Nas, “Hey Young World” (Originally Published November 2011)
This Saturday, Nas’ magnum opus Illmatic turns 20. The Queensbridge native’s journey into becoming a legendary MC all started with a groundbreaking debut that captured his worldview of the projects through a sharpened lens. XXL is celebrating the monumental anniversary with Nas Week, and we are proud to present you with every cover the iconic rapper has appeared on. Now let us take a trip down memory lane.
Twenty years ago, he was a teen phenom, making a name for himself with controversial rap lyrics and high artistry. Today, Nas is an elder spokesman in hip-hop, being interviewed by a new just-barely-beyond-teen phenom, who is making a name for himself with controversial rap lyrics and high artistry. Nas, Tyler. Tyler, Nas.
INTERVIEW TYLER, THE CREATOR
IMAGES KENNETH CAPPELLO
IT’S BEEN 20 YEARS SINCE HIP-HOP first heard Nasir Jones spit a rhyme. Two decades since a 17-year-old crack dealer from the Queensbridge projects made his recording debut on “Live at the Barbecue,” from Main Source’s classic Breaking Atoms album. He was known as Nasty Nas back then, and he made an immediate splash with jaw-dropping lines like, “Kidnap the president’s wife without a plan” and “When I was 12, I went to hell for snuffin’ Jesus.” Three years later, in 1994, he dropped his first album, Illmatic, at the tender age of 20. Since then, he has blown up into a bona fide hip-hop superstar, critically revered, popularly adored, selling more than 13 million albums in his career. Several other of Nas’s landmark works also celebrate anniversaries this year: It Was Written, its 15th; Stillmatic, its 10th; and the controversial Hip Hop Is Dead, its fifth. His last disc, Untitled, dropped in July 2008, so it’s been more than three years since die-hard Nas heads have gotten their dose.
Now Nas is preparing for the release of his 10th official album, Life Is Good, which is set to hit shelves in time for holiday shopping. Released through Def Jam Recordings, it will tentatively feature guest appearances from three members of the rising Los Angeles collective Odd Future.
Odd Future, a.k.a. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, is the brainchild of 20-year-old rapper/producer Tyler Okanma, a.k.a. Tyler, the Creator. After a year or so of building a buzz by putting free material on the microblogging platform Tumblr, Tyler and Co. exploded into the limelight in February, after a super-high-energy performance, their first ever television appearance, on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon. In April, they signed a deal with Sony’s RED Distribution, for Odd Future Records, and in September landed a TV show of their own, Loiter Squad, on the cable channel Adult Swim. They also sell their own clothing line through their website.
Tyler, who taught himself to play piano when he was 14, directs all the group’s videos and designs all the album artwork, and he skateboards as much as he can in his free time. His first for-sale solo album, Goblin, came out in May, on XL Recording. It was met with praise in some circles but decried as misogynistic and homophobic in others. While Goblin has sold only 129,000 copies, Tyler’s oversized impact on the pop-culture landscape was confirmed at the MTV Video Music Awards in August, when he won the Best New Artist award for “Yonkers,” a song in which he threatens fellow MTV faves B.o.B and Bruno Mars with murderous violence.
Tyler was four months and 17 days old when “Live at the Barbecue” came out. But he’s been a huge Nas fan since childhood. So XXL thought, What better way to honor a legend with 20 years in the game than by having an upstart newbie interview him for the cover story?
On a warm afternoon, at Siren Studios, in L.A., Nas and Tyler sat in the dressing room, surrounded by racks and stacks of fancy new clothes, while breathing in fumes from Mister Cartoon’s paint cans downstairs, for part one of a three-part interview that ran over an hour and a half.
Tyler, The Creator: God’s Son is my favorite album by you.
Nas: Aw, thanks. Why? ’Cause the word “God”?
Nah, it’s like, I got… Okay. That came out in 2003, around the XXL issue with you and, like, Jungle and them.
The [January/February] issue. And I bought it with that. I don’t know. That shit just... Like, “Heaven” is my shit on there.
Aw, man, thanks.
“Zone Out.” Your verse on there was fuckin’ retarded.
Word? Thanks, man.
That whole album was just legit.
And my second is probably Street’s Disciple.
Get the fuck out of here.
Because it’s a Last Supper thing?
Nah, nah. It’s just, like, the beats on there. “Thief’s Theme” is my favorite fuckin’ song from that album. That shit is fuckin’ retarded. I love the video, too.
Appreciate it, man.
I always forget the fuckin’ name…“Nazareth Savage”?
You fuckin’ spazzed on that. I don’t hear people talk about it that much, so…
I was about to say nobody ever mentioned that record to me, and shit.
