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Nas Remembers the Making of Stillmatic & Hip Hop Is Dead

Nas’s career came full circle in 2011. On “Nasty”—the lead single off of his 10th LP, Life Is Good— fittingly titled after the nickname the Queensbridge MC favored during his early years—God’s son spits raw lyrics over stripped down Salaam Remi production reminiscent of hip-hop’s golden era.

This year, the babyface MC also celebrates a quartet of anniversaries—each milestones reflecting a crucial stage in his stellar career. His introductory verse on Main Source’s “Live At the Barbecue” marked the arrival of rebellious new school lyricist looking to leave his mark in the game 20 years ago. It Was Written, released 15 years ago, was the official coronation of a rap superstar. Stillmatic—released in the wake of a series of commercially successful, yet critically panned LPs, 10 years ago—finally saw God’s Son find his footing between record sales and acclaim. Meanwhile, Hip Hop Is Dead documents Nas evolving into an elder statesman holding MCs accountable for what he perceived to be a declining rap scene at the time.

Mr. Jones briefly spoke about the two latter offerings in XXL‘s November issue. With Stillmatic and Hip Hop Is Dead respectively celebrating 10 and five-year anniversaries next week, XXL offers outtakes that didn’t make the magazine. Here, Nas says he and Jay-Z never talk about “Ether,” remembers getting Game on a Dr. Dre track when the two were at odds and reveals that Natalie Cole appeared in his “Can’t Forget About You” video free of charge.—Carl Chery (@cchery)

XXL: You started calling yourself ‘God’s Son’ on Stillmatic, 10 years after “Live At the Barbecue.” So in 10 years, you went from going to hell for snuffin’ Jesus to being God’s son.

Nas: That’s what that was for me, big time, 100 percent.

How do you feel about the word “Ether” transitioning from being your song title to becoming slang?

That’s what hip-hop has always been. We have our own. It’s a culture thing. It’s a community thing, but it’s also a young people thing, and it’s also, it’s just the way. It’s the way things are. That’s how it’s always been in hip-hop.

Even though Eminem came out with the song “Stan” first, after you called Jay-Z a stan on “Ether,” people started using it in that context.

I never even thought of that. Wow! Yea, man. I don’t even take credit for it. That’s hip-hop. That’s what hip-hop does.

You and Jay are friends now. Do you ever talk about “Ether?” Like, “Oh, you got me with that line.”

Not really. I mean, I think right now anybody who’s made it from the ’80s era, the ’90s, got into hip-hop and still stickin’ around and still here, still feelin’ great about life… I think that’s enough. I think anybody today, any peer of mine is just appreciative of the life that we’ve made for ourselves. We didn’t know anything. We didn’t know that this was gonna be the outcome, that we’d be around at this time doing what we’re doin’. I think everybody’s just on that page.


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