AZ is universally recognized for his talent, even if he’s not often revered the same way his peers like Jay-Z and Nas are. But the Brooklyn-bred lyricist is sharp as any MC in the game, past or present. And now, like his comrade Nas, he’s using his voice to address heavier subject matter, such as the dreaded N-word.
But is the former Firm member treading too close to his homie’s turf with his new project? AZ teamed up with DJ Absolut for the forthcoming mixtape, N4L, short for “nigger for life.” While Nas has been promoting his latest album, untitled, which at one point was set to be called Nigger, he’s endured criticism from black leaders and mainstream-media outlets alike. Here, however, the Aziatic one talks to XXLmag.com about Nas and riding coattails, what the N-word means to him, and exactly what’s next for one of Brooklyn’s finest.
When did the idea to do this project strike you?
Well, the moment was, when Undeniable came out in April; when I was on promotional tour I was getting so many questions about me and Nas doing an album together, it was overwhelming. I mean, I always get it, but for some reason, I guess because time keeps on ticking, it became overwhelming. So doing my shows and I was thinking, Is this ever going to really happen? Then out of nowhere Absolut got at me and he was like, ‘I heard Undeniable, it was serious.’ De said let’s do a move. He said lets do a mixtape. I didn’t want to do a mixtape because that’s really not my thing. It’s not my game; I do a song here or there. I said it had to be of some validity. We started thinking and at that point with what Nas did, I said, they wanted an album with me and Nas and with the climate we have with Barack Obama and Sean Bell, I can give my perspective. If me and Nas were to do an album it would be this, us speaking on this content, what he feels about the word nigger and what I think about the word nigger. Unofficially, if we were to do an album, this is what it would sound like.
Aside from all the things in the community to address and the headlines, Was there anything that you did specifically to motivate yourself?
My vision was, I wanted to do the nigger for life. Meaning, we all niggers regardless of our accomplishments. But I wanted to use it in a positive form like ‘Pac used it, N-i-g-g-a, which means never ignorant getting goals accomplished. So I was just throwing things back and looking at them through my scope of intelligence. And tapping into my books and all the knowledge that I absorbed through my life. And I just sat back and that’s when I got into the zone. I didn’t want to be “Preacher Earl,” I wanted to teach in a sense. I wanted to spark interest and cover all grounds. ‘Cause you got those that are impulsive, then you got those that are radical thinkers, and then you got those that are more scholastically motivated. I wanted to speak from all perspectives and I think I kind of accomplished that.
What are the range topics you discuss?
We got “Runaway Slave.” That’s one of my goodies. I made it a song, but it was somebody’s life at one time. And I kind of tried to make it musical and theatrical at the same time. Then you got “Knowledge Freedom.” I got the “12 Jewels.” I got “Conspiracy,” “Self Savior.” I just spoke on all topics and expressed myself at the end of the day.
Creatively, was it different for you? An album is a concentrated effort already, but how did it affect you—one way or another—to have an implemented angle in place?
It freed me up. ‘Cause I just really spoke my mind. ‘Cause we all entitled to our own opinions. So that was a good thing.
The album cover and the imagery are very visceral. Are you going to do anything else to enhance the experience of this project?
I’m gonna do some videos. Me and Absolut are gong to shoot a video or two or three. We might make a DVD movie out of it. But whatever move we make, at the end of the day, it’s just a mixtape to me, even though it’s 16 original songs. And it helped me get a lot off my shoulders and off my mind. After that, I’m working on a soundtrack and a movie called “Silent Wars” that I’m putting together now. It’s about making decisions and what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m not obligated to anything after this, I’m a free agent. I gave Koch their last album. So I’m searching for a home and will continue to put music out.
Did you reach out to Nas before you announced this project and worked on it? Because of the similar themes.
Me and him communicate periodically. He has his own thing going on, he has a lot on his plate. And me, I’m self-sufficient. So I try to venture out and see what I can do, bring to the table. WE haven’t politicked on this yet. On this situation I just let him do what he wanted. I wanted to lock into my zone with my mixtape and he be in the zone with his nigger thing. We haven’t spoke in a couple months, since I started working on my Undeniable album and this mixtape. But I’m sure we’ll speak soon after it’s all said and done.
You two are so linked, from your path work and the lyricism you exhibit, and in your press statement you mentioned you’re not riding on his coattails. But what about the appearance that Nas had to weather the criticism for his movement and now you’re benefiting with your project?
I’m not trying to benefit, for one, I’m just trying to add onto the awareness, you know? He set the climate and I think it’s a good climate. So any add on is good. I’m not subtracting. We speaking on issues for the younger generation to get a history lesson. ‘Cause they not from that era. And in order for them to move forward, we gotta take a few steps back. I’m brining a history lesson to the table. And I’m trying to make nigger positive. Really, it’s about rich and poor, to be technical. It’s an economic movement, to be honest. So I’m trying to add onto what he’s doing for the community so we can get to a certain mind frame. And get to the issues at hand about life. To help the next generation to help the next generation, to help us as a people.