For close to 30 years, Nas has been at the forefront of the world of hip-hop, with almost every one of his 13 albums receiving universal critical acclaim upon their release. From his early days debuting on Main Source’s “Live at The Barbeque”, and his first album, Illmatic, in 1994, to the release of his most recent record, August’s King’s Disease, it’s impossible to find a single moment which doesn’t serve as a testament to the lyrical, musical, and technical mastery that Nas yields.
Though it’s hard to make comparisons as to the sort of impact and influence that Nas and will still have, it’s fair to say that like of Briggs might have the same sort of legacy when it comes to Australian music. A proud Yorta Yorta man, Briggs has used his time on the scene to share two studio albums, in addition to EPs (including the recently-released Always Was), singles, and one of the most important albums in recent history by way of Reclaim Australia alongside Trials in A.B. Original.
In addition to his work as a musician, Briggs has become a best-selling children’s author and a comedy writer, with his work as an activist for Indigenous matters helping his influence to spread to almost every facet of Australian culture.
With both Nas and Briggs serving as undeniable icons of their respective countries’ music scene, it made perfect sense for the pair to sit down in conversation following the release of the former’s most recent record. From Nas’ early career, to his status as a game-changer in the world of hip-hop, to more relevant topics such as the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, seeing the two artists in conversation is much more than a chat between two highly influential and respected artists, it’s akin to a meeting between two kings.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.
Briggs: Man, congratulations. Did you ever see 13 albums in your future when you were coming up? When you first did “Live at The Barbeque”, did you see 13 classics?
Nas: I think I just wanted to get one album out. To see if it would actually work. I believed in it, but I just wanted to… get in the game. And then it just started to grow…
Briggs: So King’s Disease is the record. Do you want to talk to me about what that title means to you?
Nas: Self-awareness, never get ahead of yourself, never get drunk on power, things that come along with just doing your thing. You get a lot of diseases like hate, you get a lot of diseases like people trying to stop you, because… they just see you doing something positive that intimidates them and makes them wanna be a part of it and makes them envious. You just have to push through it.
Briggs: You reference kings a lot on the record, and you address, other man, Black man, as kings. What do you feel makes a king?
Nas: Taking care of yourself and your loved ones, with kindness and responsibility, and handling things like a man would – or even a woman, women are kings too, you know?
Just really handling your responsibilities… standing up and taking on what’s coming your way the best you can and no excuses, no pointing the blame at anyone else, strength.
Briggs: What was the song that sparked this record?
Nas: I think it was the title track, “King’s Disease”.
Briggs: Yeah, it’s dope. I’ve been riding around listening to it for the last you know, week or so and it’s killer. My favourite joint is “The Cure”.
Nas: [Smiles and laughs] Oh, appreciate it.
Briggs: Yeah, that’s a banger, yeah man that’s killer. You got Hit-Boy producing for you, on this one. What made you reach out to him? Or did he reach out to you?
Nas: I reached out to him. I wanted to work with him for a long time, and a mutual friend of ours just told me to come by the studio. You know, I thought he was busy, I thought he was real busy and one of our mutual friends said come by the studio tomorrow. And I knew I was gonna leave out there with a good song. I didn’t know an album, really. You know, I was happy that it turned out to be that once we sat down to talk, I was happy, but it was really just to get a track in and then it turned into an album.
Briggs: Yeah, where did you record it at?
Briggs: Did COVID affect how you made the record? Did it change anything in how you delivered it?
Nas: Yeah… we were getting it done until COVID, and I was home and I didn’t want to do anything. I didn’t want to record anymore, I didn’t want to put out any music until we knew what was going on. Things were not changing, it was just another day of the same thing, social distancing and you know, I just turned on the mic in the house, and just one day after about two months of not working I think it was… I just started working again.
Talking to Hit [Hit-Boy], he’s like, “Yo, we gotta get back to it”, you know, “Let’s finish this man, we’ve got some good stuff”. That pushed me… him and my man G-Code… who is also executive producer on it was like, “Let’s get this thing finished”.
Briggs: Yeah, for real. So with COVID, everything is kind of amplified at the moment, there’s a lot going on, everything feels like it’s turned up a little more. You’ve been in the game for “27 Summers”, as your song says. With that, there’s a lot of highs and lows and obviously a big impact of this year was the Black Lives Matter movement really gaining more traction, especially out here in Australia.
I’m an indigenous First Australian, First Nations Person, I’m a Yorta Yorta man – that’s my tribe. We’ve got our own obstacles and what not that we carry with us and you know, we empathise with your movement and there’s a lot of solidarity there, but you reference it a lot on this record, as you have throughout your whole career. Do you feel like the movement at the moment, is a little bit different from before?
