How Nas lost his nerve and sold-out. He criticized Jay-Z, Nelly, and others he thought were diminishing hip-hop, but now Nas has made nice to sell more copies of his upcoming record, says Evan Serpick

By Evan Serpick
Updated December 01, 2002 at 05:00 AM EST
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Nas: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

How Nas lost his nerve and sold-out

It’s a sad week for hip-hop. Tuesday morning, Nas, one of the most talented rappers and outspoken critics on earth, appeared on New York’s Hot 97 radio station and completed his transformation into the biggest sell-out on the planet. Let’s take a step back and explain why we should all lament the day’s events.

Hip-hop battles are rarely really about anything. That’s why it was so refreshing when Nas, in a war with Jay-Z, went on New York radio station Power 105 back in June and accused Def Jam, hip-hop’s most powerful label, of paying DJs to play their artists and influential DJs like Hot 97’s Angie Martinez and Funkmaster Flex of accepting their bribes. He went on to scold rappers like Nelly and Cam’ron for writing lackluster rhymes and challenge industry players to try harder to make hip-hop great, like it once was.

Finally, many thought, a battle with teeth. Finally, someone to spark a discussion that would lead the genre to reflect on its culture and ways. Finally, a rapper with the cajones to say what so many had been thinking, that hip-hop, a once vibrant and creative force, has largely been dulled into a bland mainstream juggernaut that drives corporate profits at the expense of true art. But that’s all over now.

All the excitement we felt explains why it was so disappointing when Nas went on Martinez’s show on Hot 97 and made a thoroughly self-serving peace. It wasn’t bad enough that, a month after he called Def Jam “an evil empire,” Nas aligned with Murder Inc., a subsidiary of Def Jam, the label that also distributes Roc-a-Fella, Jay-Z’s imprint.

In the Hot 97 segment, he went on to eat every last morsel of his words, apologizing to Angie, Flex, Nelly, and Cam’ron, among others. He offered a lot of reasons for backing off his bold challenge to the hip-hop world, including fear for his own safety and a desire to show what a “big man” he was. But one excerpt seems to show his real reasons for relenting:

“I shouted out a lot of rappers and that’s not what I am about no more… I’m chilling now. I just finished one of the most incredible albums.”

Three weeks before Nas’ new album, ”God’s Son,” hits stores on Dec. 17, the rapper seems intent on shoring up support from the very institutions he challenged this summer. He’s already got the genre’s biggest corporate wheel, Def Jam, behind him. And after this morning’s bended-knee plea on Hot 97, he’s bound to get heavy hype and airplay from the country’s most powerful radio station. The only thing he’s missing now is principles.

Hip-hop desperately needs people like Nas to speak out against the mainstream miasma it has become, which serves to promote bland music, punish creativity, and make it near-impossible for talented rappers without connections to have their music heard on a wide scale.

For a little while there, it seemed like Nas was willing to risk the status he’s earned as one of rap’s most potent mouthpieces to advocate for industry reform. But in the end, he turned out to be just like everyone else — willing to sacrifice his principles and blunt his idealism for the sake of sales. It’s a sad day indeed.

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