Aretha Franklin waited for it, Martin Luther King marched for it, and Rodney Dangerfield built a comedy career around it. Hip-hop's Nas and The Sopranos' Dominic Chianese discuss the world's greatest equalizer.

This feature originally appeared in Complex's June/July 2002 issue (a.k.a. Issue #1!)  

Nas on Respect

Illmatic (Columbia), a vivid and at times horrifying look at street life. Nas went on to display his potency onscreen, starring in the acclaimed 1998 film Belly, directed by Hype Williams, only to be plagued by a three-year fall from grace. His 2001 joint, Stillmatic(Columbia), reestablished Nas as hip-hopÕs grittiest wordsmith, a man whose rhymes stand up and demand respect.

Who do you respect? Who are your heroes?
Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King, Malcolm. My moms and pops. 

How has being from Queensbridge played into your sense of self-respect?
Because IÕm from one of the largest projects in the world, that allowed me to be around so many different kinds of people. People who had that automatic respect and some people who didnÕt have any respect at all. People who didnÕt care about respect, because they didnÕt respect themselves.

 

I meet disrespect with the same amount or more.

 

Do you think there is a difference between fear and respect?
Absolutely, because fear is poison.

You donÕt need to fear someone to respect them?
Nah, because with fear people react out of emotion and they could try to harm you. If they respect you then there is something they admire.

How does hip-hop relate to respect?
Hip-hop and rhymes are the codes of the street. So, you respect the artist because of what words of wisdom come out of his mouth.

How do you know when youÕve been disrespected?
ItÕs a gut feeling.

What is your reaction when you are disrespected?
I meet disrespect with the same amount or more. 

Do you feel like Jay-Z disrespected you?
He thought he did. And I think he did, to some extent, but not at the level where he thought he could, or thought he would, or thought he did. I think he knows he disrespected himself. I think he exposed a side that he really didnÕt want [people] to see. 

When it comes to battling and the current feud with Jay-Z, can the disrespect limit itself to the microphone any more? Where do you draw the lines?
ThatÕs like asking Ali and Frazier where to draw the line, because off the screen they still wasnÕt showing each other love. I mean, a war is a war, a battle is a battle. 

Jay-Z has sold more records than you, has made more money than you, and has more fans than you. DonÕt you think heÕs already won the battle on points?
My thing is thisÑthe whole world listens to Jay-Z, and the streets fuck with Nas. And that explains to you why he wanted to come after me. Because itÕs not what the critics were saying, it was what reality was saying. Jay-ZÕs reality was that he couldnÕt be Jay-Z unless he conquered Nas. ItÕs like you want everything in the world, but you know you have to do this one last thing to really be king.

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