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The year is 1994 and New Years is creeping up upon us. An MC from Queensbridge named Nas is currently keeping the streets on fire from coast to coast. Many brothers on the block, as well as Rap critics acknowledge Nas’ debut LP Illmatic to be one of the greatest solo debuts of all time.
Keep in mind, this is after the riots. I think the O.J. Simpson trial is still on everybody's mind. Race and poverty and conflict were framing a lot of what was in Hip-Hop. I originally did this for a magazine called 4080. In it’s time, 4080 was a force of nature. I remember Harry Allen telling me how much he loved it. But the owner had drug addiction problems that forced it to close.
Nas was a legend already because of his verse on Live at the BBQ. I was already a fan. I did this interview at the 4080 offices in Berkeley, CA.
AB: What were your earliest memories of Hip-Hop? Not much being a part of it- but just the music itself and the culture?
Nas: I remember it just bein the fly s**t, the new s**t. Just n***as, Black people, young Black people, loud music, big speakers, turntables, females, weed, Private Stock, and seeing records. Like, if somebody was a big name, you saw he made a record. I mean, it was mad rappers. But when you look at a n***as record – you seen that was some s**t! As being a young Black man, you would have never thought to see yourself on some wax. And that tight there, you was the man. You was chillin. Even if a n***a never knew you, if they see you on record you was the man.
AB: So what was the first Hip-Hop album you bought?
Nas: I think it was Run-DMC King of Rock. If it wasn't that, it was LL Cool J’s Radio. Those were the first ones I bought. The other ones, I stole out my mans crate.
AB: What were the first ones you stole?
Nas: The first one I stole was I think, Mary Jane Girls. I consider that Hip-Hop.
AB: I understand you used to break back in the day?
Nas: Yo, that was a long time ago. I'd rather not talk about it. We all did it.
AB: I used to do that for a minute. So tell me about your youth. What was your relationship like with your father?
Nas: He was just a cool muthaf**ka. He was different from what I would visualize: a father being when you would look down and watch a [show] like Cosby Show. He was different than that type of s**t. But hes just a cool n***a – a straight up and down person.
AB: And your mother?
Nas: My moms is real strong, real sensitive, real caring and real intelligent.
AB: Do you have any business plans?
Nas: Ill Will music, dedicated to my man Ill Will. Bless the dead. He would probably be spinnin for me right now on the turntables or chillin with me cause he was my right hand man. But now hes still here with me, spiritually.
AB: We all know a lot of Black men that have lost their lives needlessly. What do you think are the reasons for the havoc coast to coast?
Nas: Its just that we're naturally born Black and aggressive towards getting what we deserve. We’re born knowing that something is missing. We're born feeling like we're born in an alien nation. From day one, your moms and what she goes through. I mean just, just, generations. Its what your parents have already been through. Really, it depends on how your family structure is. If your moms is on dope, and your pops ain't there, you gonna grow up real strong in certain ways and real f**ked up in certain ways. But if your moms is there and your pops is there but they are just weak people who didn't know how to guide you If you're the kind of person who takes things upon yourself, then you're gonna be a different way. You know its all kinds of ways we come out. Its so many of us that are around each other. So much s**t on our minds. We're thinking we're tyrants trying to get to the right solution. We're thinking about all the different ways of getting it and its mad obstacles in our way. Its mad s**t that we don't see in our way that makes us fall. Its so easy for us to f**k up, especially when you are coming from a poor family.
AB: On Main Sources Live at the BBQ you had a line that said ”When I was 12 I went to hell for snuffin Jesus.” I'm not a Christian, but the fact that a man would make a casual remark like that about the murder of an acknowledged Prophet to some and saviour by others- what brings lines like that out?
Nas: When I'm feeling up to a point where Im on some s**t where I just don't give a s**t ‘bout nobody. Cause ain't nothin in my pocket. Im going through some s**t, Ill diss anybody I want to. I'll tell you why. I could break the s**t down for you. Because when a person is that angry, thats how he feels about everything. Thats how I felt lyrically at the time.
AB: Reminds me of Malcolm X, in the movie when he yells to the priest You tell Jesus to kiss my ass! What has he done for me. “He ain't done nothin for me!”
Nas: I kinda felt like how Malcolm X felt. And this was before the movie, I just thought of Malcolm when I said that. You know what I mean? I knew he would be behind me.
AB: Are you coming to the West Coast any time soon?
Nas: True indeed. I plan on coming out there with the Queens s**t, the inner side of Queens material. Its a lot of punk muthaf**kas that never say Queens and s**t.
AB: Why do you think that is?
Nas: I dont know, to tell you the truth. I don't know. It just became like a religion for some rappers not to mention Queens. But Im from Queensbridge, and Im just representing. Its all about the bridge with me.
AB: Its funny to me because some of my earliest memories are from Queens rappers.
Nas: B.D.P. put a cease to that shit.
AB: Is that what it is? do you think they had an influence on that whole angle?
Nas: KRS ONE was so ill. He just came out and destroyed shit. A lot of rappers from Queens just couldn’t fuck with him. Or, at the time as just trying to concentrate on their career. You know, getting money or whatever. There wasn’t really a lot of battling rappers accept LL Cool J.
AB: So what kind of angle were you trying to come on with this album?
Nas: I just wanted to speak. I just wanted to be the voice of a nation.
AB: I saw a quote from a Hip-Hop magazine where you said you wanted to be the first Black President.
Nas: Word up!
AB: How do you plan to get there?
Nas: Its’ so many tricks. So much shit. The people, the politicians, the government. The government is ill. They on some old Illmatic shit. They are just like the slave masters but more modern. They have different goals. The world is different now. They just on some new shit. Its about who got game, who’s smart and moves first. When I look at the Declaration of Independence, America is nothing more than an Idea that has never really been put into practice.
Nas: True indeed.
AB: Like Disneyland. Where everybody is supposed to be happy. But it does not exist.
Nas: I might have to quote you on that one day. Wise words.
AB: Thank you brother. Can America happen? Or do you think America is just a concept?
Nas: As long as they keep living those ideals and shit. and trying to do that, I think yes. ‘Cause America is cool right now as long as you know what you gotta do. Like that nigga don King will tell you in a minute. He's a Black man and he’s paid. So that means you can get that dough. Straight up and down. its some good here.
AB: I was recently reading a book by Dennis Kimbro called Think and Grow Rich. He quotes a guy named S.B. Fuller whos that “Poverty is a state of mind.”I thought it was profound. I wondered if you agreed with that.
Nas: Hmmm. Yeah, in ways. In ways.
AB: In which ways is it not/
Nas; I mean, poverty is just reality. There is real poverty. You know what I’m saying? I don’t know. That shit is deep.
AB: What human being had the most influence on you as a person?
Nas: Malcolm X and N.W.A.
AB: Stay strong, and we’ll be in contact in the future.Nas: Alright, god. One Love.