Battle Ready

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Nas - Battle Ready
By Del F. CowieIt may seem like inane bickering to those outside hip-hop culture but battling — whether in a freestyle cipher or on wax — is an intrinsic part of the culture, directly linked to the African-American oral practice of "the dozens" where respect for verbal dexterity was paramount. As one of hip-hop's most gifted and influential MCs, Nas's word weaving is highly revered. He may be known for his own fierce verbal battle with Jay-Z, but it would be grossly inaccurate to dismiss him as just a battle MC. His reputation was built on his knack for writing vivid and poetically intricate verses, which positioned him as a modern day griot, filing reportage from the vantage of his project window in the infamous Queensbridge housing projects. Yet this blessing has also been his curse. After dropping the classic Illmatic, Nas has struggled to live up to his own standard, wrestling with its influence and his own image, leading to ill-fated career choices, maddening inconsistency and drastically swinging fortunes. Though he's butted heads with other artists and the expectations of diehard fans, it seems Nas's battle is ultimately with himself.

1973 - 1981
Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones was born on September 14, 1973 in Long Island, New York to Fannie Ann Jones and to jazz trumpeter Olu Dara. In Arabic, Nasir means ‘helper' or ‘protector', Bin means "son of'. At first Nas lived in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his mother who worked at United Postal Service and his jazz trumpeter father. At age 4 he would play trumpet on the stoop of the house to the admiration of passers-by. His father told him to stop playing until he was older, because his lip was hanging down, much to Nas' chagrin. However his father often took him to the recording studio and backstage at shows and he would often invite the young boy on stage while he played. The family moved to six-block radius of Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing mass in North America. No longer interested in playing the trumpet, the introverted Nas wrote short stories, drew cartoons creating his own character Sea God.

1982 – 1988
While many of his friends' mothers in the Queensbridge Houses were crackheads, Nas' mother looked after him and his brother Jabari well. Met William "Ill Will" Graham who lived in the apartment above. He introduced Nas to Chinese food by dropping the food down to Nas' plate held outside the window. Now interested in hip-hop, Nas would go upstairs to Ill Will's place and listen to music. Ill Will had turntables and a fader and he would play the DJ while Nas first began to rhyme over popular tracks making tapes. He also began to tape off the radio studying the hip-hop records he heard and would wake up his brother Jabari practicing rhymes that he had made up. While his parents divorced when he was twelve, Nas continued to write short stories and immersed himself deeper into hip-hop culture. Hanging out with Ill Will he got into graffiti using the tag name Kid Wave, a name he also used when he was a part of a b-boy crew called Breakin' In Action (B.I.A.). At the park, Nas witnessed the legendary Queensbridge hip-hop producer Marley Marl hosting jams with Biz Markie and Roxanne Shante. For a time he wanted to be a producer like Marley Marl and tried Djing and scratching, but wasn't very proficient at it. He also idolized Queensbridge's MC Shan and often asked the MC about the recording process. Fannie Ann Jones and Olu Dara however, divorced when Nas was twelve years old. Soon he became part of a rhyming crew called the Devastatin' Seven and at the same time was reading books on African history, mysticism, witchcraft and was introduced to Five Percenter teachings by older youths. Wanting to be creative, Nas dropped out of high school early in 9th grade, angry at teachers feeling they were suppressing what he wanted to do. He began to smoke weed heavily and with Ill Will and friends he began to become wild, hitting and robbing people running around on trains and hustled briefly on the street corner. Nas absorbed what he was seeing and experiencing intently as he still harboured the desire to rhyme.

1989 to 1990
Having determined he wanted to put together a demo, Nas was introduced by a mutual friend Melquan to a 17-year old producer wunderkind named Large Professor outside a high school. The Flushing, Queens teenage producer was doing uncredited production work on Eric B. & Rakim's "Let The Rhythm Hit ‘Em" album after classes. The two hit it off and Large Professor invites Nas to recording sessions for the Eric B & Rakim and Kool G. Rap albums he is working on, giving Nas the chance to witness arguably two of hip-hop's finest MCs in action. When Rakim didn't show up for sessions, Nas steps into the booth and record under Large Professor's tutelage to work on his demo. Fellow MC Akinyele calls Nas up occasionally to take these recordings to labels to arouse their interest, sometimes with the accompaniment of Kool G. Rap. While these efforts prove unsuccessful, Large Professor gets a deal with Wild Pitch along with two Toronto DJs K-Cut & Sir Scratch who were also brothers,. The group is named Main Source and Large Professor looking out for his protégé invites Nas to appear on the album.
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Article Published In Dec 04 Issue