That shit is, like, legit as fuck.
Nobody ever did. Word.
I love that shit.
I mean, I can see how you can get that, man. That’s…your shit. I see what you’re doing, you know? Your shit is, like, honest, like, real. You feel like you question, like…religion? You feel like you’re here to say something, too. And who the hell was King James, you know? I mean, how is he different from who we are today, or whatever? So we tell our story today, the way we see it.
That’s legit. I think that’s why I like Street’s Disciple. Like, you just spitting on there. Like, you just fuckin’ just going in on each fuckin’ track. Even the one with Maxwell and shit. Like, that’s a party record, but you were just going in.
Yo, that’s crazy, ’cause I think I might have been the first hip-hop dude to get Maxwell on a track, man. We were label mates. And I’ve always been a fan of his shit, too.
It came out legit, though. It came out, then I bought Stillmatic, like, a week after it dropped. That shit was legit as fuck. It’s weird. I listen to it all the time. And now I’m, like, sitting here. It’s cool, though.
It’s crazy, dawg. ’Cause I wouldn’t think that someone your age would even have time to check some shit out from—
That’s all I did when I was younger. Like, seven years old—get birthday money, go to Best Buy. Like, fuck, when I was nine, in 2000, I got, like, 30 bucks in Best Buy, and I went and bought Amel Larrieux’s Infinite Possibilities album and fuckin’ Voodoo, by D’Angelo. And everybody, like, everyone my age was like, “What the fuck you’re doing? Go get Pokémon cards.” I just collected music.
Do you like cheese?
I love cheese.
Cheddar or Swiss?
Swiss. Cheddar for the most of my life. Today, it’s Swiss.
Sick. That’s cool. I love fuckin’ cheddar. That’s my shit.
Why? Why did you ask?
I don’t know. I just want to know. I don’t know. What do you do, like, in your spare time? Do you play Xbox or anything?
No, I’ve actually spent a lot of time being lonely as fuck, you know? It’s, like…you just do nothing.
Right. No TV?
No TV. I love…like, movies.
Movies. So you watch movies?
You know, DVDs, Apple TV.
What’s the last movie you’ve watched that you could remember?
Midnight in Paris.
I don’t know what that is.
Woody Allen. It’s his last film. I like Woody. It’s a good movie. You would like it.
Have you seen 30 Minutes or Less? It just came out.
Nah. I don’t know…
It’s funny as fuck. Are you into comedy?
Or are you into, like, action or drama?
All of it, but a big comedy fan. Big comedy fan. Love comedy, dawg. Yeah. Richard Pryor is my hero, you know what I mean?
He’s cool. I don’t know if it’s an age thing, but I haven’t really watched any Richard Pryor films. I think Dave Chappelle is amazing, but he probably got all his shit from Richard Pryor.
Yeah, well, Richard was big when I was young, in the movies. But I didn’t get his stand-up. I used to think stand-up was garbage, ’til I got older and I realized this man was in Hollywood, a Black man in Hollywood. A genius. And he was onstage just letting it out. Then I got it later, and I thought he was the bravest person on Earth. Just saying all the shit he’s saying. He’s on cocaine. He’s this. He’s that. He married a White woman. He’s done this. He’s just real. It’s honest. It wasn’t made-up shit to make you laugh. It was just honest shit. I’m like, Damn!
That’s cool. I’ll try to watch his thing next tour I go on or some shit.
Yeah, check him out. He’s, like, he don’t give a fuck if you laugh or not. He has to get this shit off his chest. And I see that in Dave Chappelle. Dave Chappelle is, like… he’s incredible.
Yeah, he fuckin’ rules to me.
He’s the shit. What’s your favorite color?
Shit, that’s a good one, man. I think it might be orange and burgundy, and orange-going-into-burgundy.
So, like, a gradient into it. I think, if orange meets burgundy, it’s a little purple in the middle.
Yeah, it adds some purple in there. Just that blend going in like that.
That’s some shit. I’ve never heard orange or burgundy, or would’ve thought that I would’ve heard orange or burgundy, as someone’s favorite color. That’s fuckin’ awesome. That’s legit. Do you have a favorite album?
It changes, you know? It was the I Want You album.
Is that by Marvin Gaye?
Marvin Gaye. And, at one point, it was Shaved Fish, by John Lennon. And another time it was one of EPMD’s albums. Like, Unfinished Business. You know? Or The Great Adventures of Slick Rick.
Oh, is that the one where he’s on the cover? He is like this? [Tyler jumps off his chair and crouches down, posing like Slick Rick on the cover of the album.]
