You gotta give Nas points for trying. After a year in which he caught flak from Bill O'Reilly for participating in a benefit, saw his nemesis turned label boss Jay-Z leave Def Jam, and shot a failed reality show with his wife Kelis, the 34-year-old Nasir Jones lost his long, contentious struggle to name his ninth album Nigger, replacing the title at the last minute. Presiding over a listening session at New York's Electric Lady studios, he's insistent that the controversy and its anticlimax were never intended to be a Molotov cocktail thrown for publicity's sake, but rather a creative rebirth from one of hip-hop's most consistent artists.
Watch Nas' new video:
Why did you wait so long to change the album title if you knew it was going to be a problem?
It was a matter of deciding between changing the name or skipping the major retail outlets I knew wouldn't carry the record and just selling it through my website and stores that had balls. [Def Jam chairman] L.A. Reid and I had a conversation -- I enlightened him and he enlightened me, and he was with me. But I want as many people as possible to hear this, and it was going to be a messy battle that was going to distract from what the album had to say.
You've drawn heat from some older black leaders for the title. Does that surprise you at all?
It's a concept album about the word and what lies behind it. I don't want any respectable member of the black leadership to kidnap me and shoot me. A lot of people from that generation have achieved things and moved on, but I'm still on the grind, going through a lot of shit, and I express it. But a lot of our elders never want to deal with that. I understand, it's hard. I called the record Nigger, with the "er," to create a dialogue. You can't just say, "Why are rappers using this word?" You gotta stick around to find out.