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Q&A: Nas on His Partnership With Rock the Bells and His Amy Winehouse Inspiration Award

'It's been an amazing year for me,' says rapper

Nas
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
August 16, 2012 11:00 AM ET

Nas has been part of the Rock the Bells family since first performing with the hip-hop festival in 2005. After the event expanded to multiple cities two years later, he performed for it every year (aside from 2010). It only made sense for the rapper to make his contribution larger and this year, he entered into a partnership with Guerilla Union, the company that produces and promotes Rock the Bells. "It's pretty much everything. I'm a part of the team," he explains to Rolling Stone.

Guerilla Union president Chang Weisberg is excited about having one of the most respected rappers in music as an agent for RTB. "That's an amazing resource to have when Nas'll reach out to people," Weisberg says. "He's like a player/coach."

It's all part of a huge summer for Nas, who just celebrated his sixth Number One album, Life Is Good. The superstar spoke to Rolling Stone about the partnership, his friendship with Kobe Bryant and celebrating the life of Amy Winehouse.

You just partied in London with the U.S. Men's Basketball team. What was that like?
Oh man, I came out there to enjoy the festivities in London, went to the game. I was called to participate at the after-thing and do my thing on stage. That was a great honor to be there with all those guys, hang out, and it definitely made my summer more amazing.

Are you friends with a lot of the players?
I know Carmelo Anthony – he's a good dude – and LeBron James. Kobe Bryant, I haven't been able to see him in awhile. It was good to see him; I got a lot of love for him. I've known him for years and years. We didn't see each other in years, so it was great to catch up with him.

It was also announced that you're going to be honored at the first Amy Winehouse Inspiration Awards. Having been friends with her, does that mean something extra to you?
It's a great honor to get an award named after a true artist. The Amy Winehouse Inspiration Award is one of the ways she still shows love, even in spirit, to fellow musicians and inspiring people. Life is so unpredictable. Let's enjoy her memory and celebrate her life at the same time.  

What brings you back to Rock the Bells every year?
I like what Chang brings to the table. He really rides the hip-hop music. You don't get a chance to see a great show like Rock the Bells with artists that you haven't seen in years, underground artists and some of the most popular contemporary hip-hop artists all in the same place. It gives you a feel of a Coachella or Lollapalooza and it's all hip-hop. So I've been working with them for a while and recently became a business partner with Rock the Bells.

As a partner, then, who were some of the artists you were particularly excited to get on the bill?
DMX, Ruff Ryders, Salt-n-Pepa, Big Daddy Kane, J Cole, Cudi, Wiz Khalifa. It just gives people a different assortment of things that hasn't been done in a long time. And the brand is so strong with the hip-hop community, everyone knows they're gonna come and have an amazing time.

As an artist, how does it inspire you to be onstage with both your peers and the new artists?
That's what it's all about. If I was ever to be a guy who threw a tour together, it would be this type of tour. It wouldn't be anything pop; it would be everyone who claims hip-hop gets down on the stage, so you get the best show in the world. I couldn't do it no other way.

Who are the one or two acts you really need to see onstage there in future years?
I'd like to see Run-DMC. I'd like to see the Beastie Boys still, with all respect to my man [Adam Yauch] who passed away. I'd like to see NWA and I'd like to see Kanye West.

Now that you're a partner, can you help make some of these ones happen?
Well, the Kanye thing was up in the air for a minute. I really wanted that to happen. But like so much going on, if it doesn't happen this year, it'll happen another time. Kanye's the type of artist that belongs on Rock the Bells. There have been tons of people on the tour and Rock the Bells is so grassroots that everybody's welcome. The people you haven't seen are the best ones for the show.

Coming into the festival with a number one album in Life Is Good, does this feel like a triumphant homecoming for you?
Yeah, it does. It feels like the start to the end of this year. The whole year has been amazing. My summer's been on smash, Rock the Bells is the meat and potatoes of my year and we're going all the way.

You've been very forthcoming about how personal this album is. So with that in mind, are there particular tracks you think will be special to do for the RTB crowd?
Yeah, songs like "Loco-Motive" are perfect for Rock the Bells. The album is perfect for Rock the Bells because it helped bring back the inspiration, the imagination, the vision, the culture and it was a much-needed album. Rock the Bells touches the people and is about hip-hop and Life Is Good represents that in album form this year.

You're able to hear that from fans via things like Twitter. I saw the MSNBC interview where you said, "Social media is the devil." I see both sides of it because it does become invasive, but it also creates that bond. Have you accepted it as a necessary evil or is it something you just wish would go away?
I see it's there; it's definitely there, but I'm not involved. I have a team that's involved with it, so I don't know anything that's happening on social media unless it's a quick laugh. And usually some of it is, but if I do something on there, my team does something and it creates a positive reaction then that's all good, but I don't care either way about it.

You said it's the devil for the way it puts everything out there. And I can now find from a quick search on Google that you dedicated "Bye Baby" to Kelis in London and that becomes a news story.
As far as social media, this album was going to be this album and before social media, it was a word-of-mouth thing. So the only difference is there is social media, [which] is word-of-mouth digitally – faster, broader. It's the same thing, though. To me, word-of-mouth is everything. I'm old school.

Talk about the old stuff you'll be incorporating into the set and if there are some classic Nas tunes you're really looking forward to busting out.
It's like recording an album: you want songs to be a marriage, a piece of art. [It's] the same way with the stage. And the stage has a raw element to it, too, a raw hip-hop street element that's just going with the flow and vibing off the people. But when it comes to this show, it's mature, it's revealing. It's giving people the chance to see something they haven't really seen, which is the story I've told with this album. So what I think is gonna happen is people are gonna get a chance to see something cool. Whether they love it or hate it, that's the beauty of it. The uncertainty of how people will feel is the beauty of doing the show because it's fresh.

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