Nas & Travis Scott Discuss The Power Of Hip-Hop & Why Its Messages Cannot Be Stopped
In 2017, Nas and Travis Scott worked together alongside DJ Khaled for video single “It’s Secured” (embedded below). On paper, these artists may seem to represent different corners of Rap music, even while both have close collaborative ties to Kanye West.
Nas burst on the scene in the early 1990s. His debut album, Illmatic, appeased many purists, from The Source magazine to the readers of Ambrosia For Heads (who crowned it the Greatest Rap Album Of All-Time back in 2016). Nas’ most beloved music fits in the canon of East Coast boom-bap. The 45-year-old MC paints vivid pictures with words. Although he tends to shun the spotlight at times, his art often presents introspective lyrics deal with a bygone era of New York City, street crime, and overcoming a grim existence to becoming a mogul.
Meanwhile, Travis Scott is from Houston, Texas. His music often defies genre. This 26-year-old sings, raps, and sometimes breaks into an all-out Rock Star display in his elaborate stage shows. Scott has a child as well as an ongoing relationship with Kylie Jenner, making him part of the globe’s most prominent celebrity family. Last year’s Astroworld topped the charts with a concoction of music that blends Rap, R&B, Psychedelic Rock, EDM, Screw music, and more. AFH selected it among last year’s best.
However, Nas and Travis Scott have plenty in common, as a conversation moderated by Playboy‘ Marcus Reeves shows. These two artists sit together in the back of a Bentley with L’s burning. Their discussion is about Hip-Hop, and how it continues to evolve and move with the same principles and purpose.
Scott praises Nas’ era. “I’m guessing Hip-Hop used to be about bars and just a unique flow over beats. It was like straight soul, and man, you’re telling your story; it was just bar to bar, killing it, and not really about anything being catchy. It was just really raw,” he says. “The past generation knocked down so many doors where, you know, they were spitting a lot of pain, man. They was dealing with a lot of police stuff. We’re still dealing with that now, but it wasn’t so free. Now we got more of a voice at the label. We can kind of put out our own music whenever. You and I could do a song during this interview and upload it right now if we wanted to.”
Nas reacts, “That’s right. Being an MC or a rapper, you got to change with the times. I can stay me, sure, but the challenge is to stay with what’s going on. If you look at the great ones from back then, a lot of them have four albums; they had short careers. That’s changed now.” He also comments, “You said it was once about writing down the pain and all of that. Nowadays the pain has changed. We’re after different things. We broke past the barriers. We understand what we need to do and we’re in control of what we’re doing, and no one can stop it now. No one can tell us what to do, what we can’t do. Rap music can’t be stopped now.”
Mentioning Scott’s action figure, Nas tells Travis he wishes he could execute things like that during the ’90s. He also explains how he admires the artist’s attitude towards the spotlight. “You [have been] doing something I wish I did when I was in my twenties, which was not giving the camera much. If you go back to one of the interviews I did on Video Music Box, I don’t look at the camera that much. Through the years, I would do award shows or whatever, and then I would skip the red carpet. The record label would be mad at me, that I’m up here and I’m selling all these units, and I won’t even walk the carpet. When you cover your face, so you don’t look down, I think, Damn, I wish…I live vicariously through you when you do that, bro, because I feel you on that. You [are] here to do the music and leave your stain on this world. Whether you be in front of them cameras or not, you don’t even care.” Scott agrees, despite his defacto celebrity status. “I don’t care. That’s my whole sh*t, bro. It’s about the music. I just express what a kid my age is going through in a time.”
Scott goes on to describe his expressive nature. Whereas Nas has made songs like “Sly Fox” and “What Goes Around,” Scott admits that he is careful to be about activism in his bars. “I wouldn’t say I don’t feel compelled to speak on political issues; sometimes you just don’t want to speak too much on stuff you don’t know much about. It’s not like I’m not thinking about what’s going on in the world. I’m an expressive artist, but with media and sh*t, it gets misconstrued. As I’m sitting with you right now, I’m still figuring this out, you know?”
Nas responds, “Politics definitely affects the way I think, but the way I write is my day-to-day life. I did a song talking about daughters, because I have a daughter. ‘Daughters’ was nominated for a Grammy. I feel it—that’s why I wrote it—but I had no idea it would be acknowledged like that when it came out. So I write about day-to-day stuff, and I don’t plan to write anything political, because then it’s forced. It ain’t a natural expression.” Moments later, he adds, “Ray Charles and Billie Holiday and all of those great acts were entertaining and going through worse times than now. They were inspiring us. When Michael Jackson did Thriller, that was during Reaganomics. He gave us something to look at other than the politics, the propaganda, the lies. He gave us inspiration.” He praises efforts like Astroworld in a challenging political climate. “The politicians want our full attention. They’re hustling. I’m not getting caught up in that. I make music about life, and life comes before politics.”
The conversation closes with the two men talking about the sport of Rap. “This sh*t is a blood sport,” says Nas. “This sh*t ain’t easy. This is one of the hardest games ever. I love it right now because it’s testing you. What are you made of? Can you survive? What do you have to offer in 2019?” The MC who famously called sleep “the cousin of death” has not shifted his stance. “Because the moment you sleep, the moment you blink your eyes too long, your spot is taken. And that’s the excitement of it.”
Travis reacts, “There’s no barrier. There’s just so much of a flow of things that we’re trying to—we’re gettin’ it out, and we’re expressing it in a different way: what’s happening during our time in life, what’s happening in the streets.”
#BonusBeat: DJ Khaled, Nas, and Travis Scott’s “It’s Secured”: