Nas doesn’t take himself too seriously. Phoning in to VIBE the day after Malcolm X’s convicted assassin was released from prison, the Brooklyn-born, Queensbridge-bred MC constructs elaborate theories about the Mayan prophecies of 2012, stacking on facts like a deliberate construction worker. Moments later, he’s plowing down his thesis with a counterpoint, leaving you to sort out the rubble yourself. It’s an unexpected demeanor for a rapper steadfastly championing Africa for the full-length album Distant Relatives, a collaborative opus with Damian Marley. With the Afrocentric disc hitting stores next week (May 18), Nas opens up for a seriously loose chat about Africa jokes, Knight, Rakim, and that Kelis tattoo. —John Kennedy
VIBE: Some might consider Distant Relatives a preachy record. Were you conscious of that while recording, or do you even care?
Nas: That’s never a thought, you don’t want nobody thinking that you’re being preachy—I don’t like people being that way to me. I cant explain what it is, something else takes over when we in the studio. When I hear [Damian Marley] mention Shaka Zulu, Incan warriors, I can see them rising up from the dead. I feel like we’re speaking to our ancestors with our music. I don’t have time to know what somebody [else] is getting out of the song.
You’ve had a longstanding relationship with Africa, as many chuckled at your Afrocentric role in Belly, and you’ve even made light of your “Back-to-Africa” praise on “Black Girl Lost” from It Was Written. Do you feel like your audience rejects Africa?
Yeah, it’s multiple reasons for it. We’re in the greatest country ever, in America, so any country that’s foreign to us is gonna not seem homely, especially a place that’s been so fucked over by other governments. Especially a place that seems so poor. The family tree root has been cut here in America. So when you’re talking about going back, you’re talking about a place that people don’t know as their home, and Africans who don’t see us as their people. But we’re their long lost brothers and sisters. There could be so much truth told about that continent that would encourage young people.
Did you learn anything new through the recording of the album?
Yeah, but I don’t wanna say, because if I start telling you what I learned, I might become a bigger target. It’s heavy, bro. I feel great about what we've done on the album. But if we were ever to do it again, I think [Damian and I would] both be marked for death. We’re just making music for everyone to enjoy. There’s a side we didn’t talk about in Africa where things are really wrong. Preaching? That’s a joke. This is almost baby language.
Speaking of babies, this was the first time since making Illmatic that you became a dad again. How’d it feel to be awaiting your first son while recording Distant Relatives?
It’s amazing. It just made everything feel like it was right on time, you know? To have a daughter is amazing too, but when you’re a man, to have a son is different. My daughter is my princess and now I have a prince, so it’s a beautiful thing to have a son and a daughter. Now I have a little man. It’s the coolest shit ever.
How old is Knight? Is he walking yet?
He’s like nine months. He’s crawling, pulling himself to stand up. He said the word ‘stick’ about a month ago. He’s been talking for about two months, saying little words here and there.
Any of them rhyme?
What was his first word?
I don’t know, it sounded like he was trying to say 'hello.' He was picking up on things very young, like two to three months if not sooner. It just throws you that we’re born knowing what’s up.
How often are you able to see him?