And then there’s, like, a city behind him?
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Yeah, I know, I know that one. I know that one. My favorite album is In Search Of…, by N.E.R.D. I think that’s the greatest shit ever. And then, probably, like, The Marshall Mathers LP. And then, I don’t know, maybe Love Deluxe, by Sade. Oh! And Hell Hath No Fury, by Clipse.
Really? Sade’s Lovers Rock album—that is one of my favorites.
Oh, yeah. That came out in 2000. That shit’s legit.
In the new record, I like “Babyfather.”
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Sade is awesome. She’s so cool. Have you met her?
I do, too. She’s super low-key. That’s cool, though.
That’s the best.
Being low-key is awesome… Your verse with fuckin’ Joe and Mariah Carey, the “Make It Last Forever (Remix),” from 2000, that’s one of my fuckin’ favorites. And Pleasure U Like—the verse with Jon B, from “Finer Things.” I was a big Jon B fan when I was younger.
This is crazy. This is crazy, man. That’s cool.
That shit’s so tight. Do you ever go go-karting or, like, to amusement parks or anything?
Nah, nah, nah.
Go go-karting. It’s fun as fuck. I went last week. Sore as shit the next day. ’Cause then, if you go with your friends and shit, it’s like a competition on the low. Then y’all just be bumping into each other, like, “No, fuck that! I want to win!” It’s amazing.
Dude, maybe I should hang with you more.
You should hang out with me for a day. We went egging the other night, and I hit this lady in the back of the head. And she, like… It’s kind of fucked up, but it was funny.
That’s incredible. The fact that you do… We was in junior high school, back around the way. And, you know, that was a big thing in Halloween. Everybody was egging up everything. That’s crazy. I’m glad that stopped, ’cause everybody would get hit with eggs. Everybody.
They don’t really do that as much. ’Cause out here in L.A., for sure, even with people my age, except for my group of friends, they just try to act older than they actually are. And, like, “I’m too good to be doing that.” And “I’m mature.” I’m like, “Nigga, you are 18. What are you doing?”
But I think it’s fucked up you went egging and hit somebody in the back of the head.
It wasn’t even on purpose, though. I just threw it, and she fuckin’… Like, it just, it hit, and you just see it, like… That shit was hilarious, though.
I know that just traumatized her for the rest of the year.
Oh, man. I got egged once, though. Like, I got hit in the chest, and I guess it was karma. I don’t know. It sucked. But later on, you’re like, Damn, that was actually funny. It’s like getting shitted on by a bird. It sucks at the moment, but a week later, you’re like, That’s funny as shit. Have you ever played Grand Theft Auto?
Yeah, yeah, I did.
Did you like it?
Yeah, when it f rst came out. I don’t play video games, though. I’m not into ’em. But the ones that got the crazy graphics and shit, I got to try it. When Grand Theft Auto first came out, I was on that, though.
Your daughter’s name is Destiny, right?
How old is she now?
That’s sick. I remember the song you dedicated to her off Street’s Disciple, the second disc.
I love that beat. That song’s legit.
Aw, thanks, man. It’s crazy, because when she was young, she was a baby, I thought, Aw, man, I’m gonna quit this rap shit before she becomes old enough to even know what I’m doing, what I did for a living. I never thought that I’d be still doing it while she’s a teen, growing up. And I’m still in the game. It kind of fucks me up.
It’s kind of weird, huh?
It’s weird as fuck sometimes. But then, other times, it’s, like, perfect. It’s, like, I’m glad it worked out this way. ’Cause then I would have to be telling her, “No, I really was a somebody in rap. Like, you got to believe me!”
She’d be like, “What the fuck you talking about, nigga? I’m about to go to the mall.”
Exactly, exactly, dude. That shit is amazing.
Did you ever think, like… Okay, you dropped Illmatic. How old were you? Like, 18?
When I started it, I was 18. I dropped it when I was 20.
So you was my age when Illmatic came out?
Yeah. The frst thing I did was “Live at the Barbecue.” That was ’91.
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?
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.
They was done.
You know what I mean? So I didn’t think I would be up to right here.
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?
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.
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?
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.
Yeah, that shit’s hard.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
There’s no point.
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.
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.
Yeah, I’m total opposite of what you was listening to. [Laughs]
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.
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.
That shit’s cool. Like, I listen to some rock and shit. I like jazz, too. And I like rapping. So songs that I have might have fuckin’ hard-ass fuckin’ drums that make you wanna hit someone in the face. But then I have really pretty chords in the background, because of my jazz influence. But I like to rap, so I rap over the rock drums with the jazz influence and shit. And it shows people a different—people think I just listen to fuckin’ hip-hop.
