Nas is currently gearing up to perform his 1994 classic Illmatic on the Rock the Bells 2011 tour with DJ Premier and AZ. In preparation for his performances, he spoke with Fuse (via RR) about working with Primo in the studio and how the two clicked during the recording process.
“Premier brought to the table someone who I felt like was like myself. Premier was more like my guys, we related like that. Premier spoke my language all day, 24/7,” he recalled. “We sat down and he played records. He opened up his crates to me. He showed me records, he let me play them on the turntable, listen to things that I like. He was open, easy. Just real chill. So we’d just go through records for hours. He had ideas, beat ideas, he would lay down one thing and I’d lay down a rhyme to it and then he’d come back and [say,] ‘Change it up. Change that.’ Or I’d say, ‘I think this would sound better with this sound in it.’ He was just easy to work with.”
He also explained how he came up with the concept for the Q-Tip-produced “One Love,” which addresses an incarcerated friend and what’s happened in the streets since he turned himself in to do a bid.
“Just the story of ‘One Love,’ just writing a letter to someone in prison… I thought that it was what everyone of us, what everyone I knew, knew about. I didn’t understand there was no record like that before. And then the message being ‘one love’ was not a new saying, but it was new in the hood, kind of. It was just a positive thing to promote strength, even though you’re going through something serious in your bid. We still out here in the street and we still connected. You never die like that.”
Nas also recalled how Q-Tip presented him with the beat for “One Love” and had the intention to call it “My Summer Vacation.” After he laid his verses to the track, he showed the A Tribe Called Quest member what he wanted to convey.
“When Q-Tip first gave me the beat, he had this idea, it was called ‘My Summer Vacation.’ It was funny he said that, because it was like a student off for the summer and then comes back and tells the class what he did. It’s funny he said that because I already had the first two verses written, and I couldn’t wait to show him the different kind of letter i had. It wasn’t summer vacation, but it was about something else that Q-Tip could relate to. And when he heard it, he was like, ‘Wow, that’s it. That’s it!’”