Nas: Yeah, because of smart phones, we can communicate, and you can see it. These things have always existed, but now that the world can see it, it changes a lot of things, it makes it that you can’t ignore it anymore, you can’t be a coward about this racism, you can’t just go along and act like it doesn’t exist cause you can’t escape it now, it’s everywhere, it’s in your phone, it’s in the conversations everywhere you go.
Times are changing, and that has helped in a lot of ways globally, because now we can identify with each other, we can see the struggles that’s going on where you’re from, now because of the phone. And you realise that it’s one whole fail of racism that just poisons the world. Whites are tired of, Blacks are tired of, Asians are tired of, Australians, we’re all tired of it.
“Times are changing, and that has helped in a lot of ways globally, because now we can identify with each other, we can see the struggles that’s going on where you’re from.”
Briggs: Did that wholly inform this album, or is this something that’s always on the front of your mind?
Nas: Yeah man, I’ve worked on albums, and some of your favourite producers told me you know, stuff you’re talking about, it’s like Public Enemy, that doesn’t happen anymore, this is years ago… It was kind of discouraging to hear from a few people that the direction I was in, wasn’t even needed anymore. And I didn’t know if it was because they were so blind or because I was stuck in an era that was far gone, and I needed to move on.
But, I never moved that much, I was always really trying to express whatever I was feeling. Doesn’t matter what’s hot at the moment, doesn’t matter. I think it’s important that I, that we all do, artists, express what they really feel.
Briggs: Everybody who knows Nas, knows Nas for timeless joints. You know what I mean, you’ve had some radio bangers, but it’s always, like the core of your presence has always been about timeless classics.
So stepping into now, when everything’s changed so much, like, even technology informs the way people consume music, did you feel like you wanted to, or had to adjust your style to fit into that market place? Or was it just like, “Nah, you come to Nas, you’re getting around Nas today”?
Nas: Yeah I don’t think I do well when I step out of my square. That doesn’t work good for me. I love doing what I do the way I like to do it, because my eyes saw a lot of great stuff happen from a lot of great artists coming up just being a fan, and I like to take that with me through the music. The music won’t stay, it won’t sound like I sounded in the ’90s, but I will bring some of that with me into the 2000s.
I’ve been rapping in the 2000s longer than I have been in the ’90s, but I still represent the ’90s in everywhere I go, even if the music is different and sounds fresher, newer, I still bring that time with me in the music.
Briggs: Word. So on King’s Disease we see the return of The Firm which is mind blowing. How hard was it to get Dr. Dre this time around?
Nas: Honestly, it was really easy, which I was so happy about, because you know, that’s Dr. Dre! He’s Dre! I caught him at the right time, and I told him what I was trying to do, and he was with it. He blessed us with that at the end of the song [“Full Circle]… We needed him and he came through for us. Shout out to Dr. Dre.
Briggs: He did come through, he come through big time! [both laugh]
Nas: Classic Dre!
Briggs: Bro, does he have like a special phone you have to call, like a bat phone? [laughs]
Nas: I don’t know what number I have but, luckily I have the right number… He’s such an icon, I grew up on Dre, to see him, hear fresh ideas, is awesome.
Briggs: So you work with all these phenomenal, classic, giants of music – you’re a giant yourself. You always come up in the ‘top five’ conversation, you know what I mean? When you’re at this kind of level, how do you stay motivated to keep creating, to keep making music, to keep rapping?
Nas: I don’t get into all that, that doesn’t help me at all. I love if I’m held up high, and what helps me is the love for bringing something different through my experiences, to records, each time I approach it, to not give you a gimmick… I’m only proving things to myself first and foremost, so I just wanna make records – not all the time, but when I do, it’s because I need to get something off my chest.
So, all of that stuff is nice man, but I don’t care really anymore. Maybe I’ll care when I’m in my 50s or something, but right now it’s okay. It’s great, it’s good, but it’s not my drive. I feel like we don’t really know how we rate until later.
Briggs: Was there a moment in your career you didn’t feel like making records anymore?
Nas: Yeah, for sure.
Briggs: What was that like, how did you put yourself out of that, how did you move through that?
Nas: I thought about leaving America, seeing something different, learning something different, looking at this beautiful world that we have, seeing something else to do, to give back and take myself away from it. But, I don’t know, I’d wind up at home [both laugh]… it ain’t that deep man [laughs].
I just don’t take myself too serious. You take yourself serious, but you don’t take yourself too serious. Time passes by, there was a time when I didn’t put out any albums, for eight years I think. I had a lot of time off to just live and enjoy life, and then you wind up getting the spirit again, and then you go.
“I’ve been rapping in the 2000s longer than I have been in the ’90s, but I still represent the ’90s in everywhere I go, even if the music is different and sounds fresher, newer, I still bring that time with me in the music.”
