In 2006, Nas declared that hip-hop is dead, but on Sunday, May 18, hip-hop was far from dead as Nas performed in front of thousands of UCSB students for the annual Extravaganza festival, sponsored by the Associated Students Program Board.
Nas performed his hit singles spanning over his 14-year career. Some highlights included â€œOne Loveâ€ and â€œHate Me Now.â€ Another crowd pleaser was the 1996 hit â€œIf I Ruled the World,â€ enhanced with Nasâ€™ personal touch, stating, â€œIf I ruled the world, Iâ€™d give you George Bushâ€™s head on a silver platter.â€ He then continued on his angry political tirade, commenting on all the current presidential candidates.
â€œObama listens to hip-hop, Hillary doesnâ€™t. Bill did. John McCainâ€¦ Fuck McCain!â€ he yelled. Needless to say, Nasâ€™ political choices are crystal clear. After Nasâ€™ energetic performance, he headed straight to his trailer to change into some fresh clothes.
I walked over for my interview, and unwittingly entered while he was still changing. We made awkward eye contact while he was in mid-shirt removal, but I tried not to let that ruin the interview.
I started by asking about the progress of his new album, entitled N—-, which is set to release on July 1st. He explained how the process of creating an album is always exciting because itâ€™s a rare opportunity to be given.
Of his new album he says, â€œI really wonâ€™t know how Iâ€™ll feel about it for years to come because rap music is topsy turvy. Fans are with you one day, one day their not.â€
Recently, Nas began working with Def Jam Records, a record label that is known for producing high-selling hip-hop and R&B artists in the music industry. He explained to me about his experience recording with his new label. â€œThis album has been the hardest. Itâ€™s a new label. Itâ€™s Def Jam. I think theyâ€™re really into one thing, a thing that worksâ€”the numbers, the hit records and shit like that. Anytime record companies are like that, they fail to see the vision of the artist whoâ€™s trying to do what he does.â€
I mentioned his first studio album Illmatic, the type of high-selling album that Def Jam would love to produce, and asked if he was ever afraid to stray away from the style that established him as an artist. He responded by saying, â€œThe only thing that Iâ€™m really afraid of is not being me. I just always want to be honest about being me.â€
One thing Nas emphasized about his new album is that itâ€™s not going to be anything like his previous ones. â€œAs you grow, you gotta talk about it. Iâ€™ll never be the kind of guy that sells you the same gimmick every year, like Iâ€™m the same person for all these years. I change, different things interest me, and I try to approach it in a way that most hip-hop artists can respect.â€ Respect in the hip-hop industry is hard to come by because it is constantly changing, according to Nas. He explained that when he released Illmatic in 1994, the music industry didnâ€™t respect hip-hop music the way it is respected today. He added, â€œI donâ€™t really care too much about selling albums no more. Now, itâ€™s just a blessing to have music to vent. Itâ€™s a way different business now.â€
Nas then went on to discuss how even his musical inspirations are constantly changing. He naturally listed Run DMC and Just-Ice, popular influences to the early New York hip-hop scene, but you can imagine my surprise when he suddenly added Shania Twain and Madonna to the list. I couldnâ€™t help but let out a little laugh after his response, but what followed was no laughing matter.
The title of Nasâ€™ new album was brought up. Recently, Reverend Jesse Jackson and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) expressed their disapproval of the new album title, N—-. Nas had this to say in response:
â€œThe NAACP is over my head as far as the complexities of what made that organization what it is. And from my understanding, theyâ€™ve done a whole lot. But there are some new people on the [activist] scene and they have to make way for the next generation to come up and speak their mind. I respect everything theyâ€™ve been through, but Iâ€™m in this struggle… and I gotta express myself.â€
â€œThe word is a horrible one. The word comes from the history of a black holocaust, in this country where no one wants to reconcile. But the problem started when we turned the word into a culture that influences fashion, your walk, your talk, your conversation, and your music. And thatâ€™s why theyâ€™re afraid for [my album] to be in stores. They donâ€™t know how to handle it and thatâ€™s why I made the title what it is. Instead of sweeping it under the rug like they wanna do, I bring it to the forefront. I have to deal with [racism] on the forefront, so itâ€™s definitely going to be in my music.â€
He goes on to defend the hip-hop genre. â€œThe biggest mistake people make about hip-hop music is that itâ€™s just a violent thing. [People think] itâ€™s bad guys spreading bad culture. And noâ€¦ itâ€™s just [rappers] saying what they feel.â€
It is evident by his previous work that Nas says what he feels in his music, even when what he says can be controversial. He feels that as an artist, he cannot create change but reluctantly admits to being able to bring attention to issues. â€œWhat I feel, I say. I know there has to be at least one person out there that can feel how I feel and who is probably smarter than me that can go to the next level with it. Iâ€™m just one little guy speaking his mind.â€
He continued by speaking his mind about America and issues that he feels our society should resolve. Nas explains how he used to notice problems in the black community and think it was solely a problem with black people. He later realized that the same problems are also going on in other social groups. â€œI think we need to really realize what this country can be if everyone is unified. Itâ€™s not a threat to anybody.â€
Nas then refers to the debates over immigration laws, â€œPeople are so scared. The world is taking a natural course and America needs to accept it.â€ Nas obviously had passionate feelings about the subject. I wouldnâ€™t be surprised that he could write an entire album on the issue.
After all the good things he had to say about hip-hop, I wondered if Nas still thinks itâ€™s dead, like he proclaimed on his 2006 album. He assured me that his opinion remains the same. â€œItâ€™s been dead since 2-Pac and Biggie [The Notorious B.I.G.] died, for me. To other people, it died when the Furious 5 couldnâ€™t sell records no more. To other people, itâ€™s been dead for their own particular reasons.â€ Although he thinks hip-hop is dead, Nas feels its spirit is still alive and well because of artists like Kanye West.