Tyler, the Creator: Did you ever think, like… Okay, you dropped Illmatic. How old were you? Like, 18?
Nas: When I started it, I was 18. I dropped it when I was 20.
Tyler, the Creator: So you was my age when Illmatic came out?
Nas: Yeah. The first thing I did was “Live at the Barbecue.” That was ’91.
Tyler, the Creator: So, right, when you was coming out, I wasn’t even born yet, basically? I was born in 1991, so I was probably just popping out. Did you think, 20 years later, you would still be, like, here? Like, you’re having a fuckin’ interview, about to do another magazine shoot. Like, did you think, 20 years from now, back then, that there was even a chance that you could still be doing that?
Nas: At that point, I only cared about making the biggest impact in rap. But I didn’t care about 20 years from… No, I got to say no. I didn’t. I didn’t really think that much on it. ’Cause at that time, dudes were peaking at, like, their fourth album, and that was it. Like, a lot of guys before us, they would, after their third or fourth album, that was it.
Tyler, the Creator: They was done.
Nas: You know what I mean? So I didn’t think I would be up to right here.
Tyler, the Creator: That’s ’cause you, Em, Jay, Snoop, like, you guys all started when you was exactly my age. So we could relate right then and there. But it’s just weird that you guys—’cause I even asked Snoop, and he was like, “I didn’t even think that I could go this far with that.” And the fact that you guys are still here makes me just always think, like, Fuck, could I?
Nas: Oh, you definitely can. People—someone like you is, you’re interested, for a lot of reasons. So someone like you, you can’t wait to see what’s next. You can’t wait to see how you’re going to deal with what you’ve been experiencing now that you’re in the rap game or in the music game. It’s going to be great and exciting for you as you go along.
Tyler, the Creator: This shit’s crazy. I have, like, a goal list in my head, and it gets checked off, like, all the time. And it’s just the weirdest shit. This game is crazy. It’ll drive you crazy, too. Like, I didn’t expect a lot of stuff. And it’s a lot to deal with, ’cause, like, people don’t know, but I’m running a business. Clothes, basically. Like, we got our own label. I didn’t just sign a regular little deal. I own that. Touring. I have a show with Cartoon Network that I’m writing and I’m starring in. Not only that, like, I have to put the whole team on my back. It’s a lot of us. And not just the music section. Like, I try to look out for everyone in my crew—even the photographers, niggas that skate. And I got my family. So it’s a lot to deal with. How did you deal with just, out of nowhere, people like, “Oh, shit, Nas! Oh, Nas! Nas!” Labels coming at you, and you just out of nowhere had fame. Like, how did you deal with that?
Nas: Well, for me, it was really easy in the very beginning, because only thing I was concerned about was not going to jail. ’Cause I was still not removed from the block. So when I first got a check, it was my check, but everybody around me was still in the grind. So we had plans to make moves with that check, you know? Street moves with that. And, you know, you had that thing, but, you know, you really can’t straddle the fence. You can’t have one foot in the street and then one foot in the light, where you can change your life for the positive. You can’t do it. It won’t work.
Tyler, the Creator: Yeah, that shit’s hard.
Nas: It won’t work, and it’s stupid to even attempt to stay in the street and then still think you’re supposed to get something out of this legit world. You know what I mean? If you’re going to get legit, go all the way. So it was simple for me, because I kept it normal. I kept it cool. I stayed around the way until I got too busy to be there.
Tyler, the Creator: That’s how it was with me. After a while, it’s like, you got people hitting you up, “Why you ain’t hit me up?” [And it’s like,] “I’m sorry, dude. I’m on tour, with 30 other things on my head.” It’s just, at first, it’s cool, with people finally recognizing you, and it’s like, “Oh, shit, I’m going to…” Oh, shit. “Okay, bye, Grandma. I’ll talk to you later.” And then it’s like, you kind of… I’m legitly in the rap game now. Not even in the rap game, just in the music industry. Like, I didn’t even, it didn’t hit me until a couple weeks ago. ’Cause I’m still me. I wear the same fuckin’ clothes I had. I’m still eating at fuckin’ McDonald’s, when I could go to a fuckin’ 30-star restaurant or some shit. So it’s just weird how even little things I say, like, it’s a big controversy on if I’m a homophobe or anything. And that’s just how me and my friends talk. So it’s just weird for me being myself, going into a world where everyone is watching you and critiquing every little thing that you’ve been used to doing for the past 20 years of your life. It’s a lot to deal with.
Nas: No one wants you to say what you wanna say, what’s really you. You can’t say what you really feel no more, ’cause they’re gonna kill you for it.
Tyler, the Creator: And after a while, it’s like, I don’t really care what anyone say. I’m just gonna do me regardless, ’cause that’s just how I was brought up. But after a while, when you have just so many fuckin’ people, like,
the world just coming onto you, you kind of sit back, like, Wait for a second. Am I doing something wrong? No, I’m not. I’m good. I’m fine. And they just keep coming. You’re like, Wait a minute. You kind of look back, like, Fuck, maybe I am doing something fuckin’ wrong. And that shit’s a lot to deal with.
Nas: Yeah, it is. It is. But you can only do what you can do, man. You’re a human being. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you know what I mean? No one is going to be totally satisfied. You can’t please everybody. You’d be crazy if you’re trying to. So take some time out to do some things for yourself. Remember, always take time out to do things that you enjoy. Got to. ’Cause then, why else you out here doing these amazing things, and you’re taking care of everybody else? But if you’re not taking care of yourself…man.
Tyler, the Creator: There’s no point.
Nas: It’s refreshing to see you do that, because everything else is just the same thing over and over. Shit is lame. Everybody’s doing the same shit. Even me. I’m caught up in some of the same shit. It’s just the shit I grew up loving, so I keep doing a lot of the same things. ’Cause I love what that is, but it’s still a hundred, a thousand people doing the shit.
Tyler, the Creator: That’s different, though. You love that shit. Like, I’m stuck in 2006. Pharrell is, like, my idol. So I’m fuckin’, I listen to In My Mind, his album, every fuckin’ day and watch his videos. Like, I have a fuckin’ bookcase of BBC Ice Cream and Bape shit from 2006 that I just put on, and listen to fuckin’ Clipse. That’s because you love that shit. You grew up on it, so it’s shit that you love. Like, when you was in the phase where you had your fuckin’ big gold ropes and shit.
Nas: Yeah, I’m total opposite of what you was listening to. [Laughs]
Tyler, the Creator: Yeah, but you grew up on EPMD and, like, Rakim. And shit where that’s what they did. And that’s what you grew up on, so that shit stuck with you and shit. But that’s, like, organic. Like, you love that shit. That shit makes you fuckin’ smile.
Nas: Right. And we share that culture with the world. When we do our records, it’s in us. Whatever you grew up on and whatever I grew up on, it’s in us, it’s a part of our culture, and we keep reproducing it. That’s a good thing. It keeps it alive. And we interpret it in new ways, which is nice.
FOR MORE OF TYLER, THE CREATOR’S INTERVIEW WITH NAS, GO TO PAGE 2