NEW YORK — For lovers of hip-hop, Central Park was the place to be on Sunday, and it seemed like every single one of them was there. Nas' free concert was so packed that Jadakiss, who was supposed to be a surprise guest, was turned away, and Talib Kweli only got in because he hopped the fence.
For the thousands who got there early enough to secure a spot for the 4:30 p.m. show, there was no holding back when Nas, wearing a white tank top and saggy jeans, walked onstage with a wide grin. With the beat from "N.Y. State of Mind" playing, Nas briefly struck a pose, then walked to the front of the stage. "Musician, inflictin' composition/ Of pain. I'm like Scarface ... / Holdin' a M-16. See, with the pen I'm extreme," he rapped, practically drowned out by the cheers.
When the song ended, Nas made it known he was only just beginning. "I wanna thank every one of y'all for coming out and representing that real street New York sh--," he said to cheers. "Not that fake sh--, not that 50 Cent." Harsh words were also aimed at the Diplomats. Then, with Nas holding a fist in the air, people started chanting "Bravehearts, Bravehearts." Others started chanting for him to rap the dis song "Ether."
"Give us some music, give us the music, soundman," Nas demanded, realizing that something was amiss. Someone ran onstage to talk into Nas' ear. Apparently, people were blocking a fire exit and the show couldn't go on unless they moved.
Stalling for time, Nas told the crowd, "You got George Bush and John Kerry, two devils. Neither one of them want to help me and you. Neither one of them want to help me, so why some black rap leaders talk about 'Go and vote, we need the minority vote. Come on, hip-hop'? That's bullsh--. None of them
n---as is coming to the community." He also said that George Bush would win because "he's a gangsta ... unless he made enough money to let that punk ass n---a John Kerry come in."
Once the officials were satisfied the safety issues had been resolved, the show started again. The delay didn't seem to hamper Nas' mood. He clasped both hands together and started waving them side to side, doing the wop when the beat for "Represent" came on. "Represent" segued into "It Ain't Hard to Tell," garnering a collective scream from the audience.
An even bigger uproar greeted a series of three high-profile cameos. The first came from Q-Tip during "One Love," then Mobb Deep came out, performing "Eye for an Eye" and putting to rest all the talk they were still on the outs with Nas. Then they let Nas take a breather during their own "Got It Twisted."
Busta Rhymes strolled out as the instrumental of "Hate Me Now" started, stroking his fingers in the air as if he were conducting an orchestra. "You can hate me now," Busta growled, acting as a fill-in for P. Diddy, who actually yells on the song's chorus. "You can hate me nowwww."
No one seemed to care that Busta is not on the original version of the song, they just kept showing appreciation.
"It's definitely inspiring to see that hip-hop still has this type of magnetism, that on a rainy day on a Sunday that people will still come out in droves to see one of the best to do it," Tip said backstage. "It's inspiring to see that."
Nas' finale was "One Mic," during which he popped, locked, dropped to his knees and screamed at the top of his lungs, but for the crowd the highlight was definitely "Ether."
"There's a song I don't do anymore that I think New York deserves," he teased.
" 'Ether'! 'Ether'! 'Ether'!" the audience yelled.
Everyone rapped along with him as he dropped his lines, then at the end of the first verse he stopped. The crowd kept yelling for more, and the response brought another grin to Nas' face, but he shook his head, saying, "Y'all crazy." Finally, he started the song over, this time giving Central Park two out of the song's three verses and thanking his supporters for holding him down when everyone was coming at him.
"It's funny because Nas downplayed his beef with Jay-Z, but the crowd wanted to hear beef so much, they just chanted and chanted and chanted," Talib Kweli said after the show.
"This right here is crazy, 'cause you don't [usually] have the true art of hip-hop performing in Central Park," video director Benny Boom said. "This is the venue they reserve for when Diana Ross comes or these huge pop artists. We got the opportunity to have God's Son, to have Nas out here doing his thing. This is a historic moment for us. I'm glad to be a part of his history and hip-hop history."
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.