I don’t get that from you. I get that you listen to everything.
Yeah, I listen to total other shit. And it’s cool I can bring people into a world of different music. Like, I’ve had so many kids come up saying they weren’t into hip-hop and they were only into punk rock but I kind of bridged the gap between that for both of them. Now they go back and listen to other music. And they realize that punk rock and rap is really not that different. The things that they’re seeing, the popular rap music that they see—which, I’m not one of those dudes, like, “Fuck mainstream,” or nothing—but whenever they turn on the radio, what they hear, they’re like, “This is the gayest shit that I ever fuckin’ heard in my life.” But I bridge the gap between, like, “Whoa, it’s not all like that.” I had one dude, like, “Yo, I fuckin’ love Ludacris now because you introduced me to the hip-hop world, and I was just being biased because of my punk-rock roots.” It feels cool to introduce other people to shit like that.
Definitely. There’s a new generation born every five minutes. You gotta keep your ear to the streets. That’s how I look at it, too. At the same time, I don’t really pay attention too much to what’s going on. I can’t take all the shit in. It’s overload.
Yeah, it’s too much. I don’t get on the Internet as much anymore. It drives me crazy.
The Internet is Satan.
Dude! I said the same thing! I hate Tumblr. You know what Tumblr is? I fuckin’ hate Tumblr! That shit is evil. I’ve seen that shit turn people crazy.
I don’t even know what that is.
Don’t. I’m all over that muthafucka, and it’s just—it’s some shit, man. It goes crazy. Because the Internet gives people who don’t have a voice a voice. And it just drives you fuckin’ crazy. Like, my Twitter, I get on there sometimes to promote shit and say whatever I feel. But I don’t check my mentions anymore, ’cause that shit drives me fuckin’ crazy.
No, I never look at it. I have a team that operates that shit for me. They’ll send me questions, and I answer them. That’s it. I was a prank caller when I was a young kid. You get that moment where it’s, Oh, I can just call anybody up and say whatever! This is before caller ID, before *69, all that shit. I look at the Internet as prank callers. You don’t know who they are. They’re having fun. Actually, I’m not mad at that.
That’s what the Internet is for, though. To drive you crazy.
You could do some good with the Internet, of course. But it’s, like, a man with horns. Not even a man—a dark force with horns—behind the whole shit.
Yeah, but it could do some good. It helped me out, for sure. But at times, that shit is, like, I can’t fuck with you.
Nah, no way.
Yeah. “Hate Me Now” is one of my favorite videos. I like Belly a lot, too. Hype Williams is awesome. I just want to be a video director when I’m older, and, like, not really rapping as much anymore. And, like, those two really, like, the angles and just…It’s really cool.
Yeah, man. The Hype era was a muthafucka. He was a genius, man. He was before his time. And, like most directors, they’re nuts. He’s nuts in a good way. Crazy.
He was awesome. He was legit. When it comes to videos, those shits are really important to me, ’cause that can make or break a song. Plus, it sucks when you, like, have a favorite song and then the video sucks. It’s like, Aw, fuck. Then when you hear the song, you’re like, Fuck, they have a shitty video for it. Shit like that is important for me. So I just wanted to tell you personally.
Aw, man, thanks. I’ve made some shitty videos to some shitty songs. It happens. So that happens, too. So I really appreciate you, bro.
Is there any song that you cringe when you listen to?
I would never tell. There’s plenty. There’s one thing where I say…“Blaze a 50”—a song I call “Blaze a 50.” It’s a story, and I say “Palm Springs.” I say, “I was at Palm Springs, at Al Capone’s suite.” I thought in Palm Springs there was a hotel and a suite that Al Capone always stayed at. I misread, or I was too high back then. But he had a home on Palm Island, in Florida. But “Palm” tripped me up. Palm Springs is the more famous, I think. So I cringe at that because I made that mistake. But fuck it. So what? Chalk it up to the blunts. The song is called “Blaze a 50.” Blaze a $50 bag of weed. So shit like that happens. But I don’t really cringe about it. I just won’t say it, so people don’t fuck with me about it. But it’s honestly you and your thoughts. So to you, you hear it now, and you say, Damn, I made a mistake. Nah, it’s the way you saw it. It’s just the way you saw it. It’s fresh from you. It’s nothing wrong with it, at the end of the day. It’s nothing wrong with it. It’s like an artist when he’s painting, and he doesn’t like what he did, and he wants to throw it away, so he starts a new canvas. That’s just the way you felt like expressing it that day. That’s it. So it’s nothing to beat yourself up about.
