Lynne d Johnson

 

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12.28.04 06:08 PM

my nas story

nas_streetsdisciple.jpg

Damn, I been digging dude since way back. I remember it like it was yesterday. Having fallen out with hip-hop for a moment for the likes of Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and such others, there wasn't much I was feeling or checking for save Method Man and Onyx that year. Well, I suppose the entire Wu - aight. Yeah, I remember that year, '94. Two of my other favorite albums of that year wouldn't hit 'til later in the fall. You remember them too, don't you. Digable Planets Blowout Comb and then Mary's My Life.

My falling out with hip-hop is deep, tangled, and is built upon history, upon history. Yeah I'm old school, but I bet you don't know how old. For me, rap was before wax. Before Fatback Band's "King Tim III" and Sugarhill's "Rapper's Delight." I got snuck in by my older sister to a Kool Herc jam at the T-connect - so this history runs deep. But I never thought about holding hip-hop accountable, or offering it critique until a breaking publication by the name of The Source let me pen a couple "Ear To The Street" pieces in '92. Then for me hip-hop went dark.

Wasn't feeling the music. The spoken word/rapping thing I was doing was off again, on again. This newfound field of hip-hop journalism wasn't welcoming me with open arms, and I had to go get a regular gig. But at that regular gig, while I was all caught up in Nine Inch Nails or Pearl Jam, this brotha' tapped me on the shoulder one day and told me he had a tape that I had to hear.

The walkman never sounded so good. In fact, the walkman wasn't ready for Nasty Nas' Illmatic. It had never experienced such gifted lyricism, such adeptness at rocking the mic. The harsh realities, the pain-filled life. Fuck what ya heard, this was the blueprint in rare form. And it found a place in my heart. It brought together what I liked best about cats like Slick Rick and Kool G Rap, qualities that would later be credited to BIG and 'Pac. The art of poetic storytelling - and Nas was doing it, and doing it, and doing it well. He also flowed sick with the overlayering wordplay and skitter skatter verbal gymnastics of cats like Kane and Rakim. Dude was a breath of hip-hop fresh air.

I lived for Illmatic. Later in life, I'd come to quote Nas: "Nas responds to his people turning to heroin, crack, and weed, by stating, "Life's a bitch and then you die/that's why we get high/because you never know/when you gonna go." Courtney Love looks at her drug-fueled relationship with Kurt Cobain and sings, "Somebody kill me/give me pills/If you live through this with me/I swear I will die for you." Beck asks, "I'm a loser baby, so why don't you kill me?" Biggie Smalls says, "I'm ready to die and nobody can save me." Is it really that different?"

For years, I kept the cover of the last issue of YSB, the one featuring The Firm - Foxy, Nas, and AZ. In my mind, they were the illest. I didn't understand the career move on Nas' part - flying solo he was superior, but as all that glangsta (glamour + gangsta) became commonplace, I guess he had to follow suit. Having frequented a titty bar or two, I'm not one of those prude chicks, yet I do have bouts of hip-hop feminism, so when dude got down with Bravehearts on "Oochie Wally," baffled I was. Hurt I was.

Still, the lyrical dexterity - ill. But I kind of slept on son during the I Am, Nastradamus, It Was Written days. A few tracks left residue: "N.Y. State of Mind, Pt. 2," "Nas Is Like," "If I Ruled the World (Imagine That)."

And when Hova tried to call him out, though I got love for Hov, I had all my dubs on Nas, b/c I've always been able to envision him seeing with his 3rd eye. Stillmatic, The Lost Tapes, God's Son - I was feeling kid again. Then there's Street's Disciple, which is definitely not a classic in the sense of Illmatic, but it is just what its title states the story of the streets from someone whose lived it - and Nas has always proven that he can deliver those types of rhymes well. You may think once someone "makes" it that their rhymes should elevate and not just bling, that there should be a message in the music, there's a load of them in these two discs.

And so the story goes. When I received the invite to check out the taping of Nas' Life In Rhymes - I was like word? You know I'm there. Publicists are sharp. When they visit your office and see that the only art work you have up are images of NAS - they think they can read your mind. They figure you don't think any other artist is worthy of your wall space. Perhaps they're right.

Here I'm thinking this is some press shit, I take one of my new worker bees down to the spot only to find out we're in the audience. Wow! To not have to work and watch the artist do the damn thing. The artist you love to hate and love again.

It's an intimate setting @ Bowery Poetry. The producers balance out the crowd. Balance - white, black, hispanic. Put all the young sexy looking ones up in the front. Space out the rest. Damn, I'm prolly' the oldest fan up in here. But it's hot. Young gunnah sitting next to me - gots mad NRG. His book of rhymes clasped between his sweaty palms, 'cuz all he wants is an autograph. He and I, spit rhymes back-and-forth, Nas gives the nigger nod - respect felt. I try to muster up the words to express my feelings. None come. No one impresses me. And yet. No one makes me quiver. And yet. Damn, fo' real, fuck what ya' heard. Yeah right, he came before lots of them. They were influenced by him, no matter whether the industry felt him or not. You heard him, in each one of them. And that's part of the story. Part of the realness.

This is like two weeks ago, and I still don't have the words. Stuck words. Can't muster. Thoughts. Random. Fuck what ya' heard. Nas is nice. Fuck what you heard. Fo' real, this is one of the greatest MCs of all time. It was written...here. And I don't care what them otha motha's say.

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