To Nas, piracy is the sincerest form of flattery.
"The people wanted it so bad it started getting downloaded, and I was like, 'Cool,' because that was better promotion," Nas said Tuesday of his new disc, God's Son, which was moved up from its December 17 release date to Friday due to bootlegging (see "Nas To Release God's Son Earlier Than Planned").
"I didn't mind," he continued. "I wanted people to hear it. It's not about my [charting]. We're dropping on Friday, which is unheard of. Everybody drops on Tuesday to get the full effects of sales. I love the game. I don't believe I could be stopped. I'm very focused right now with music. It doesn't matter what the sales are gonna be because of the bootlegging, as long as I can move people."
For God's Son, Nas moved his musical direction back to the feel of the streets, incorporating old-school rhythms like those on the album's first single, "Made You Look." It's a technique he's familiar with.
"We did that with Stillmatic. With the song 'Rewind' we used the T La Rock 'It's Yours' beat," he said. "A lot of MCs are doing it these days. It's being noticed a lot more. A lot of the albums today are just going back to the basics but making it contemporary at the same time."
God's Son, he explained, was a very personal project for him, "Getting into my family, my life, my whole world, how I look at the state of hip-hop."
When Nas first ascended the ranks of rap's elite years ago, hip-hop was in the midst of one of its most competitive states, he said, especially in New York. MCs like himself, Wu-Tang, Black Moon and Notorious B.I.G. were fueling a Big Apple renaissance. He relives some of the animosity on "Last Real N---a Alive," in which he openly discusses competition with Biggie (see "Nas Joined By Eminem, Admits Rivalry With Biggie On God's Son").
"When we came on the scene it was a big thing that we were starting it up again," Nas remembered. "Of course it's gonna be a little animosity between Wu and Bad Boy and Nas and whoever. It was a race. We was just doing it. From '92 to '95 the rap game was serious. It was inevitable that we would be competition for each other, we were rising at the same time. It was inevitable that we'd clash. Some of the lyrics were dedicated to me from him and some of mine to him.
"On 'The Message' from It Was Written, I said, 'There's one life, one love, so there could only be one king,' " Nas explained of a subliminal barb he threw Biggie's way. "His was 'Your reign on the top was short like leprechauns' on the beginning of 'Kick in the Door.' We were going at it. It's a long story of different lyrics we would take offensively. Even down to the point where he says, 'Your fam's destiny lays in my hands,' and Destiny being the name of my daughter. I'm not saying he would say that about her, but it came so close. It was tense and we had big respect for each other."
Another MC Nas has deference for is Eminem, both as a mic ripper and producer. Slim Shady gave him a beat for God's Son.
"Dude's a producer," he explained, almost still surprised. "He produced a majority of his stuff. Steve Stoute called me and said dude got beats. He put me on the phone with him and dude was like, 'I'm gonna send you something.' My album was just about done but I kept thinking about a song on the album about a cross. [I heard the beat and] I was like 'OK, this is it. This reminds me of some laid-back hardcore.' "
The second single from God's Son is shaping up to be "I Can," which has special meaning Nas. On the record, he tries to inspire kids to follow their dreams, and children sing on the chorus: "I know I can be what I wanna be."
"I was a little nervous about a kid record because there's a lot of kid records ... out there," he admitted. "I didn't want this one to be like that or in that category. But I said, 'It is what it is, let's put it out.' This record is dedicated to them. It represents the happiness they could have without smoking weed, wearing ice and trying to be the man all the time. [If] you put knowledge in your head, you could be anything. It ain't always about standing on the corner 24-7."
Shaheem Reid, with additional reporting by Sway Calloway