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Nas at KRCW/Annenberg's "Sound In Focus" 7/23/16. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@Methodman13)


In 1994, Nas (a/k/a Nasty Nas a/k/a Nas Escobar a/k/a Nastradamus) released “Illmatic”, a hip hop album that revived the New York rap scene and is deemed by many critics as one of the greatest rap albums of all time. Born just a year after that album’s release, I wasn’t old enough to comprehend the significance and pure substance of that album until I became a teenager. When I discovered “Illmatic”, I realized this: Nas is a true poet of his time.

With eloquent lyrics of substance that touched on every aspect of the life he lived, I dove into his lyrics, studied them, and tried to wrap my mind around his clever references. I delved into the rest of his catalog, observing the real issues and raw culture that held an enormous presence in his music, and I think those concepts are what drew me to it the most. Off the top, I remember hitting the replay button on “Purple” from “The Lost Tapes” an awful lot during my high school years.

Nas quickly became one of my favorite lyricists, but I always assumed that I would only hear his words from the speakers in my earbuds. As a struggling student, getting the chance to see a legend like Nas perform live was, at best, a long shot …. a pipe dream. I could never be more happy to be wrong. Headlining the final installment of the Sound In Focus Summer concert series, I  had the veritable privilege of seeing Nasir Jones p/k/a Nas deliver a performance that matched his legendary status.

“The Don” of hip hop opened with “Hate Me Now”, a popular track off “I Am…”. Attendees of all ages went wild as he rushed the stage, shouting the lyrics. There wasn’t an uninterested face in the crowd. After the first song, Nas expressed his love for Los Angeles:

“I love this city. I love California. The women are beautiful… but the weed is so damn goooood.” – Nas

He joked around a little bit more before he teased the audience by saying, “I got some piano for you!” then proceeded to perform one of my favorite and most motivating tracks of all time, “The World Is Yours”. He followed with more hits including “Life’s a B*tch”, “Represent”, “N.Y. State of Mind”, “Got Yourself A…”, “If I Ruled The World”, and “I Can”. It was literally a concert of his greatest hits.

He took a moment to reminisce about his younger days, describing what it was like early in his career, back to when he was still flowing through cassette tapes. He asked, “Remember when you used to put my cassette tape in and it’d sound a little something like this?” *bass drops* “Check me out y’all… Nasty Nas in your area.”  Everybody, and I mean everybody AND their mother at this show, knew the words to “Halftime”. It was like I was at a party. A party with thousands of people I’d never met and yet felt I had so much in common with. It was insane.

Getting closer to the end of the set, he asked if any fans in the crowd had requests for him. Someone near the front of the stage was waving a loose leaf paper in the air. “You’ve got a whole list of em!?” Nas asked the fan, “Oh those are your raps? Sorry, man. Tonight’s my night!” I nearly collapsed with laughter when I heard that. Nas ended his set with a dimly lit, calm performance of “One Mic” and a message to everyone:

“My weapon of choice is the voice. Keep the music going. Keep reaching out to the youth and be a positive influence in your life! Love conquers evil, every time! God bless everybody.”

It was a remarkable night. Throughout the show, he constantly expressed how thankful he was for this opportunity to perform, and for the fans that vibed with him, old and new. I didn’t expect an artist as established and respected in the industry as Nas to present himself with such quiet confidence, humbleness, and gratitude. It was a breath of fresh air and a true testament to his growth from “Life’s a B*tch” to “Life Is Good”. With his performance at Sound In Focus, Nas earned my respect; and he will always be a legend in my book.

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