Just from experiences, recent experiences, it felt like it was time and the record company was totally not ready for that at the time. My other thing I was feeling was hip-hop is dead. So after I got hip hop is dead off my chest, there was nothing holding me back. Recently, people [have] been after rappers about the word, sort of blaming us for the word [situation].
The Press: You have the backing of Lupe Fiasco, Rev Run, and Alicia Keys, yet at the same time you have Rev. Jesse Jackson and the NAACP calling against it. What are you trying to accomplish with the name?
Nas: To create the dialogue. Like you said, the younger generation is with me. They understand it’s their culture. The older generation is been there done that. So they aren’t ready to go to the next step. They aren’t ready to go backwards, and sort of when they see us continue the language and things that they did, they sort of see us as going backwards when really we are coming up the same way they did. Nigga is just a cool ass word, but the history of it is terrible. But what it’s become is totally different. I am really focused on the hip hop community, whether they’re kids at Stony Brook, Beverly Hills, kids in the projects, I am mostly talking to my generation. So I am not concerned with the ones that are against it. I don’t really know, who are they? Who are they? Freedom of speech.
The Press: There was a feud in the past between you and Jay Z and what was the ultimate factor that resolved it and what are your thoughts of feuds going on today in the hip hop community like Kanye and 50 Cent?
Nas: I mean, to the first question, it was just a respect thing that got us to be cool and…respect for each other. The recent battles now are…are just a part of hip hop. A strong competitiveness that [is in] rap music is all about the individual. Does he get carried away with it or does he keep it with music? If you keep it music, then it’s all good but, if you get carried away and still good with it, you [‘re] fucking it all up.
The Press: The preconceived notion of hip hop today is about sex, drugs, and violence, in general what do you see hip hop as and what do you want it to be seen as?
Nas: I mean (sighs) hip hop is a product of a certain living condition, you know. Mainly I think it’s definitely [about] music. But it’s a product of a living condition. With that, how can you knock it? I don’t anything about the Hells Angels legendary motorcycle gang or whatever, but I’ve heard a lot of negatives. But since I really don’t know what created the Hells Angels or what they are about, I can’t really knock them and I think too many people who don’t know. Not to compare hip-hop to Hell’s Angels, I am just pulling out something out of nowhere, but for people to knock anything is wrong when you don’t know anything about it. Because you’re knocking a set of people…you’re knocking people…it doesn’t make any sense to me, if people would try to learn what this was all about, then I think they wouldn’t be so angry. But people always have this anger or fear of things they don’t understand.
The Press: Is it like these, people don’t see what is going on and didn’t go through that experience?
Nas: They don’t see what is going on and there are going to be rappers that take advantage of that. There are wack rappers, fucked up rappers, who just take advantage of the sex and violence and just keep pumping that, and that’s wrong because that is not about anything if you are just in it to capitalize off of what is the trend now. Then you are feeding us too much. And it looks like all of us are just this one thing when you got all these different kinds of rappers and shit you know, they put all of hip-hop underneath that umbrella. It’s just really the mature, well not really, the elder people against the younger generation it’s that generation gap. The older [are] never going to understand the young because they always got growing to do and when they start liking hip-hop, oh shit hip-hop is officially over, so lets just hope they keep disliking it.
The Press: Did the University place any restrictions on the types of songs you could play?
Nas: No, I didn’t hear anything about that.
The Press: Are you doing anything to bring out the vote and are you going to vote for Obama because you are an African American?
Nas: You know what at this point, it is too early for me to really…like I don’t believe I never felt like politics was on my side and the community that I come from. And I still don’t believe it that much. So I am not really into it like that, but I can’t say in a few months I won’t change my tone because I am excited about a new America. And voting for Obama right now because he is an African American is the only thing people can say about him. Oh, are you voting for him because he is African American? I think he has all the swagger that a 2008 president should have and I think if you can’t see that, you’re pretty blind. Like there may be things that he may not have experience[d] in, but that is what it’s about. Most presidents before the other president didn’t have crazy experience. I am down with Barack Obama 100,000%, but if I had to vote…I don’t know about voting but for voters to vote, do your thing. But right now, maybe I might change my tune in a few months.
The Press: How do you feel about being considered one of the legends of hip-hop?
Nas: There is always a cool card you can pull out. Backstage I cool out, on stage I put on designer shades and jewelry and I get to be that guy. But before that, before and after that, I am a man, just a normal guy. The legend thing is good, who wouldn’t want that title? But some people get carried away and it kind of fucks you up creatively and sometimes it [you’ve] can mean done, old. Means you were out 20 years ago, it’s not always cool and sometimes you can get stuck in that. But nah G, its cool, its a cool thing.
The Press: Anything you want to close off with?
Nas: Yeah man, my record is about not sweeping the injustices and ills of society under the rug, [or] hoping for a better tomorrow. My record is about bringing it to the forefront, to make people deal with it no matter how uncomfortable it may be. To make you deal with it, that is the only way we can truthfully get around all the things. All the dumb shit going on, with words like kike, and spic, and guinea, and nigga, none of those words carry the weight of nigger. Historically, what those words mean don’t carry the weight of what the nigger word means. Man, we got to get over all the dumb shit. If every family can develop schools, colleges, and bright people who change the world with science and shit, why can’t we get over fucking different ethnicities, that’s the stupidest shit ever.
Editors Note: Since the printing of this article, Nas has changed his album name to “Untitled.” The album was released on July 15.