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Nas Talks 'Life Is Good,' Wanting Eminem and Jay-Z for "Daughters (Remix)"

First, let’s get it out of the way. Nas’ Life Is Good is worth the proverbial hype. The tenth release from the celebrated Queensbridge, New York lyricist is also his best effort in years—a work that is as brutally honest as it is ambitious. Yes, much of the talk surrounding the project revolves around its startling, barebones personal content, a project that finds Nas brilliantly detailing his very public divorce with R&B vixen Kelis, his tax issues and fatherhood. But to Nas’ credit, Life Is Good is more than just bold a dissection of tabloid headlines. It’s hopeful, infectious, defiant, redemptive and at times nostalgic. VIBE caught up with Nas to discuss his bold new work and his legacy within the hip-hop landscape. It’s Nasty Nas, y’all.—Keith Murphy

There’s been a lot of talk about the influence Marvin Gaye’s landmark Here, My Dear had on you during the recording of Life Is Good. How much of an impact did that album have on your creative writing process?
A lot…just Marvin’s overall genius. It’s an album that I really love and a lot of people still have never heard it. Marvin wasn’t afraid to put it all out there. He was very open with [the break up] of his marriage.

From the album cover, which highlights Kelis’ wedding dress, to some of the personal details you reveal about your own divorce, were you initially apprehensive about sharing personal details of your relationship?
It just came naturally. It really bothered me because we are in the Internet age. There was no way to avoid everything that was out there. To me that’s what shaped this album. I couldn’t escape all the stuff about my marriage or questions about [my finances]. So my answer was putting Kelis’ green wedding dress on the album cover. The music and the reality of my life go hand-in-hand. Life is poetry and that’s what this new album is. I haven’t had a record out in a long time. This is the way I got it all off of my chest.

Can you talk about what the creative process was like working with No I.D.?
With No I.D. at first it took us a while to really see what train we were both on. We both seemed to agree on a lot of things, but to work together we had to make sure we were on the same page. His take on the album was for me to just be myself. Forget everything else…just do what’s real. That’s always been the formula with me and Salaam [Remi]. So it was no different with No I.D. We would just spend sessions talking. Those conversations really kept me on point. No I.D. is a brilliant dude.

One of the songs on Life Is Good that showcases your fruitful collaborative relationship with No I.D. is the single “Daughters,” which talks about your at times rocky relationship with your teenage daughter Destiny. Can you describe the first time she heard the song?
She was there when I was recording it. We were in a big studio so Destiny was doing other things, but she walked into the room where I was recording it and heard a few words and said, ‘What’s going on?’ The whole room just started laughing and she kind of smiled and walked backwards out of the room. She didn’t know what it was about and she didn’t want to listen to it, but later on she heard the song.

And what was the verdict?
I think she understands where I was coming from. She can hear me saying that I wasn’t always around and I wasn’t always the best dad, but I care. And there are a lot of fathers like me. To me, ‘Daughters’ lets all those fathers out there know, ‘Hey, don’t end up like me in terms of not being there all the time.’ You should really pay attention to the most precious thing in the world. Destiny and I hang out all the time. She never beefs with me about it.

What did you learn from working with Swizz Beatz this go around?
Working with Swizz was great. We both have been through divorce. Me and Swizz both been through baby mama drama. We both have an undying love for hip-hop. And we are in great places in our life. He’s probably in a better place when it comes to his love life because Swizz is married to the amazing Alicia Keys. But we’re both in a great place in our lives.

There are some very savvy features on this album such as Rick Ross, Anthony Hamilton, and the late Amy Winehouse. Were there any other artists that you wanted to collaborate with that didn’t make it on the album?
One of the only other rappers I thought about was AZ. And I wanted Eminem for a remix for “Daughters,” but he had already expressed that he’s spoken so much about his daughter throughout his career that he had done that subject too much. And me and Jay-Z talked about doing some things, but our schedules were so crazy.

