Nasty Nas is still a rebel to America. Rob Marriott bears witness.
It ain’t hard to tell, all this week Complex has been celebrating Nas week. On Monday we dropped our Nas cover story. On Tuesday, we gave you Nas’ 25 Favorite Albums. On Wednesday we went deep with Large Professor, who broke down the stories behind Nas classics like “Live At The Barbecue” and “Halftime.”
On Thursday we checked in with producers Salaam Remi and No I.D. to get the scoop on the new album Life Is Good. And yesterday, we get up with Nas, Trackmasters, and Steve Stoute to bring you The Making of It Was Written.
The only way to wrap up an epic week like this is to give you the raw uncut—so here’s the full 10,000 word transcript of Rob Marriott’s epic Nas cover story. So read on to hear Nas talk about New York in the 90s, how Distant Relatives re-energized him creatively, and why his life is so good right now.
Interview by Robert Marriott (@Tafari)
DAY ONE: MEMORY LANE
On the set of the video shoot for “The Don,” Nas took time out to reminisce about New York in the ’90s, back when the city was more gritty.
All of those guys needed guns. So when those guys need guns, everybody needs guns. Then it’s guns, guns, guns, guns, guns, and the shit got too hard. Everybody was just way too hard.
People were just too strapped, man. Too strapped. That’s why you can’t hang out in the streets of New York no more. It’s too fucking crazy. Man, in the ’80s, there wasn’t guns everywhere. In the late ’80s, you had to have guns because everybody was getting rich.
But in the early ’80s there wasn’t guns everywhere—not at all. There were shootings, of course, but it wasn’t like everybody was on some shoot-’em-up bang-bang shit. I saw the transition from not a lot of guns to way too many, and then now, they’ve cleaned it up.
The Albee Square mall had an energy in that shit. That mall? The fact that you were there was a big deal. Like, “I’m in Albee Square mall.” You heard all this sh*t about it. “Don’t go there. They’re going to rob you. But they’ve got the best sneakers.”
Everywhere you walked, you had to be on point. Like, we used to come down to Delancey Street when we were kids, looking for leather bombers and sheepskins and shit like that. And you knew that you had to bring your guys with you, because somebody would rob you or...
That’s the edge that you had on you, and you felt cool, like, “Yeah. I’m here. I’m on Delancey. What you want?” Every year I’d shop there around this time for Easter, which was the scariest time, because that’s when they know people are shopping.
The Albee Square mall had an energy in that shit. That mall? The fact that you were there was a big deal. Like, “I’m in Albee Square mall.” You heard all this shit about it. “Don’t go there. They’re going to rob you. But they’ve got the best sneakers.”
“Don’t go there. They’re going to rob you. But that’s where the fat gold chains are at.” “Don’t go there. They’re going to rob you. But Big Daddy Kane was standing in there.” So how could you not go? It was an adventure to walk in that motherfucker.
In Brooklyn, at that time, petty theft was like a rite of passage. Cats would move 40 deep and just rob everyone in their sight.
They’d take the sneakers off your feet, Cazals off your face, your bomber jacket.
They’d look at you like, “Oh word?” Once they’re lining their feet up with yours, you know it’s over.
They were sizing up your feet to see if they fit. Once somebody goes, “Hey, what’s your size?” “Your size, punk.” They’d punch them in the face. That was the shit.
I remember, I don’t even know if it was urban legend or what, but there was two guys and they were taking his sheepskin, and they said, “You got anything else on you?” One guy said, “No” and the other guy smiled. He had gold teeth in his mouth, so they killed him.
So you’re hearing shit like that, yet you’re going to the store to buy gold teeth.
New York was ill, but you felt like you were part of something. The whole city had this energy.
All the booksellers.
Clothes vendors outside, car shows. In ‘89, if you went up to where the Apollo was at on Saturday and Friday nights, you’d just stand outside all night long, watching the illest cars and the most beautiful girls. People driving not even one mile per hour.
Like how they do in California on Slauson or Crenshaw. That’s how 125 was.
Except not old Chevys. It was foreign cars. The most exotic shits. Like, Mike Tyson in a Lamborghini truck. That kind of shit. Like, “What the fuck is that?” “Oh, that’s Mike Tyson in a Lamborghini truck.”