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— by Hillary Crosley, with reporting by Shaheem Reid and Matt Paco

"I'll never forget, KRS-One left Nas a voicemail message, like, 'Yo, I love the song,' " recalled an excited MC named Quan. " 'What's that? "Just a Moment"? Beautiful.' "

Yep, that's Quan on Nas' latest single, "Just a Moment," both rhyming and singing the chorus. Nas heard the song and liked it so much that he laced it with a verse and added it to his album, Street's Disciple. But Quan had penned the song years before.

"I was locked up when I wrote that song," Quan recalled. "I remember how the sound effects came about in the cell and I just started humming. It was about what was going on: My brother just came home from the halfway house and my sister just came home from Iraq. I was locked up in the hole. They were trying to give me more [prison] time, and you are sitting there, praying that you don't get any more indictments. I wanted to talk about that."

See Quan's complete You Hear It First MTV News package in Overdrive

And not long after Quan was released from prison in March 2004, a DJ saved his life.

"When I came home, I met L.E.S. (Nas' DJ) and put it on some beats," Quan said. "And like any beat, I would just rip it. So we just sitting in there and the beat dripped and I looked at L and said, 'I got a hit.' "

And although he's Nas' favorite protégé and KRS-One is co-signing him, things weren't always so easy for the Connecticut-born/Newport News, Virginia-raised MC. Newport News is also known as "Bad News, VA," and the street game caught young Quan early.

"I probably got into the game when I was 9," he recalled. "It was a process that started with stealing out of stores, stealing bikes, to robbing and stealing cars, to selling cocaine. And all of that led to prison."

Quan's street time led to two prison stints, the second some seven years long.

"[First] they charged me with first-degree murder," Quan explained. "Then they dropped the murder charge and hit me with second-degree murder. I beat that before I turned 16, so I got acquitted and came home. Stayed out two years, came back with nine more cases: Facing another life sentencing and 36 years. They gave me 23 years. Suspended 15, sent me for seven years and some change for weapons, use of a firearm, robberies ... and it went on."

After Quan was released the second time, he vowed not to make the same mistakes.

"I'll never forget the first time I walked out of prison — it was the first time that I'd prayed in like five or six years," Quan remembered. "I was like God gave me the strength, and I was like, 'Damn, you are giving me another chance at life — why me?' And the answer came: I am an example. I have a purpose to fill, it is on me to let everybody know about spots like this. No matter what you do, you can do anything — and don't let no one tell you different."

Soon after, the 27-year-old MC, who counts soul pioneers Sam Cooke and Bobby Womack as his biggest influences, met L.E.S. in Virginia. The DJ connected him with Nas, who took the young MC under his wing, as well as his label, Ill Will Records.

"Spoke to him once, went out to Miami and stayed with him for three weeks," Quan said. "I had learned a thing or two about the industry — that it's plastic, and the thing I stressed [in that first conversation] was, 'I just want to do it with somebody real. I ain't for the bullsh--, this is all I got.' I shot down to Miami and had the time of my life and made some beautiful music, and never looked back."

Quan is working on his debut album, Until My Death, which he hopes to drop in the fall.

"Mike Wonder and L.E.S. produced my first single, called 'All for War,' " he said. "And that is the warm-up to the album."

Quan recently finished a track with Cassidy and Nas called "Can't Save Me," and he's also collaborating with fellow Virginians the Neptunes and Missy Elliott on the album.

"I'm just trying to tell my story and teach who I can, where I can," Quan said. "Some things ain't all positive, and some things ain't all negative. At the end of the day, my story has meaning: I gave you something that gave you more wisdom than you had before. If I did that, then that's my purpose."


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  "All For War"
Until My Death
(Ill Will)

  Nas featuring Quan
"Just A Moment"

Street's Disciple
   Photo: Ill Will