Nas Is Finding New Inspiration From ‘The Lost Tapes 2’

NasPhoto Credit: Frederic AuerbachPhotography by Frederic Auerbach
Styling by April Roomet
Grooming by Vanessa Marie Moreno
Hair by Marcus Harvey  
Nas isn’t really sure what Reiki is, but he’s down to try it. These days, the iconic rapper is all about anything that brings only good vibes.
He is no longer the 22-year-old kid from the projects who rhymed, “I think of crime when I’m in the New York state of mind.” At 47, he’s more likely to rap lyrical about health and happiness than he is about his days growing up in Queens as Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones.
“There’s so much happening within our society now that if you don’t channel your energy in the right way, you could be on a rollercoaster of different emotions, which can [inevitably] alter your choices in life. I believe strongly that if you allow the wrong things around you [to affect you], you’re allowing bad energy to take over,” he concludes.
In essence, “No bad energy—please, no bad energy,” is his mantra, as well as a verse from his (aptly titled) hit “No Bad Energy,” the first single off his latest release, The Lost Tapes 2.
The Araab Muzik-produced track (conceived during a 2016 jam session with Swizz Beatz who also produced the single, “Adult Film”) is an ode to the power of positivity. And its accompanying music video—shot in an all-white Malibu mansion during a one-day break from his recent Royalty Tour with Mary J. Blige—ups the chill factor. Amidst the footage, Nas watches the sun set over the Pacific Ocean, a king in his kingdom, while a scantily-clad beauty burns sage in the next room.
“That song meant a lot to me,” Nas admits. “It was important to get it out there, especially here in L.A. I wanted to burn sage for the world, in a way, you know?”
The Lost Tapes 2 will definitely give fans the feels, especially because it has been almost two decades in the making. He finally delivered on a long-held promise to create a follow-up to his 2002 compilation, The Lost Tapes, a series of discarded tracks from previous albums such as I Am… (1999) and Stillmatic (2001). The music featured compiles carefully-selected songs from his last four albums, Hip-Hop is Dead (2006), Untitled (2008), Life is Good (2012), and his most recent release, Nasir (2018).
Nas
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Photo Credit: Frederic Auerbach

“The original Lost Tapes came out 17 years ago, and there have been a lot of people who wanted to see me [put out a sequel],” he explains, noting, “I can’t be happier about it. I never thought we’d get a chance to put out another one.”
The Mass Appeal/Def Jam record was initially intended to be a much smaller, more streamlined collection of 10 tracks. But with 15 years of album ‘maybes,’ it eventually topped out at 16. And as befitting a man often referred to as one of the greatest MCs of all time, the roster of additional talent he enlisted is impeccable: Kanye West, Pharrell Williams, Swizz Beatz, The Alchemist, and RZA all produce, while the likes of the late Al Jarreau, as well as David Ranier and Keyon Harrold assist vocally.
With so much content, he found it understandably difficult to decide what would make the final cut. “The way I chose songs was hard. Some were songs in progress. Some had so much potential when I started working on them, but I never finished; they were just sitting around,” he discloses. “I saw some of them as being so much bigger, but I never got around to putting that much work into it, and instead let them lay there.”
But he felt he owed it to his fans—and to himself—to follow through. “I was nervous at first, [releasing] something like this because people see your imperfections, but [in the end] I was happy that I even put it out. Even when it [didn’t] seem like it was going where I wanted it to, I stayed positive. I don’t like to overthink things that much.”
He may not have overthought his Lost Tapes 2 selections, but never doubts that each is there for a reason—and most have a particular meaning. “The Art of It” was for longtime producer Pete Rock, while “Beautiful Life” (both from Life Is Good) explored his 2010 divorce from singer Kelis, with whom he has a son, Knight.
The Pharrell Williams-produced “Vernon’s Family” off Hip-Hop is Dead is an homage to his childhood neighborhood, the Queensbridge Houses, hood politics and the people he grew up with, including his family (his father, Olu Dara, is a jazz and blues musician; his mother Fannie Ann, a postal service worker; and his brother, Jabari Fret, is best known as “Jungle” from the hip-hop outfit, Bravehearts).
Nas
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COAT: Eleventy

