“Yo, all I need is one mic, one beat, one stage…“
Nas couldn’t have closed out his career-spanning set with a more appropriate song. The ‘one mic, one nigga front’ philosophy is just one reason Nas is still a legitimate performer at 39 years old — twenty years after Illmatic — but it is one of the most important reasons. Every solo emcee knows that a perfect hip-hop show consists of two turntables and one microphone. The mic is not there to be shared. No one wants to hear the new group you are producing. No one needs a hypeman to tell them to put their hands in the air and wave them like they just don’t care. No one needs Snoopettes. Hip-hop shows are a running joke, they have been since the Golden Age, but there are a few who can shine on a stage. Nas is one of the few.
By far the most underrated of the post-Golden Age lyricists, Nasir Jones has always lived in the shadow of the dearly departed. The pre-show set was no mistake — Tupac, Biggie, Eazy, ODB — all dead and gone. But Nas is still standing. Not only standing, but standing tall among those still living. Jay-Z’s gone corporate, Wu-Tang are no longer a Clan, Snoop’s a lion and Big Boi is the only one trying to keep the OutKast dream alive. While the mighty have fallen, and a full two decades since his own masterpiece, Nas is experiencing something of a second Golden Age himself. Ever since releasing Hip-Hop Is Dead in 2006, he has proved that title wrong in every way. His latest, Life Is Good, is the work of seasoned vet — sticking to what he does best, he’s proving you don’t have to follow trends to keep things fresh. Everything Nas does is classic Nas.
And so it was last night at Red Rocks. Two turntables, a drum kit, one mic and 24 tracks from one of the best lyricists to ever put poetry to wax. Fan of Illmatic? Well, he performed it almost in its entirety. The hits from It Was Written? All there. God’s Son, Hip Hop Is Dead, I Am… and Stillmatic were also all properly represented. And it was all as tight as the the early 90’s.
Nas didn’t have a lot to say to the crowd, no need to waste precious stagetime, but he did make it a point to assure us he knew where he was when he changed it up a bit with “Colorado State of Mind” — a new twist on an old classic, as well as a shout out to our new laws. “Imagine smoking weed in the streets without cops harassing…” Nas might not rule the world and everything in it, but he ruled Red Rocks last night — a beautiful place where one of his street dreams has come true.
N.Y. State of Mind
It Ain’t Hard to Tell
The World Is Yours
Life’s a Bitch
If I Ruled the World
Nas Is Like
Hate Me Now
Memory Lane (Sittin’ In Da Park)
Hip Hop Is Dead
Got Ur Self a Gun
Made You Look