ICON STORY: NAS – MC, 1991-PRESENT

WHEN RIP NICHOLSON FINALLY PINS DOWN THE ELUSIVE MC BORN NASIR BIN OLUDARA JONES BUT BETTER KNOWN FOR HIS INCENDIARY WORK AS NAS, THEY DISCUSS HIS LEGACY AND THE JOURNEY HE TOOK WITH DAMIAN MARLEY ON A PILGRIMAGE TO JAMAICA WHILE MAKING THE COLLABORATIVE ALBUM WHICH TREKS THE ROOTS OF MUSIC AND LIFE ITSELF.

NAS interviewed @ 09:45 AEST – Monday 17th January, 2011
For Street Press Australia & Rip2Shredz Press

Words by RIP NICHOLSON

Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones was discovered in 1991 by MC Serch (3rd Bass) and released Illmatic in 1994 – his début album, which in time would become heralded the Greatest Of All Time. Twenty years on and Jones is always found in further discovery of his cultural roots – roots that led him out to Jamaica and the Kingston yards that exported the godfather Kool Herc and the late reggae icon Bob Marley. In 2005 Nas and Damian Marley threaded their fibrous genes on the ‘Road To Zion’ record for three-time Grammy winner Marley’s third LP Welcome To Jamrock – a hybrid strain of new era Trenchtown reggae and hip hop.

A journey to rekindling that fire culminated in the long-awaited and much-speculated 2010 long-player Distant Relatives, a QB-meets-Jamrock polymer so well-spun it bonds together the origins of hip hop and it’s culture in perfect transfer. Where Hip Hop Is Dead’s title track paid homage to the first record spun at a Kool Herc jam, Escobar Caeser has returned to reinforce the cultural bindings of hip hop once again.

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After Road To Zion came out, was the reaction to make an album together?

I think it was we just liked each other’s work and we wanted to do a record. This is some time later, it wasn’t right then like ‘I wanna do a record’. It was an evolving process and later we got together to do the record.

How was it travelling back with Damien to his hometown? Did you get the Marley experience, meet everyone, learn the history of reggae?

Yeah, I learned a whole lot. I learned a whole lot about Bob and what his life was like in Jamaica and growing up in Trenchtown. I’ve been to the house where he lived and recorded music and you know, got to experience what Kingston, Jamaica is like. And the culture. I got a chance to see some of Bob Marley’s belongings in a museum and his guitar, his clothes, where he slept. He was just a great story that some of the family members would tell about their father and the huge impact he had worldwide, coming from a small island, you know?

Is there much history in Kingston of Kool Herc and the yard parties that brought about the first steps of hip-hop?

We talked about the connection, and while working on the project it’s very interesting that the godfather of hip hop is a Jamaican who came to New York City. There was a lot of talk about that and I found that a really beautiful part of the connection between hip hop and reggae. And it was one of the great reasons we felt good about doing this album basically.

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Most of your records are back history month – as well it should be, a tool of education. How far off are some of the teachings you rap on Distant Relatives to being classroom literature?

I think it’s a part of something bigger, I think it may be helpful in some ways but it’s coming from a dude that’s from the street, it’s coming from a dude who has his own opinion also. So I’m not the best teacher, I can’t even say I’m that good of a teacher. I just say what I feel – based on facts but still my opinion of the matter is still woven in there. So I think it’s a cool beginning to a lesson, but it’s not everything that they need, it’s just the beginning.

On ‘Hip-Hop Is Dead’ you used ‘Apache’ by the Incredible Bongo Band to break down the art to the very first records. With Distant Relatives you blended reggae and the afro-centric subjects – was this another way of paying homage to the roots of hip-hop?

I’m always trying to do that with my records. But also it was me doing something more left-field of the straight-up expected hip hop album. But mostly Distant Relatives was just digging into the roots of myself.

Will we see your band Mulatto or Damien’s reggae band?

“We’re mostly working with Damian’s band or when we tour together, his band takes care of everything. Mulatto’s more of a band that can play anything and any kind of music but I think they’re better if they’re just with me on my solo shows. I think we have a different chemistry together. So it should be Damian’s band, yeah.

Your performed AC/DC’S ‘Back In Black’ on Lopez – No-one since KRS-One has touched that rock record. Nas doing AC/DC on Australian tour, that song is an anthem here. You know what that would do to crowds down here?

(Laughs). No I didn’t really think about that. This was a record for Carlos Santana but maybe I can do that. I love the original record and I love what me and Carlos did with it. So, that could be cool.

Will we get any Illmatic classics, any Jamrock joints from D on your Australian shows?

Oh yeah, we do our thing! We do everything. Me and D we do our thing, yes. We do our album together, we do solo records, we just make it a party on stage.

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NAS VS DEF JAM

Nasir Jones has never minced his words in either print or digital wax through his career and in recent years QB’s finest has pushed the envelope right to the brink. On his eighth album, the street-strong Hip Hop Is Dead, Jones addressed the issue of a power-shift between artist and industry in no uncertain terms. 18 months on and censorship was addressed when Jones dropped the N-bomb, his ninth album – the racially and politically confronting Untitled – displaying Nas on the cover, his back whipped like a slave. Tracks like ‘Sly Fox’ and ‘Untitled’ made this album the most black-fisted effort since Public Enemy’s Fear Of A Black Planet. Before release, Nigger was scratched from the header and left blank forever, thanks in huge part to the demands of retail goliaths Wal-Mart.

Recently he aired out his gripes in an open letter to his Def Jam executives [READ HERE]. Jones expressed distrust and dissatisfaction with how his last two LPs were dealt and went right for the jugulars of those he believes responsible.

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Nas wrote the email [linked] to the execs at Def Jam demanding the release of Lost Tapes Vol.2 this winter. Supposedly, they offered him $200,000 to fund the project.

What’s the situation now for Nas and Def Jam?

The situation is always changing as the record business is. We’re changing the infrastructure and the executives I have in place, the artists on which label they remain on. And that continues to be a ‘for me to know and for the record company to know’. Right now I just started my next album.

Your last solo album went out as Untitled. Will The Lost Tapes II be compromised?

I dunno, that’s interesting. The last record was very controversial and very confrontational and political and a lot of major stores was scared to put it in their stores. At first they were very scared. I had a different message, different feelings to express during the time. This new record is obviously really to express where I’m at today. So this will be something a whole lot different than the last record. It’s started now and it’s hard to stop so I’m excited about this one and I have a feeling this one will be left alone. Lost Tapes will be in stores or on iTunes this year. So I advise people to just stay tuned for what happens and hopefully everything that happens, happens smoothly.

The Lost Tapes II will be your tenth solo LP. Could this be the definitive one for your career? And will you keep them coming?

Yeah I have more records to make – a lot more records to make.

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