Vibe Presents: A Long Convo With… Nas
Nas doesn’t take himself too seriously. Phoning in to VIBE the day after Malcolm X’s convicted assassin was released, the Brooklyn-born, Queensbridge-bred MC constructs elaborate theories about the Mayan prophecies of 2012, stacking on facts like a deliberate construction worker. Moments later, he’s plowing down his thesis with a counterpoint, leaving you to sort out the rubble yourself. It’s an unexpected demeanor for a rapper steadfastly championing Africa for the full-length album Distant Relatives, a collaborative opus with Damian Marley. With the afrocentric disc hitting stores next week (May 18), Nas opens up for a seriously loose chat about Africa jokes, Knight, Rakim, and that Kelis tattoo. —John Kennedy
VIBE: Some might consider Distant Relatives a preachy record. Were you conscious of that while recording, or do you even care?
Nas: That’s never a thought, you don’t want nobody thinking that you’re being preachy—I don’t like people being that way to me. I cant explain what it is, something else takes over when we in the studio. When I hear [Damian Marley] mention Shaka Zulu, Incan warriors, I can see them rising up from the dead. I feel like we’re speaking to our ancestors with our music. I don’t have time to know what somebody [else] is getting out of the song.
You’ve had a longstanding relationship with Africa, as many chuckled at your afro-centric role in Belly, and you’ve even made light of your “Back-to-Africa” praise on “Black Girl Lost” from It Was Written. Do you feel like your audience rejects Africa?
Yeah, it’s multiple reasons for it. We’re in the greatest country ever, in America, so any country that’s foreign to us is gonna not seem homely, especially a place that’s been so fucked over by other governments. Especially a place that seems so poor. The family tree root has been cut here in America. So when you’re talking about going back, you’re talking about a place that people don’t know as their home, and Africans who don’t see us as their people. But we’re their long lost brothers and sisters. There could be so much truth told about that continent that would encourage young people.
Did you learn anything new through the recording of the album?
Yeah, but I don’t wanna say, because if I start telling you what I learned, I might become a bigger target. It’s heavy, bro. I feel great about what we’ve done on the album. But if we were ever to do it again, I think [Damian and I would] both marked for death. We’re just making music for everyone to enjoy. There’s a side we didn’t talk about in Africa where things are really wrong. Preaching? That’s a joke. This is almost baby language.
Speaking of babies, this was the first time since making Illmatic that you became a dad again. How’d it feel to be awaiting you first son while recording Distant Relatives?
It’s amazing. It just made everything feel like it was right on time, you know? To have a daughter is amazing too, but when you’re a man, to have a son is different. My daughter is my princess and now I have a prince, so it’s a beautiful thing to have a son and a daughter. Now I have a little man. It’s the coolest shit ever.
How old is Knight? Is he walking yet?
He’s like nine months. He’s crawling, pulling himself to stand up. He said the word ‘stick’ about a month ago. He’s been talking for about two months, saying little words here and there.
Any of them rhyme?
What was his first word?
I don’t know, it sounded like he was trying to say ‘hello.’ He was picking up on things very young, like two to three months if not sooner. It just throws you that we’re born knowing what’s up.
How often are you able to see him?
My son was born with ice grills, so when his mom feels in the mood she sends pictures. If not, its hell. It’s hell trying to figure that out, trying to get him—I’ll just leave it at that. It’s hell. A man shouldn’t go through that shit, but it’s another story I’ma tell at a different time.
I hear you.
Overall he’s super good, and when I do get him there’s nothing better in the whole world. When I get both my kids together its beautiful.
How does Destiny like being a big sister?
She’s going on 16 and she’s been waiting for it for years. She’s been great by herself, but she’s been ready for years. She’s good.
That’s what’s up. So I remember seeing a rumor online that said you were getting your Kelis tattoo removed from of your forearm. Any truth to that?
No words about any tattoos came from me this year or last year. So I don’t know what that is.
Do you feel a certain way about having the tattoo now after everything that’s been going on?
[Laughs] I don’t really think about tattoos, I just think about adding more, you know what I’m saying?
Do you think you’d ever get another tattoo like that?
You’ve described Malcolm X as a hero of yours. How do you feel about his convicted assassin recently being released from prison?
Had Lee Harvey Oswald been proven to really be the one who killed Kennedy, he most likely would’ve had life [in prison] or the death penalty. For a political leader like Malcolm, it’s almost like they let [Thomas Hagan] out because Malcolm’s murder wasn’t respected… This is not my opinion on him doing time. I don’t really have any words for that.
You’ve rapped about 2012, and we all remember Nastradamus’ Y2K theme. Would you call yourself an apocalypse theorist?
The shit the Mayans was talking about and cities in ruins—you can’t ignore nature. I put that in “Land Of Promise,” ’cause I’ve been to Telon, Mexico and Tultitlán and looked at the pyramids and the calendar that [stops] in 2012, like, wow, what did they know back then? They had pretty sharp astrologists and scientists, so there’s something they’re trying to tell us, man.
So would you say you’re a believer in 2012?
How many times have they said the world’s gonna end and it didn’t? It’s just something that raises your curiosity. I’m not saying I believe and that this is going to happen. I’m just like everybody else. If it’s gonna happen, lets get it in before it goes down.
OK, so here’s the curveball. If 2012 marks the final days, will we get another Nas album before the end of the world?
Laughs]. Yo yea, no question. My shit is… I just started working on it.
Oh word? What direction are you thinking I guess musically?
I’m just gonna let nature take its course. I’m letting it out, man.
You’ve said you’ll rap until you’re 80 years old, but have you ever considered stopping if fans aren’t feeling you the same way?
There’s no room for those thoughts. I’m sorry rappers, DJ’s and producers: We’re fucked. Trapped. No way out. If you do get out, you’re lucky. Teach me. I don’t see it.
Is your legacy something you think about?
I used to, [until] I saw I had it on autopilot. It kind of scared me, ’cause at one point I didn’t know my voice was what it was. I didn’t know how it was impacting the people, and the potential of what I could do if I kept going.
When did you come to that realization that your legacy is pretty much cemented?
I guess when I looked at dudes before me [whose] careers died from drugs or crazy egos, bad advice, not following their heart, imitating shit that’s temporary. I’ve seen a lot of dudes from the ‘80s messed up from that. They kinda like brats, like little divas, thinking that everyone owes them something. Shit don’t owe me nothing.
Rakim felt you owed him a phone call before dropping “U.B.R.” He said he felt “funny” about it.
It’s just love and respect. How could I [disrespect him]? Somebody makes a song about you, it’s gonna freak you out, no matter what. If someone makes one about me? I raise an eyebrow for a second, but then since I’ve done it, I understand. It’s love, real shit. I wanna do one about KRS and Kool G Rap.
You still gonna do those? You teased it on Streets Disciple.
Yeah, I should’ve done the KRS one a while ago. That dude’s a monster.
Another urban legend you’ve put out there was on Wu-Tang’s The W. You called yourself “the only nigga Sade dated.” Did you two ever have a fling?
Of course it’s not true. It’s just wishful thinking. I love Sade. [Laughs]
Looking forward, the new kids on the block are Drake and J. Cole. Drake made the comparison of himself as Jay-Z and J. Cole as Nas. Do you see the same parallel?
I think its great that those brothers aim for that, if that’s what they’re aiming for. They’re great. Jay Electronica’s a monster, [too]. They’re gonna open doors for more real niggas to get in the game. I love that shit. It’s too early for me to know, [though]. Those dudes are so creative, who knows what they’re about to do. I’m just gonna sit back and enjoy the show.