When we heard Nas was in London performing tracks from his new album ‘Life Is Good’, we were excited to say the least – so you can imagine how we felt when the opportunity arose for us to sit down with one of hip-hop’s greatest artists for a chat. The Wrap Up’s Shireen Fenner talked to ‘The Don’ about the recently released video for ‘Cherry Wine’ featuring the late Amy Winehouse, rumours of him not writing his own lyrics and future collaborative albums…
The Wrap Up: You always rep your hometown of Queensbridge, New York. How did living there influence you and what connection do you still retain?
Nas: That is where I was raised; it taught me everything. I grew up with the heroes of music; Marley Marl and his production, MC Shan. Lots of big records were made in that neighborhood by Marley Marl, to Salt ‘n’ Pepa and Heavy D. Lots of pioneers did their first hits with Marley Marl in the studio in my neighborhood. Of course, I was too young to notice at the time, but I just loved the musical history from my hood. I’m like, ‘wow, this place is special’ – it blew me away.
TWU: As a poet, you are outspoken at times. Do you stand by everything you have said over the years, or do you have any regrets?
Nas: I don’t have any regrets. The things that I have said when I was young and curious about whatever the subject matter was, I respect those - those are growing pains. Even if you make mistakes, I go back to those things, my not-so-great moments because those are my truest moments; those are my human moments. I’m not even mad at the things I said that were a little dicey.
TWU: You have been called one of the greatest lyricists of our time. So how did you feel when there were rumours that you don’t write your own lyrics?
Nas: Nothing. Nothing at all. I felt a little bit like Shakespeare, if I may be so bold. They said he didn’t exist. They said that a bunch of poets combined were Shakespeare. That’s funny, it’s funny! I take it as a high compliment… actually, that’s too much of a compliment - I have to humble myself.
TWU: You have been in the game for a long time. Can you tell us the lowest moment of your career and the pinnacle of your career to date?
Nas: I don’t really know the lowest moment; I’ve always stopped something once I saw it becoming a little too big. We come from banging on the tables at lunch time and freestyling raps at elementary school to actually having records and albums - that’s enough! That’s already an amazing accomplishment. Whenever I received too much praise, it just didn’t feel right to me - ever. I was always in control of how big it [the movement] got or how much it chilled out; I was for the most part in full control, so I’ve been all good.
In terms of pinnacles, I’m always trying to outdo the next thing. Bruce Lee said something like, ‘there are no limits, only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them…’ I’m a fan of Bruce Lee, but I believe there are no plateaus. You continue to grow… I don’t know if I have reached my pinnacle.
TWU: The video for ‘Cherry Wine’ has just been released – can you explain the concept of the video?
Nas: It was touchy - I just wanted to respect her [Amy Winehouse’s] memory. She was not like any of these artists that are out today; it had to be done in a way that was right. I had to make sure it didn’t look pop; I had to make sure it felt natural. The director made it happen, he knew what I wanted - I love the way it came out. Of course, we all wish she was still here with us to do the video, but I’m a rider and I’m keeping that memory alive.
TWU: Kelis and your daughter are talked about subjects on the album ‘Life Is Good’. How important was it to you to wear your heart on your sleeve lyrically?
Nas: It was really important. When I was writing the record, those were the things that I was dealing with. I went to the studio to record other records, but the stuff that was weighing heavy on me was what I winded up writing about.
TWU: ‘Belly’ is one of my all-time favourite movies! Do you have any plans to act again in the future?
Nas: [Laughs] Yes, I do. I walked away from it. I wasn’t into acting for a long time, I did the TV stuff to see how I felt about it again and I liked it so I’m ready.
TWU: What are your thoughts on the new generation of rappers?
Nas: There are some real good artists out there, like Big Sean; everything he is on, he does his thing. There’s so many that are doing what they do - it keeps me excited to watch where they’re going to take it – they also push me.
TWU: Share your thoughts on UK music with us.
Nas: I like the great artists from here, from Slick Rick to Sade to Phil Collins, George Michael and Soul II Soul. I also like the artists before us, like The Beatles. There is a great history musically here. I also really like the underground rap scene here; I can’t remember names, but I will see something from time to time that really impresses me and is really dope.
TWU: There have been talks of three collaboration albums in the pipeline between you, Mobb Deep, Common and DJ Premier. Are they still going ahead?
Nas: The one that was really meant to be happening was between DJ Premier and me; we’re talking. I definitely have plans to do more collaboration albums in the future. I’m a big fan of Common. I’m a big fan of Scarface; I’m a big fan of so many people, from Jeezy to… well, there are a lot of people’s music that I respect. I don’t know who I will collaborate with, but there’s a great chance of something happening.
Nas will be performing at the o2 arena on March 19 - for your tickets, head to TicketMaster.
Words: Shireen Fenner (@Shireenxoxo)
Edit: Maz Khan (@MazHalima)