10 questions with laid back lyricist nas

Join i-D as we lose ourselves in the music at Lovebox this weekend. This year, everyone from A$AP Rocky to Banks to Rodigan will be blowing the leaves off those Victoria Park trees during the two-day dedication to all things music. We fire 10 questions...

by Milly McMahon
16 July 2014, 3:05pm

Nik Hartley

Commonly regarded as the greatest lyricist of our generation Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones is a living legend. Releasing eight consecutive platinum and multi-platinum albums over the course of his long and strong career, recording the critically acclaimed and monumentally important Illmatic when he was just 17 years old, Nasty Nas is to now what Biggie was to then. Famously disappearing for unexplained amounts of time, jetting to elaborate locations to step out of the limelight and obsessively write material for his powerful, game changing rap verses, Nas has always been an unconventional superstar. Worshipped by millions as the fundamental saviour of hip hop for over two decades, his ego should be bigger than the colossal, overly hyped industry he dominates, but in reality the Queens born rapper turned actor is a humble and truly respectful gentleman. Speaking painfully honestly on record about his widely documented life, great loves, children and past strifes, his fast flowing, eloquent, poetic rhymes tell relatable, emotive stories that have changed the face of hip hop, monumentally. i-D meets the man of many words who believes life is good.

1. What happens at one of your live shows?
Electrifying magic.

2. What's it like to be called an icon?
It's an honour, and I'm humbled by it, but there are so many great icons out there that I don't take too seriously. I'm not in the same area as them. I look at Nina Simone, Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack and I'm nowhere near what you call an icon, I understand it, but to me it's almost a joke.

3. How has being a father changed you?
It saved my life. I was still attached to the street, and I didn't know much about how to carve out a career until my daughter was born. I was so early in my career, she basically saved my life, and my son is my shining star.

4. What's your earliest memory of listening to your parent's music?
My mom loved Al Green and Marvin Gaye.

5. What was working with Amy Winehouse like?
Cherry Wine is such a soothing jazz tune, Amy's voice sounds so alive, it just makes me miss her more and really feel honoured to have her on my record. She was a pure artist and every time I make music, I want it to mean something, sometimes I do songs and I don't even think about it; that song I thought a lot about, so I'm really proud to have that video. She was someone cool to talk to. I think the outcome of the song has put a lot of love in my heart. The experience taught me to just love people whilst they're here, you know what I mean? No one's promised tomorrow.

6. You have the ability to speak in 'a different voice' when rapping, which is something most other rappers don't do. What made you decide to start storytelling in this way?
I was just rapping about what I saw and experienced instead of what I imagined. My style developed organically.

7. What is your favourite book?
I loved Marvin Gaye's autobiography. 

8. Who is your favourite poet?
Langston Hughes easily because he captured a timeless moment in the world.

9. If you could have written any book from any period, what would it be?
The 80s because that's where it all started!

10. Which film director would you like to write a score for?
Quentin Tarantino. He's been one of my favourites for a while...


Watch the trailer for Time is Illmatic 


Text Milly McMahon
Photography Nik Hartley

Marvin Gaye
amy winehouse
Milly McMahon
Langston Hughes
music interviews
cherry wine
nik hartley