How Nas Inspired One VIBE Writer To Pursue A Ph.D In History

Music

I’ll be his daddy if nobody’s there to love it. Tell him his name Nasir/Tell him how he got here—Nas “Queens Get The Money”

On Monday (Sept. 12), I went on my first official visit to an Ivy League university as a prospective Ph.D candidate in the History Department at Columbia University. As I walked the halls of this prestigious campus to meet with my prospective dissertation advisor, I snapped a picture of the well-known office of the Institute for Research of African American Studies. It made me think about my homies — dead or in jail — and threw me into a zone where I couldn’t help but reminisce about the origins of my plans to become a history professor.

Although my dreams of being a public intellectual were birthed in a jail cell, it was Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, A.K.A. Nas, that is responsible for planting the seeds into my brain to become a history professor.

I can’t recall how old I was the first time I heard Nas’ music. I was that young. But I remember where I was. I was in our cramped living room, on the floor watching BET, in Windsor Terrace Projects in Columbus, Ohio. Rap City played the video for “One Love.” I wasn’t old enough to fully understand the efficacy of the lyrics. But the song’s visuals reminded me of the same projects where I was living. The guys in jail in the video reminded me of the older kids that I looked up to in my hood. The stoned-faced shorty — who looked to be only a few years older than me — that shot up the projects, reminded me of my homies Jerry, Twin and Fatcat. We were all in and out of Franklin County Juvenile Detention Center. And watching “One Love” was the first time that I personally connected to hip-hop. My spirit told me that Nas was something special.

A couple juvenile stints, group home stays, and school expulsions later, I saw the video to his Lauryn Hill-assisted “If I Ruled The Rule.” My connection to Nas grew. Here, he showed me how to think outside of my neighborhood. With “If I Ruled The World,” this was the first time that I really learned to use my mind to travel outside of my projects and hope for a better life. He used his imagination to rap about freeing prisoners and sending them to Africa, making Coretta Scott-King mayor and getting fiends off crack. Bruh, to me, those were amazing thoughts. And, I lost my damn mind. I’d never thought like that nor was I was trained to think like that. We were just content with the way things were. 

School didn’t encourage me to use my imagination either. School didn’t relate to what I was dealing with in my community nor did school encourage me to learn about my history, my community or ancestors. But Nas did. Through his songs like “I Want to Talk To You,” “Sly Fox,” “Black Girl Lost,” “A Message To The Feds, We Sincerely the People,” “Doo Rags,” among many others. Nas spit unruly, and disrespectful street-hop that made him Nasty Nas. However, his intellect and ideas about saving blacks, and blacks needing to wake up are what attracted me. He was one of us, yet he was looking for a way exit the dire socioeconomic and mental abyss that plagues the ghettos of America. With that, he pushed me to search for answers. 

Whether it was looking up the definition to “Affirmative Action,” or writing a descriptive essay from the POV of crack cocaine (I really did this) — inspired by his song “I Gave You Power,” where he spoke from the perspective of a gun, Esco moved me to discuss, care and learn about issues that affected my community. This mostly came through books. 

When I first started buying books I selected them by asking myself: “Would Nas read this?” The first book that I ever bought: Marcus Garvey Life and Lessons: A Centennial Companion to the Marcus Garvey and Universal Negro Improvement; I bought it because it looked like a book that Nas would read. Now you have to understand; I had no blueprint or guidance on intellectual stuff. Nas fed me information about my history. So, during this time he was my intellectual god. He was the standard. The next book that I purchased: The God Tribe of Shabazz: The True History, I bought it because Nas named dropped it in “If I Ruled the World.” I read Behold A Pale Horse because he named-dropped William Cooper on his song, “Testify.” The information that I gleaned from these books were just as informative, entertaining, and insightful as hip-hop. And these books related to what I was experiencing as a Black kid living in the ghetto. One book lead to another book, and I soon grew a passion for reading. This started with Nas. 

And as I maneuvered through life bumping my head doing stupid shit, lessons from Nas like not being afraid of change, always searching for the truth, perseverance and foresight stayed with me. And while I wanted to be like Nas, I couldn’t rap. But I knew I loved books, hip-hop and Black folks. After maneuvering some pieces in my personal puzzle, sitting in a jail cell one day I decided that I was going to be the Nas of professors of African American History. Since that day, I haven’t deterred from that path, resulting in me winning several scholarships as well as fellowships.

As I left Columbia University, Nas’ “N.I.G.G.E.R” thumped in my headphones. In a trance, I replayed the good news that my prospective dissertation advisor just told me. Like a kid eager to show off his new toys, I sent out a couple texts and made a phone call to share what just happened here at Columbia.

So Nas breaths life back into the embryo/Let us make man in our image/I’m Huey P in Louis V at the eulogy throwing Molotovs for Emmett.

Walking across the campus that President Barack Obama attended, I wanted to shed a tear while thinking that I’m actually qualified to attend some of the best universities in the world to study Black History. I smiled harder thinking about my upcoming visits to Rutgers and Princeton universities. And just think, all of this started on the living room floor in the Windsor Terrace projects by watching Nas’ “One Love” video.

Happy B-Day, Nas. Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones. God’s Son. Esco. Huey P in Louis V. Thug Poet. You’ve raised an illmatic intellectual. You really are God Body.