The last time Nas teamed up with video director Chris Robinson, the result was the emotionally stirring "One Mic," which earned a Video of the Year nomination at last year's MTV Video Music Awards.
A year and a half later, the two are back together for "I Can," the second single from Nas' God's Son and an equally emotional song. The video was shot Sunday in Los Angeles, and it depicts Nas dropping his words of encouragement as kids perform and play beside him.
"It's all about the kids," Robinson said. "The honesty you see in kids' faces is what gravitated me to it. We let the kids sing the chorus. Nas is the only adult in the whole video."
For the kids, Nas borrowed talent from some of Los Angeles' performing arts schools and cast tap dancers he discovered at Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, actor George Gore from "My Wife and Kids," and some children he just saw playing in schoolyards.
Robinson matched the kids' activities with the lyrics in "I Can," which begins with the verse "You can be anything in the world, in God we trust/ An architect, doctor, maybe an actress/ But nothing comes easy, it takes much practice."
Some of the locations in the clip, which range from abandoned buildings to alleys, are the same places used in the "One Mic" video (see "VMA Lens Recap: The Story Behind Nas' 'One Mic'"). "They're the only parts of L.A. that look like New York," Robinson said.
For the final verse, Robinson shot Nas performing over a projection screen with images of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, his own "One Mic" video and others.
"We wanted to show people in the world who've had a passion and became what they wanted to be," Robinson said. "Nas is wearing a shirt that says, 'I am the American Dream.' I think that summed it all up. You can be whatever you want to be. When you speak about it, it sounds a little corny, but when it's delivered to you the way Nas does and you see these kids, it's real and touches you."
Robinson, who is editing the clip for release later this month, said he wanted the "I Can" video to portray the same sort of honesty in "One Mic" that is uncommon in hip-hop videos today.
"So many times when directing videos you create a fantasy world. With these two, it's been like, 'Let's just show the real world.' There's a scene where a little girl walks up and kisses him on the cheek. That's a moment you could never script."