“From Breaking Atoms to Illmatic…” Nas, namechecking those two albums on “Find Ya Wealth” [Colombia, 2000] was paying homage to a watershed moment that he and Large Professor share. Individually and collectively, rapper Nasir Jones, and producer William Paul Mitchell changed the rap game with anthems that have no expiration date. And without fail, their collaborations continue to yield a bounty of classic material. Their latest, “Loco-Motive” off Nas’ new album Life Is Good [Def Jam, 2012] even though is produced by No I.D., features Large Professor’s vocal stamp, reminding you of their history together, especially the critical moment your ears are bearing witness to. On the eve of the album’s release, we are going back in time to Issue 18, when Mass Appeal reconnected Nas and Extra P in Florida. Then Editor-in-Chief, Noah Callahan-Bever, now presiding over Complex interviewed these two icons when they were both at pivotal stages of their solo careers. Large Pro and Nas left the grill warm for us to revisit their cover story. Come get some.
For the first time, Nas and Large Professor sit down to discuss their similarities and, more importantly, their differences—and how what once drove them apart has now brought them back together.
Friends. How many of us have them? Real friends. Not the origami-type that fold under pressure. I’m talking about the kind that’ll stand by you no matter what happens. Whether you’re on top or on the bottom, gassed or humble, riding or dying. Nas—rap’s most profound yet conflicted voice—has a real friend in rappin’ producer Large Professor. Large has watched Nas bloom right under his wing—from teenaged apprentice to MTV superstar. Though the friends took opposite roads in the lat ‘90s—Nas desperately reaching for Mass Appeal while LP shunned even his underground audience—Large maintains that he’s quietly stood behind God’s son the whole while. And vice versa.
Once upon a time in Queens (so you know its gonna be a good story), 17-year-old William Paul Mitchell—the live guy with glasses known as Large Professor or Extra P—was met on the steps of John Bowne High School by 16-year-old wanna-be rapper, Nasir “Nasty Nas” Jones. That night the adolescent rap legends traveled by cab to a small recording studio deep in Flatbush, Brooklyn named Sty In The Sky and Nas put his hoarse voice unto a two-inch reel for the first time. “Lyrically III,” the demo they tracked that night, may never have made it out of the vault, but Nas’s revolutionary mixture of Rakim’s depth, Kool G Rap’s knowledge of street lore and Ice Cube’s shocking lyricism was enough to convince Large that he was looking at the future of rap.
Less than a year after their introduction, Nas, a lyrical (black) panther by any measure, was let out of the cage by Large Professor and his then-new group Main Source via their debut long player Breaking Atoms. The album’s rugged, bare-bones posse cut “Live At The Barbeque” would eventually lead the kid from Queensbridge housing projects down the road to the riches. Over an unrelenting drum loop, Nas, the self-styled “rebel to America” caused a hysteria, spitting the most auspicious debut in hip hop history.
Though busy extricating himself from Main Source (sometimes, business gets personal) Large Pro, in ’93, oversaw Nas’s meticulous debut, Illmatic [Columbia, ‘94]. But rather than produce the entire album himself (customary at the time), LP instead introduced Nas to the other best producers in the rap game: DJ Premier and Pete Rock to name a few. The result? Nas made nine of the best songs ever and almost every rapper-driven album released in Illmatic’s wake has tried to emulate its multifarious formula of A-list producers.
But the fast friends came to a fork in the road in ’95. Under self-applied pressure to compete commercially, Nas abandoned Illmatic’s winning recipe in search of pop hits and thug love. The results? He shot to the top of the charts, earning platinum plaques with three Large Professor-less albums, each worse than the last. Hardcore fans questioned if the street’s disciple was fakin’ the funk and speculate why he’d treat his mentor like a burnt piece of bacon. Meanwhile, Geffen, in 1996, aborted Large Professor’s three-year delinquent solo album, The LP, due to its dated sound. Disgusted with the industry, Large pulled a Darkman and inexplicably disappeared into the ‘hood.
A decade after meeting on those steps in Flushing, the two reunited for Stillmatic [Columbia, ‘01], Nas’ much needed return to his roots, and again they made history. Having reconciled their own personal and professional issues—and their issues with each other—the two brothers are back on the same page and ready to rock. Large Professor has finally released the follow-up to Breaking Atoms, 1st Class [Matador], to critical acclaim. And Nas made a compelling argument that he never fell off with The Lost Tapes [Columbia], a collection of tracks that escaped his mediocre late ‘90s offerings. Ironically, the two are camped out in the internationally recognized home of pop, Orlando, Florida, putting the finishing touches on Nas’s sixth and possibly most focused offering, God’s Son [Columbia].
Despite their frantic recording schedule, Large Professor stepped away from his SP1200 and Nas put down his one mic, taking a moment to address their long-lasting friendship and the state of hip hop union, because the love they have for one another and the love they have for rap are one in the same. One love, dummy!
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