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February 3, 2022 31 mins

Hip hop icon Nas is famous for his provocative lyrics and bold voice. He inspired a new generation to keep an open mind and work hard. Nas rose from the unforgiving streets of New York City to create music recounting his own experiences including being raised by a single mother, selling drugs on the streets, and witnessing the effects of gun violence on his family members. Even though Nas faced devastating loss and struggle, he “stuck to his guns” and put his music first. The rapper became a hit and released the influential album “Illmatic” that changed East coast hip hop. With a legendary 30 year career, Nas released his 14th studio album in 2021 and continues to inspire others through constructive music programs and scholarships that encourage creativity in hip hop.

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Episode Transcript

Available transcripts are automatically generated. Complete accuracy is not guaranteed.
Speaker 1 (00:02):
He's a hip hop icon whose provocative lyrics changed the
game forever. NAS rose from the unforgiving streets of New
York and became the bold voice of a new generation.
But with success came rivalry. As NAS battled the West
and went to war in the East. Nas was at
the height of his career, but his world fell apart

when he suffered a devastating loss. Resilient, the street's disciple
picked up the pieces and came back stronger than ever. Now,
from his controversial career to his tumultuous personal life, hip
hop's greatest storyteller tells all, this is Nas, the story
behind the music. You can never forgive where you come

from on that, how far you go, and in the
neighborhood where I'm from, people killed for nothing. You know,
you can't just ignore it. That's the beauty of rap music.
Because we're gonna give you decide that no one wants
to talk about. We tell you the truth, America, this
is your country. This is what's going on not. Sere

Jones was born on September fourteenth, ninety three and raised
in Queensbridge, one of New York City's most notorious and
violent housing projects. It was never a night there wasn't
gonna shots like every single night of the week. Every
day we got into it. Who was doing it, who
did it, why? What? It was over? And that was

just daily life in the neighborhood be set by violence.
Home provided a welcome contrast for Oz, where he and
his younger brother Jungle, were nurtured by their mother Ann,
a postal worker, and their father Olu Dara, a jazz
and blues musician. I was lucky. I had all these
things in the crib allophone, moroccas, my pop's trumpet. We

used to bang that thing up, mess it up. When
these kids, man, you know, we had so many different
things than the Irish kid had. It just sparked our imagination.
So Nas was like since we was little, it's like
his mind was always like it's just so open for
the world and books and stuff and just being a creator.
With his father performing on the road frequently, Nas grew

close to his mother. My mom was real, you know,
she was someone who was there to take care of
me and my brother and really be there for us
and really be concerned about us. We had furniture, we
had a color TV. My friends had no furniture. My
mom made home cooked meals. I'd be as some of

my friends house and they'd be starting. My best friend
at the time his mom odive from Heroin Man and
they brought out in a body bag in front of us.
I just felt like, damn, why you gotta be like
this family. I couldn't understand that, Like, how could a
parent not lovely child? You know, I didn't. I really
felt for a lot of my friends. Though Nas had

the love and support of both of his parents, their
own relationship was damaged by his father's infidelity, and in
the summer of ninety five, the decision was made to
split up. It got to a point where Anne just
couldn't take it anymore. And I think at that point
was when you know she had had enough and they
broke up. One day, my pop set me down and
he said, look, I'm about to be out, you know,

a man at the house. No. I was smiling. I
was like, Wow, what what honor? I felt like I
was being knighted, you know what I mean. I felt like, oh,
this is the next step for me. I'm a man.
I ain't gotta wait till I'm eighteen. I'm eight and
I'm man, so it's on. With his father, now only
a sporadic visitor, Nods grew closer to his best friend,

I'll Will Graham. The two bonded over a shared love
of hip hop, and with Queensbridge at the heart of
the emerging sound, they wouldn't have to travel far to
see the best. There's people right in the hood. That's
the whole New York was listening to. And she shan't
cougie rap rock sast I tell Molly Maull. The list
goes on. I thought we made hip hop up. I

swear in Queensbridge. You look out the window and kids
was on cardboard, breakdancing everywhere. Two kids be ready to fight.
Are grown up and be like, don't fight, breakdancing out. Yeah. Man,
Back in the days we would breakdance to force some
ds on cardboard and I was kid way. He rights
to pop blocks, pop block. I was nice. I thought