So, deep down inside, somewhere you still like it, ’cause you made it.
Exactly, man. You know, and you know what you meant by it. It’s what it is. It’s a little glitch.
That’s cool. Do you draw or anything?
I used to. I used to. And what fucked me up is in Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Where he writes, he drew himself on the couch, watching television with the girl. He was an artist, too. And I thought it was more personal of him, rather than just have an album with liner notes and all of this stuff. And that’s it—it’s just perfect. No, he has his little sketches inside the sleeve, with the wax album. He drew some shit. I thought that was cool. So I think about drawing sometimes. It’s personal.
Are you into art? Or is there any artists that, like…
I’m not into it for the sake of just saying it. Like, everyone says they’re into Basquiat. I’m not.
Yeah, I’m not really into that stuff . Like, I have artists that I love. But I’m not, like, “Oh, shit, Warhol!” “Oh, Basquiat!” Or some other fuckin’ famous muthafucka that I wanna sound cool.
It’s cliché shit these days. Of course, they got great Warhol pieces, some great Basquiat pieces. I actually would like to own some Basquiat shit I saw. And I remember him when he was alive. I remember his name; I remember his work. So I am familiar with his shit. I do like his shit. Am I crazy about art? Yes. But am I crazy about going out to buy it, and all of that shit? No. I love it. I love the art world, I love art galleries, I love what it means—I love art. But do I wake up and say, I gotta have some art? Fuck, no.
That’s tight. I want a big-ass house so I can buy canvases…
Paint your own shit.
And just draw my own shit…
That’s what I wanna do.
You should fuckin’ do it.
Go get canvases and the three colors you like for the fuckin’ day—which would probably be orange, burgundy and a mixture between that shit: purple. And then fuckin’ just draw.
My partner has canvases of his own work. It’s great shit, too. It’s all good.
That’s pretty legit. That’s legit. You love New York hats.
How many do you own?
I wear them ’til they are worn. ’Til they’re too worn.
And I get new ones all the time. Actually, I buy caps like I buy drawers, like I buy sneakers. I need fresh ones all the time.
Is there any hat that you’ve kept ’cause they’re, like… I have caps, like, I have the hat I won my VMA in. That’s staying with me forever. The hat that I went on my first show— which I think is this hat, actually. [Indicates his maroon baseball cap] That shit’s staying with me forever. Certain hats I keep ’cause they represent a moment in time for me. And I just want to have them in case, one day…
I never won a VMA. I never won anything. And it’s kinda cool. Actually, I did win an Emmy for a documentary on ESPN. I’m really proud of that, but I wasn’t at the ceremony, so there’s nothing I wore that…Um, I got a few things I have still that mean a lot to me. I can’t remember what they are, but I know I have some things stashed away.
I think it’s cool you won a VMA award. I think it’s the best shit in the world. ’Cause that’s so not what you give a fuck about—I can tell. It’s appealing to the mainstream in a way that the whole world wants to congratulate you, and they still do. And I think that is amazing. I think that’s great, man.
Are you working on any, like, music? Like, for a project? Or just, like, free-flow?
Yeah. This album is coming this year.
Is there a certain sound for it?
There’s a couple of them. “Nasty” was important for me, you know? To be this deep in the game, to go back to the sound I kinda started on: great beats, no chorus, just rhymes, doing whatever I want to do. That’s part of the sound to it. The part of the sound to it is also me smoked out, gangsta shit. I think there’s some other pieces of it that’s personal. Different sounds…
That’s cool. Just do what you want to do. I mean, that’s what I do. I know I sound all over the place, but when you just make an album that you do what you want, you’ll never regret that shit. Even if you go through a phase where you mature, on some spiritual shit, deep down you’ll fuckin’ still think it’s the coolest shit.
After a half-hour break to get some fresh air and chill with the publicists, managers, photographers and Mister Cartoon (XXL has commissioned the famed tattooist and graffiti artist to create custom artwork for the cover and the story), Nas and Tyler make their way to a small outdoor sitting area toward the back of the studio. Walled off with bushes for privacy, the two get comfortable at a table and jump right back into the conversation.
You never tried crack, right?
[Laughing] Have you seen anyone, like, on it? Because I know the age you grew up in, like, I’m guessing, it was still blooming.
