As a rapper whose 20-year career has relied on putting the personal on paper, Nas hasn't been shy about letting the world into his own life. But with the announcement earlier this week of Street Dreams, his upcoming autobiographical drama series on Xbox, the rapper admits the show will be his most personal project yet.
"I'm hands-on with everything, so this show is 100 percent authentic," Nas tells Rolling Stone. "Even if I don't look cool in it, I just want it to be real and raw. I didn't see this as a full autobiography at first. But I have so much that's happened in my life already, there was no room for fantasy. I wanted it to be entertaining, but everything from my life seemed to be so strong. It's all reality. There's nothing from my life I didn't want in there."
The seeds of Street Dreams go back nearly two years, when Nas, his manager Anthony Saleh (who doubles as the show's executive producer) and others on his team started to brainstorm a new way to tell the rapper's story. "Once we developed a treatment, we shopped it to a ton of networks," says Saleh. "They were interested, but we wanted to take another step forward in the technology realm and felt Xbox was the perfect partner to represent how we think about the world. Content consumption is changing by the minute and a non-traditional platform like Xbox is the perfect home for this."
The rapper and his team are currently finishing up scripts for the show before determining Street Dreams' production schedule. The show is still in the process of casting the lead role, though Nas says he hopes to begin production on Street Dreams this year.
While Nas won't be acting in the series, the rapper will contribute music and co-write many of the episodes. Despite more than two decades as a professional writer, Nas says that writing lyrics couldn't prepare him for writing a scripted series.
"It's a whole different process," says the rapper. "It's really therapeutic. I look back and I think about my mom [who passed away in 2002] and I know she's looking down. Sometimes, I have a conversation with her, like, 'Did you ever think that our story would be put to film for people to see? Did you know it was that special back then?' I felt it was that special. This is life. I have to accept that and that's what writing this is like."
Street Dreams will be directed and co-written by Jonathan Levine, best known for his 2008 hip-hop-infused coming-of-age film The Wackness. Nas contributed his 1994 classic track "The World Is Yours" to the film, and Saleh tells Rolling Stone that the filmmaker was a natural fit.
"Jonathan was our first choice and when we met him, he was more excited than we were," says Saleh. "He got it instantly and spent time in Queensbridge [where Nas grew up] to talk to residents and absorb the vibe."
"I really felt what he was doing back then," adds Nas. "The way that he filmed New York City and told his story was so dead on, i just felt that he was the guy to do it. I think he's a brilliant director."
Despite his openness, Nas admits he was reluctant and nervous to begin writing about his life, and says he's planning to retreat for a bit once the series is released. "I've figured out an escape plan to get out of Dodge once this hits the air and I let people in," says the rapper. "I don't want to be around. I want to be on a beach. I don't want to deal with it. This is my life that hopefully somebody can look at or learn from or be entertained by, but I want to get out the way."
But before his beach sojourn, 2014 will be a busy year for the Grammy-nominated rapper. April marks the 20th anniversary of his landmark debut album Illmatic, a feat that the rapper will celebrate with the album's reissue (with a separate disc of unreleased tracks), a tour in which he'll perform the album front-to-back and the release of Time Is Illmatic, a new feature-length documentary detailing the album's history and legacy.
"It's like I gave myself a 40th birthday present 20 years ago," the rapper says. "It gives me a reference piece to look at myself and for me to analyze my life and what i've come from; my accomplishments; my dreams." There's also a new album, which the rapper said will be out "sometime in 2014," but declined to give any further details.
Asked if the nostalgic year means fans may finally see a release of the long-awaited, shelved, Lost Tapes 2 album, Nas brought it back to the show. "After Illmatic comes fresh new music. Right now my new show is a visual Lost Tapes 2, 3, 4, 5 and then some."