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Nas and Anthony DeCurtis at 92Y

by Nicholas Fernandez


Hip hop legend and Queens native Nas held court for just over an hour at 92Y this Tuesday with Rolling Stone Contributing Editor Anthony DeCurtis steering the discussion. The wide-ranging interview presented Nas as a person, not just an artist, covering topics from childhood to parenthood and everything in between.

The evening served as a debriefing of Nas' New Year's Eve concert at Radio City Music Hall, as he related the consequences of bringing real-life struggles to the stage. "It was tense," he said of seeing his ex-wife, vocalist Kelis, after performing "Bye Baby" and tossing her now-famous green wedding dress to the floor.

The interview gave Nas a platform to emphasize the authenticity of Life Is Good, his four-time Grammy-nominated 2012 release. Although he mostly reiterated the “stay true to yourself” mantra, predominating artistic expression in all genres, Nas appeared open and honest, especially when discussing the lack of belonging he feels when visiting both childhood friends in his old Queens neighborhood and industry contacts in Bel Air.

Despite the formal venue and high-profile participants, the evening often felt like an extended late-night television interview. Still, the added interactive element of audience participation, both through written questions and occasional suggestions yelled from the gallery, gave the interview a relaxed, intimate vibe.

Perhaps most intriguing were Nas’ frequent veiled references to his generation of hip-hop artists who are failing to live up to Nas’ expectations. He claimed that many of them have given up on pushing artistic boundaries and, if anything, were moving backwards by overemphasizing “street” attitudes after escaping the life. Nas ended one such critique with a telling statement: “I hope no one’s angry at me tomorrow.”

DeCurtis played his role admirably, deftly navigating between preplanned and improvised questions while maintaining a brilliant balance of structured and train-of-thought discussion. He demonstrated a deep knowledge of Nas’ output and offered his own emotional vulnerability, admitting that he found “Bye Baby” almost uncomfortable to listen to given the depth of its honesty.

Although both men trod lightly, the seeds were there for a deeper relationship that would perhaps allow Nas to answer some of the questions he shrugged off as too big for the evening’s confines. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but a Nas/DeCurtis autobiography project would certainly make this reviewer’s reading list.