Yeah. Put it like this: Crack fucked up the world, and it’s a lot of people today who come from that era, and I wonder if they realize the damage. I mean, they come from the era where people made a lot of money off that shit. And I wonder if it fucked with their conscience. It fucked with me being out there. I couldn’t stand it. I couldn’t stand seeing people fucking themselves up like that on the shit. And that’s where the money came from. But I wasn’t in the same situation that a lot of people were dealt in. A lot of people dealt with their parents on crack, and they had to sell it to eat. I didn’t come from that kind of household. I was just doing what everybody else was doing. But it fucked with me to see our people, our grown-ups, people way older than me… And treating them in such a way. That shit was barbaric, you know? If it wasn’t for this drug, they could whup my ass. Or I had to listen to them and respect them in ways that…
That is some shit.
You know? But now they’re beneath that point. When I was out there, it was like we were the adults, as teens.
I never had a drink in my life. I don’t smoke or anything. I just always—
You mean, you’re just naturally like this?
That’s fuckin’ crazy.
Yeah, I’m just always interested, because when you said you smoked [weed], I mean, I could see that, because you’re so fuckin’ laid-back. You’re just chill as shit. That just caught me and reminded me of when you grew up and seen things like that and how crazy it was to just walk down the street and see people strung out.
Yeah, I grew up with neighbors who were dope fiends. That’s how I grew up.
I know that’s some shit to see.
Yeah, when you’re young, you don’t understand it. You just think people are walking and talking and looking funny. Like, “Why they acting like that? Mom, why do they gotta look like that? Something’s wrong.” But when you get older, you catch on quick.
It goes back to what you were saying, that you can’t have one foot in the streets and one in the thing. You made it out, and I think that’s really cool, because some people are stuck. They’re so stuck into the streets, with a hard mentality, that they’re not smart enough to take an opportunity handed to them to be great, because they have to abide by the rules of the streets.
You get addicted to the flip, the transaction, the hustle—where it’s more than the money. It’s your job. You feel like it’s your duty to be the man in between the man that makes this happen for this person, and do this and do that. You become a go-to guy for people, forever. It’s hard to get out when people are calling, “Yo, you got it? You got this?” You see how you can make a few dollars.
I’m not in that position. But the way I perceive it is, it feeds the ego when you’re the middle guy that makes shit happen and you know people have to come to you to get to that person. It makes you feel important, and I guess some people need that.
Yeah. At the same time, you know, the risks are crazy. The risks you’re taking is crazy. That adrenaline rush starts getting numb to you. First, it’s a quick boom, boom, boom. Then you get good at it. Next thing you know, you in too deep. Way too deep. You wind up with so much work, you’ll be scared to death.
Have you ever gotten scared to death…
Yeah. I said, “Wait a minute. I need a minute.” I didn’t go no further. I got out.
Once I felt that shit, that next-level shit, I got out. Because that meant a career in it for me. That’s not my makeup. I come from where people still do that, but, you know, it’s important for us to realize, man, that we have to get out of that, man. Dudes is buying choppers, shooting down people that look just like them. Dudes is buying guns to take down each other, and that’s an easy thing to do. It’s a sad thing when you just have rage, you’re frustrated, and you take it out on your own. That’s what comes with the drug game. It’s violence, eventually, with your own. It’s no-win. When one man’s in the penitentiary for life and the other man’s in the grave, nobody wins.
That makes sense.
But most of the people that’s trying to get into the rap game and trying to get up out of that don’t really know how to get up out of that. You can’t really say, I’m going to get off in the rap game, but I still live in this shit, around this shit. The shit knows where I’m at when I’m being legit, when I’m in the studio.
That’s the worst.
That side of it knows where I’m recording at. Unless you really holding your shit down like that, you don’t want to get caught slipping. You got to really, really remove yourself. And then that’s scary. That’s equally scary, to leave one hustle to the next. If you know one thing is paying, to go into the next thing is as scary as being in a crazy dope game. You give one thing up and try something else—and this is how you eat? That’s how most people are. That’s the situation most youngsters are in. This shit is about heart. Standing onstage, saying what you say in front of all those people. Meaning what you say. It’s about heart. It’s actually harder to be in the entertainment game than it is to be in the drug game. It’s way harder. To even make money off your art, it’s harder than it is to be a drug dealer. Drug dealers is an easy thing, you know, just to get into. But once you’re in, who knows what’s going to happen.
Yeah, it’s hard to get out. I guess you could say it’s hard to get into the music game but easy to get out. They’re opposites of each other.
Exactly. But then you have the same criminals. You have lawyers and thieves, A&Rs and accountants. The fuckery never ends. You can’t escape it. In every field, you get it, too.
I see what you’re saying. Are you, like—this question might catch you off guard, but I ask myself this— like, when you wake up, like, are you happy? Like, are you satisfied how everything turned out? Just grateful as fuck?
