Nas could have taken an early retirement from the rap game and still be considered one of the greatest MCs in history. Let's just say he started strong out of the gate, with his 1994 debut album, Illmatic, widely regarded as the best hip-hop record ever made. The artist born Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones isn't one to rest on his laurels, however, and his catalogue of studio albums is now 10 deep, with the 11th expected some time before the year is over. If we're lucky, he'll preview some of the new material when he plays a co-headlining show with Lauryn Hill at Pacific Coliseum on Wednesday (October 11). But if we're really lucky, he'll perform a rendition of "Hip Hop Is Dead" that's as epic in length as the album version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida".
ALL IN THE FAMILY. Nas is a second-generation recording artist. His father, Olu Dara, is a noted cornetist, guitarist, and singer who has appeared on three of his rapping offspring's albums. Dara has also recorded with the likes of Cassandra Wilson, James Blood Ulmer, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. On a local note, he played cornet on two of the tracks ("Junkie Song" and "Horses", to be specific) on the Be Good Tanyas' second LP, Chinatown. That's enough of a connection for us to declare Nas an honourary Vancouverite, right? No?
FROM THE 604. Continuing with the Vancouver connection, Nas’ 2008 classic “Hip Hop Is Dead” has a local angle that’s not readily apparent—unless your name happens to be Nardwuar the Human Serviette. To most, the song riffs on Iron Butterfly’s ‘60s hard-rock landmark "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida", famous for its use in Michael Mann’s cult-classic Manhunter (which, while we’re playing Trivia Time, featured the first big-screen appearance of Hannibal Lecter). Where Vancouver comes into play is that Nas’s sample can be traced directly to the Incredible Bongo Band. The project—helmed by record business veteran Michael Viner— covered the tune on its immortal 1973 release Bongo Rock, recorded right here in our fair city at Can-Base Studios. As Nardwuar frequently brings up in his interviews with hip-hop artists, the Incredible Bongo Band has been a gold-mine on the sampling front over the years. (“Hip Hop Is Dead” also incorporates the IBB’s “Apache”, which has been used by the likes of of LL Cool J, Moby, and DJ Kool Herc). Nas by the way also incorporated the group’s version of "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" in “Thief’s Theme” off his double album Street’s Disciple. For more on the Incredible Bongo Band check out the 2013 documentary Sample This, which describes the group as being responsible for the single most important record in the history of hip-hop. Suck on it Compton and Queens—it all started here!
RIGHT BY HIS SIDE. Now, we're not ones to stoop to posting celebrity gossip...oh, we're not fooling anyone. We are totally ones to stoop to posting celebrity gossip. Although they haven't officially clarified the matter, Nas and Nicki Minaj are supposedly an item, according to rumours that date back to at least this past spring. Minaj stopped short of confirming the rumours when she was a guest on The Ellen Show in May, describing Nas as "the king of Queens" before adding "and I'd like to think that I'm the queen of Queens." Last month, the two rappers were spotted at Nas's 44th birthday party, and each posted very couple-y photos to Instagram, featuring the two of them posed in front of a white Mercedes-Benz. We're calling this one "confirmed"! Unofficially, of course.
THINK AGAIN. Throughout his career, Nas has displayed a tendency to change his mind when it comes to creative decisions. For example, the cover art of Illmatic was originally going to be an image of Nas holding Jesus Christ in a headlock. “All those years ago I was young and crazy!” was all the rapper had to say when Clash asked him about it in 2014. The rapper courted controversy in 2008 when he announced that his next album would be called... well, let's just say it was a one-word title, with that single word being something we'd be better off not mentioning here. (Hint: it starts with an N.) He thought better of it, acknowledging that "Record stores are gonna have a problem in this day and time selling a record with that title," and opted to give the album no title at all. The cover, a photo of Nas's back covered in whip scars in the shape of an N, is provocative enough even without a title.
FRIENDS FOR LIFE. This isn’t the first time that Nas and Lauryn Hill have found themselves hanging out on a tour bus; the two also did a North American co-headlining swing titled the Life Is Good/Black Rage tour back in 2011. Their relationship goes back far further than that, however. In 1997—when Hill was still a member of the Fugees—the two teamed up for “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)” off Nas’s sophomore outing It Was Written. The track would prove Nas’ first mainstream hit, earning him a Grammy nomination for best rap solo performance (he lost). In 2013 Nas would take to the pages of XXL to discuss the importance of Hill’s breakthough release The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998). His verdict included the following: “There’s always a void when it comes to the female MC world, and she went beyond that. It checked me as an MC because she was pure. There was no chains, no fancy cars, she checked us on all of that. On songs like 'Superstar' and 'Lost Ones' and 'Doo Wop', she talked to us, she went into who we were as men and women. And that was needed at the time and to this day.”