For a great indicator of where Nas stands artistically and creatively with his music, look no further than his album titles. Back in 2006, the rap icon unapologetically showed his age, proclaiming “Hip Hop is Dead” in the midst of the ringtone rap barrage; whereas 2001’s Stillmatic showcased a sense of fearlessness the creator of arguably the greatest Hip Hop album of all-time couldn’t buy into the hype that even he couldn’t revisit his sacred debut. The title of his most recent release, 2012’s Life is Good, quite possibly sums up the 42-year-old MC’s entire legacy.
This past July, a four-year window was completed since the last Nas LP dropped, but unlike many starving artists, young and old, Nasir Jones has more than enough eggs for each and any basket he deemed appropriate to weave. He’s currently anticipating the release of the Netflix series The Get Down, a 1970s Bronx, pre-Hip-Hop music drama created by Baz Luhrmann, whose big budget headlines ($10 million per episode) rival its culture significance. Nas serves as executive producer of the series, which premieres on August 12. His Mass Appeal imprint has been championing some of Hip Hop’s most respected talent (Run the Jewels, Dave East, Fashawn, etc.) and there have also been standalone endorsements from the likes of Hennessy and Bevel that buy into a superstar’s sell-in mentality, as opposed to the other way around.
Despite a full-fledged release, there has been music. Most recently, Mass Appeal thrust their support behind the soundtrack to the Ohio-grown film The Land to which Nas contributed a couple of tracks. But it was DJ Khaled’s “Nas Album Done” that proved God’s Son could set the Internet on fire within a moment’s notice. The song’s title alone was sensation enough but underneath the Snapchat lord’s enthusiastic cheerleading and the Fugees sample, flashes of the Nasty Nas heyday were apparent as well.
Interviewing Nas is always a casual experience. As an artist renown for moving at his own pace, he’s always eager to hear new perspectives on things he already knows while he jumps at any chance he has to relay some wisdom. With so many moving parts, he was understandably coy in providing details on the album he proclaimed was “done” (but dammit, it was fun trying).
At the end of the day, Nas is Nas. Also known as somebody’s “G.O.A.T.”
The “Nas Album Done” Will Sound Like…
HipHopDX: You’re in an incredible space right now. Most artists who don’t release an album in four years tend to fall off, but you’ve been everywhere. Film, TV, Mass Appeal, Hennessy, the Illmatic documentary campaign, and you still perform, so we know you’re calling all your shots, but from a musical standpoint where is your head at? What type of zone are you in right now?
Nas: I’m in my zone. And that’s just what it is. I always stuck with my message and my way, and that might not work for anybody else. I wouldn’t suggest people follow me, but I feel like the ones that can see where I’m going and they see some good in it, and if I can make somebody happy with the moves and I inspire somebody over there, then I inspire a generation. I inspire one man or one woman; I inspire a generation so anybody that can see the moves that I’m doing, I hope that is inspiration to them and that each one, teach one. So musically it’s same old, same old. Listening to Otis Redding, listening to Frank Sinatra and getting to my vibe has always just been as simple as that.
HipHopDX: Absolutely. You’ve been recording and releasing music. You joined French Montana and Kanye, and we got “Nas Album Done,” musically and sonically is that what we can expect from this album?
Nas: I can’t say that because everything is its own thing. I just got a lot of love for Khaled and that’s the moves we make. That’s what it is. I love working with that dude.
HipHopDX: I know you’ve seen the reactions and everything. You’re no stranger to working with Khaled and going about making a splash.
Nas: Yeah definitely. We shoot for the stars and we land on the moon, we Gucci. Where it lands, I’m just happy to work with people that really are excited about the art, the art form, and excited about giving people entertainment, and giving people excitement and I think Khaled…nobody beats him with that. He’s inspirational to other Hip Hop DJs, and as well as MCs and rappers.
HipHopDX: I caught that Celebrity-Apprentice-is-a-devil’s-show line too. I know it’s not exactly a Hillary endorsement but…(Laughs)
HipHopDX: But you got at him though. What are you thinking politically-speaking? Are you going to bring it into music? Are you going to get onto the campaign? What are you thinking?
Nas: I’m a Barack Obama guy. I’m a fan. I’m still proud of him and still inspired by him and I’m hoping that what he did was…and used his aura, and touched the next one that he believes is good for the country. I hope his aura placed on that person, does something for that person and makes that person as human as they can be.
