Nas, Datwon Thomas: Countdown to ‘Life Is Good’ Album — Day 3
On day three of The BoomBox countdown to Nas’ Life Is Good album release, we have media professional Datwon Thomas talking about the essence of Nas’ artistry. Thomas, a Brooklyn native, has been a fan of the rapper long before making waves in hip-hop media. He’s been the Editor-in-Chief of XXL magazine and he launched the men’s lifestyle magazine King. In recent years, Thomas served as Chief Operating Officer of GlobalGrind.com and currently checks in at Vibe as the magazine’s Editorial Director. Having such an extensive history in the culture’s documentation, Thomas knows exactly what hip-hop needs next, and according to him, Nas has his finger on the pulse with the release of Life Is Good.
Datwon Thomas’ Countdown
to Nas’ Life Is Good Album
“I would say the difference in anticipation of Life Is Good and his past albums aren’t that far apart. I think most of the time when he have an artist like a Jay-Z, Nas or Eminem, they’re
highly anticipated just because of their level of talent and the fact that they can tap into emotion — you can actually think while you’re listening to hip-hop and bobbing your head.
You just get to hear what’s going on in their head at that moment. With Jay, it’s that forward
progression, you’re looking at him as the business guy. With Eminem, it’s always him
fighting his inner demons and being able to conquer the beast within but then it’s a little bit tougher with Nas because he’s so unpredictable.
You never know what’s gonna happen with him. You never know what he’s gonna rhyme about. But you know it’s going to be a New York-centric thing. You know it’s going to be something that he holds close to his heart. He’s a storyteller, so he reminisces a lot and when he reminisces, he brings this detailed scope to whatever he’s talking about so I think the anticipation is to hear his voice and to hear his growth.
He came in the game at 16, you know, and we’ve actually watched him grow from a teenager to a man and now if you’ve been on this road with him like I have, I want to see what’s next for him. I want to see what he’s talking about. I want to see if he’s talking about the things that I’m talking about and going through at the time and, ironically, I am. Not the divorce part [laughs]… But the time when he talked about starting to see his father in his voice and his reflection and that’s happening to me, and I’m like, ‘Wow. He’s speaking on those types of things.’ Those little things make Nas that different from me just hearing a club hit. He’s just way more than the average.
“It’s like Rick Ross Deeper Than Rap — that’s exactly what this is. I think what Nas has done is, he’s become this pillar of an artist in hip-hop that can speak on anything. He can actually speak on anything and we will all critique it — not every rapper can speak on anything and we’ll critique it. He’s just one of those kind of guys who can do that. In particular to his marriage, I think this is something that this generation of hip-hop is dealing with now. Our icons are married. Jay, Nas was, Eminem was twice — to the same woman [laughs], you know what I mean. So as much as there’s that whole beef about this artist against that artist, what about this artist against their personal life and that’s where we really get the inside view.
With all these reality shows, we’re starting to see the fakeness or the realness of whatever’s going on in their lives, the music has always been the part where the details go way deeper than what we can see. With the details coming straight from Nas, you get to feel the emotion, you get to feel the hurt… Men aren’t used to talking about their feelings, or their failures in marriage and stuff like that, that doesn’t happen… That doesn’t happen with him talking about his daughter… Like, how many rappers… I mean, outside of Ed O.G. ‘Be a Father To Your Child’… Nas is actually going into the actual situation like, ‘This is what happened, yo, with my daughter.’ No one’s gonna be that open and I think you would have had to grow up in the public eye to understand that, ‘Hey. I can let this information out and I can still live after that.’ Most of us are way too scared to do that, and just for that alone, Nas is the greatest, because he’s able to put every single thing out there and it’s pretty much like, ‘OK. What more can I ask from this guy?’
He’s detailed to the point of making other rappers mad. I remember Rakim being upset when [Nas] did the ‘Unauthorized Biography of Rakim,’ like when he did that song, he had so much inside information, everybody was like, ‘Whoa! Rakim would love this!’ Rakim was like, ‘Nah. Actually, I don’t. It’s a lot of information this kid put out.’ That’s crazy. He’s so honest, he’s honest about other people’s shit.’
[Sub-par beat selection] that’s something that’s just gonna always be tacked to him I think. Whenever he has a strong musical director, like early on Large Professor was really like, the guy who was steering the ship and for that time and that era of hip hop he was the perfect person for that because he knew the sound that the streets needed to really introduce Nas. Then jumping into Trackmasters with Steve Stoute and the rest of them, they understood what ’96 was about. It was about to turn over into the shiny suits and the big budgeted things where you had to blow it out.
I think that struggle with who he is as a natural artist, being a street MC, to that glamour glitz type of sound that you have to have for radio, I think that’s where you gets confused and all he cares about is the rhyme. He doesn’t care what he rhymes over.
I honestly feel like Nas is so much of an artist, about his words, and about what comes across lyrically that he’s like, ‘Yo, bang on the table for me and I’ll rhyme.’ He’s not even worried about that but I think now that he has No I.D. in his corner and he’s seen what No I.D. has done, from the more soulful sound that Jay-Z incorporated, and the fact that No I.D.’s been a fan of Nas and understands that ’90s era and can bring a little bit of that into this era now and it’ll still work.
I think it’s good that he and Salaam Remi have a good relationship. But the ultimate relationship that everybody wants to see is Nas and Premier. He did an album with Damien Marley so an album with Premier shouldn’t be hard man. I think there’s something else there, ’cause if you can do a full project with Damien Marley, go on tour while your marriage is in disarray, it’s a no-brainer to do something with Premo.”
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