I was nice. While NAS may have shown promises a breakdancer,
he was on the microphone where he found his calling.
He used to wrap to us. When we used to
be in the Allway, just me and my crew and
about twelve of us to be sitting around with our
eyes closed because he's so like vivid. His his words,
you can just pitching them. I knew he was the

best ever back then when I was a kid. You know,
I'm biased, that's my brother, but you know he was
just as good as rock him. But twelve years old,
you know, nasa Is obsession with rap continued to grow,
and at the age of fifteen, he dropped out of
high school to pursue his dream of becoming an m C.
You know that hurt my mom, and it hurt me
more that I was hurting her by not going to school.

But I was determined to make sure that I turned
out to be something better. Na has created his own
course sload reading literature, writing rhymes, and recording demos with
an up and coming producer, Large Professor. Large Professor tell
me he's working whatever me a rock him. When they
weren't recording, he would get me in there and I
would record demos on their studio. Time one time by

Kim showed up. So I'm like the RB yo, this
is nas Like, YO, listen to this R. I stood
in the doorway he was listening to it. He's like, yeah,
baby Paul World, Yeah yeah. I let him know that,
you know it's work was crazy and keep up that
same you know, that same vigor that to me was

like a dream. And I said, all right now what
I know what I need to do. I need to
be in a studio all the time. All right now,
I need to get money to help finance his time
in the recording studio. NAS began selling crack on the
streets of Queen's Bridge. Hustling just came about. There was
no way around it. It was just there. It was
he was everybody did it. Nas was just doing it

as a get by thing, like he'll do it if
he needed the money and then he'll stop. There's always
a crackhead looking for a crack anyway. Back then, people
was outside like zombies walking around like Night of Living
Dead for real. Back in those days, when you first
got outside and he attempted to do it, you you

you being introduced to a world that would walk right
past you before. And you can easily get flat lined
out there because you know now you're dealing with what
monsters now faced with the perils of the drug trade.
Nas began carrying a gun I had in the top
drawer and addresser Tech nine semi automatic machine gun and

that was a gun of that day, and some drugs
and addressing my mom, she found drugs threw them out.
I didn't say nothing about the guns. You know, we
were young and all through New York. That was just
saying that, you know, nigga's gonna live past the age

of five, and that was something we thought about. What
we didn't care about. We didn't give a funk for Nas.
The senseless violence of the Queen's Bridge Streets would finally
touch home. On the night of May. I was in
somebody's apartment. I was chilling out with this girl, and
I heard the shots were usually where we'd be at

on the block, and I just knew that had to
be one of my people hit. NAS's brother Jungle had
been shot in the shoulder and leg, while his best
friend deal Will had taken three bullets in the back.
Nice came outside and he was just looking and I
was sitting there on the floor and Will was played out.
So I see my boy, and his eyes were still open,

and he's like staring, like looking beyond us, you know
what I mean. Nas looked um me and was like, yo,
he's gone. We're just kids. Our selved and you know,
things happening. My boy got shot in his back. At
the age of eight, Nas buried his closest friends, and

the specter of more violence was looming. I just knew,
like mans get and get ugly. It's just everything was dark,
and I'm like, what's going on? What is the future
gonna be? Like? What am I gonna do for a job.
I can't just grow up and be nothing. Something has
to happen fast. Coming Up, Nas takes on the biggest

name in hip hop and later Love at First Sight.
When Behind the Music continues. In the summer of ninth two,
Nas was an eighteen year old MC looking to escape
the dangerous street life that he claimed his best friend,
and before long he landed his first big break. Chosen

by a producer Large Professor to appear on the track
Live at the Barbecue, Nah shocked the hip hop underground
with his explosive debut verse to say, when I was twelve,
I went to health of snuffing Jesus like you you know,
like who punches Jesus in the face. I remember people
bugging out off my verse because I'm I'm saying stuff

people ain't never said before ever And rapped and I said,
I it is on from here. The buzz Overlive at
the Barbecue led to a deal with Columbia Records, and
NAS put the hustle of the streets behind him for good.
How do you feel to be like a living prodigy
is a blessing. I'm a product of hip hop, you know,

I'm said, I'm a product of the old school in
the North of the North. Entering the student You to
record his debut album, he boldly set out to make
hip hop history. I wanted to suck the air suction
out of your skull, around your brain, out of your head.
I wanted to bring a darkness to your face and
then explode lights and see your pupils. It's just you.

