Nas has found himself indirectly in the middle of a controversy yet again after a King Tut-inspired statute from his 1999 I Am… album cover sparked a heated debate involving Egyptian culture and Black music.
The Dutch National Museum of Antiquities recently opened an exhibit called “Kemet: Egypt in Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul and Funk,” but an antiquities expert slammed the museum by claiming it insulted “Egyptian civilization by portraying Tutankhamun as Black.”
Following the complaint, Wim Weijland, the museum’s director, defended the exhibit. “[The Kemet exhibit] does not have an Afrocentric perspective on ancient Egypt” but it does help to “critically examine ideas presented in Black music,” he began, according to ArtNet. “The exhibition does not claim the ancient Egyptians were Black, but explores music by Black artists who refer to ancient Egypt and Nubia in their work: music videos, covers of record albums, photos, and contemporary artworks.”
Weijland continued, “This music often reflects on the Black experience in the West and tells stories about the African diaspora and pre-colonial Africa, including ancient Egypt. The exhibition explains that the representations of ancient Egypt are imaginaries: artistic interpretations of ancient Egypt, not realistic images of ancient Egyptians. For example, the exhibition contains a modern sculpture that represents the musician Nas, modeled after the mask of Tutankhamun. The exhibition explains that it is a contemporary artwork, not a replica. The exhibition explains why and when it was made and clarifies that it is not an ancient Egyptian artifact.”
Daniel Soliman, the museum’s Egyptian and Nubian curator, also provided his reasoning in The Art Newspaper. “This is a very difficult topic and that is the thing with this exhibition: I think you really have to give it a chance,” he said. “There are Egyptians, or Egyptians in the diaspora, who believe that the pharaonic heritage is exclusively their own. The topic of the imagination of ancient Egypt in music, predominantly from the African diaspora, Black artists in different styles, jazz, soul, funk, hip-hop, had long been ignored.”
Nas has not commented on the controversy.