Photos by Watch x Witness
Nas played the Kennedy Center last Friday and Saturday. In Washington, DC. The KENNEDY CENTER. The place where folks like Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. and other really significant artists either perform, or are recognized for their contributions to culture and Humankind.
Nas had an eighty-piece orchestra back him.
DJ Green Lantern held down the wheels of steel.
The crowd was wildly interesting: fans of the symphonic rubbing elbows with hip hop heads. There was one Phil Donahue looking gentleman (do the research on Phil) who was nodding his melon like a battery-operated DMX bobblehead. And there was one kid in the front row who rapped EVERY LICK of the God’s Son’s lyrics.
This scribe had the opportunity to peep the show on opening night. The pacing was spectacular: quiet chimes unexpectedly build up into the main phrase of “Represent”, sneaking up on you like a thief who’s more interested in picking up a melody than your gold chain. These movements created solemn moments of reflection, and those emotions weren’t lost on Nas’ face. He looked like a regal beagle in his fitted suit; his confidence and smooth was in check. But you could almost see his shadow hovering off to the side mouthing, “Damn, son!”
There was a time when The GRAMMYs didn’t recognize hip hop and her artists. The organization eventually had to cave in: rap’s voice was too powerful, both socially and economically. Nas hasn’t won a GRAMMY yet, but playing the Kennedy Center makes that wee golden statue look like a Hershey’s Kiss in King Kong’s belly.
DJ Green Lantern did his thing. When it was time to bring the energy up like Ron Isley at the Apollo, he cranked the beats and hyped up his man. Those orchestral players sat there with smiles on their faces, as it is probable that they’ve NEVER played a show this hype. One of the ushers — an elderly Caucasian woman with a red paige’s blazer — was dancing and giving audience members direction at the same time. She’d been hit with the spirit of the park jam. Bless her soul.
Nas performing at the Kennedy Center says a lot about where America should be going. It was one of the most important moments in the history of rap music. It has nothing to do with being embraced by the culture of the upper crust and everything to do with the fact that a language born in the projects has become the native tongue of the people here, and in so many other places in the world.
Nas and his shadow are still in shock.