He emerged on the New York rap scene with his seminal 1994 debut album, Illmatic. Nearly two decades and many hit albums later, life is literally still good for Nas. In an exclusive interview with GRAMMY.com, the GRAMMY-nominated rapper discusses his most recent release, Life Is Good, biggest career moments, the current state of hip-hop and the inspiration behind his lyrics, among other topics.
"[Life Is Good] is about my life in a way," says Nas. "It's about how I feel and how far I've come."
Born Nasir Jones, the son of jazz musician Olu Dara, Nas dropped out of school in the eighth grade. Trading studying for New York's Queensbridge projects, Nas developed street credibility and a high degree of literacy that would later characterize his lyrics and lead to his self-appointment as King of New York. For Illmatic, Nas collaborated with DJ Premier, Large Professor and Pete Rock, and the album peaked at No. 12 on the Billboard 200. It Was Written followed in 1996 and garnered a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Solo Performance for "If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)." Nas has released 10 albums that have peaked in the Top 10 on the Billboard 200, including I Am… (1999), Hip Hop Is Dead (2006), Untitled (2008), and Life Is Good, all of which hit to No. 1.
Nas has earned nine GRAMMY nominations to date, the most recent coming in 2009 for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for "Too Many Rappers" featuring the Beastie Boys, another East Coast act who have had a large impact on hip-hop. Today, Nas feels hip-hop is in an evergreen, exciting state.
"Hip-hop is in a crazy place because even though most people who do hip-hop really don't understand hip-hop and don't know anything about the people who started [it], they're still excited to make the music," says Nas. "That says something about hip-hop music. … It doesn't stop, no matter what. It just keeps going."
While life is good, the artist has also weathered personal challenges, including living through such difficulties as his mother's death from cancer and his divorce from singer Kelis. But Nas finds solace in continuing to develop his talent.
"When you first think you're talented [it doesn't] mean you are talented at that point, you just think you got it and there's a rude awakening that happens," says Nas. "[You realize] you're not ready yet [and] you still [have to] develop more. … Life makes it that you [have to] work hard and keep developing your thing."