Dawg, I was naming my album Life Is Good because of how happy I am about how happy things have turned out. Sometimes I may wake up and wish my kids were living with me. That’s the only thing, you know what I mean? Our loved ones that are not around no more, like my mom. That’s the only thing. But other than that, everything is great, even when I’m alone. Even when there’s no one around. Because you can seclude yourself. You can isolate yourself. You can really be like Marlon Brando—he just got an island and just lived over there. Got fat and enjoyed life until it was over. Because, after a while, you don’t need it. But then there’s a balance you gotta have, because you can’t be alone too much. Because I realized I start to question, Am I lonely? Like I said earlier, I’m lonely as fuck sometimes. Because what I do in my spare time. And then you realize, Thank God I have these lonely times, so I can think. I need to. This is a time God gave me because he’s given me a clear canvas, a fresh canvas to do whatever else I wanna do moving forward. But if you’re so used to, if you don’t look at it like that, you can really be a lonely muthafucka out here. And that’s what it is, because, you know, when the lights are down, and when the music is off , and when the crowd leaves the venue, and when you get back to that hotel room… I’m not online, you know? I’m, like, I pick up a book, I think, I make a phone call to a friend. That shit is like, Whew. You know what I mean? But I made it that way, ’cause I don’t like stupid people around me. I don’t just have people around me because I need people around me. You know what I mean? So I made it that way. So I can’t be mad at the lonely times. I’ve realized those are the moments God gave me for… Are you an atheist?
So you don’t believe in God?
Nah. I just live life. I grew up in a Christian family, but, you know, the way Mom brought me up is to, you
know, do you, to always be yourself. So I just grew up—
So we’re insects?
Yeah, we’re just here. I don’t know anything…
Whatever gets you through the day, that’s what I say. You know what I mean? And if—
That’s cool you say that, because I get so much shit because I just live life. And the thing is, I don’t judge people. I don’t care if you’re Muslim, gay. I don’t care if you’re fat, you know? That doesn’t make people. And I just get judged so much because of things like that. And you’re one of the few people that I can tell, that just from your answer, you just, you still see me as just another person. That is pretty cool. I never get that. I always get judged and stuff , and that was awesome.
Dawg, I mean, the world is big enough for everybody to have their opinion and not get in anybody’s way. And that’s what’s up, man. But, you know, with God, there is God. Because—at least this is what I’m feeling—I can feel it. Because I went through things, and I felt it. I felt that force, you know what I mean? There’s good and bad; there’s darkness and evil. And if you watch Star Wars— you a fan of that?
You know, I’ve never seen that movie before.
Now’s a good time. You know, watch the trilogy, and then go watch the other ones. But the first trilogy: Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi. They talk about the Force, and Darth Vader was on the Dark Side of the Force. He was sorta like the fallen angel. He was good—at first, he was good, with Obi-Wan Kenobi. And then he fell to the Dark Side and became Darth Vader—in other words, Lucifer. And Luke is almost like, he’s like the Jesus guy, you know what I’m saying? But it took me a while, because, at first, you into the science-fiction shit and the spaceships and the future. So then there’s a whole ’nother story, ’bout the future in that shit. So, I mean, this is written by wise people who studied film for years and studied life for years, and they put these movies together kinda based on the Bible but yet just based on what history has taught us. So Star Wars is a muthafucka. I love that shit, man. It’s crazy. But there’s the Force, there’s energy, there’s souls, you know what I mean? There’s spirits.
I think it’s good and evil, for sure. But—
Do you believe in the devil?
I mean, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t claim. I believe in a higher being. And it’s considered agnostic, but I don’t like labels. Like, I don’t drink or smoke, and people will consider that “straight edge.” That’s, like, the term. And I don’t like labels. I just like being free and floating. But the dark and evil stuff you say, it’s people that I’m around that I just get this negative, evil vibe from. Like, you can just feel certain shit.
Yeah, yeah. [Laughs]
Like, I don’t want to sound like one of the people that, like, haters or stuff. But you can just feel when you’re around certain people that they just don’t want you to win. Or they want to see you just get negative, dark, evil energy. And I don’t mean that dark, evil, like, grunge-era-type—fuckin’, just listen to punk rock. I don’t mean that. I mean, like, actually, if they could kill you, they fuckin’ would. They just want to wish the worst for you.
Right, right, right.
And I know what you mean by that good and evil shit, so I’ma for sure watch Star Wars when I get a chance.
The trilogy, yeah. Do it. Do it. At least, yeah, Return of the Jedi, at least until The Empire Strikes Back.
Hell, yeah. But… This shit was awesome. It was cool talking to you. You’re wise as fuck. Smart as shit.
