Published Aug 22, 2009It's been a busy year for Nas. The first half of 2009 saw the Queensbridge MC back in the studio, recording Distant Relatives with Damian Marley, and the two are currently co-headlining the touring hip-hop festival Rock the Bells. Perhaps most talked about, however, is his divorce from wife Kelis, the birth of his first son, Knight Jones, and the court ruling that he would have to pay Kelis more than $40,000 (U.S.) in monthly support for the near future. Just days before the birth, Nas chopped it up about both his professional and private life.
You're currently on your fourth Rock the Bells tour. What about it keeps you coming back?
It's a great audience, man. It's something you don't see a lot in touring. It's a hip-hop tour and you get all kinds of artists, you get all types of crowds. It's a straight up hip-hop tour and that's what I like about it.
What's something interesting or funny that's happened on the tour so far?
It seems to be going by too fast. It's like I kind of have to space the tour out because I have a son about to be born and I feel like I want to be nearby when he's going to be born, so it's like I'm there on tour but knowing that any day now it can happen, she can go into labour. It's cool though, because it kills the time in between because it kills the time in between.
You're co-headlining this tour with Damian Marley. Are the two of you performing all material off Distant Relatives, or some solo material too?
It's some of my stuff, some of Damian's stuff and the record "Road to Zion" that we did together on his last album and some of the new stuff.
What's the energy like, performing with him?
Out of this world. It's two different things, you know. The way he rocks with the audience is totally different from the way I rock with the audience, so it's like they get two experiences at one time, two different experiences brought together. You get to see two people together on stage.
What is the recording process with Damian like? (i.e. Is there a lot of studio time together or is a lot of it done electronically?)
Nah, it's all together. The only thing we do when we're not in the same room is just finishing something up, or changing something. It's always done together.
This album came together after the initial collaboration for "Road to Zion." How did that come about?
I was a big fan of his father and of course all the children, all the offspring, and Damian, I kind of looked at Damian as a rap guy. His stuff is not really singing, or if he does, it comes off more hard, like on some street shit. I always liked how reggae and hip-hop have always been intertwined and always kind of pushed each other, I always liked the connection. I'd worked with people before from the reggae world but when I worked with Damian, the whole workout was perfect. It was just cool, it was just cool. I just knew when we did "Zion" that we weren't done. We weren't done.
What's left to tweak on the album? I hear you're almost done.
Yeah, we almost done. It's just little things, you know? We have the opportunity to tour before there's any records out so we kinda get a vibe from the audience and the people on what's missing and we get ideas from that. So I think by the time the tour's a wrap we can just go in there and wrap it up.
What details can you speak on so far, like producers, featured artists, etc.?
Damian has been the guy behind the boards and, man, I've been really liking what he's been bringing to the table. It's been a lot of African sounding shit mixed in with live drums. Most of it is live at this point. There've been some features from K'Naan. That's basically it at this point.
Is Stephen Marley going to be on it too?
That's a great possibility. He also produced on the record and he's a really incredible producer.
Can you speak a little about the title Distant Relatives?
Yeah. It's just really saying how the music is connected. It all comes from the same place and we all come from the same place; we all from Africa. Black, white - we all from there. We all spread out and divided and lost touch with the true history of humanity. Because of that, people have to learn each other all over again and it's not an easy thing. So we're reminding people that we're all distant relatives and there's no time in life for racism. Life is too short. When you see people like this old man running in there shooting up a Jewish museum or a police officer shooting - the BART shooting in Oakland, you just look at sick things like that and say, "It's a shame we don't realize we are all family, part of the human race." We all distant relatives, no matter what colour you may be, whatever. Everybody's really family to be loved. It's an easy thing to wrap your mind around but a hard thing to really embrace for all people for whatever reason.
How has your live show changed over the years?
My live show changes because times change, music changes, people change. There's a little bit of nostalgia of course from records people consider their classic records, or there are records that didn't get a lot of air play but were favourites of a lot of people. I just stir it up, like how Grateful Dead has never done the same show. That kind of shit, I like that. You come to see me do something and I do the same thing for a certain amount of years because it has a natural flow, and I think people who see me do my think have kind of gotten used to the way the flow is, so I stick with that flow, but I always like to surprise people and change shit up every now and then with different shit so you get a different experience every time.
What are some of your fondest memories of Vancouver?
