Nas: ‘It sounded like a rhino’


To mark the special edition of one of the great hip-hop albums, Nas picks the songs that fired him up when he made it

Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones grew up in Queensbridge, a rough part of New York City. His father left. He dropped out of school. The classic CV for a career as a drug dealer. Instead, he became Nas, and in 1994, released his debut album, Illmatic, aged 20. It was groundbreaking: no one had told the tough-life tales in such a poetic and musical way before.

The album is still lauded as a hip-hop touchstone by critics, fans and fellow musicians, and a 20th-birthday rerelease includes demos, remixes, and unreleased tracks. Nas took time out from the celebrations to remember the music that fired him up back then.

Public Enemy - Rebel Without a Pause

“I saw them live for the first time at an anti-racism rally in Harlem in 1988. With samples of speeches by civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson and Chuck’s razor-sharp rap, hip-hop never sounded more forceful. Chuck D roared, ‘Soul, rock and roll, co­ming like a rhino,’ during this song and it really sounded like a rhino was running through the club.”

Boogie Down Productions -  My Philosophy

“When I was a teenager, I used to wonder if rappers could be philosophers. KRS-One of BDP answered my question with this track. He showed what an MC can do, what being a rapper is all about. This song was mind-blowing and still is, musically as well as lyrically. KRS-One was a teacher for me. He was like Malcolm X, the Marcus Garvey of our generation.”

A Tribe Called Quest -  I Left My Wallet In El Segundo

“My favourite early ATCQ tune is this one. The story is amazing: Q-Tip and the guys take a road-trip across America in his mother’s car. When they get back he realises that he lost his wallet in El Segundo. It was the first time I heard the word ‘grub’, meaning food. Q-Tip is the coolest of the cool and we ended up working on Illmatic together.”

Michael Jackson - Human Nature

“The way Michael describes meeting a girl in a city in this song is magical. I still wonder what synthesizers he used for it, respect to Quincy Jones, who is the best producer who ever lived. I used a sample from it for my single, It Ain’t Hard to Tell. Sadly, I never got to meet him in person, but we spoke on the phone a few times.”

Stevie Wonder - Master Blaster

“I was a kid when I heard this song for the first time, and I thought, ‘Whoever this guy is, he is the greatest music-maker of all time.’ He recorded this song as a tribute to Bob Marley’s Jammin’. That Stevie would care to do a reggae-influenced record like that is incredible. It was pivotal in me later working together with Marley’s son, Damian.”  

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06/2014 The Red Bulletin

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