Nas live in London
- By Jack Preston -
- Oct 04, 2012
When an artist the size of Nas comes to play a series of shows in London, you can usually be certain that their venue of choice will the soulless O2 Arena. Fair enough, it makes them an awful lot of money and gives an awful lot of people the opportunity to attend, but somewhere along the way the qualities that made you fall in love with their music are usually lost.
Take ‘Illmatic’, Nas’ seminal debut LP. The exceptional storytelling draws the listener tight into a disturbing set of misadventures, as the narrator recalls afternoons spent learning lessons on Brooklyn projects. The sense of claustrophobia and panic which penetrate the listener, and make the songs so strong, can be all too easily swallowed up in large open spaces.
The classic example of this coming from the spellbinding ‘N.Y. State of Mind’: “Pick the Mac up, told brothers, "Back up," the Mac spit/Lead was hitting niggas, one ran, I made him backflip/Heard a few chicks scream, my arm shook, couldn't look/Gave another squeeze, heard it click, "yo, my shit is stuck"/Try to cock it, it wouldn't shoot, now I'm in danger/Finally pulled it back and saw three bullets caught up in the chamber/So now I'm jetting to the building lobby…” While a small collection of artists, such as Jay-Z and Kanye West on their Watch The Throne spectacular, can command a grand arena. It’s the more intimate settings where performers such as Nas really thrive.
Therefore when it was announced that the self-proclaimed ‘God’s Son’ was to play three consecutive nights at relatively snug London venues to celebrate the launch of his eleventh studio album, ‘Life is Good’, you can imagine the rate at which the handful of tickets went.
Fully aware of their great fortune, the crowd at XOYO enthusiastically took to the tiresome calls of the DJ to put their trigger fingers up for the lost souls of Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac as they awaited the arrival of Brooklyn’s finest for the final night of his London residence.
Coming out on stage in his NY cap, head bowed, Nas rattled through an Illmatic medley, displaying the sort of technical wizardry that the majority of his contemporaries could only wish to lay claim to. The aforementioned N.Y State of Mind, ‘Life’s a Bitch’, ‘The World is Yours’ and ‘It Ain’t Hard To Tell’ sending the packed out basement into delirium.
It was to prove to be the most cohesive part of a sprawling set, with Nas seemingly using his time on stage to play around with a track-listing for an eventual greatest hits release - not that anyone could complain about that. ‘God's Son’ classics such as ‘Get Down’, ‘I Can’ and ‘Made You Look’ proceeded highlights from ‘I Am…’, ‘Stillmatic’ and ‘Nasatradamus’ before more recent anthems like ‘Hip Hop is Dead’ once again got the crowd bouncing.
Of his new release, only ‘Daughters’ and the Amy Winehouse featuring ‘Cherry Wine’ were to get an outing, leave room for favourites such as show closer ‘One Mic’.
For a man of such cold lyrics, Nasir Jones sported what can almost be described as a ‘gleeful’ smile throughout a large proportion of the hour and a half he spent on stage. “Life is good. I think I forgot that at some point, I woke up one day and realised I needed to get back to this. I need to play shows like this, it’s just about the music down here, no bullshit,” explained a for once solemn expression.
There were proud flashes of tattoos, the smell of marijuana in the air, thanks given to God, respects paid to lost rappers and an importu multitasking encore: “That [One Mic] was actually the last song, I think I need to be with you a bit more though,” explained Nas as he signed vinyls whilst rapping out one final track. The boxes had been well and truly ticked.
While the performance couldn’t be described as faultless, the supreme ability and effortless ease in which Nas is able to flow through bars at a ferocious pace could never fail to impress. It’s a very rare thing to see someone do something in the flesh and think ‘there’s probably nobody on the planet who is better at that’. When you get the opportunity you need to enjoy it, you need to smile like a gleeful Nas.