You're in the presence of something you've never been around before.
It was not his raw talent and prodigious lyricism on
the track New York State of Mind that set the
tone of the album. The otherest thing about New York
State of Mind is he wrote it right there on
the spot. He's literally looking at the paper going I
don't know how to started. I'm actually giving him the
count going too three four, and he looks up and goes, yo,

We're just looking at him. Just stunt does it in
one tape and he's like, how was that? We were
like what and we're all high five and like we
just want a football name or something. Illmatic was released
on April nineteenth, and while it was not a commercial hit,
the album was held as an artistic masters filled with
unique rhyme schemes and vivid storytelling. It was like a

second coming, you know, he rose again. He was that,
he was Nas, He was the ship. He created imagery
that I had never heard a rapper describe. It just
felt like the hood finally had it's manifesto. If you
want to understand what the psyche is for a young
you know, African American male, you listen to all Matic.

Two months after his debut album was released, twenty year
old Nas became a father when his girlfriend Carmen Brian
gave birth to their daughter, Destiny. I was like the
happiest person in the world. Immediately went back to the
neighborhood and like two cases of champagne and put him
in shopping carts. Me and my boy b JS pushed
shopper carl On through the neighborhood, giving our champagne bottles.

It was just the best thing in the world. With
the new responsibility of taking care of a daughter, Nas
took a more commercial approach on his second album, and
his strategy paid off, led by the hit single If
I Ruled the World, a collaboration with Lauren Hill. It
was written debuted as the number one album in America
on July two. It was number one four weeks in

a row. It was a very emotional thing because he
got where he needed to be as an artist. Nas
was now one of hip hop's biggest stars, but he
soon found himself unwittingly in the crosshairs of the East
Coast West Coast feud, as Tupac Shakur began calling him
out on records and in the streets. I didn't see
myself as his enemy, but he felt like I was

in the middle of a war with him. He's all enohing,
and that's the way you had to set it off.
The night of September four, the looming tension came to
a head when the two rappers crossed pass at the
MTV Video Music Awards after party in New York City's
Bryant Park. When we get to the after party, Nas
grabbed Tupac by the back boom, commit where are you going?

We stepped to on the show, and you know, we
were like, you and our city, what's going on? Forty
fifty of us is like packed around him with him,
and Nas is like squeezed in the middle doing his talk.
But I was right there on the side. My friend
had the gun. I was trying to take the gun
from him to shoot Tupac. With tempers flaring, Nas and

Tupac decided to clear the air. You know, we got
to the bottom of it right then. And then I
told him, I'm hearing you about to dis me and
album and he said, yeah, I got this album where
I came at you because I heard you were coming
from me. I'm like, I got no songs about you, bro,
And he was like, Nas, me and your brothers were
never supposed to go out and not me and you.

These are his words. He's like, man, I take that
off the album. Come meet me in Vegas. But the
two rappers would never meet again. By the time Nas
arrived in Las Vegas, Tupac Corp. Had been gunned down,
and while the loss hit especially hard for the twenty
three year old MC, it would pale in comparison to
the shocking news he would soon receive his mother Ran

had breast cancer. When she first told me she had
been diagnosed, um man I was I was floored. Man,
I was done. I felt like somebody just shot me
in a head heart. I was like, this is not
supposed to be happening. This ain't supposed to be happening

right now. Why is this happening to her? Why is
this that not this lady? This is the sweetest lady
I ever met in my life. This is the nicest
lady in the world. Why is this happening to her?
She had to have a breast removed, and you know,
she was still hanging around and she was strong, and
I was like, wow, what would I do if this
was me? Could I handle this? And I just saw

her as the bravest person I'd ever meet in my life.
By Nas had firmly established himself as one of hip
hop's biggest stars, but in to his success, the Queensbridge
MC found himself facing criticism by many who felt he
lost touch with his roots. With the hit single Hate

