LYRICS TO GO
Nas and J. Cole are no big brother and heir apparent duo. They’re two masterful wordsmiths forever stuck on the realness. Dressed in American classic brands, the super MCs connect on the power of the pen
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J. Cole just might’ve let Nas down again. Here in Manhattan’s Neo Studios, as the lanky Fayetteville, N.C., rhymer sways and swaggers for this fashion photo shoot, he requests his idol Tupac’s seething Makaveli album to color the ambience. Meanwhile, hidden behind a collapsible wall, another one of his rap heroes, Nas, is preparing for the camera’s scrutiny, changing into a nostalgic ensemble that could’ve been plucked from Queens, N.Y.’s famed Coliseum street mall in ‘95. In both physical and spiritual forms, hip-hop legends of yesterday and tomorrow are lording the space. And then it happens.
This little nigga named Nas thinks he live like me.
Tupac’s infamous challenge from “Against All Odds” momentarily wraps the studio in discomfort. It’s like watching an X-rated movie scene with your parents. “Nah, turn that off,” says Cole, 28, flashing a sheepish smile. He opts for the less badass All Eyez on Me instead. “I didn’t realize.”
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Still, no awkward DJing can quell the bromancing shared by Jermaine Cole and his prophyte Nasir Jones today, a respect jelled in wax on “Let Nas Down,” Cole’s conflicted explanation for pandering to radio standards. Just days before this shoot, the mellow vet responded with his own genuine endorsing remix, knighting Jay-Z’s star student as a young rap valedictorian. Yet, the coronation had already been earned, thanks in part to J. Cole’s moody sophomore LP, Born Sinner, which outpaced its release date rival Kanye West’s Yeezus by scoring No. 1 in it’s third week on Billboard charts on its way to RIAA Gold Certification. Nas’ pen is still Ginsu-sharp as well. The impossibly 39-year-old face of Hennessy’s Wild Rabbit campaign is already antsy about diving into his 11th solo studio album, the follow-up to last year’s renaissance project Life Is Good.
“I told you before I need some tracks—your shit’s tight,” Nas insists to Cole. ‘Pac has been silenced, and the two rap geniuses now are plopped on a black leather couch in the studio’s posterior. “We need to do more shit [together] ‘cause it just makes you sharper as an MC.” They trade schedules for a hypothetical future studio session. But today, the meticulous lyricists have assembled to talk the art of rhyme, from conception to the vocal booth. It was written, and here, it is told.
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