Almost 20 years in the business, and creativity is still flowing through Nasir Jones.
We've heard him rap from the perspective of a gun that has been used in several homicides. He's rapped from the perspective of a kid on a project bench. And on his upcoming album, Nigger, he's at it again, reciting lyrics from the viewpoint of an insect. One of the standout cuts he previewed for MTV News on Tuesday is called "Project Roach."
"A roach is what I am, fool/ The ghetto is my land, fool," he raps on the track, which was produced by No I.D.
"I get to thinking about how we evolved, how the human family evolved and sh--," Nas said Tuesday from Jimmy Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios. "And I looked at ants, man. One day, I was looking at a bunch of ants. We've got a lot in common — just like everything that's alive, everything that eats and breathes and builds and creates. There's a connection to even the smallest thing. So I looked at it as the whole world, instead of looking at us as beauty. Inside poverty, inside the street, inside the ghettos and the gutters and the slums, we aren't looked at as beauty out there. We were looked at as the worst pest, and because of that, because of that treatment, some of us started to believe we were a pest, started to believe what we were told, and started to act like it, and started to reproduce my people, bring kids in the world that were f---ed up in the head.
"You're not this," he added. "But if you want to act like this and you want to be this, let's make the metaphor and let me put you right here and say, 'Cool.' The roach motel could be the jails or whatever. Let me just paint that picture and see how you like that. You don't like that, do you? If you don't like that, shake it off, get right and let's start getting the things we supposed to have."
At times on "Y'all My Niggers," he comes from the stance of the N-word. "Try to erase me from y'all language/ Too late, I'm engraved in history/ ... They got Nigeria and Niger/ Somehow Niger turned to 'nigger,' and things got ugly."
He's abrasively frank throughout the album, with his song names and content. He holds back nothing. On the title track, he calls out racists, as well as holds a mirror up to people who actually perpetuate the stereotypes bigots spread.
"N-I-double-G-E-R/ We are much more, but we choose to ignore the obvious," he raps on the song. "You are the slave and the master/ What you looking for? You're the question and the answer."
"Somebody asked me, what's your inspiration for this album? Everything that's happening every day," he explained. "I can't really turn an album in when, like, next week it will be something else that will come to light and make me want to write about something. It's hard to finally wrap it up, but I finally got there. I'm finally there now. Wow, this year is panning. ... This year looks like it's going to be amazing.
"What's huge for me," he added, "is when there's an attack on hip-hop artists, and they say that hip-hop artists are responsible for the language, the terrible language, and for the violence. When we get attacked like that, we respond. We gotta to respond. We don't want to pay too much attention to it, but with an album like this, this is my response in some ways to that, 'cause it's, like, hypocritical, you know what I mean? With the way people are dealing with hip-hop and trying to use it as a scapegoat. So this album is like, 'We're not having that.' "
"Be a Nigger Too" was the first song we heard from the album. Nas said it was important for him to make such a potent, provocative statement early to set the tone for the project. There is still some obvious resistance about the LP being named Nigger.
"Record stores are gonna have a problem in this day and time selling a record with that title," he explained. "Who knows what's gonna turn out and be on that title? Who knows what that title will be? It was important to me to let the fans know what the album would be musically. ... Everybody is trying to stop the title. It's just people being scared of what's real. Somebody is trying to open up dialogue for people to talk. People that's high up, [who aren't] really understanding what I'm doing, are scared. They're scared for reasons I understand, but the fans gotta know either way: This is the same album. The content is the same, the direction is the same, the message is gonna be everything I intended it to be musically.
"[The title] kind of comes off as something that can be disrespectful," he added. "Our older black people can take it the wrong way. Some non-blacks can take it the wrong way, and it becomes a thing that becomes controversial in all the wrong ways. I accept that. I'm here to do music. I'm here to rap about what I feel and what makes sense to me."
The Stargate-produced track "This Is Not America" (sample lyric: "Too many rappers, athletes and actors and not enough n---as in NASA") broaches the subject of how the world views U.S. citizens, while "Sly Fox" is aimed at the media, especially Fox News. Stic.Man of Dead Prez produced that record. Both Prez members are being looked at to collaborate on the LP, as are Rick Ross and the LOX. Nigger is slated for a July 1 release.
"When Americans want their independence and they celebrate it, they know what's still going down," Nas said. "We can't forget it. America still got a lot of growing up to do. America has so much great potential. You know, I love this country, but at the same time, we have to fix up a lot of things. And it's just a reminder."