Aye, man, you, too.
I always knew that, but… And you’re so laid-back.
You don’t seem laid-back. You seem to me that you are laid-back, you’re cool. But I see a fuckin’ psychopath in you, and I mean that in a good way. I see a freedom in you. I see you’re free.
You’re free, and that’s a great way to live, man.
It is. Waking up, doing what you want, and being able to buy, being able to do what I want, what I would be doing regardless if I was getting paid for it. I don’t think it’s anything better.
There’s nothing better.
Possibly, to do what I would have if I wasn’t getting paid for it, and doing that, and being able to just buy little shit is amazing, because I know what it feel like to be broke. Like, a year ago—I don’t know if you know who Plain Pat is; he’s a producer—but he flew me to New York. I was at my worst. I got fired from my Starbucks job and shit, and my mom was on my ass, and she’s like, “You need to get a job.” And she was [in Northern California], so she made me go get a job at FedEx. Worst place ever—so fuckin’ depressing. I wanted to just fuckin’ kill myself. And he fuckin’ called. He heard the shit I was doing, the music and shit. And he was like, “Hey, you ever been out of California?” I was like, “No.” He was like, “I’ma fly you to New York for a week or so. Just come out here, listen to music, probably meet Kanye or someone.” I don’t know. He does a lot of shit for Kanye and [Kid] Cudi. That moment, it was either stay at that job or just quit and go to New York. I went to New York. I was so fuckin’ depressed at that place, at FedEx. The people there, they were 40- and 50-year-old dudes, just happy to be pushing boxes. They don’t want anything more. You know how some people get jobs and want to be the manager and move up? Those dudes were just so comfortable with the job and the situations they were in. It just made me depressed. Because I didn’t want that shit. I didn’t even want to be there. I just had to, because I was so fucking tired of hittin’ licks with cars and stealing other shit out of pawnshops just so I could eat. Because my mom didn’t make a lot of money. I was living with my grandma ’til I was 16. So the way I ate was, I had my job at Starbucks. I was cool with skate shops, so I would sling that just to fuckin’ eat, because my grandma never cooked. It was just a bad time. So that’s when I decided, Fuck it. I’m just going to quit this job. I need to be free from all this shit. Plain Pat flew me out there, and that’s just when shit got rollin’. I don’t even know why I said that. But this was exactly a year ago.
It was a choice I made to either be free and live my life the way I want—
But, like you said, we were talking about that earlier, leaving one hustle for the next, not sure if this one is going to work.
Yeah, I wasn’t sure.
It’s a hell of a decision. You got to make big decisions, big decisions, man. Life-changing decisions. And you made it. You made the right one.
I totally made the right one, because I got my mom from up north and moved her to a spot. I’m touring like crazy. I’m able to just eat and look up stuff from 2006 and just get it. I don’t really spend money, but the little money I do spend is just shit that I wanted since I was 15. And there’s nothing better than that.
It’s the best shit in the world.
I made that from having fun and doing shit I was already doing.
I got old-school Star Wars action figures, and shit like that. Just collected shit that I used to own. I wish I kept it. Nah, I don’t wish I kept it. It’s cool to get back with them now and collect them.
That shit’s the fuckin’ best. There’s nothing better. Do you eat tacos?
Fish tacos, lobster tacos, shrimp tacos. I’m not a big beef lover.
I’m not big on beef.
Is beef bad for you?
No. It’s just heavy as fuck—a lot of cholesterol. I used to love steak, but I don’t really fuck with it no more.
That’s cool. I feel like, when I get older, I’m going to turn into a vegetarian.
I dip in and out of it.
The interview is a wrap. But as Tyler and Nas walk back toward the building for the photo session, they keep talking, and come upon one last topic they want to get on tape. The tape recorder is switched back on—and this time, Nas asks the questions.
Nas: Are we gonna see you and Bruno gunning after each other with AKs? What’s going on with that?
Tyler, The Creator: I don’t hate Bruno. I hate his haircut, and his music pisses me off . Like, you ever been driving in a car, and, you know, you’re driving, going through the freeway, and then some fuck boy cuts you off, and it fucks everything up? That’s how I feel when I hear his music. I get really mad, and I want to throw tantrums. I don’t hate the guy—much success to him. But, fuck, I hate his music. People make it seem, they make a big deal…
I like Bruno. I like his music.
You have artists whose music you hate, right? That you just don’t like? Everyone has that, but it’s such a fuckin’ big deal when I say that. Everyone has that. Everyone has that.
I like toilets.
[Laughs] I love it. You make mad sense. I understand.