What is a MasterClass that you’d like to take from anybody about anything?
Nas: Going off of what I was just saying, I come from a day and age where you had to find your own voice. Now, no knock to nobody, because everybody is doing dope things, but I think now you have to sound like somebody else. It’s the complete opposite, and that’s how things change. The tables always turn and things change, so they don’t become mundane. It changes for the good or the bad, but now is a point where a lot of artists feel like they need to sound like what’s hot. They did that back then, it’s not just now. A lot of people popped off from sounding like other people, it just didn’t last as long.
So in my MasterClass, I come from that era of having to completely have your own sound, voice, and everything, and to have a career with that and not just one album. And to do things where I also adapt slightly from what’s happening today, because to me, that’s dope. So to adapt some of it and connect something else on a hybrid level of you on the next level. My MasterClass, you get the journey of my style from the early 90s to now.
Hit-Boy: Man, I would like to see how Quincy Jones made Thriller. That would be crazy to see all those songs broken down and explore the things behind the instrumentals and all that.
Nas, I saw you received the Key to Queens last week. How do you feel about that honor?
Nas: I’m super honored by it. When you look back and think about humble beginnings, and you realize how much you’ve been putting in… It’s a great county. It’s a great town. You know, “Queens gets the money,” that’s a real statement. That goes back from when I was a kid in the ‘80s watching very inspiring people, to now very inspiring people are doing great things. We just have a style about ourselves in Queens. We’re thinkers. So, to have that honor in 2021 and have my own day, Sept. 23, makes me feel great. It makes me want to do something more.
“DMX always wanted to do part 2 [of Belly]. I think Hype Williams was a little hesitant for whatever reason, but X always wanted to do it. Every time we saw each other, we would talk about it.”
In the ’90s and 2000s, did you ever think about what aging in the rap game would look like for you? And has it happened as you thought it would?
Nas: Yeah, I had to, because I was buying everybody’s tapes and CDs, so I was checking out everybody’s cover and checking out what they’re doing and how they’re keeping it up, because what’s on you represents what’s in your head sometimes. If you look like a mess, then your head is a mess sometimes. And also it’s art, and with your physical, it was all about taking care of yourself physically and making sure you’re staying stress-free. In a world full of so much craziness, you got to keep your head in the light, and that’s what I’m doing. No matter what, I’m going to stay in the light.
On “Big Nas” you reference the late DMX. You had the song with you, him, and Jay-Z on his Exodus album. How did that track come together from your perspective, and how powerful is it for you to be with those greats on that album?
Nas: That was something me and Swizz [Beatz] was working on a while ago. He had put together this record, but we didn’t have a place for it, because I had released a record while he was still working on the new album and we never completed it fully until the album was done. So there was no placement for it, and X was on it, and Jay was on it, so it was just sitting and waiting for the right opportunity. And I guess that’s what X wanted. X wanted the record, so it was his.
I had to fix some stuff because I had used some of the lyrics on that song on one of my albums. So I punched it up a little bit and took those lyrics off so that the whole verse was fresh to people. X is my guy. We were brothers, so I was more than happy to be on his album. We had a fresh song that we did together while he was alive called “Walking In The Rain.” I just had him heavy on my mind when me and Hit was in the studio, so that’s what it was.
Jay-Z recently spoke about the ferocity of X’s live performances and the challenge of going on after him. Could you speak on one of your fondest memories of DMX?
Nas: I would be in the city, and X would be there and just pull up on me. At concerts, somebody would let me know X was there, and it would just be a great time. Sometimes he would come out onstage, sometimes he would just be outside and just watch me rhyme, and sometimes we were on the same bill. Either way, we got that time to talk about life, family, love, women, ex-wives, new girlfriends, new potential families, new deals, new business, new plans, and we talked about doing another Belly. We did a lot when we saw each other. We made sure we got that time in. It wasn’t like a hi-and-bye, it was like, “Nah, what we doing?” It was a moment. Whenever we seen each other, we both was parked until we was done talking.
I’ll give you a better story. One day, I was at a show in Boston, and backstage he was there. He just happened to be in Boston, so he came through. He played a song that was on his album, “Letter to My Son (Call Your Father)”, which is incredible, about his oldest son. It meant so much to him and he played it for me. Immediately, I was like, “This is one of the deepest rap songs I’ve ever heard, but the world is about to hear it when he put it on his album.” That was a moment, and it was about a year or two years before he passed. The song was still a work-in-progress.
You mentioned that you both were in talks to potentially doing another Belly. Did that ever become more than just talk?
Nas: X always wanted to do part 2. I think Hype [Williams] was a little hesitant for whatever reason, but X always wanted to do it. Every time we saw each other, we would talk about it, because he does so well in movies. But he wanted to do that, and so did I.
Will we see more Nas and Hit-Boy projects down the line?
Hit-Boy: Yes, it’s a must on my end. I feel like the challenge of outdoing ourselves, I feel like it’s only getting better every time we create, and I’m just looking forward to seeing what that’s going to bring our way.