Playing a 30-song set in a little over an hour, Nas (Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones) kept the crowd jumping. At Saturday’s show, presented by the Cornell Concert Commission, Nas proved why he is widely regarded as one of the top MCs of all time. In 2012, The Source crowned him the second best lyricist of all time.
Jhené Aiko, who recently released her album Sailing Soul(s), opened with a few soulful songs, including Tupac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” She also happened to be wearing an outfit that if you couldn’t see, you could hear the guys around you talking about.
Nas opened with “The Don,” a hit from his most recent album, Life is Good. He then cut to songs from his 1994 debut album, Illmatic, including “N.Y. State of Mind,” “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” and “Represent.”
He even poked some fun at Cornell before playing a Marvin Gaye remix of “A Queens Story.” “What do you guys know about Marvin Gaye? You guys know a lot about everything,” Nas said.
One of his most emotive songs was dedicated to his ex-wife and artist, Kelis, whom he recently divorced. During most songs, it could be difficult to hear the famed lyricism over concert-goers’ screaming and the deafening bass, but every word was audible in “Bye Baby.” In recent interviews, Nas has cited his divorce as an influence for the lyrics in Life is Good. The album cover features Nas holding one of the dresses Kelis left behind.
The songs took the crowd through a spectrum of social issues from violence to poverty to the degradation of cities. What separates Nas from many rappers is his lyricism. He doesn’t rely on kitschy tactics or simple wordplay, everything he raps is often dense with meaning and influenced by his personal involvement. Responding to allegations that he has a ghostwriter, Nas said during an August 2012 interview with KPWR, “No, you know who my ghostwriters are? My friends, people I meet on the street. Things I read … Somebody will say something that sparks something in me.” His sincerity is what listeners most appreciate.
The show was full of true fans, yelling out the lyrics even when Nas wasn’t. When Nas yelled the title lyrics of “Got Ur Self A …,” all of Barton echoed the word he left out: gun. The audience’s excitement peaked during “Made You Look” when everyone, including myself, was yelling “Bravehearts!”
The concert also yielded an interesting crowd, given that Nas began performing before most current Cornell students were born. Some people were there just because it was a concert, but others were there for the music. (And to the couple making it out in front of me for the hour before Nas went on stage, thanks for that.) Also, there were several local high school age kids, which really shows the diverse audiences Nas’s lyrics continue to reach. He’s survived all the changes and currents of the rap industry for decades, and since 1994, eight of Nas’s albums have gone platinum and multi-platinum.
A major highlight of the concert was definitely the song choice. Nas went through nearly all his albums, in addition to covering a few songs. He performed “Hey Young World,” the 1989 single by eye-patch donning rapper, Slick Rick.
At the end of the show, Nas performed “One Love,” an homage to his recent foray into reggae. He collaborated with Damien Marley on his 2010 hip-hop and reggae fusion album, Distant Relatives.
Though the show was slightly short, Nas revisited his entire songbook without there being a lack of excitement, unless of course Nas wanted people to calm down and really listen. The concert was a rarity, in that Nas put on a show full of lyricism rich with decades of experience which is a lost art among so many modern rappers.