Tomorrow morning I have ten minutes to speak to Nasir Jones and I am completely freaking out about it. To be fair, interviewing rappers is nothing new to One A Day; Dave alone has racked up talk time with Lupe Fiasco, Theophilus London, Chiddy Bang, Murs and Ice Cube in the last three years. But there’s a difference between talking to artists you love and artists you live by, an experience D no doubt felt when walking into the room with Lupe and one which I’m currently feeling. Nas is an artist embraced by every Seidler sibling. I’ve been pumping Illmatic since I knew it existed and our little sister can rap every single word to ‘I Can’, one of the first Nas joints where he took on social responsibility and warned young women about playing loose with their hearts and skirts, a sentiment he backed up more recently on his excellent single, ‘Daughters.’ I don’t doubt that I could spray all kinds of geek knowledge and admiration across the six hundred seconds I’ll have in his presence, but it’s doubtful Nas would listen. The twenty-year old I spent my late teens listening to is now cresting forty, and he’s still going. In a few weeks, he’ll be bringing his own festival to Australia. I have no idea what the man wants to talk about it, but whatever it is, I’m sure as hell going to listen.
We’ve written quite extensively on Nas’ lauded 2012 ‘comeback’ album (like he hasn’t had three comebacks already), Life Is Good, but most of them focus on the lead singles which brought the swagger for the heads but ignored the emphasis Jones, pictured on the cover holding his ex-wife’s wedding dress, placed on the heart. Something that many contemporary hip-hop fans (which I define as anyone who wasn’t old enough to appreciate Illmatic when it dropped in 1994 (myself included), let alome It Was Written a year or two later) forget is that this was a genre that had no blueprint for how to grow old. Indeed, many of the main players in the game found themselves dead before they hit thirty, and Nas spends much of Nas is good walking into clubs and surveying the scene, realising that short of he and his ex-nemesis Jay-Z, there aren’t many classic ’90s rappers that aren’t in coffins or making movies. This next phase is what’s so interesting about Nas, because as the juvenile desires for money, girls and drugs is slowly replaced by concerns about longterm investments, mortality and family, we get a picture that is literally being drawn before our very eyes. There is nobody for Nas and his peers to follow except themselves, and that is reflected in the elder statesman colouring that now tinges their music. It also informs some of their most beautiful new rhymes.
Songs about women are about as common as anything in rap music, but not mant of them are love songs about a woman who’s divorced you. Nas’ ‘Bye Baby’, which is unmistakably a ballad for, rather than a kiss-off to, his wife ex-Kelis. It’s full to the brim with self-doubt, longing and regret, three ideas that are practically alien to conventional rap narratives. It’s not like Nas is any less formidable as a rhymer, either, but his message is starkly different. It’s a clear message to those still wanting him to drop another Illmatic; given everything that’s happened to Nas in the last two decades, even if we wanted to, it wouldn’t be possible. You can still hear the anger in Mr Jones’ delivery, but you get the feeling that most of it is directed inwards. With that classic R&B synth bed sitting under the thing, it becomes a throwback while looking forward, nodding its head both ways and trying to make sense of what has happened and what will soon. Perhaps most importantly, Nas is utterly believable and even more credible when he’s talking about real love than he ever was in the last five years trying to be an old-school gangster. As the classic vocal croons “I guess you knew you blew a good thing/ Bye bye..”
There, I think I’ve just about done it. Hopefully I don’t go over ten minutes.