Photo Credit: Frederic Auerbach

Meanwhile, “Queensbridge Politics” is essentially a letter to Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who passed away in 2017 from complications of sickle cell anemia “He had been going through so many things in his personal life,” Nas notes. “He had gone to jail, come home and wrote a book—and I was disappointed in him for the book—[as well as] a lot of other things. I cared about him and wanted to see [his life] turn out better, but his untimely passing didn’t allow us to continue our conversation.”
“There are a lot of personal things on [this album],” he continues, “but there are others, like “Lost Freestyle,” where I’m just rapping. Whatever I think of, I’m saying. It’s like throwing paint on a canvas and letting it stick.”
With 11 solo albums and two compilations under his belt, Nas has enough material for several more Lost Tapes, and he’s already planning the third and fourth installments of the series. “[They will come out] quicker than 17 years, that’s for sure,” he promises. “Because they need to come out.”
Nas definitely has a voice people want to hear, considering he’s responsible for one of the most influential albums in the history of hip-hop, 1994’s Illmatic. But up until 2018’s seven-track release, Nasir, he had waited six years to release new music—choosing to stay under the radar and generally out of the public eye.
While he addresses his absence in the newly released “No Bad Energy,” he also readily explains his lapse in creating new material: simply put, “It takes me a while to like the studio. I don’t like going.”
Then he concedes, “Don’t get me wrong—once I go in, I love to stay in. But once I’m out of it, I don’t want to go in there for a long time. I just want to live my life and I feel like, if I’m always in the studio, then I miss out on life. I don’t want to spend my time indoors recording music. I want to be out, discovering something new and fresh that has nothing to do with a name, brand or an ego. I want to enjoy my family and friends; I want to enjoy simple things.”
He let studio time pass him by, eventually realizing the break between albums was too long. “The next thing you know, you turn around and six, seven years has gone by and you’re like, ‘Wait, I love making music!’ So you wind up back in the studio,” he says, laughing at the irony. “People say that practice makes perfect, and if you’re in [the studio] all the time, [your music] comes out better. I know I could make better music if I was in there all the time, but I don’t care. I care about my music, but I don’t care to work on it all the time.”
Given that he has now released two albums in a row, we’d expect him to be taking more time off, but, in fact, he’s doing the opposite—he’s inspired, and ready to produce his 12th album of all-new material. As soon as his tour wrapped in Los Angeles on September 17 he headed straight back to the studio, ready to make lyrical magic.
“I’m not taking a break; it’s time that I do an album,” he declares. “I wanted to get The Lost Tapes 2 out of the way first, but I’ve been working on [new material]. I won’t be away from the studio any time soon. I know what I feel like saying, so I’m going to block out everything and just go with it; I’m just going to let it go.”
This year marks a big anniversary for Nas. It has been 25 years since his debut album, Illmatic, which is arguably the best hip-hop album of all time. It’s certainly a landmark in East Coast hip hop, in as much for Nas’ introspective lyrics as the underlying grittiness that prevails throughout singles like “Life’s a Bitch,” “The World Is Yours” and “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”
It’s so lauded, that each and every five year anniversary has become cause for global celebration. But despite the impact it has made on musical history—or maybe because of it—its commemoration no longer brings Nas any joy. “I’m tired of celebrating it,” he admits. “I’m grateful, but it has started to take on a life of its own. I just did the 20th anniversary with the National Symphony Orchestra five years ago and, the next thing you know, five years go by and it’s a calendar that I didn’t ask for showing me how fast time moves.”
He says, reflecting, “Twenty-five years is a lifetime. So I did another Symphony Orchestra show for Illmatic this year; I got another plaque for it. I’m very grateful—it’s so crazy—but to celebrate one album when I’ve made over 10, all the things I’ve worked on—and I’ve been working for so long—to celebrate one album over all else is corny to me. I don’t want to celebrate another Illmatic anything. I’m done. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for appreciating that record, but it’s over.”
Nas
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We understand his annoyance; he has been in the game since 1992, when his track, “Halftime,” was first tapped by producer MC Serch to be the opening cut of the Zebrahead soundtrack. He has released eight platinum and multi-platinum albums since then and sold over 30 million records worldwide. He has 11 Grammy nominations to his name, and that’s just his singer/songwriting career.
Nas is nothing if not diverse. His interests—and talents—are wide and multi-faceted. He has appeared in more than 10 films, including a starring turn in music video director Hype Williams’ 1998 crime drama, Belly, with DMX and a supporting role in the 2003 comedy, Uptown Girls, alongside the late Brittany Murphy. He is also executive producing this year’s Gully Boy, a coming-of-age story about a Mumbai rapper. Plus, he opened the chicken and waffles concept, Sweet Chick, in New York City, Los Angeles and London (his most recently opened eatery, which opened its doors in late September), collaborated with Baz Luhrmann for Netflix’s The Get Down, created Vegas-based shoe store 12AM:RUN and clothing line HSTRY and also heavily invests in Dropbox and Lyft.