Nas: I’m still [pro] Barack Obama, I’m still having my celebration for him. But, you know, we don’t fuck with Trump.
HipHopDX: (Laughs) Pretty much. That goes without saying. How excited are you for this album? I know you been keeping it under wraps, you plotting and everything but how excited should we be for this album? Give me a direction. Is this completely Nasty Nas or is it philosophical Nas? What do you have in the chamber?
Nas: When it’s time to give that sign, I’m gonna let it go.
HipHopDX: We going see “The N” in the sky like the Batman signal?
Nas: (Laughs!!!) I don’t mean that in an egotistical way at all. I really mean like, I wouldn’t be doing myself any good do speak on it too soon. I like for people to kind of like anticipate the way I anticipate for the album. So this shit is like…yeah, I’m excited, I hope somebody is excited, I am.
HipHopDX: Between doing an editorial around it, to posting the snippet and actual the song, calling the reactions “excited” is an understatement. They just went bat shit.
Nas: It’s crazy because when the Khaled album dropped, I got some calls in the morning about my song. There’s so many heavy hitters on that record. It was just love. It was just love to get love you, know? I was like ‘okay, this is exciting.’ Summertime fun.
HipHopDX: Definitely, it’s a lyrical joint you can play in the summer.
Nas: Yo, you bugged me out you caught the Trump line! I forgot I had said it. I sent it to the brother Khaled and I didn’t listen to it after I sent it to him. When people was typing me lines I was like ‘Oh shit, what did I say?’
Nas: You know what I’m saying. I heard it yesterday. I was knocking it yesterday and I was like ‘Oh yeah I got at Trump! Good one.’ I was like ‘good one kid.’ (Laughs.) Real one!
HipHopDX: It was Nasty!
Nas: I guess if you could take whatever you could take from that, that’s probably how… however you see it, I think that’s how you might receive the record, the new record. I’m having fun. Having fun you know is also an excruciating pain at the same time for any motherfucker to pen an album up. To me, I look at the light at the end of the tunnel, that it’s coming. For me, I look at the light at the end of the tunnel. That’s how I work at it like ‘yo, you’re going to be good. This is all done for a good purpose. All of this you went through is good for a purpose.’ You let it out.
On How The Get Down Will Provide Endless Edutainment
HipHopDX: I was excited about watching The Get Down, I got to check the first couple of episodes and it definitely just bleeds Hip Hop even of an era that neither one of us were around for so to speak. When you got on board with it, how much of yourself did you inject into the show and into the characters?
Nas: Everything I get involved in I like to give all of me. So just as a fan of the art form, I had to get the whole way involved.
HipHopDX: Definitely. How much did you learn taking on this 70s Bronx era pre-Hip Hop project?
Nas: Maybe like on a politics side or a community side, it kind of took me back. I could remember the [New York City] blackout in ’77. I remember what it was like so if I had to write a scene for it to be filmed I could make it exactly the way it was in my apartment the night of the 77 blackout. So it took me back and that right there struck a chord with me. Me and Baz had to have a nice conversation about that night that I’ll never forget, and I was only 4-years-old but I was fully aware of how serious it was, so it was just taking me back to how things were happening and what would be happening with lights going off, no electricity in the city, the city going through somewhat of a bankrupt moment, how buildings were left behind all over the Bronx. So that right there was taking me back because when you think of New York today, you think of a whole different situation. You don’t really understand the trouble New York has gone through as a city, alone, and to get where it is today. To me, I’m proud of my city because I saw it go through hell.
HipHopDX: That’s incredible that you mention that because seeing that you remember that era and that time period and seeing how everything’s developed especially within the Hip Hop culture, now that it’s 2016, how do you say we did? I know it’s far from mission accomplished but you said you’re proud.
Nas: We almost lost it. We almost had moments in the music business that would’ve killed a different genre of music because of the business of it. Hip Hop survived, the business of it. The way of thinking is a Hip Hop way of thinking that makes you want to own your own and become more entrepreneurial and so Hip Hop has made those changes since then where the guys behind the mic booths are also more in control than they were back then. And the opportunities that are present today were not really there back then and that’s not a good or back thing. It’s a good thing because we get to see today artists do things that we were hoping to do back in the day that we were looking forward to do back in the day. To see the things to do today is a great progression as far as the survival and how far the global reach is with Hip Hop music, the vibration of it. There’s a real vibration that really was meant to do what it did.
