AZ Talks Rock the Bells, Working With Nas and New Music

Equipped with a smooth flow and cadence in delivery — not to mention an intricate wordplay — Brooklyn veteran emcee AZ is by far one of the game’s most proficient lyricists.

More than a decade removed from introducing the world to his format on Nas’ seminal debut, Illmatic — regarded as one of the most memorable guest verses of all-time by many — the Visualiza continues to hone the same razor-edged lyrical sword that’s strengthened his fan base and garnered him critical acclaim throughout the years.

Despite never matching the commercial success of his debut’s (1995’s Doe Or Die) first single, “Sugar Hill,” Sosa has remained resilient, going on to release a string of praise-worthy work including 2002’s Aziatic, which earned him a Grammy nomination for the Nas-assisted “The Essence.”

Currently prepping the release of his forthcoming sequel Doe Or Die II, as well as reuniting with partner-in-rhyme Nas, who together are currently performing on the nationwide Rock the Bells tour, XXL spoke to AZ to discuss a number of things including the tour, his relationship with Nas, Doe Or Die II, and just what exactly happened with his “Hey AZ” record. —Ralph Bristout

XXL: How’s the Rock the Bells tour going, man?

AZ: Ah man, beautiful. Beautiful look. I been there a couple times for just performing but, as far as this I’m doing Illmatic shit, that’s crazy right there.

How’s the experience performing the quintessential verse that jumpstarted your career?

For me it’s just reflecting ’cause it’s 17 years and it only feels like yesterday. It’s like, yo, me and him never aged at the end of the day. It just feel crazy that he just doing the whole album, not saying that I was there for that whole album but, for a majority of that album I was there. So to see him spit it 17 years later, its incredible.

How’s your personal relationship with Nas now? Everyone that’s a fan was waiting for you two to link back up.

His career took off on a whole other level at the end of the day and dealing with a lot of things, it puts people in certain zones that they need to be in to progress and shit. I understood that he was doing what he had to do and it was like a new role for him and he had to stay focused.  I was over here trying to keep my thing alive, doing what I do and the independent thing [which] was a new thing for me because we both started off with majors and was used to that machine. Then I chose to go independent and that was a whole other monster itself. So, when I bumped back up with him, it was like we never loss a step because there wasn’t no bad blood or malice involved. It was like everyone was growing. When you grow, even as brothers, certain people got different paths in life and they gotta handle things accordingly, so it was understood.

A few weeks back you posted a pic on Twitter of you two in the studio together. How does it feel being back in the studio with each other?

I mean, you know, [with] me and him it’s like magic when we connect so, it’s that magic all over again. We a lil older now so, it’s really more dangerous and potent because now we know the moves and the proper moves to make so, it’s a beautiful thing now.

I know you probably don’t want to get into any specifics about what was cooked up in the studio—

[Laughs] Yo, we gon’ reinvent the wheel, that’s what we gon’ do.

Last month, Jay-Z & Kanye West’s Watch The Throne was released. What do you think about the idea of the two heavyhitters teaming for the project?

I wanna say big ups to Jay for being in the game for so long and what he’s done and Kanye as far as being a producer, crossed over to being a lyricist carrying his own, it’s a beautiful project in itself just because of that alone. Then you know, Jay being a lyricist on top of his game, to me, I appreciate it ’cause I’m from that era. I’m from that cloth and for him to still be doing his thing, it’s a beautiful thing, man.

That seems to be the latest trend now, emcees creating duo collaborative projects, from Jim Jones & Cam’ron planning their Fly Boys album to Gucci & Waka releasing Ferrari Boyz. Could we possibly see an AZ & Nas album happening?

[Laughs] Anything is possible, that’s all I could say right now. Anything is possible.

So, the 16th Anniversary of Doe Or Die is coming up in October. Congratulations. How does that feel?

Yo, it’s like a dream come true. For any artist, they want to see longevity in their career regardless of what level. So, the fact that I even stood the test of time and continued to put out music and still get love and have a fan base, its a blessing. It’s serious to me. Doe Or Die 16 years, Illmatic 17 years and just for everyone to still be pushing, you can’t take nothing away from me.

Last year you celebrated the 15th Anniversary with a special concert at NYC’s Santos Party House. Will there be another celebratory concert this year?

Well right now I’m just focusing on Doe Or Die II and trying to get that magic back.

FOR MORE AZ, GO TO PAGE 2

  • YOM

    Peace to the big homey AZ yo!
    Reppin’ the culture of hip-hop and last but not least reppin’ the East New York section of Brooklyn!
    Getting that “Doe or Die 2″ & still rock “Aziatic”.

  • diz

    nice little article. waiting for some more of that good music. AZ is definitely underrated.

  • nnamdi

    Great article! Still bumpin’ doe or die 15th anniversary until the album!

  • http://ghrap.com illbig

    peace king……

  • Down South G

    Been bumpin dis cat since way back!! Highly respected in da South. Love his music!!

  • hudes

    always has, and always will be my favorite MC.
    a true artist. you must listen to his lyrics a few times otherwise they flying right over your head. that’s how ill he is.

    AZ! come back to T DOT i missed rock the bells due to being locked down with house arrest. Make that trip again next year g.

    PEACE

  • T-Mat

    Peace God….No doubt. Keep putting out that good music A and best believe I’m copping it. Favorite MC of all time.