Nas

Real Artists Do Real Things

"You have to go for it."

Words Nasir Jones Photo Danny Clinch

NOONE’S PERFECT. I NEVER WANT TO BE PERFECT; I CAN’T BE. 

I never try to act like I am‘ cause I’m far from it. But I’m trying to be the best that I can be. It’s important that people realize that there’s a brilliant light that burns in each and every one of us and sometimes we don’t allow that light to shine. Sometimes we get scared of that light; we’re scared of where it might take us, we’re scared of failure and there has to come a time in your life when you have to put fear to the side. You have to go for it.

There’s usually someone that you’re around who doesn’t believe what you believe; he or she may say something to discourage you in an effort to take you off of your game (yes, hating takes effort). But you have to let that light shine. You have to let that light lead us. Sadly, there are some of us who put our own fires out. There are so many people out here who put their light out and they say, “I’m gonna get it the street way”…but there are all kinds of ways to make it in America.

Me? I put myself around a lot of wise people who know a thing or two about the world we’re living in, and I take that and I sharpen myself up to run with the light. I think a big part of being an artist is not being afraid. You have to do what you feel. If you do what you feel, man you’ll be surprised at the results when you really stick to your plan.

I really love what Lauryn is doing musically because it sounds pure. It has balls. It’s real. These are her thoughts. It’s not about her looking cool. It’s not about her doing what we expect, or what we want her to do coming out of jail. It’s Lauryn doing what she has to do for her soul and her mind. The music, along with the lyrics, is like “wow.” It takes me on a trip.

There’s a big misunderstanding about the music and the artist — and the music VS the artist — in hip hop. What’s real? What’s not real? Etcetera. A professor at Harvard, who really imagined Biggie to be a serious killer, asked me “How was Biggie?” Man, Biggie was funny as fuck! He would have you in stitches. He was from the streets through and through. But you know, just because he rapped about it didn’t mean he was really on the street killing people. Give him more credit than that. Give hip hop more credit than that. Like, Al Pacino: he knows what Italian-American street life was when he was getting into film, but we respected him for his craft. Was he slicing dudes out on the street for real? People left that alone and respected his craft. We didn’t say, “Are you out here killing people, Big Al?” Whether he had bodies or not, that didn’t make him or break him. Only difference between Biggie and Al, was B.I.G wasn’t acting. It was life through his eyes, and we were honored that he shared it with us.

I didn’t experience anything like that until I started the second album…when the records were selling crazy. People were like “Why are you on the Escobar tip, why are you talking more about money? Why you this? Why you that?” And I said, “This is just rap music, this is what we do.” I understand that sometimes, kids are gonna wanna buy what we’re saying we’re buying. Still, people don’t recognize the arts in our crafts; they’re just focusing on those kids who just want to go to Barney’s to buy fly shit or to go to Louis Vuitton, Versace – that’s all they see. But there is art and science and math in the way we sequence and choose our words. Additionally, for the record, real artists don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m gonna make the black community waste their money on high-end brands.” That’s not the artist’s intention. The artist is having a good time. Yes, some artists are more informed than others, some artists are more conscious than others. But can’t an artist have a good time sometimes? Sometimes, art and expression comes from a place where it’s not about pain or oppression — just pure expression. Just exclamations that sound off into the ether.

They came down on Biggie — “All he’s talking about is Versace.” It’s great to have criticism from the people but during that Escobar era, I started to feel like I was getting hated on. Before that, no one said anything to me about my choice of words, my artistry, because I woulda blew your fucking face off. Nobody was questioning nothing. I had 65 niggas with me who had answers for you if you had questions about my shit back in those days. That’s what it was. Different times now. There was a war going on outside my project window. Now, my window sees the world and my influences can come from anywhere. Like the great Queens DJ/producer Eric B. once said, “Together, we can get paid in full!”

This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.

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