That would have been worthy of pushing back the album, huh?
[Laughs] Well, I know we both are probably going to be upset that he didn’t make it onto the album because I really look forward to working with Jay. But I didn’t want a lot of people on the album since it’s been four years for me. Next album I’ll do more features, but on this one I didn’t want to have a lot of people on the album. I also have Mary J. Blige on vocals. I’m drawn to that soulful sound.

There seems to be a real synergy between you and Rick Ross. Were you surprised how well you complimented each other lyrically?
Not really. People see him as a Biggie…but I see him as an Isaac Hayes or a Barry White when it comes to his actual sound. He has soul. His voice is soulful. And where he raps from is very soulful. That’s how he resonates to me. So that’s why I wanted him on the record.

This is probably the most stripped down Nas album fans have heard in a long time. Did you have any of the Def Jam suits complain that you weren’t being commercial enough with this release?
Let’s be real, this is a business. It’s always about money, but when it came to Life Is Good I told Salaam and No I.D. that I wanted to make music that was age appropriate and real to who I am. And that was still connecting with today’s hip-hop fan. But the truth is, we don’t know that market. We don’t know who that consumer is. So that no longer became the focal point for this album. Now it’s about doing what we love. To make music with No ID and Salaam, who were both poppin’ in the ‘90s and still poppin’ today, they were the perfect producers to work with me. This record took on a feeling of an era that’s been gone for a while.

Having worked with Nicki Minaj, what are your views on some critics who say she is not real hip-hop?
I think the hip-hop purists are purists through and through. They’re here to criticize all of us. That’s just how it is. We as MC’s criticize each other. That’s the nature of hip-hop. But to say that Nicki is not hip-hop is inaccurate. She wouldn’t be here if she wasn’t hip-hop. We saw her come up in the streets and virally with all the YouTube videos. She earned her position. She came up through the ranks. She came from nothing and became the one female that’s holding it down for hip-hop.

Before you released your landmark album Illmatic, you were barely 18-years-old when you made your recording debut on Main Source’s “Live At The Barbecue” in 1991. What goes through your mind when you listen to that verse decades later?
It gives me the chills. I’m thinking to myself, ‘The balls of this young man!’ [laughs] The curiosity in his rhyme and the heart and the voice. I was saying to the world, ‘It’s about to go down…I’m about to do some things.’ From that point on, I would have never known that I would be the guy with probably the longest hip-hop career that has been able to stay strong and have a meaning. I feel like I’ve been able to keep it diverse and creative. I think I’ve had the longest career of strength, focus, and still being able to sell records. I think I’m that guy.
I’m still blessed with the opportunity to make music and pass out a message like life is good to the world.

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India.Arie Finds “Steady Love” In Music Video Featuring David Banner

India.Arie reminds us that there’s nothing like the feeling of “Steady Love” in the sentimental music video for the new single from her Worthy album. David Banner stars as Arie’s love interest, and the duo showcases perfect chemistry as they cover many of the relationship bases.

From romantic bliss to challenging moments and everything in between,“Steady Love” speaks to the joyous ride that is falling in love, while the visual brings that feeling to life and ends on a wonderfully climactic note.

In a February interview with Billboard, Arie spoke about the significance of titling the album Worthy.

“The title of the album was Worthy for a couple of years before I had any songs,” she revealed. “I love that word. It’s so potent and encompasses so much [in terms of being] deserving of regard and respect. I always have a favorite word. For a while, it was resilient then authentic.

“When I did the interview with Oprah, she asked me how long unworthiness had been my calling card,” Arie continued. “I realized that I didn’t feel unworthy inside but I could see how I could be giving off that energy to others. It made me double-down on wanting to call this project Worthy and explore why she asked that question.”

The album’s title track is one of the collaborations between Arie and Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Joel Cross. “At that point, I knew what I wanted to say. Then all the other songs started to take shape, being about respect. Even the love songs are about how you want to be treated, how you want to treat other people. [Radio personality] Tom Joyner said this album is a perfect blend of message songs and love songs. That’s where I’ve been in my life these last few years. And the word worthy is imbued in all of it.”

