Hip-Hop Fridays: E-Letter To Shaheem Reid And MTV.com Re: "Nas: Cruel Summer"
Your three-part article on Nas is the best I can remember reading in a while. It provides more supporting evidence as to why the word is circulating that "Shaheem Reid is the best reporter in Hip-Hop today." I think you did a brilliant job of weaving anecdotes, interview quotes and lyrics together. You certainly had alot of ground to cover and I think you touched on the more important subjects, regarding Nas' going ballistic over the airwaves regarding the state of Hip-Hop, last year. Your piece is just what we needed after the superficial, softball interview of Nas that recently aired on BET.
Congratulations and thank you.
Nas is really going to have to write an autobiography before all of us really will "understand" him. He is so down-to-earth and reserved that it is disarming for many people in the industry who are used to individuals who wear a stage persona everywhere they go. That makes it easy for the Hip-Hop establishment to compartmentalize Nas and not do business with him, similar to how Rakim was handled, as the "Black Sheep" of Hip-Hop.
But Nas' stay-to-himself image has helped the Queensbridge rapper represent the soul of Hip-Hop while others gain the world. That is part of the reason why the Nas vs. Jay-Z battle played so well, because both artists did represent two different streams of Hip-Hop. Nas, the novelist vs. H.O.V., the journalist. Both make you travel - Nas inwardly, H.O.V. outwardly.
I first met Nas in person after he invited me to his Long Island apartment in 1994. There was no hidden objective or ulterior motive involved on both our parts, as best as I can measure. We had an initial phone conversation, we connected and we built a relationship. All we did was talk. No hanging out. No drinking and smoking. No chasing women. Just one Brotherly building session after another, in person and by phone. Sober discussions. We talked about Africa, Islam, the direction of his Hip-Hop career and our plans to do serious business together down the road. We still have a verbal agreement to partner together if I establish a certain business that I described for him.
I found Nas to be reflective and insightful. And it is true, wise, well beyond his years. But the element of his personality that is most engaging is humility, and his desire to learn and listen. He never raised his voice and never interrupted me, preventing me from completing a thought or making a point. He's the total opposite of the image of the loud, boisterous, arrogant artist that many people, even Hip-Hop purists, equate with the essence of the culture.
I also realized quickly that Nas was quite often not at all interested in his music career and really lacked the direction that good management can provide. While I think that Nas' debut was one of the biggest in history, in terms of changing the game, lyrically, only behind maybe Rakim and KRS-One, I think he could have accomplished so much more if he and his early management could have worked better together and if his handlers had more of a vision for Nas. His management during Illmatic was provided by some of L.L. Cool J.'s people. They didn't provide the discipline and long-term vision that Nas needed in those early days, in my opinion. But they did represent loyalty and comfort for the young artist as Nas explained to me, it was "a Queens thing."
In our building sessions Nas and I discussed his appeal that he had not tapped into with Illmatic. We also discussed exploring his seeking different production for his next album. We talked briefly about Evil Dee and MC Eiht as two producers that could expand Nas, creatively and bring him into different market segments. I also was the first person to talk to Nas about his linking up with Karl Kani for an endorsement deal and I arranged a lunch meeting between Nas and Rakim - in 1994. But Nas wasn't ready for either arrangement. The endorsement discussions never took off, although Karl was very interested and the lunch summit did not occur, although Rakim and MCA were committed, because Nas' head was somewhere else. I was happy to see him connect with both Karl Kani and Rakim, years later.
We also discussed Nas' obvious appeal among the Sisters that had not been "cultivated," at all. I remember I brought it up innocently and professionally one day in his apartment while Carmen, Nas' beautiful girlfriend and the mother of his adorable daughter, Destiny, was in the back. Nas ushered me out to the balcony to more discreetly continue the deliberations.
We watched video tapes of both the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Minister Farrakhan (Nas still has one of my Farrakhan videotapes, on permanent borrow)and we talked about the condition of Black people at great length. We both talked about our attendance the night that Minister Farrakhan spoke at the Armory in New York City, to over 10,000 Black men, quoting different parts of the speech. The Minister used to say that he never heard a roar like the one the Brothers in attendance gave him that night. The place full of young 20 and 30-something year old Black men went crazy at a certain point, when the 61-year old leader spoke of the ramifications of a plot to kill him. I can still see Nas now, doing his best Minister Farrakhan impression, " Oh, America, I warn you!" He was pretty good.
And I will never forget the night that Nas and I were on the telephone watching O.J.'s White Bronco drive away from the police. Now that was surreal. I can remember Nas saying, "this is deep." I didn't have any words. We decided to just get off of the telephone and watch in private. We might have been on the phone in silence for like 5 minutes.
There is so much more I could get into.
I say all of this to offer what I know of the brilliance and power of Nas from direct interaction with him. I also mention some of these anecdotes because I feel like the Nas I got to know is only now, 7 years after Illmatic, becoming visible to the public. The battle with Jay-Z; the death of his mother; and just pure growth and maturation have alot to do with it. And I think Nas is just being honest with himself, knowing, respecting and loving himself regardless to what the music industry wants to see.
There is nothing more powerful than seeing a Black man growing into himself and more of his power.
And that is what you see in your article - a Black Man.
Friday, January 17, 2003