Me Now. Nas gave his unequivocal response when it got
more about champagne and it got more about classy and
necklaces and different lifestyle. I caught a lot of hate.
You know, some people in jealousy his success. Some people
think you owe him something. So I thought hate me
now be a perfect anthem for all hats around the world.

But later that year the criticism only grew louder when
his follow up album, Nostre Damis was deemed the creative
and commercial disappointment. NAS was done a big name but
not musically, not relevant, not putting out relevant music, and
the jay Z used that leverage and made that song
to take Over. Intent on claiming the throne as hip

hop's undisputed king, jay Z took direct aim at Nas.
Filled with harsh insults, Takeover made reference to jay Z
sleeping with Carmen Bryant, NASA's ex girlfriend and the mother
of his daughter. Takeover is a destroyer. NAS was kind
of out by everybody. Yeah you go anywhere. It's like, man,
he can't come back from that. Despite the fact that

his reputation was at stake and his career on the line,
NAS remained silent. NAS wasn't gonna make no disrecord back.
We had the force NAS to do that man. I
remember pulling up one day, Nasa was driving in front
of me. I was behind him. I jumped out of
my car, got in his car and left my car
in the street in the city in Manhattan, keys and

ignition doel open to everything. Got in his car yelling, Yo,
we gotta get this dude. He didn't his brother's words.
Nas entered the studio and gave his response. On December third,
two thousand one, Ether hit the airwaves. When it came out,
everybody's calling like, why did you go that hard? Why
did you go that hard? That was like the toughest

dis ever. I don't know Jay's you can't even hear
one noise out of that records this day? Is it
a pull in New York City? Is it going to
be either or is it going to be takeover? Who won?
And New York chose either? Clearly Nas won that battle.
He took that right hand to the chin and got
up the back and points him right back in the face.

Nazis come back continued with the two thousand one release
of Stillmatic, his most critically acclaimed album in years, but
NASA's triumph would be short lived. In April of two
thousand two, while on tour, his mom's health took a
sharp turn for the worse, and he rushed home to
be by her side, and the call, Yo, she's not

doing good, hurry up. And I came. It's when she
started to get bad, and you know, and I've seen
a tear come down up high and I knew she
was waiting for me to get there before she left.
Moments later, NAS's mother and Jones passed away in his arms. Nice, man,
I don't know you handled that. I was like, so sad.

I couldn't do anything. Feeling't rule anything, that stuff. I
don't know how he handled that. Man. That's the strongest
guy I probably ever knew in my life. It was heavy, man,
it was heavy, and it took a lot of thinking
on my part. You know what happens now. I would
look at myself and the mirror, look at my arm

and see her. So I'm like, she's still alive. She's
right here and me and my brother and her grandkids,
you know what I mean. And that gave me a
great feeling. You know, this is what happens. This is life.
You gotta keep living on. Coming up, Nas finds he
sould me when behind the Music continues. In the summer

of two thousand two, Nas was grieving over the death
of his mother, Anne, who months earlier had lost her
three year battle with press cancer. Distraught, the twenty nine
year old rapper found himself in a dark place. I
was just by myself, and I wanted to be by
myself because I'm decided I'm gonna I'm not gonna do nothing.