Watch the video for “Steady Love” above.

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Megan Thee Stallion’s Southern Rap 'Fever' Dream

Hot Girl Meg is already an urban legend. You can see her on the cover of Fever, looming over a luxury auto in skin-tight leopard print as flames and horses erupt behind her. It’s the undeniable movie poster aesthetic of blaxploitation icons like Pam Grier’s Coffy. It’s a perfect fit for rapper Megan Thee Stallion, whose music channels a Southern rap tradition full of larger-than-life figures like Trina, Gangsta Boo, and her hero Pimp C.

The 24-year-old born Megan Pete started rapping in childhood after accompanying her mother, Holly Thomas aka rapper Holly-Wood, to recording sessions in Houston. Megan’s career began with freestyles at college parties, and she released three mixtapes in three years with her mother as her manager, building her buzz while still completing courses. The rapper is slick and authoritative on the mic as she channels alter egos like Hot Girl Meg, who she calls “the party girl, the polished girl, the turn-up queen.” Her debut album Fever, released last week, is a showcase for this alter ego. Hanging with Hot Girl Meg makes for a fun 40 minutes.

Though her profile has risen to the level of Drake Instagrams and Khalid features, Megan Thee Stallion does not make pop music. She raps, she’s excellent, and she knows it. “I’m a real rap bi**h, this ain’t no pop sh*t,” she ad-libs victoriously on her first song “Realer.” Sure, pop music has eagerly siphoned from rap this decade, but rappers have been drawing lines in the sand since Q-Tip said “Rap is not pop, if you call it that then stop” in ‘91. Nowadays, the A Tribe Called Quest auteur is still pushing rap forward as an executive producer for Fever.

“Sex Talk,” the album’s lead single, is a showcase for Megan’s bars. “I’ma bust quick if your lips soft,” she raps in short bursts around distorted bass and snaps. “Rock that ship ‘til ya blast off.” In her second verse, she accents the offbeat to boast, “I should be in museums because this body a masterpiece.” Though the song’s popularity was eclipsed by the video release for last summer’s more bombastic “Big Ole Freak,” it’s a fitting introduction to Thee Stallion: her range of staccato to elongated flows is catnip for heads like her who grew up on freestyle DVDs, paired with a blown out beat riding the minimalist wave that’s subsumed parties across the country.

Sex is the main concern in Megan Thee Stallion’s work, followed closely by money. Such confident sexuality from a black woman has unfortunately drawn criticism and retrograde questioning from some in the media, but she’s undaunted. “You let the boys come up in here and talk about how they gon’ run a train on all our friends and they want some head and they want to shoot everything up, and they want to do drugs,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “Well, we should be able to go equally as hard. I don’t want to hear none of that ‘That’s offensive!’ or ‘All she talk about is p***y.’”

Megan’s mercenary demand for her pleasures is a refreshing gender swap of rap tropes. On “Running Up Freestyle,” she raps, “He say I should be nicer, well your d**k should be bigger.” She’s blunt enough to make me clutch my pearls on behalf of my gender before I burst out laughing. Later in “Sex Talk,” Megan kicks a would-be lover out when she cues up trap music and he asks “Girl, you tryna trap me?” She’s offended by the insinuation she needs to keep a captive, when she doesn’t need anyone she doesn’t want in the moment. It’s a role reversal that plenty of female rappers have executed previously, but few with the same raw skill.

“Hood Rat Sh*t” opens with a sample of a 2008 viral video, a 7-year-old explaining his desire to do “hoodrat stuff” with his friends. The uptempo drums bounce around cavernous piano chords with gleeful menace like a gaggle of unsupervised kids. Megan’s rhymes launch into double time in the lead-up to the chorus, which she spits like a playground taunt. In the third verse, she gives an evocative example of the title: she’s at the strip club drinking Henny from a champagne glass, “eating chicken wings with a thick bi**h” who’s dancing like the diamonds in her necklace. Her swaggering flow sounds like the reincarnation of Pimp C, with the tall tale verses to match.

