Nas Talks About Friendship With Amy Winehouse, Illmatic And The Price Of Fame At 92Y

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Nas is finally having his moment. Rolling Stones’ Anthony DeCurtis got the legendary Queens rapper to spit the first rhyme he wrote at nine or 11; he doesn’t remember the exact age. The rhymes were impeccable for a kid under the age of 18. In that moment where the poetry of the first rhyme he ever wrote rolled off his tongue, it was clear to me his destiny was to become one of the illest MCs to ever bless the mic.

New York City loves Nasir Jones. A hometown hero of sorts. Following his stellar New Year’s Eve performance at Radio City, Nas was both transparent and funny during his one-on-one conversation at NYC’s 92Y last night. While gushing over Marvin Gaye‘s Here, My Dear, which he said influenced him greatly, he joked about the similarities between himself and the late singer. “He had tax problems. I got tax problems. Still do,” he said as the audience erupted with laughter. It was the many moments like the aforementioned that broke up the “monotony of seriousness.” Illmatic was his one and only chance to get it right, he said. If he was going to tell his story he had to do it perfectly on one disc. Since Illmatic Nas has caught hell for his beat selection. He’s heard the criticism and gets it. But his process doesn’t include rocking with a song solely because the production sounds great. Instead of following the trend he’s comfortable doing him. “How can you lose when you doing you?” It was inevitable he’d be asked about the current state of hip-hop considering he once proclaimed it was dead. He feels every rapper doesn’t have to be great because at least they’re now in a position to feed their family. However, he was vocal on hip-hop moving backward in a sense of guys posing and glorifying an image that’s not authentic. He called out the fake thugs. “Most of the ones [puts hoodie on his head]…all the time, that’s not who they are. It’s fake.”

The duality of his identity led to an interesting revelation. As the rich guy from the ‘hood he doesn’t feel he fits in with either crowd anymore. Contrarily he admits to going back to his old neighborhood late at night and feeling at home–almost “too comfortable like something bad could happen.” Fame and money has at times made him feel alone.

Life Is Good was nominated for four Grammys. “I’m not mad at it,” he said.  “Cherry Wine,” “Bye Baby” to “Daughters,” his 10th studio album is one of the most important albums in his collection. And to think he had no intentions of releasing the Grammy nominated song about being a father to a teenage girl. “Daughters” was one of the first songs he wrote for Life Is Good. It wasn’t until playing the song for a small group of people in the studio and he noticed a woman crying that he thought he may have something special.

DeCurtis’s knowledge of Nas’s artistry made for a great interview even during the awkward moments. After Nas rattled off a list of his own songs that are favorites someone yelled, “Ether” to which the audience roared and clapped. Nas gracefully smirked so quickly you would’ve missed it if you’d blinked. Awkward! Then there were the questions he wouldn’t answer like who he’d like to work with. By far the audience questions created some of the highlights of the night. The last great movie he’s seen? Django, but he did correct the historical inaccuracies. Does he feel a responsibility to youth? Yes. Who is the next Nas? He wants every artist to be themselves without the pressure of living up to another guy.

Nas is a storyteller. It’s partly the reason CNN named him hip-hop’s “finest MC.” It’s no different when he sits down for an interview. He told stories when I interviewed him the day Life Is Good dropped and did the same last night. It is what draws fans into the totality of him as an artist and man. One of the touching moments of the night was the sincerity in talking about his late friend, Amy Winehouse. It wouldn’t serve much justice in this space to tell how he met Amy through producer Salaam Remi, how they’d Skype while she was in London and she’d joke on other artists who were terrible singers in her eyes. In her British accent she’d tell Nas, “When you see so and so, tell them he’d make a good janitor.” It does no justice to recant how she wrote her lines on “Cherry Wine” specifically for Nas. At 9:14 p.m. Nas told this story; 09/14 is both of their born days. Last night was the epitome of what Nas has mastered in his 20 year career–masterfully telling stories. Only this time it wasn’t over a beat.

[Photo: Getty Images]