Nas & J. Cole Share Vibe’s 20th Anniversary Cover [Photo]
The Let Nas Down and Made Nas Proud rappers both share the spotlight on the second cover of Vibe’s 20th anniversary issue. Befitting as the two talented artist have built a “bromance” over the course of J. Cole’s career. Check out photos from the cover shoot as well as small clips from their interview below.
One commonality is that you’re both great hip-hop storytellers. What makes for a good story? Are there specific approaches you guys take?
NAS: Details. When I write a story, I just wanna tell you what’s in my head. It can come from real life and then turn into fantasy, stuff just rhyming. And write about what you know. I just like to tell stories that have not been told or [told] from my perspective. When I pick up albums I’m looking for stories. Tell me something that’s going on other than the fact that you the shit.
J. COLE: That’s real. It’s no coincidence that all the greatest rappers—whoever you put in your top five—I guarantee you they a great storyteller. B.I.G. could paint that picture, but his flow is like liquid. This nigga [Nas] paint a picture, and his shit so detail-oriented. And then he’ll come and give you the conversational piece of it. Like, he’ll put himself in the shoes from the perspective of himself then go back to describing shit. With some people it’s too much detail. He balances the detail with action and a real beginning, middle and end—and emotion. To me, emotion makes the best stories. ’Pac is one of the illest lyricists, but that’s why his stories are so fucking crazy ’cause he’s gonna give you the emotion.
Is hip-hop lyricism experiencing a renaissance now? What’s the state of the genre?
J. COLE: It’s heading into another golden era. It might not be there just yet, but it’s getting there. Look at the options you got right now. I remember around the time Hip Hop Is Dead was coming out, I knew why you was saying it. Rap was a fucking joke. It was a singles-driven market. But even when I was unsigned, I knew with what I was doing that this was gon’ turn around. I didn’t know at the same time that Kendrick was somewhere studying, going hard. Drake was somewhere studying, going hard. Niggas is getting back to caring about rapping again. And really taking this shit seriously, clowning niggas that’s wack. There’s a real divided line of niggas that can rap and niggas that just can’t. And you can get your money and it’s all good. We still respect you and we gon’ play your song. But when you look at these guys, way different.
Does today remind you of the era you came up with in the ’90s?
NAS: Yes, and it’s the first time since that time that that’s happened. This is a special time right now. I’m happy I can see it. Just hearing Cole saying he got me on Hip Hop Is Dead means a lot. The fact that I’m seeing him, Kendrick, Drake and the dudes that’s out there… I was just talking to Diddy, and he was like, “Yo, do you see what’s going on right now? It’s happening again.” He was excited.
J. COLE: It’s fucked up to say this, but it’s true—when we was kids, there was a lack of respect for the niggas that molded you. We ain’t know better, but we definitely lacked our homework. I had to go back and do homework on KRS, Kane, Kool G Rap. They fizzled out and weren’t really relevant to us. You might see Rakim come back with another album, all the older heads will be like, “Oh shit!” And the younger kids were like, “Nigga so what?” disrespectfully. But I love to see now that “Let Nas Down” and “Made Nas Proud” is important. Like, you’re just as important to them as me because they know how important you are to us. The fact that you’re still relevant, your pen is still crazy and you still making great music—that didn’t happen before. The legends are carrying over. Jay is still relevant. Nas—not just relevant, but y’all niggas is still on top. It’s crazy.