I'm not gonna wrap no more. I'm going back to
the streets even I want to go out in the blaze.
I don't even care no more. But if I didn't
make that decision to go work, I wouldn't be here
talking to you right now because out ofm as sure,
somebody took me out. Nas channeled his pain into his music,

and three weeks later God's Son was complete. The album,
considered a major critical success, was dedicated to his mom
and included the stirring tribute song Dance. He loved his
mom and he needed that. He needed a way to
express his feelings. I can't listen to that record. I

can't do it. I tried, I tried to know, I
walked around, I cut that off in media. I'm that
would break me down like for Real. The track featured
a surprise guest on trumpet, Nas, his father, Oh Lou,
even though my mom and him had been separated. I
know my first you know, lessons as life came from

these two people, so I wanted him to play on it.
It just gave me that feeling of when I was
a kid. For Nas, dance would mark the start of
a concerted effort to reconnect with his father, and the
two would collaborate again on the single bridging the gap.
Nas and his dad weren't always that close those points
when he was around, and Nas is its major growing up,

so it was important for him to now make that
relationship happen. I realized, man, we get one life and
one of my parents are gone, and you know, I
wanted to hang out with Pops a lot more. And
to me, it was ill because in hip hop music
you don't hear many records celebrating the father's Having reconciled
with his father, Nas began to seek stability in his

romantic life as well. Sitting at home one night channel surfing,
he stumbled across R and B starlet Callie and had
a vision. When I first saw the song I Hate
you so much. Right now, I'm like, who is this
black rock star? Screaming and TV? I love it? I said,
that girl right there, that's my girlfriend. She's gonna be

my girlfriend. A few months later, at an MTV Awards
after party, Nas spottied Chalice from across the room and
went over to introduce himself. I looked up and down.
She's a good height with the hills on, great smile
of gold tooth in there for no reason. Still super cute.
That's it. Let's go. He said, You're gonna be my wife,

and uh, you know, could nobody find either one of
them For a couple of weeks. Nas and Plice soon
became one of hip hop's most talked about, an inseparable couple.
That was the calmer person for the most part, and
she was the live wire. It just was cool opposites.

I don't think I've ever seen Nas truly happy as
a grown man, and police did that for him. After
two years of dating, the couple wed on January eighth
of two thousand five in Atlanta's Morningside Baptist Church. It
was real g because you know, I was ready to

make that move and feel real good man. It was
one of the happiest days for him to get married
like that was a special moment. I knew he was
serious and he really loved this girl, you know, and
now he would staying with her forever. In the spring
of two thousand six, Nas was riding high after the

success of three consecutive hit albums after years of heated
rivalry with Jay Z. A pivotal choice laid before an
odds as he was asked to join def Jam Records,
the label that had recently named Jay as its president.
Me and him hadn't spoken. We saw each other in places,
but there was no conversation, no dialogue. And l A Reid,

who was then the man at def Jam, he said,
you'd be willing to talk to Jay? And you know
this thing is old. Why now I'm like, yeah. I
went down the studio. Man. We just dapted each other up,
started laughing. And the first thing Jay said to me, man,
you know you I and I guess he heard about
my mom passing and beyond everything else, he looked at

me and said, yo, man, you right man? And I said,
you know this is this is a beautiful start right here.
Soon after, the two rappers made the reconciliation public when
Nods made a surprise appearance of jay Z's I Declare
War concert in New Jersey. That was a beautiful thing
for everybody to see, to show that you could be

bigger than the beef. To this day, I want the
ellest moment a hip hop. In two thousand six, Nah
signed with def JAB, officially putting the beef to rest.
You can't sign a artist nae statue, you can only
partner with Naz's first album with the label, the provocatively
titled hip Hop is Dead Shot right to number one,

and he continued to push the envelope further when he
chose to unveil the title of his next project at
the two thousand eight Grammys. I have never thought that
I would do an album called nigga. You know, it's
just hit me one day. There's a history that comes
with the word, horrific history that comes with that word,
and me making an album called nigga can't open up

dialogue about that. Who should use and who should not?
Who are the nigga's today? Is it women? Is it
poor people? Is Who is it? At a time when
the n double A CP was campaigning to stop the
use of the word. Naza's decision stoked the fires of
an already heated pulp. The debate and the backlash poured in.

