“I made an album called Hip Hop Is Dead [in 2006]. Sorry not sorry, but I did because there were so many times the power of this music was in the wrong hands—not artists, [but] businesspeople," he said of the title for the record, which proved to be controversial at the time. Of course, hip-hop didn't die, but Nas believes it wasn't exactly on the right track in the mid-'00s because of the executives and business people at labels making decisions.
"To see that we’re here and [hip-hop is] thriving [is incredible]. The art form is crazy right now," he continued. "That’s a beautiful thing, and for younger artists that are just 20 years old to realize the history that is there and was laid down for them, to look at it and go, 'Wow, this is a long history with deep roots,' is a great feeling.”
Elsewhere in the Billboard feature, he was asked about the way modern rappers address conflicts and how he thinks they should be handled to make sure they never turn violent.
"That’s a hard one for us because the streets are the streets. We listen to music from people directly from those circumstances," he shared. "Young people making the hit records are telling you what’s happening: education, disease, miseducation. Life is a tough test. The streets are the stomping grounds of warriors and good and bad people. There’s kids that come from these environments with something to say. When you ignore them, you ignore the youth."
He suggested that it's impossible to "stop the street mentality overnight" because of how ingrained it is for many young artists. "For everybody to change it would take a miracle," he said, "but at the same time, once these artists get in the game and realize, 'You’re going to change your family’s life for generations to come if you could stay alive and stay out of jail,' that seems like an easy thing to do—but when you’re fresh from that, it’s all you know. "
There's a long history of hip-hop rivalry bringing about the fall of "companies and empires," Nas noted, which he attributed to "stupidity." "All they have to do is check the history," he said. "It’s their decision and their maturity level, and when they are going to figure it out because time is ticking—the next thing you know, you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. ... Sometimes they have to learn on their own."
He also spoke about how long he's been planning the 50th anniversary of hip-hop celebrations with Mass Appeal co-founder Peter Bittenbender.
“It was all focused on 50,” Bittenbender said. "Let’s get ahead of this. This is the most important moment in this generation of hip-hop and, culturally, the most important movement of our lifetime. So let’s not think about it a month before — let’s set it up years in advance.” HipHop50 was trademarked by Mass Appeal back in October 2020.
Check out the full interview here.