Last week, Nas announced that he was launching a new label, Mass Appeal Records, and unveiled a slew of projects in the works, from a posthumous Pimp C album to a compilation with some of hip-hop's current superstars to Nas' The Lost Tapes 2. But he also announced the first three signings to the label, in Detroit's Boldy James, Bishop Nehru from New York and 2010 XXL Freshman Fashawn out of California. The three rappers make sense when aligned next to Nas: Boldy rocks the same type of street cred that Nas oozed on Illmatic; Bishop's mixtapes have been dusting off the early-1990s New York boom bap sound, and Fashawn has the type of lyrical dexterity that has often placed him on lists of underrated MCs.

With Mass Appeal Records officially launched, XXL hopped on the phone with Boldy James and Fashawn to speak about linking up with Nas, their respective deals with the label, and what they've got in the works. Big things coming. —Dan Rys and Eric Diep 

Boldy James

How did you initially link with Nas?
through a tweetMy 1st Chemistry Set

When you're on an independent grind, it's a slower burn, but it's longer-lived, as opposed to a guy that might have a hit record but you get so burnt out on hearing his voice, and once you get to know their character, you're not as much of a fan of them anymore. You know, I'm just glad my people are still rocking with me through me trying to make adjustments to the music I'm making to cater to my younger audience as well as my die-hard fans.

When he sent that tweet, did he reach out to you?
No, not necessarily. I work with a couple guys from my Decon [label] situation who went on the joint venture with Nas and Mass Appeal. So after my Alchemist album, they had the option to match the contract that someone else was trying to give me, because my deal was a one-off. So it kind of was a crossover into what Mass Appeal was trying to do, and extended to what Nas had going on and what Decon had going on. And I guess in those conversations it might've come up, but it was a crossover from the old label into the new joint venture. It was optional, so they didn't have to keep me, they could've picked anybody up, but I'm kind of like the flagship artist of the label. And it's kinda dope, because Nas is my favorite MC of all time.

When was the first time you met Nas?
At SXSW right before he brought me out was the first time I met him. I met him and DJ Whoo Kid, his staff and a couple of his homies. What was crazy about the first time I met him was that I had so much that I wanted to say to him, 'cause I grew up on his shit. I didn't go to school, so other than my own personal experiences from the streets, [Nas] just enlightened me and put me on to a whole bunch of stuff that I wouldn't have looked at in that light if he wouldn't have put it in my face in plain English. He was saying shit I always felt and didn't know how to express it verbally.

The flow I got is molded through a lot of shit he was doing and a lot of shit I grew up liking—like the Big Daddy Kane's, that shit was dope as hell—but Nas was something different. He was special with the flow; his flow was something epic to me, his style was more of the image of how I perceived a real big city boy. He probably saw my vision a little bit to put me around the right people so I can match the vision of what I've been making.

Have you been in the studio with him?
We're putting all that in the works right now, but there's no rush on it. You can't rush perfection or greatness, you just gotta let it kind of take its course. And when it's time, it's gonna be time, I just hope that I can rhyme at a level that high. [Laughs] My man is 20 years in and he's still spitting like he's 20, you know what I mean? The last time I kicked it with him [was in New York last month], and right now we're trying to put in the works what type of joints we're gonna cut, 'cause I got a couple coming up. When the time is right, it's gonna build itself, 'cause it's the truth.

What are you working on right now?
I got my new mixtape coming out, it's called Trapper's Alley 2, and then I'm gonna drop an album after I build up the momentum from this next project. I'm gonna see what the right time is to drop an album, when would be appropriate for me to drop the bomb on everybody.

Do you have an idea of where you want to go with the album?
Yeah, I'ma try to have a more well-rounded sound, give people some of that bounce, but I'm gonna still do it my way and make sure it still has that street edge on it, so I don't feel like I'm crossing over too far out of my lane. I'm trying to stay within reason of who I am, and what the people expect of me, plus still try to meet the expectations of my fans who expect something different from me or expect more out of what I've been giving them. The people who think I've been kind of modest with the work, think I'm kind of holding back, I want to fill in the blanks on what they don't understand. Just catch everybody up to speed who's not up on who Boldy James is.

Fashawn

XXL: You inked a deal with Mass Appeal?
Fashawn: Yes sir. That’s officially confirmed.

How’s that feel? Nas is a legend and you are on his new roster.
Well, first of all, it's a lot of pressure, man. I really can’t let Nas down. You know the song “Let Nas Down” by J. Cole? I should write a song called “I Can’t Let Nas Down.” You know what I am saying? ‘Cause I can’t. I got him in my corner. You know? Picture us being in a boxing match and Nas in my corner. I’m going in that ring and trying to knock out everything in front of me. It’s pressure, it’s motivation, it’s inspiration. I can’t even explain it, man. Nas is arguably my favorite artist and arguably the greatest rapper of all time. Just to have that respect from him, it’s like priceless. Just to know that when I walk in the room, Nas is gonna stand up and shake my hand with respect. That means a lot. To know that I have his ear is just mind-blowing.

How come it felt right for you to make that jump with Nas?
I feel like I carry the torch for what Nas started. The kind of music, that style he innovated? I am kind of carrying the torch for that style. Basically, I kind of mean to this generation what he meant to his generation. I take full responsibility and I am well aware of that. That’s why I feel at home over there at Mass Appeal. And with Nas and everyone over there, they are an efficient team. I love the way they move and how they do business.

Truthfully, I was about to quit rap. I was about to quit rap right before I got the information that Nas wanted to sign me, because I was just so discouraged. Just shit that was going on in my personal life and in my career. You know what? Rap will survive without me. And then I got the call: Nas wants to sign me. And then I said, "Oh shit. I really—oh shit!" Yeah, I can’t stop now. Get that notebook out again and keep going. Continue what I started as well.

Do you think Ecology is going to come out on Mass Appeal?
Yeah, I couldn’t find a home for it. I didn’t know whether this product would fit. I didn’t know what roster I would fit in at. I didn’t know whether it was going to come out. Now, I am happy to say that it has a home, and is close to having a release date. It’s crazy. I used to think that at one point—this is never going to come out. I used to think that. Just to see where it is at now, it is amazing.

You share the roster with Bishop Nehru and Boldy James. What’s it like being with them?
Those are good guys. Man, it’d be a pleasure to rock alongside those guys. And plus, we kind of like, with us three, we kind of basically touching everything from the West to the Midwest to the East Coast. From Boldy being from the D, Bishop being from New York, and me being from the Golden State, I think Nas is smart. He knows what he's doing. Whatever the boss wants us to do, trust us, we gonna do that. Right now I think we are all just excited to be in the building with Esco. But yeah, we just got so much more to do. We just stepping into the door. Long story short, happy to be part of roster with those guys.

I’ve been a fan of Boldy. I actually got to vibe out with him at Alchemist’s house in L.A. once. That’s actually Chuck Inglish’s cousin. I don’t know if a lot of people know that. From The Cool Kids. I know Chuck very well. One day he brought him to the lab, and yeah, he’s a cool cat. We just vibed out and he’s one of my niggas from my neighborhood so we hit it off out the gate.

Bishop, I met him in the night at SXSW. The same night I met Nas I met Bishop. He’s just a cool kid. No pun intended—cool kid, man. He really loves the craft and he really has a vintage style to him. Like a really vintage ear for picking beats and rhyme cadences and shit. He really be mirroring the '90s style and that’s just phenomenal to me to know that he was born not too long ago. It blows my mind. I’m excited to see everyone’s career involved and I hope we can build this Mass Appeal as a brand, as a record label. So people know us. When they see that name, it’s synonymous with these three faces.