iHeartRadio LIVE and Verizon have curated a series cultural experiences just for New Yorkers, with each intimate concert featuring an artist who has a special bond with the Big Apple. Last night (July 26) at PlayStation Theater in Times Square, a group lucky fans saw Queensbridge legend Nas, the first artist in the series, perform tracks f his Kanye West-produced album Nasir, as well as classics from his two-decade career.
The 44-year-old rapper has expanded his brand to label executive and restaurateur, co-owning Mass Appeal, the New York-based media and entertainment company, and Sweet Chick, which specializes in Southern comfort food, while continuing to seek new opportunities for investment. But when he flips the switch back to music artist, his true passion shines through, as he delivers his songs as a seasoned MC who can still create incredible live moments.
After a warm-up set by Power 105.1’s DJ Whutever, Angie Martinez came out to introduce Nas, calling him one the “illest all-time in the game.” Nas, wearing a Michael Jordan Tune Squad jersey from Space Jam, took the stage at 9 p.m., backed by Eddie Cole on the drums and DJ Green Lantern behind the wheels. He opened with “Adam and Eve” f Nasir and ripped through “Not For Radio,” which had the majority the crowd singing its chorus by G.O.O.D. Music’s latest breakout artist 070 Shake. Even Nas knew that his fans wanted to hear his older material, however, and he took them back to Illmatic with “The World Is Yours” and “N.Y. State Mind.” And course, the crowd knew every word.
As one does when they have a catalogue such as Nas’, the MC didn’t sit on one song for too long. For old school fans he performed “The Message,” which sparked a run through tracks from his 1996 sophomore LP It Was Written that included “Street Dreams” and “If I Ruled the World (Imagine That).” With some help from Cole, he changed the mood his set to “super classical” by playing some Frank Sinatra as a lead-in to “Bonjour.”
By far the best part the night had to go to his medley “Hate Me Now,” “Cops Shot the Kid,” “Got Ur Self A…,” and “Made You Look.” It showcased how Nas, in 2018, is still as ferocious and thought-provoking as his younger years, creating important conversations about police brutality with the same substance his earlier songs that were made over a decade ago. Fittingly, he ended the set with “One Mic,” cooling the crowd down as they prepared to watch a live interview with him conducted by Martinez.
During their 20-minute interview, Nas spoke to Martinez about the difference between ’94 Nas and ’18 Nas, the success N.O.R.E. and his album 5E, protégé Dave East, working with Kanye on Nasir, and much more.
“I want to work with the greatest producers in hip-hop,” Nas said when discussing his collaborations with West, who produced all seven tracks on Nasir. “I had the opportunity to work with everybody from DJ Premier and] Dr. Dre. We just had a mutual respect — I wanted to have an album by him. That’s like a once-in-a-lifetime kind thing.”
Nas revealed he and Kanye had been talking about making an album together for years. On the process collaborating with Kanye, he said, “I was just waiting for the beats. Pusha had his album. Cudi, Teyana Taylor. They all had already starting working. I came in at the tail-end and got it in.” He added that Kanye “is a pressional to making beats. You watch him, and it is like he is working on different instruments. I don’t even know how to bop my head as hard as he does to the beats. He just goes into the music, and it's like, ‘Wow.’”
He touched on hosting his listening party for Nasir under the Queensboro Bridge in June, and how that was such a pivotal moment for him. “We literally finished 90-95 percent the album, went to the park where I grew up in Queens and played a listening party,” he said. “It was an experience, 'cause that’s where it started — in the parks and stuff. We wanted to do it in the hood and make it real. The hood ain’t going to lie to you. If they feel it, they feel it. If they not, it’s over. I had to do it there 'cause that’s all I care about.”
Before the evening ended, Nas left his fans with some exciting news: a follow-up to Nasir is coming soon.
“It’s another album that I already had been working on before the one with] Kanye,” he told Martinez. “Since I did this, I gotta do something that goes into another direction a little bit. I’m finishing up the next one.”
Nas confirms he’s done work with Swizz Beatz and RZA (“I’m a big Wu-Tang fan”). He also acknowledged the six-year gap between 2012's Life Is Good and this summer's Nasir, promising the wait for his next album won’t be as long. “All the time that went by, it’s dope because now I get to do it from another level,” he said. “I get to make music from an older point view.”
As many Nas fans would agree in that room, it sounds like Escobar season isn’t over yet.