Nas flips Cole's tribute/confessional for a remix that doesn't disappoint
The danger of creating a tribute to a fellow artist—no matter how heartfelt, conceptual or well-meaning it is—is the finished work can be perceived as banal. After all, we live in a pretty jaded world in which Paris Hilton has a recording deal (just let that sink in). Yet when new breed lyricist J. Cole included the intriguing track “Let Nas Down” on his sophomore album Born Sinner, the results were far from dishwater. In fact, it was pretty insightful—a brutally honest detail of the well-worn battle between art vs. commerce. The remix, however, featuring Nasty Nas himself, takes the saxophone-paced soulful cut to an even more surreal place, making it one of this year’s most powerful statements.
But to get the full impact of the song, it’s important to go back to the original. Essentially an open letter to one of rap’s most revered figures, “Let Nas Down” finds Cole detailing his real-life disappointment of not living up to his idol’s lofty expectations following a conversation with his producer No I.D. “Dion called me when it dropped, sounded sad but sincere…told me Nas heard your single and he hate that shit,” Cole recalls of his attempts to garner a radio hit with the somewhat tepid "Work Out." “Said you the one, yo why you make that shit?”
What happened next is freakin' awesome. Nas jumps on the track to not only publicly offer his backing of the lyrically gifted Cole, but to let him know that he has also been on the other end of blatantly going for the commercial brass ring at the expense of fans. “I ain't mad at you, young king, this unsung song is haunting…Radio records are needed, I just wanted it to bring the warning…” There’s a lot going on throughout this compact 2 minutes, 29 seconds response. It’s all there. From Nas telling the much younger Cole to not look for the stamp approval from veteran musical giants, even larger-than-life mentor Shawn Carter who is naturally busy protecting his own immaculate throne (“It's hard for the great to tell somebody how to be great…”) to Mr. Jones’ deft, brilliant flip of the North Carolina native’s own rhymes (“Long live the idols, may they never be your rivals/Slick Rick was like Jesus, G Rap wrote the Bible/Now what you're 'bout to hear is a tale of glory and sin/Large Professor's my mentor, that's how the story end…”). It’s Nas’ way of saying that hip-hop is in good hands with the likes of Cole, Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator leading the way.
Indeed, this is not the case of an old, bitter man blocking the path of the young lion. It’s Rakim giving an approving nod to Nas after hearing the hungry newcomer on Main Source's now classic "Live at the Barbeque" circa 1991. And that’s a beautiful thing.—Keith Murphy (@murphdogg29)