Briggs: Does doing an album, like the album you did with Damian Marley [Jamaican reggae vocalist/Bob Marley’s son] give you a new life, you know what I mean? Does that give you new motivation?
Nas: Yes. Working closely with another artist pushes you. Especially someone who is as good as Damian Marley is at everything he does. He kind of comes from a place of purity [laughs], without making it sound cheesy… Being around him, I was surrounding myself with a really sharp artist who has a world view like no one else, and that pushes me.
Briggs: Looking at your catalogue from the start – from Nasty Nas, “Live at The Barbeque” to King’s Disease – What’s the biggest difference between when you first started and now?
Nas: I’m older [both laugh]. I’m this old guy now, you know?
Briggs: What do you think Nasty Nas would say to you now? ‘Cause everyone always asks that question about ‘what would you tell your younger self’, but would do you think your younger self would say to you?
Nas: Ah, I don’t know; “Get out the way old man!” [both laugh]. On another note, I always liked older people, I always thought that I could learn a lot from older people… My pops… used to hang around with older people and you can learn a lot from them, so I would probably respect older me too [both laugh].
Briggs: You’ve got your career – obviously phenomenal – and then you move into the business with Mass Appeal. Is that another outlet for you to create? When you get to help bring up other artists?
Nas: Yes, sure.
Briggs: Who’s been your favourite so far, do you think, through Mass Appeal?
Nas: Everybody. I love everyone that partnered with us. DJ Shadow, I think what he does is phenomenal. I think his ear for music, him as a producer, a DJ, I think, is A1, man. Of course, Dave East, we just put out Karma 3, he’s a gunna, he’s a lyrical gunna. And Ezri, he’s our youngest who is developing, he has developed, but I think he still has a more to offer, for many many years.
Working with him is interesting. Fashawn, he’s a lyricist, just to work with a lyricist. But everybody does their own thing, I don’t interfere, I don’t get in anybody’s way of their creativity.
I’m here to talk, whatever, but I respect these guys for their art and I’m just happy to be involved.
Briggs: No doubt. Do you have a favourite off King’s Disease?
Nas: “Blue Benz”.
Briggs: That’s hard. Do you feel like that song embodies the whole record? Like if you had to pick one track off King’s Disease that would embody what the album is about?
Nas: It’s either “Blue Benz” or “The Cure”. That’s what I think right now.
Briggs: That’s a personal favourite.
Nas: Oh appreciate it, man.
Briggs: That’s the one on repeat man. I get that obsessive hit the back, back, rewind, rewind in the whip.
Nas: Wow [smiles].
Briggs: There’s so many levels on that track, you know like, all the things you talk about, you know the relationships you have and had, and what not. Do you feel the need to talk more about your experiences like that, rather than just the braggadocio stuff, like to have that vulnerability to talk to your people?
Nas: Yeah, it comes out the way it comes out, I can’t even stop it. If I like it, it makes the album… you have ideas and you wanna just say things, I think that at this point in my life, it’s important to release those things and you’ll be surprised how many people can relate, and if that is a helping thing… if that helps someone out then I feel great about that.
I had a cousin call me and said, “Cuz, I didn’t know that me and you go through the same thing with dating”, you know what I’m saying. I’m like yeah man… I’m just as clueless as anybody else at times.
Briggs: That’s good to know! [both laugh]. So how do you push this record now that everything’s a little bit different? With social distancing, everything’s a little bit amplified out in the streets as well, how do you push this record in 2020 to 2021 and forward?
Nas: I don’t really think about pushing it too much… I want it to gravitate to people organically, through the DJ’s and through the word of mouth. And that to me is what it’s all about sometimes.
Briggs: I said before you’re obviously on a lot of people’s Mount Rushmore of hip-hop… who’s the best out of which borough from New York and what not…. But for Nas, who’s on your Mount Rushmore of hip-hop?
Nas: Rakim, Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One. If had to have more, there’d be so many more, in no particular order.
Briggs: That’s the great thing about that conversation, cause you can’t argue with any, they’re all very worthy placements for the Mount Rushmore of hip-hop.
Nas: Yeah, LL Cool J, man, the list goes on – Slick Rick, Ice Cube.
Briggs: It’s been a real pleasure talking to you man, I know my time is up and you got things to do as the playoffs are on, the basketball is happening [both laugh]. I’m about to do that as well (points to Kobe Bryant jersey in background).
Nas: Let’s go!
Briggs: I really appreciate it man. Thanks a lot from me and all the Indigenous Australians as well that appreciate your music, who grew up on your music, we appreciate it. And have a good day, man, congratulations on album 13.
Nas: Thanks Briggs. Shout out to all my Indigenous brothers and sisters out there in Australia and to all Australians. Much love.