Everybody was talking about it. He created so much uproar
that no major retail stores were going to carry the album.
There was no way in the world that they were
going to carry. Under pressure, Nas relented and chose to
go with no title at all. Despite the setback, when
the album debuted in the summer of two thousand and eight,
it was number one. But for Nas, the greatest satisfaction

came from knowing he had helped stir a valuable public debate.
I felt great that people were scared of that album title.
This is hip hop music, man, this is what is about.
While Nas never shied away from conflict in public, at home,
it had become an unwelcome distraction. His marriage to Police
was unraveling. I started to feel like that love was

gone between both of us. There were reports that she
felt like he was cheating on her. Then there there
were rumors that she had like some sex tape that
was about to lead and I'm certain none of that helps.
She would spend the money NAS would make like there
was no tomorrow, and that caused a lot of friction
in their marriage too. I feel like, why go on

being miserable, you know what I'm saying. So it came
to a point where I couldn't take it no more.
Nas strongly considered filing for divorce. He to the point
where he had everything doctor on the verge of ending
it all. Nas received news that forced him to reconsider.
Calice was pregnant with a baby boy. When he found

out he was having a son, I think it made
him feel like, if it's a chance that this should
work for him to have but I didn't have then
the sacrifice and do everything I can. It was hard,
but the bottom line is he's the most important thing.
He's the blessing, you know, So let's keep it good
for him. It's all about him. But despite their best efforts,

the relationship was freed beyond repair, and on April two
thousand nine, after four years of marriage, Plice did what
Nas couldn't bring himself to do and filed for divorce.
She took her stuff out of the house and left
her green wedding dress and that was all she left.

In the spring of two thousand nine, Nas was coping
with a contentious and highly publicized divorce from R and
B starlet Callie, who was pregnant with their child. People
will be talking about it all the time, you know,
radio stations, TV, and you know I'm a private person
and to have all this stuff about me out there,

it's just wild. Like I want to go to another
country for real. Through music, Nas once again found the
escape he needed. Collaborating with reggae artist Damian Marley, he
recorded Distant Relatives, an album that highlighted Africa's political strife
and widespread poverty. I wanted to do an album that

was different from anything that I UM. We were talking
about something that wasn't about me. It wasn't about Damien.
It was about our views on people who were suffering.
Was happening in enough personal life. This was a good
UM release, a good way to take him on to

the center of what he was in the fact that
I was going through this nasty divorce, but yet I'm
working on this beautiful music. It was the best thing
in the world. But on July twenty one, two thousand nine,
Nas received some surprising news from an unlikely source. Harvey
from TMZ shot me an email and he said, look,

I'm about to report this, but I felt like you
should know. Police just went into labor. I don't think
I could have ever felt worse for a person than
I did for Nas that day, telling him you just
found out your son was being born through basically a
gossip site. He didn't know what she was in labor,
he didn't know where she was at. Nothing. After several

hours of searching, Nas finally found the hospital where Klie
was giving birth. I got to the hospital about five
minutes after he was born, check to see how she was.
She was cool, and it wasn't about us. It was
just about this little dude. I just held him in, like,
what's up night, You're ready for this, You're ready for

the world. Nas is always the benchmark for everybody. He's
your favorite rappers, favorite rapper. I think Nas is the
greatest sense. And for him to be twenty years and
still going and people wanting to hear what he has

to say, man, it's just a testament to his endurance
in his strength. Nasa is an artist. Some people just rapped.
He's a He's a rapper and an artist. That freedom
that everybody should have to follow their hart. If exemplified
in Nas and Route and a Very Present. I think
I'm living proof that you can stick to your guns

and do how you want to do it and remains
sucker free. You could just be you and do you
and don't let nobody message your flow. Forget the cash,
forget the cause, forget all of that stuff. The first
thing is the music. The first thing. Nas continues to

build on a legendary career with new music, including his
fifteen studio album Magic. To celebrate the twentieth anniversary of Illmatic,
Nas performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing
Arts with the National Symphony Orchestra. The performance was eventually
released as an album. Nas has also been recognized for

his efforts to bring constructive music programs to underserved youth
through nonprofit work. In twenty thirteen, Harvard University honored Nobs
establishing the Nazier Jones Hip Hop Fellowship, which provides funding
to scholars and artists that show creativity within hip hop.

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