It’s Halftime: Nas Homecoming Concert At MSG Was All NYC Ubiquity

Nasir “Nas” Jones came home to New York City, the place he eloquently labeled as a State of Mind, to deliver his extensive career body of work at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden. The blessing came to the city that never sleeps last Friday, Feb. 24, and acted like a time machine transporting the crowd back to 1994, when his debut album, “Illmatic,” came out to shake up the hip-hop landscape.

Nas headlining at Madison Square Garden for the first time. (Photo: Johnny Nunez/Getty Images)

Nas Rocks Madison Square Garden

The World Series didn’t happen that same year due to a player’s strike that lasted until the following year. Ironically, Nas would immortalize the Mets hat in a way unique to his proud Queens roots. Growing up in Queensbridge projects, where he would be neighbors with Roxanne Shante and watch MC Shan and Marly Marl cement his neighborhood on the Mount Rushmore of hip-hop, Nas made everyone a resident of the 40th side of Vernon.

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Shea Stadium Swagger

While the city donned the pinstripes of the Yankees, the Mets hat became a sacramental component of the Q-Boro perspective. Add a pair of brown 40 below Timbs, a skull cap with a brim, and a flight jacket and the cipher was Queens complete.

When the “Illmatic” album dropped, it gave us reminiscent tales of lives lost in the prison system reborn through Nas’s thoughtful letter-writing. In November of the same year, George Foreman won the world heavyweight title at 45, reminding the world that old school isn’t that old with Nas’s opus acting as a soundtrack that defined moments like Foreman’s as Nas’ old soul bellowed like his father Olu Dara trumpeted riffs.

Then we were introduced to AZ; a Brooklynite melded seamlessly with the Queens esthetic. “Life’s A B***h” is all jazz, and the two verbally intertwined the idiosyncrasies of cold hard reality. During that year, the Winter Olympics would prove such as the drama unfolded for figure skater Nancy Kerrigan, who was attacked on the knee by her rival Tonya Harding’s bodyguard. Kerrigan recovered within weeks and won the silver medal. Cue the haunting words of AZ’s chorus, “that’s why we puff lye…”

Hit(s). Boy. Different.

During the concert, Nas gave NYC that new-new, running through his trilogy of hits from the “King’s Disease” series of albums he made with producer Hit-Boy. That “hit” differently in New York City and melded its Bernard King and Patrick Ewing history with the Saquon Barkley and Julius Randle energy of today’s top local competitors. That’s what Nas’s best attribute musically has always been, bridging the gap.

So when he came out to the Madison Square Garden stage dressed in an all-orange jumpsuit, reference to the Knicks, one would hope, and fresh constructs on his feet, it set the stage for appearances by Slick Rick, who performed “Hey Young World.”

Nas is New York City, and his presence is ubiquitous in NYC sports. He is a playground legend for giving dribble and hustle a soundtrack on the blacktop. He reinvented the intelligent rhyme patterns of Rakim and added a curious innocence that has never left the city’s heart. After a legendary career, playing the Garden for the first time isn’t an example of a native son’s late-blooming but of a town needing reminding of who they are.

And it’s only Halftime.

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