Rapper Nasir Jones “AKA” Nas “AKA” Escobar “AKA” God’s Son, turns 47 years told today. He’s not only a Hip-Hop legend, pioneer, and entrepreneur but the Queens cat is still making GOAT contributions to the genre.
In a Hip-Hop game where neophytes pop up like Percocets at a Future concert and legends fade like the hairline on an 85-year-old man, Nas is celebrating his 27th summer as a force in the culture. He’s also basking in the glory of a successful thirteenth studio album, King’s Disease, released on August 21, 2020, through Mass Appeal Records.
It was another time-traveling lyrical masterpiece that sparked the nostalgic juices of yesterday’s Boom Bap and 90s Gentleman Thug vernacular, but the wisdom and comfortability of Nas’ evolution as a Black man in America oozes through the speakers and penetrates the musical nostrils like a bag of funk skunk from a hood corner store back in the days.
Celebrating 27 Summers As Hip Hop’s Golden Child
“I woke up early on my born day; I’m 20, its a blessin/The essence of adolescence leaves my body, now Im fresh/ and my physical frame is celebrated cause I made it, one-quarter through life, some godly-like thing created” Lifes a Bitch, Illmatic
We celebrate the life of Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones today at 47 years old, the same age as hip-hop itself. He is one of the few artists to survive and thrive as an artist from hip-hop’s golden age and to prove that he can simultaneously put out new material and thrive as a businessman.
When Nas was four years old he was playing the trumpet, learned without training, while he sat on the stoop in Brooklyn with his father, Olu Dara. His father had been a stand-out trumpet and coronet player in his high school band and in a jazz band in Natchez, Mississippi, before attending Tennessee State (where he courted Wilma Rudolph).
Dara joined the Navy Band before he would be praised by Miles Davis as the best coronet player hed ever heard, played with jazz greats like Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers and recorded with Don Pullen before putting together his own band and his own solo albums.
Nas’s mother, a postal worker, was the foundation of the family and had stressed that Nas would finish school. Olu’s parents were both educators who had also stressed the importance of education. But Nas, growing up in a failing education system in Queens, would become a junior high school drop-out.
Drug crews like the Supreme Team ruled the neighborhood. Nas was hustling and robbing. He would adopt his tag Kid Wave as a graffiti artist and become part of the rhyme crew, Devastatin Seven. He and his best friend and deejay, Ill Will, then began thinking seriously about a rap career.
Nas’s friend Melquan would introduce him to a genius producer named Large Professor. This relationship would lead to Nass cameo on Main Sources Live at the BBQ, where he talks about at 12, going to hell for snuffing Jesus and kidnapping the president’s wife without a plan.
By 17 he had adopted the name Nasty Nas and created a demo. He was hanging his hat on the dreams of Queensbridge residents like Juice Crew members deejay Marley Marl, MC Shan and teenage rapping wonder Roxanne Shante.
He and his friend, Akinyele, would catch the subway daily from Queensbridge to Manhattan to shop Nass demo record only to return every day dejected and rejected by major labels like Def Jam and even Queensbridge-based Cold Chillin Records, which was started by Marley Marl.
The lyrics he wrote for his soon-to-be classic album would get lost on the subway. He proceeded to rewrite them from memory. The lyrics mix a journalist’s detail with a filmmaker’s visual narrative and a poet’s prose.
Music video by Nas performing N.Y. State of Mind (Audio). (C) 2017 Columbia Records, a division of Sony Music Entertainment http://vevo.ly/FtmWHH
He eventually got a deal with the help of MC Serch of 3rd Bass and record executive Faith Newman, who signed him on the spot with a $17,000 advance. Producers on his debut album would include some of New York’s elite beatsmiths: DJ Premier, Q-Tip, MC Serch, Large Professor, Pete Rock and L.E.S.
Illmatic: The Greatest Hip Hop Album Ever Made
Nas’ debut album “Illmatic” has no shortage of hip-hop quotables that still ring prominently more than two decades later. Back in April, we celebrated the 26th anniversary of the 10-track stick of dynamite that set the hip-hop world on an upward trajectory that it hasn’t descended from since.
“Illmatic” is easily considered one of the Top 5 most influential and innovative rap albums of all-time by hip-hop aficionados, historians and purists.
My father and Olu had been good friends for years, so he hooked me up with an interview in the early 90s, with Olu and Nas for JazzTimes magazine. We did the interview at Olu’s apartment in Manhattan right before the release of Illmatic.
There was no publicist, no bodyguards, not even an entourage. Books lined every inch of Olus’ apartment, along with African artifacts and paintings that he had painted himself. Olu, the consummate storyteller, regaled me with his stories about women he met around the world.
Nas was low-key. He didn’t waste words. He came in with his daughter’s mother and the baby in tow. Clearly they had been bickering. Nas just shook his head, as if he didn’t know what to do, as she left.
Olu and Nas were accommodating when my tape recorder failed halfway through the interview and we had to start again. Nas was humble, even a bit nervous. There was no telling that he would become a multi-platinum, multi-millionaire.
I would later interview them again as a researcher for the film Time Is Illmatic, about his seminal album.
Since then Nas has gone on to Ether Jay-Z, star in movies, release 13 studio and two collaborative albums, most of which went platinum and multi-platinum, own restaurants and businesses and venture capital around the country, including a Fila store, was honored by Harvard University which has a fellowship in his name, collaborated with Damien Marley on an underappreciated classic, Distant Relatives, where they donated all the royalties to charities in Africa, and invest in tech start-ups which has ballooned his net worth to roughly $70 million.
Today, he woke up on his born day, 47, its still a blessing.