By Eric Renner Brown
March 29, 2018 at 12:02 PM EDT
Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

With episodes devoted to 2 Chainz, Logic, T.I., and more, Netflix’s new hip-hop documentary series Rapture follows multiple major rappers across its eight hour-long episodes. But one still towers above the rest: Nas, who along with fellow New York MC Dave East, is the subject of the program’s second installment.

“Hip-hop is like a religion now,” the revered 44-year-old rapper tells EW ahead of Rapture‘s March 30 premiere. “We have to make these things happen so we can keep this thing going for the next youngster who wants to be a hip-hop artist, learn about hip-hop, be a part of hip-hop in every way possible.”

That’s why Rapture, co-created by Sacha Jenkins and produced by Nas-affiliated media company Mass Appeal, focuses heavily on the genre’s rising generation. “Since my first album, I’ve always been trying to open up that space,” says Nas, when explaining his promotion of younger acts. “I wanted to share that space. Almost every album, I’ve been trying to introduce new artists.”

The Nas-centered episode details his background — growing up in Queens, dropping his seminal 1994 debut Illmatic at the age of 21 — but quickly pivots to the 29-year-old rapper Dave East, who Nas recruited to Mass Appeal in 2014. “We were starting to get some dope artists from all over, but none of them were from New York,” Nas recalls. “Dave East was the first New York thing, so it was a big deal to me. I just wanted to be involved with the New York movement.”

Naturally, Jenkins knew the duo’s relationship was ripe for TV. “When it comes to his vision, I don’t even have to say a word, because he’s already thinking what I’m thinking,” Nas says. “I just smile at every idea he has.” In fact, Nas never expected to be offering up wisdom on-camera for Rapture or 2017’s Jack White-led roots music documentary American Epic. “I learn something when I speak,” he says. “I don’t mean that in an ego way! I’m saying, until you bring these things up to me, I don’t even know what I think about these things.”

Nas participated in Rapture because, while he hails from a hip-hop golden age, he’s excited about what the genre has in store. “I’m a big kid when it comes to seeing the new levels that hip-hop can go to,” he says. “There’s always another level. I remember when there was no award for hip-hop — no mainstream awards out there. To see it get nominations on award platforms that didn’t normally f— with hip-hop made me a proud little kid.” (The Grammy Awards introduced the Best Rap Album category in 1996.)

And, as someone who happened upon fame and acclaim at a young age, Nas also has plenty of advice for youngsters in the game. “Don’t show your hand too soon,” he warns. “Don’t believe that you have to impress people when you already have done it. Impress yourself with your craft — the rest comes. Never have an ego, because egos are ugly. Focus on what matters: the art.”

Speaking of the art, where’s Nas’ follow-up to 2012’s Life Is Good, which he teased on the conspicuously titled 2016 DJ Khaled song “Nas Album Done”? “It’s definitely not done,” he says with a laugh. “And it’s definitely coming!”

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