Rising Charlotte rapper DaBaby adds a verse over bellowing 808s on “Cash Sh*t.” When Megan says “That’s my dog, he gon’ sit down and listen,” DaBaby describes fixing his partner’s weave during sex and incorporating headlocks into new positions. On its own, his verse might be too direct, like a stranger leering from the end of the bar. It’s perfectly absurd on Megan’s album. He works as a foil to the main attraction, like he’s just trying to keep up.

 

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Real HOTGIRL shit 😛

A post shared by Hot Girl Meg (@theestallion) on May 4, 2019 at 9:46am PDT

The only other guest on Fever is Juicy J on “Simon Says,” where he also supplies a beat that sounds like a house party in the middle of a home invasion. “Simon says bust it open like a freak,” Megan raps like a nursery rhyme, a fitting match for the originator of “Slob On My Knob.” The song was the center of a minor controversy over the album release weekend when singer Wolf Tyla implied she had a writing credit and drew an indignant response from Megan. The facts became harder to parse from there. Maybe Tyla wrote the hook, or maybe Juicy did and asked her to record a reference track. (A just okay hook to go to bat for as an unknown ghostwriter, frankly.) In an era where the world’s biggest male stars snipe at each other about fragments of songs they’ve written for one another, this shouldn’t be a story, but a rising female rapper can’t allow any question of her bona fides.

Even if “Simon Says” is entirely ghostwritten, the Three 6 Mafia homage is far from an aberration in Megan’s catalog, or even on Fever. Juicy J produced two other album cuts, future strip club anthems “Pimpin” and “Dance.” Fellow co-founder Project Pat contributes to “W.A.B.,” built around a sample of the group’s “Weak Azz Bi**h.” Three 6’s influence is apparent in so many strains of modern hip-hop, but on Fever Megan places the Memphis collective alongside Houston and New Orleans in a firmly Southern context. The album concludes with Megan declaring herself “Hot Girl Meg from the motherf**kin’ South,” and it doesn’t feel like a conclusion, just a tantalizing cliffhanger promising further misadventures.

Fever is not perfect. “Best You Ever Had” strays a little too close to pop. Halfway through an album of knocking beats, it’s jarring to hear Megan’s voice coated in electronic sheen, sharing space with a recorder loop. In headphones the project becomes a bit repetitive in the back half, but it won’t be noticeable blaring out of club speakers. Given how quickly she’s befriended so many other stellar young female rappers, it would have been great to hear her spar with some of them on her debut.

Nevertheless, Megan Thee Stallion is picking up the baton for Southern hip-hop with a quick tongue and trunk rattling beats optimized for twerking. She inherited the legacy from her mother, as well as an unstoppable work ethic, the kind that kept her from cancelling shows even after her mother’s tragic death this spring because “I know she wouldn’t want me to stop.” Not long ago, a buzzy mixtape rapper signing to a major label like 300 Entertainment was a one-way ticket to clunky albums overstuffed with radio bait. Fever’s cohesion is a testament to Megan’s talent and dedication. Look forward to partying with Hot Girl Meg all summer.

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Megan Thee Stallion Releases Fiery "Realer" Video

Megan Thee Stallion is truly prepping for a hot girl summer. Following up the highly-anticipated release of Fever, the Houston-bred rapper has officially released the visuals for the project's opening song, "Realer."

Red-headed Meg and her friends brandish toy guns, high karate kicks and body rolls as she talks her sh*t. And, much like her project's artwork, there were flames—both literally and figuratively—to be had all around.

Even some of her celebrity peers have expressed excitement over her video's release.

🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥❤️❤️

— TRINA (@TRINArockstarr) May 21, 2019

🐎 🔥 https://t.co/54S59MQ8fx

— Wale (@Wale) May 21, 2019

Watch Hot Girl Meg's spicy "Realer" video up top.

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