Vancouver's a beautiful place, man, and the crowd goes hard. It feels like a second home in a lot of ways, you know? It's like, it's another country, besides immigration and customs - that makes it the hardest place to get into - but once you get in there it feels like a distant relative to America. It's like another home. It doesn't feel as far away as a lot of further countries are. Of course it's close by the States, but it feels like a brother to America or some shit like that. It's different, man, but it's cool, you know?
You mentioned immigration, which is funny, because a large number of rap acts coming through have had issues at the border. What issues did you have?
Probably the same. I think Canada's just really strong on how they want to keep Canada and they go through a whole lot to keep Canada the way it is. It's not an easy job. You got street cats coming through with prior criminal records and shit and it make them nervous, man. Canada's always been like that to musicians, you know what I mean? It's just what it is. Part of the Canadian experience for Americans is customs. That kind of adds something special to it, whether it's good or bad.
If hip-hop was a woman, what would she look like?
If hip-hop was a woman? Man. She'd look like everything that's good. She'd look like turntables, she'd look like a mic. But in a nice way. She'd smell good, she'd feel good, every time you scratch it. Every time you turn the mic on, she'd feel good. It'd just be a good feeling, you know. She would be - a mic for a neck, two turntables are the nipples. Um, shit. The arms of turntables are her arms and shit. You know, she's just put together like a Transformer, but beautiful.
Tell me something no one knows about Nas.
That no one knows about Nas? I don't know what to say. That's a great question. A little caught off guard because everything I say is gonna be corny because I can't think of anything. I love horror movies. The classic ones.
What's an example of a classic horror movie you love?
The old Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and the newest Friday the 13th was excellent.
What's next for you?
Well I've been around the Marleys and, you know, children and being fruitful is the Marley way, so I want to have more kids, I want to be surrounded by my kids and I want to watch them grow and if I'm not here to watch them grow from above and around. I just want a child grow. I was thinking about getting my Bob Marley on. I met Ky-Mani, Rohan, Stephen. I met a lot of the brothers, the offspring, and they're beautiful people. I love them. I understand, I understand.
Your son's due date is July 21, correct?
I'm sorry if this is a little awkward, but isn't that the same date as your next court date?
I don't know. I gotta ask my lawyer and if it is then I don't know the answer to how that works yet.
One of these things is gonna have to wait.
Something has to wait. [Laughs]
Is it awkward having such personal issues being played out in the public? Because you seem to be handling everything very cool.
The sad thing is you gotta get used to it, you know what I mean? My skin is so thick that I probably need to write a book for people who are not ready for anything crazy. I can probably guide them. It's so thick to me that every day, there's Thanksgiving, Christmas and a birthday, you know what I mean? And if anything is said, it trips me out because it's still funny that someone would even care about some Nasir Jones shit, you know? I'm still that kid from the block at the end of the day, mentally. I'm still that dude that was playin' on the monkey bars, and basketball, and run through the park with a soccer ball and play Big Wheels and Atari. I'm still that kid, so when I watch this shit it's kinda surreal, you know what I mean? We get a good laugh off it and say, "Hey, they're talking about me again and it's some funny shit."
It's unfortunate when business is out there about your personal shit, especially when you're the person who's really not the guy to be having his shit out there, and especially when the majority of it is false. That's the only thing that's kind of... The strangest shit is that the majority of the shit that people start to think about, the majority of the shit that comes out is just the furthest thing from reality sometimes. That's the part that's real crazy.
I haven't really heard too many crazy rumours. Is there anything that's blatantly stupid that you wanna kill?
Well I heard that I was a cheater. It almost sounds like I was a bad husband. Not to say I was the greatest - I'm not perfect in anything I do - but I think I deserve a fucking trophy. If I do say myself, without sounding too cocky, I gotta say, I was a hell of a husband and a hell of a dad. At least I try to be. I just think that my shit is kind of... I think there's been an impression out there that I haven't been that and it's not fair to me because I put it down.
You know what ruins my day? You know what will ruin my day, really? If everybody around me is just down and I can't help put a smile on people's faces around me, that fucks with me. If my daughter's upset? That's it. The people that I care about, if something's got them down and I can't help them, then I won't stop until I can help them. Anything else, you know, it doesn't matter. Anything else is not even real. The only thing that's real is love. Money ain't real. The only thing real is love.