HipHopDX: I see. As far The Get Down, know you were more on the executive side, more on the curating, making sure all the credibility was there, but why do you think each episode cost so much? It’s a beautiful thing when you got a big budget, but at the same time, why the big money roll out?
Nas: Definitely a number of things. I’d rather stay away from that part right now. Big productions happen and budgets, who can predict things? I know it’s a big show. It’s a huge show and it’s a period piece so you’ve got to recreate things that’s about as much as I can go into that.
Mass Appeal Forever & Beyond
HipHopDX: Absolutely. What’s with Dave East? I know you’re excited about getting behind another New Yorker.
Nas: Oh yeah, yeah, Dave East is dropping a new street album, mixtape, well, I’ll call it a street album. That’s coming real soon. That’s coming real soon, that’s ‘gon be crazy. You see him out there.
HipHopDX: He has Nas sensibilities, but he also bugs out a little bit like Jadakiss on the track. What is it that you see in Dave East that you really riding for?
Nas: He’s in the streets all the time, so he’s quick to speak on that and I think he walks in his own light; he’s his own light. He doesn’t need much from me. He doesn’t need me over doing it for him to be out there. He’s his own light and I respect that. I respect that about people, I think we all have to get to it, and do it, and grind. I see that in him, I see me in him when it comes to his grind, when it comes down to how hard he works for it. He’s out there working when people sleep. He’s working, he’s a hustler. I can only respect that. I respect people like that. His pen is serious too. I think he can go at all levels, he can do all kind of shit. It’s not like he’s a one trick dude. I think he can hang with the best of them out there. Listening to him and Game on that record [“Bad Boy on Death Row”] they did is crazy, people don’t give that one a lot of credit. That’s one of my favorites this year. He’s able to do his thing and then grow. Not be still stuck on one thing. It’s just like next record, next tape he’s about to put out, people will see; they’ll see the progression.
HipHopDX: What do you think your goal is with Mass Appeal Records How are you guys going to gel it all together to make it a unified movement as far as a fan’s perspective?
Nas: I think that we’re already doing it and showing it. It’s like we are here to serve the people in various forms. We are here to give you our take or your take and we just give it back to you. The world, we want to show you art, we want to show you films, we want to show you branding, we want to show you great artists, some of the greatest artists out there. We want to have our limbs on different things happening in the world. We can give that to the people and so on and so forth. We are doing a lot of things and just happy about the name getting out there and people knowing who we are and people you can trust. Dave East is coming.
HipHopDX: Speaking of Mass Appeal, I know you have been hinting that Lost Tapes 2 is coming. At this point, it has to be like a five or six discs now.
Nas: (Laughs!!!) So we’re already ready for Lost Tapes 3 & 4?
HipHopDX: Basically! How are you streamlining this project?
Nas: Lost Tapes 2, that’s done, that’s the Mass Appeal release. They’ll be a three and a four. As long as I’m recording… You know you just got the stuff that just don’t make the final cut so it makes space for something else. I don’t like them just lingering out there, you have to find a home for your songs. And Lost Tapes 2 is it. It’s been a couple years since the first one. I think the Lost Tapes 2 could’ve came out already honestly. But it’s cool because everything works out in time. So, yeah I wish that Lost Tapes 2 has been out already, but things happen the way they happen.
HipHopDX: Where do you rank that project in terms of your discography? Some people don’t want to count the The Lost Tapes as an album because it’s a compilation but some people do because it’s an actual release. What’s your take on that?
Time Tested: Released in 2002, The Lost Tapes remains one of the best compilations ever witnessed in Hip Hop.
Nas: I mean it’s a group of songs, so it’s album, but also it’s not really my album. It’s just a bunch of songs. It’s an album in its own right like some lost artists from the 80s or 70s; some lost artists songs. Not putting myself up there, but if you found a Marvin Gaye ten/twelve songs he never released, it’s not a Marvin album but it’s Marvin Music. So I agree, it’s not an album by me.
HipHopDX: I think the reason why fans are so passionate about things like this, it’s because you were part of their everyday life growing up. You were entrenched in what it means to actually be Hip Hop, that culture. You were the soundtrack to so many lives.
Nas: I appreciate HipHopDX, I appreciate you brother. Thank you, man. I’m humbled brother, that’s a great thing, man. All I can do is try to do the best I can with what I’m feeling today and hope that somebody out there can relate. That’s all, and I’m talking about my future project coming up.
HipHopDX: Yeah, what did you say the name of it was?
Nas: (Laughs!!!) That’s funny.