There is not a lot that hasn't been said about Nasir Jones. Fans around the world celebrate his music and know his earliest lyrics by heart -- even if they were not even born when the beloved Queensbridge's emcee first entered the scene via Main Source's Breaking Atoms track "Live at the Barbeque" in 1991. With over two decades in the game, even the U.S.'s oldest institution of higher learning, Harvard University, recognized Nas's influence on contemporary culture by having established the Nasir Jones HIP-HOP Fellowship recently. Hence, we did not hesitate for a second to take the opportunity of having a quick chat with this distinguished personality at the NASS Festival in the UK last weekend. There, he told us when we can expect his next album, what it was like to share the studio with artists like Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, Jay-Z and what we can expect from the upcoming Rock The Bells fest and much more.
You have been a part of several amazing collaborations recently - Jay-Z's "BBC" which features Justin Timberlake, Beyonce, and Swizz Beatz. How was it working with these great artists and how does the energy differ in during sessions for songs like these compared to working with younger artists?
Obviously the energy was crazy. It was surreal. Especially because I never thought I would be around this long when I first started out and I'm sure these guys neither. I sat back watching everyone working their magic and thinking, "wow, we're still here." Don't get me wrong though, it is also great to work with younger artists because their talent is much rawer and their full potential has not been fulfilled yet.
What was your initial reaction to J. Cole's "Let Nas Down" and how did you approach your verse for the remix?
I was blown away when I first heard it because I had no idea at all that this was coming. The song has been out for a while and a lot of people were wondering what my thoughts were and what I had to say about it. A remix seemed like a perfect channel for my thoughts and let him know that I do know that he is nice with his craft. I remember -- for his first album -- I wanted him to do a whole raw record without any radio songs on it. Ok, maybe one radio song but not too radio at the same time if that makes sense (laughs). This is me speaking from the perspective of a selfish fan. I just wanted him to ice n****s and come through with some straight up raw sh*t.
Life is Good was a mature record and offers a detailed look on your personal life. How do you feel about the people's reaction about the record?
It was heavy. I feel like it encouraged people to release their records in a more hip-hop way of mind -- from the young artists to the older vets. If you look around the musical landscape things feel more hip-hop than it has in years And that was definitely my intention, so I'm happy to say: mission accomplished.
How would you compare it to your previous records?
You have to come full circle in your life to put out a record that reflect on you full circle. The task was to pay respect to the era that I came in the game -- which was in the '90s -- but also make sure it sounded contemporary enough. Let the people know that you should never lose yourself. Stick to your sound, stick to your guns. It is great to experiment but it also great to know that you can always come back to the sounds that identifies you -- the sound that shows you who you really are.
Are you opting to use this "mature" approach for your upcoming albums as well or will we see a completely new direction in the future?
Different. It will definitely be different because I am feeling different.
When will we see a new album from you?
Really soon. I am looking straight down the highway and it's a clear lane. It's perfect for me -- to drop this year.
What would be the most important hip-hop album in the past five years?
There's more than just one. Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d city, Watch the Throne, my own record Life is Good, Meek Mill's Dreams and Nightmares and I like Tyler, the Creator's last record Wolf a lot. For me, these records simply stand out.
How do you feel about music artists joining forces with global brands.
It was inevitable. It's just how things happen. Brands need us, we need brands. You should always think about what you're doing, always stay true to who you are and what you represent. Then at the same time, get money. Artists don't always make money but you have to feed your family. I'm all for it.
You are also a "silent partner" with Rock The Bells. What can you tell us about it?
That's right. Rock the Bells 2013 is about to hit in September. It is about to be the greatest show on earth. Ten-year anniversary. It is the best festival to me. We have so much to offer and we grow every year. It is a brand that's true to the culture. You have artists from a time period when kids from today were not around but they can go there and get into these artists and get into their music and discover them there. Then you have guys like J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar doing it, but also Wu-Tang Clan or Bone Thugs N Harmony showing love. Rock the Bells is the ultimate hip-hop show for sure.
Any final words?
Shout out to HYPETRAK, keep doing what you're doing and much love to my fans! Be on the lookout for the new album.
Interview & Photography: Ravi Sidhu