For thew new issue of VIBE’s Summer 2013 issue, which celebrates their 20 year anniversary, you can see Nas & J.Cole on the cover. Below, you can take a look at an excerpt from the interview.
When you first heard J. Cole, did you understand the comparisons that people were making?
NAS: I didn’t look at it like that. I wanted to make my own opinion. I was like, let’s hear what he’s saying. He’s his own man, and I listened to it from that point of view. I wasn’t looking for me in him. I been inspired by tons of people; he’s been inspired by tons of people. When we do what we do, we sound like us. To me, Cole sounds like Cole. There can be some things I listen to and I wonder if I inspired that or if it’s something I would’ve thought of or would’ve tried to rhyme or whatever, but that’s him. That’s a great compliment that there’s someone who likes what I do—because this dude is nice, so you’re bigging me up.
J. COLE: Shit, it’s like of course you’re gonna see hints because that shit in my DNA. I studied him so much, it’s always gonna spill out some way. But it’s a lotta niggas in my DNA, just like there’s a lot in him. You see Kobe do a fade-away and you be like, “Okay, that’s Jordan.” There’s hints of everybody in these guys’ game, but what makes me my own man, what makes him his own man is that we develop. You gravitate towards what you like. I studied Eminem; he wasn’t studying Eminem. He was studying niggas that Eminem was studying, so he already had his DNA settled. Of course you gon’ hear lines—I write like, “Damn my nigga Nas would’ve been proud of this shit, with the rhyme schemes.”
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.
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