Since 2013, he has also been an ambassador for his beloved Hennessy, for whom he has fronted the brand’s “Wild Rabbit” and “The Piccards” campaigns, and of which he’s been rapping about since Illmatic. The French cognac brand’s “Never stop. Never settle”mantra is a natural fit given that he has consistently broken down barriers during the span of his career. 

Other triumphs include founding his own record label, Mass Appeal Records, as well as Mass Appeal magazine and, most recently, launched Mass Appeal India, a collaboration with Universal Music India that will sign artists from Mumbai’s hip-hop scene. He’ll certainly be the forerunner here, delving deep into an untapped market. But that’s Nas.

If he’s being completely honest, life is at its greatest when he has a hand in everything. He’s constantly curious, always following his instincts to new and interesting opportunities. His portfolio is proof enough.
“Some things were dreams that I wanted to get involved in, whether it was television, producing, technology or fashion. There are dreams that I had as a kid and some things that are brand new to me. I’m learning something new all the time. Whatever things reach my radar, I figure out quickly if there’s something that intrigues me, and that’s how I choose,” he explains.
He’s certainly not done with his endless explorations—though, at this very minute, he’s putting his untapped interests and leisurely pleasures, like reading and fishing, on hold while he commits to making music. Whatever he eventually decides to do as part of his next act, it’s going to be great. “Maybe [I’ll open] a new level bookstore, maybe [I’ll do] Broadway,” he muses. “I do three things at a time; that’s how I live. The next three things I do, I hope they’re more exciting than anything that I’ve ever done.”
But even if he doesn’t, hakuna matata, no bad energy and all that jazz. “I try not to live with regrets,” he maintains. “As a teenager in the streets, you realize you have to make fast decisions, rash decisions, and you have to live with those decisions—they’re going to affect you forever. You have to learn to live without regrets to stay sane, and you can’t let the little things bother you. Now, in retrospect, I can look back at things and go, ‘OK, I could have done this different or that different.’ But, again, it is what it is. I don’t like to give a lot of power to regretting anything.”
Instead, he’s turned every loss into a lesson, which is—beyond his obvious talent—the secret to his success. “Learn from your mistakes. Don’t get too caught up in your wins,” he advises. “Know that anything you lose, you weren’t meant to have anyway. I don’t look at losses like losses. Some people are ready to count themselves out when shit happens. You look at it like you made a mistake because the cheers weren’t loud, but in reality, you made a big splash. Know that whatever you’re doing is being recorded by the universe. Even when they don’t cheer for you, the universe is keeping score.”
Nas
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Photo Credit: Frederic Auerbach

The universe might be, but Nas vows that he personally is not—especially when it comes to the old guard (himself, Jay-Z, Pharrell Williams and Kanye West) versus the new (Tyga, Logic, Future, and A$AP Rocky). “When I was coming up, there weren’t many [rappers]. Now there’s like, literally thousands of artists out there,” he says.
“I don’t need to pass them the torch because they don’t need a torch. It’s a whole different thing now. In my opinion, they can light their own torch and find their own way. I don’t want to be in anybody’s way. I just love the game, and I wish all of these youngsters the best”—including Lil’ Nas X (singer of “Old Town Road”) who, for the record, has never been mistaken for his son. He finds this question hilarious, in fact.
No, Nas isn’t competing. He doesn’t need to, and he doesn’t care. “I do feel this veteran vibe; I have these super stripes on my uniform now, and I’m very proud of that.” People can call him the G.O.A.T. (‘greatest of all time’) if they want to—or not. “I’m numb to it,” he explains. “I’ve heard it for years. I think it’s time for other people to get called that.”
However, there can be only one person who wears the crown, as he himself says in “It Never Ends,” a track he produced with The Alchemist for The Lost Tapes 2. The lyrics, “Yet to see any heavyweight make it to this round/This that pure champion sound, I wear the crizzown,” sure sound like he’s talking from experience.
“When you beat the odds and do the impossible and survive, you realize there are some guardian angels pulling some strings; there’s no way I did this on my own. But you have to give yourself some credit also. You have to sum it all up to being your ‘royal self.’ That means you’re wearing the crown. You have to become the king that you were put here to be, which is you being your best self. That is what makes you royal, when you can survive, wear the scars and develop tough skin, build your armor up, use your head. Get somewhere and change some lives, then you get that crown.”
The real question remains: Would he say he’s wearing the crown right now? Nas’ answer: “I was born wearing it.”
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