The following article was drawn from an interview between Nas, Artsweek and The Bottom Line.
Question: How have you maintained your career for so long? It seems like a lot of people come and go, but you’ve managed to stick around.
I think a lot of people can relate to me. There are a lot of people who don’t like me and a lot of people who think I think too much of myself or too much of certain things that I shouldn’t care about, but I think my shit is always going to be real, no matter what. There are some Hollywood motherfuckers out there, and I don’t think people see that in me. Even if I drive an expensive car, and I’m wearing jewelry, I think people know I’m just living the lifestyle of a king; they don’t get it confused with the Hollywood shit.
What is your upcoming album [Nigger] all about?
I’ll tell you this – the word … the word is a horrible word. The word comes from a history of the black holocaust in this country that no one wants to reconcile. They don’t want to fix or try to change anything that happened 400 years ago. They want it to run the way it’s been running.
But the positive side is that we’ve turned the word into a culture that influences fashion, your walk, your talk, your music, your conversation. … But even if we turn a negative into a positive, the powers that be haven’t yet, and that’s why they’re scared for it to be in stores. They still haven’t decided how to feel about it, or who to listen to. They don’t know how to handle it, and that’s why I named the title what it is.
It’s a simple thing – words like ‘kike,’ ‘spick,’ all this stupid shit we should have been over by now. … If we can invent iPods, satellites that go to Mars, we should be able to get along with each other. And instead of sweeping it under the rug like they want to do, I bring it to the forefront, because I have to deal with it on the forefront. I have to deal with it as I leave the campus, as I get on the highway.
What do you think about the controversy the album’s title has stirred up, from people like Jesse Jackson or groups like the NAACP?
From my understanding, [the NAACP] has done a whole lot, and so has Jesse Jackson, but there’s some new people on the scene, and they have to make room for the next generation to come up and speak their mind. A lot of these guys are old, and I respect everything they’ve been through, but I’m in this struggle by myself, and I got to express myself.
How much control have you had during the recording process?
This one has been the hardest. … It’s a new label, it’s Def Jam, and I think they’re really into one thing, the thing that works, the numbers, the hit records and shit like that. Any time record companies are like that, they fail to see the vision of the artist trying to do what he does.
What do you think people’s misperceptions about hip hop are?
The biggest mistakes people make about hip-hop music is that it’s just a violent thing, or that it’s black guys spreading bad culture. [Hip-hop artists] are definitely bad motherfuckers, but bad in a good way – they’re just saying what they feel.
Also, there’s a lot of bullshit, so the bullshit confuses you with what the real shit is, ’cause if the bullshit is all you hear, you think that all of it is the same thing. You can’t see the art in it, you can’t differentiate this artist from that artist.
Do you try to use your music to create change?
You know what, I say what I feel, and I know that there’s got to be at least one person out there that can feel like I feel, who’s smarter than me, that can go to the next level with it. I’m just one little guy speaking his mind, and whoever gets it, aw man, I love ’em.
What kind of social and political issues do you feel need the most attention?
I mean, I got my opinion from where my block is, but I can’t speak for the whole area. Everybody has issues, so I think we need to really realize what this country can be if everybody’s unified. It’s not a threat to anybody, people are so scared: “If we let immigrants in, they’re going to take over,” that kind of thing. But the world is taking a natural course. America needs to accept it.
How do you think the music industry has changed since you released Illmatic back in ’94?
It didn’t respect rap music in ’94 the way it does now. It was still a better record business, you know? Today, you can’t even find a record store, so how do you expect to sell albums? (pause) So I don’t really care too much about selling too many albums anymore – it’s just a blessing that I have the music as a way to vent. It’s a way different business now, record companies should have foreseen the change that’s about to happen.
So does the lack of record stores make recording strong singles important in order to get people to hear your music?
Yeah. If record companies want to stay in business, they need to make money, and that’s what they’re concerned with. And some artists have to conform to that. Even I have to make money out of this shit. It’s like, somebody’s making money off of it, and Nas is damn sure gonna make money. Singles are nice and everything, but I’m an album guy – I like albums, I buy albums.
Do you think hip hop is dead still?
It’s been dead since Pac and Biggie died, to me. To other people, it’s been dead since the Furious Five couldn’t sell records no more, you know what I’m saying? To other people, it’s been dead, uh, for their own particular reasons. But to me, the spirit is alive and well with niggas like Kanye, niggas like, uh, all these motherfuckers.