nas

I told myself not to fangirl.

I’ve interviewed a lot of celebrities over the years, so it’s something I’ve told myself over and over again. When I interviewed Oprah I tried not to appear too in awe or say anything dumb…cuz Oprah. When I interviewed Idris Elba I tried not to drool (but lowkey, I did it anyway). And when I interviewed Erykah Badu, I tried hard not to stare and act normal when she stripped down and kept answering questions like she wasn’t buck naked. Each time I succeed in not freaking out and gushing about how much I loved them and their work, but all that went out the window when I sat down with Nas.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy. After all, I’ve been in love with Nas since I was 14. Illmatic came to me at the perfect time and completely changed my life. Though we lived worlds apart–me in South Central, Nas is Queensbridge–that album spoke to me in a way that few projects have since.

I started seriously fiddling with words after ingesting the imagery and stories Nas told in Illmatic. I was always a quiet, shy, introverted child, but writing gave me a voice. It gave me the ability to be loud without saying a word.

I wrote poems, I wrote stories, I wrote rhymes. I excelled in high school English all while listening to Illmatic on repeat and scribbling, “The World Is Yours!” on everything I owned, even as my own world–my parents’ marriage–was falling apart.

I was never a talker, but after Illmatic, I was a writer.

So, I knew it would be hard not to fangirl. But I’m a professional, and I was tasked with interviewing Nas, so I needed to keep it together.

And when we sat down to talk, Nas made it easy. He was easy–quiet, open, humble, eager to share, comfortable. The day had run long and he had another engagement after the photo shoot so my time was going to be cut short. Still, once we got going he didn’t seem to be in a rush, so I kept asking questions and he kept talking. In fact, we talked twice as long as we were supposed to about everything from parenting and our inspirations to how he knew Illmatic would change his life.

When I asked Nas if he knew that album was something magical he said, “Absolutely. No question about it.”

He continued:

While I was working on it, I knew what was happening. Of course, I had never been to Australia, I had never been to Turkey, I had never been to London at that point. To imagine going there and doing a concert for Illmatic, a little bit, maybe. In reality, I didn’t spend enough time thinking about that end of it, because that just seemed too far out. Knowing what happened with the record, yeah, when you’re working on something you get a feeling. There’s a feeling that you get about it from everybody that’s involved. Everybody involved has that same feeling that something is special.

I’ve carried that feeling for over 20 years. Through high school and my parents’ divorce. Through college and grad school and loving and losing and life. Illmatic has stayed with me through it all–my closest friend and confidant, my inspiration.

I knew I couldn’t interview Nas without letting him know how deeply his work and words have touched me. I knew I couldn’t walk away without letting him know that he helped me find my voice.

“I’m trying to suppress my inner fan girl here. Like I said, I’ve been a fan forever,” I admitted, trying not to cry.

His response? “Fan out. I love it. Makes my day.”

So, I did.

BD: I went to graduate school. I went to Brooklyn College and got an MFA degree in writing. When you’re applying to graduate school, they ask you, “Who are your inspirations?” I wrote about two people. I wrote about James Baldwin, and I wrote about Nas, for grad school.

 

Nas: Oh, wow.

 

BD: This is a big thing for me. Who are your inspirations, as in artists?

 

Nas: My inspirations as an artist are James Brown, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye. Hip hop artists like Run DMC, Fat Boys, Whodini, and the list goes on. James Brown because he was bigger than music. He was a household name when I was a kid, and I didn’t really know his music. I just knew his name sounded like power.

 

BD: Again, it must be like … How does that feel when somebody is like, “You changed my life!” I wouldn’t be a writer if it wasn’t for you, or whatever. I discovered you and the album at the right time in my life. How does that feel for you when people say that?

 

Nas: You know, it makes me feel that we can be great. All we need is a little bit of inspiration. Sometimes, that’s hard to find when you’re a so called minority. It’s hard to find inspiration to grab a career and be great at it. That’s what we’re taught, also, when we’re kids, that you have to work harder because you’re darker. You’ve got to work harder. The reality of it is, if we just try a little bit and not give up, you’d be surprised.

 

If I gave up … I mean, I’m so honored to hear what you’re saying. If I had given up and never got into the music business or went to jail–which was a thing that was out there all the time–then maybe you might have…you were going to be a writer, but there was something about me that you were able to get your motors running.

 

I’m just thinking that it just reminds me that we have a job to do. You have a job to do. You and I both have a job to do.

Nas is right. We all have work to do. I was reminded of that this weekend while at the Blogalicious conference in Atlanta.

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Despite all of my accomplishments, I’m still painfully lowkey when it comes to bigging myself up. I’m not sure what it is, exactly, but I was once again reminded that my work–my words, my story, my encouragement–has helped and inspired so many people. A few times people stopped to be like, “Oh my God, you’re Britni! I love you,” and each time it caught me completely off guard.

For the last five years I’ve been grinding with my head down, dropping a few bits of advice, and helping out anyone who has asked. Still, I’m not a celebrity or anybody “major”–not even close.  I’m just me. But speaking to Nas, then having real flesh and blood people tell me how I’ve inspired them, how they found solace in my words, was confirmation.

We may not all drop a classic album, write a best selling book, or be a cultural icon, but we all have work to do. And that work matters.

Imagine that.

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