For its Levi's Pioneer Sessions, the popular denim company called on a dozen musical acts to recreate some of the songs that helped shaped not only their careers, but the course of music over that last few decades. A lineup that includes John Legend, the Roots, the Dirty Projectors and She and Him makes up their 2010 Revival Recordings Program.
To kick things off Levi's approached one of the greatest MCs of all time, Nas, and asked him to re-craft a song of his choosing. The Queensbridge MC knew he wanted to go with a song that spoke to him when he was a "young knucklehead": rapper Slick Rick's '88 classic "Hey Young World."
"Slick Rick is one of the greatest artists — not just MCs — artists in the world, and I just really love his music," Nas told MTV News.
"Hey Young World," it just really spoke to me when I was young. What he was saying in the song kind of helped me out when I was a young knucklehead," he explained. "I just wanted to honor the song and honor Ricky."
Nas recalled hearing the song for the first time in his sixth-floor Queensbridge apartment. His crew would come over, huddling close to listen to a bootleg copy of Rick's debut, The Great Adventures of Slick Rick. The song's positive message — its uplifting chorus promising "the world is yours" became the title of Nas' classic gem — helped steer the budding MC from a bad path.
"It was a terrible copy, but everybody was surrounding the radio listening to this album, and when "Hey Young World" came on — it caught everybody," he continued.
"We were about to go outside, it was night time. I remember almost everybody was there, I remember it like yesterday ... I heard the song, and I [had gotten] into it with somebody earlier outside, and I didn't know how it was going to end. And when I heard the song, it kind of calmed me down from going further. It really did, it calmed me down."
Re-recording the track also brought Nas back to the late-'80s New York City of his childhood.
"There were car shows on 125th Street [in Harlem, New York], where no cars would hardly move. You would see people with Connecticut plates, New Jersey plates. The fashion was insane! There were street vendors outside selling knockoff Guess jeans on 125, Jamaica Avenue [shopping strip in Queens, New York], gold teeth, the snorkel jackets," Nas remembered, alluding to the fur-lined hooded coats. "New York had a way about itself that will probably never happen again."
The song is available for download at the Levi's Pioneer Sessions website.
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