Nas: We Major-MTV Interview
When Nas says "we major!," he's not just rapping the chorus to a Kanye West song: He's telling the world his new credo. After all, Nas is entering turf where virtually no other MC has tread: staying on top midway through the second decade of his career. Sure, there are plenty of rappers who've been around longer — and even had hits — but what other MC do you know who could still (arguably) be considered the best lyricist after 15 years in the game?
While you're trying to figure that one out, Nas has his own calculations to ponder. On "We Major," he rhymes about being a free agent and wanting to start his own Motown, and that's exactly what he's been focusing on: his new label (the name of which he declined to reveal), deciding whether or not he's going to stay with Columbia Records, and building up a team of MCs to ride with him regardless of which label puts out his music.
There's other business as well. Nas has some lyrical get-back for 50 Cent in store, and he's looking at a possible reunion with Illmatic producer DJ Premier and maybe a collaboration with Jay-Z — maybe. MTV News' Shaheem Reid caught up with the king of Queensbridge for the lowdown.
MTV News: We've been hearing for a while that you're working on a new album. What's the status?
Nas: The album is ... I started working on it. I had to pause to go back and look at it, because what I'm doing has hardly ever been done: taking a career to the next level. Usually artists don't make it this far. It's never been seen that a street artist go as far as I've gone — keep consistent without wanting to do a bunch of ventures outside of music to keep my face out there. I had to look back and pat myself on the back and really prepare to do what's not been done: to go for another few years in this thing and make it historic, the way it's supposed to be.
MTV: "Looking back" has meant contemplating leaving the only record company you've known, Columbia. There've been rumors about you going over to Def Jam — and we've had conversations in the past about how much you admire the company's chairman, L.A. Reid.
Nas: On an executive level, L.A. Reid is somebody who stands out and somebody who I truly admire and have been wanting to work with for a while, just based on what he's done and where he comes from. He interests me a lot right now.
MTV: So you two have talked?
Nas: There have been conversations. I've been exploring other possibilities for a long time. I loved my situation where it's at, but you have to look around and see what other shows are in town so you can expand your horizons. It's not just one place where you have to stay forever.
MTV: Sort of like, you can't go to see Stephanie Mills perform every night. You have to see what Patti LaBelle and the Whispers are like.
Nas: [Laughing] Yeah. You gotta make your rounds. It's important to make your rounds. Another good friend of mine in the music business is [Atlantic Records CEO] Craig Kallman. He's been trying to get at me to go over there for a long time. I’m really impressed with how he's moving. I'm just out here looking to see, "Where do I want to go create the biggest legacy for the next five to seven to 10 years?"
MTV: Hey, 50 is signing a bunch of folks to G-Unit!
Nas: They don't got enough paper for me.
MTV: Your last album, Street's Disciple, received a lot of criticism, but I think it was one of your best joints.
Nas: Absolutely. That album was a milestone period for me. It was my triumph in this business. The focus for that last record was definitely not about what was going on at radio at the time. It was about me doing different stuff. With the next stuff I'm getting at, it's gonna be right up that alley, but a huge project. I want to get to back to doing real big sh-- for the streets.
MTV: I heard you was doing it real, real big on the new album: There's a rumor that you outbid a few MCs for some multimillion-dollar Neptunes beat?
Nas: Nah. That's very untrue. I don't know where that came from.
MTV: If you go to Def Jam, obviously, you'll be working with Jay-Z. A few years ago that was unfathomable, but I just saw a show in San Francisco where you told the DJ to not play Hov's name at the beginning of "Ether" where everyone goes "F--- Jay-Z!" You actually told the crowd you "love" Jay.
Nas: Yeah. I was saying that in the middle of the battle, back in '01. I mean, it was a heated situation at the time, but I'm definitely not the type of person ... I don't have to live off of [beefs] like other artists. I didn't have to make a career off of that. My career is based off a solid foundation. It's not based off of calling out names like a 50 or whatever.
MTV: So are you and Jay going to ever do a song together?
Nas: Who's to tell? Who knows?
MTV: You got a record on the streets right now called "Don't Body Yourself." We all know the last verse is for 50 and everyone knows it's only a matter of time before you drop an "Ether"-like record for him.
Nas: Yeah. You know what's the crazy thing about it? I've had times of missing 50. I brought him with me on tour before. He used to open up for me. I showed him his first Bentley. I showed him his first big diamonds in person — he ain't know nobody who had real diamonds the size I had. I showed him all that. So I kind of miss the cat from time to time. I would like to know what it is to sit down and talk to him, see what's on his mind. Because all he's showing is that when you get rich, you get angry at the world. And that's not what's it's supposed to be about. I would love to really sit down with him. But on the rap side, we got things to finish. We got business — we got unfinished business.
MTV: He's made a cartoon character of you and dissed you on the DVD for The Massacre. On his latest record, "Window Shopper," he calls you a window shopper.
Nas: How am I window shopping? I showed him his first Bentley, his first real diamond ring — because you know he couldn't afford no real stuff back then. I was showing him the way to go. The G-Unit spinning chain is a replica of the QB chain. I was showing him that. If anybody is window shopping, it ain't me. All these dudes just started buying Bentleys.
MTV: I just was out on the road with Kanye West and I've been telling the brother for months that we really need a video for "We Major."
Nas: That'll be a good look. I love the track and what it's all about. It separates the men from the mice. "We Major," that's my slogan all year, right now.
MTV: On the verse, you rap about taking a little time to figure out what to write. That's how it really went down?
Nas: Yeah, I was sitting there writing the joint. I was writing the rhyme and some of [Kanye's] boys was there. We was just sitting there and talking and they was all over me. We was all over each other about rapping. They started yelling at me and hyping me. Basically they helped me write it. They was sitting there talking to me about me, and I wrote what was happening right there on the spot.
MTV: You and Kanye have great chemistry. Who are you working with on your new album?
Nas: Me and Premier is in the works. That's all I can say right now.
MTV: What about outside the album? What are you working on?
Nas' brother Jungle, Nas and Nayshawn
Nas: I been building my team up. I think people are gonna be surprised to see me roll out my label the way it's supposed to be done. I never had a chance to pull off Ill Will [Nas' earlier label] — I was never given the things I need to make the label a label. It kind of pushed me away from even wanting to do a label. But now I'm opening up my horizons to change that and do something different, and with that being fresh and new, I can now let my man Will's name [Nas' late childhood friend, for whom the label was named] rest for a while. I'm starting off something new. You might be surprised of who you see rolling with me.
MTV: So I repeat: When are we going to get that album?
Nas: It's going down — sooner than you think!