In 1994, Nas released his debut album, Illmatic, regarded by pretty much everyone (even his ex-nemesis Jay-Z) as one of the hottest hip-hop records of all time. Nineteen years later, Nas is still scorchin’, with his last three albums topping the charts. Recently named a Hennessy V.S. Wild Rabbit Icon, the man born Nasir Jones sat down with us to talk fitness, grilling, looking good and going global. You’d be wise to listen.
As a rapper so closely associated with New York, is it weird to be touring the planet representing a French company?
It makes sense. When I was really young, my father was a musician and he traveled all over the world: Europe, Africa, everywhere. He’d come back and tell me about those places and the life of a musician on the road. That’s what made it natural for me. I’m always surprised by the things I wind up doing, but once that initial shock of it goes away, I’m in my groove.
“Money’s overrated. You need it, but in excess… it can be terminal.”
How long have you been drinking cognac?
A long time. I like quality. I like quality in clothes, cars, women, watches, whatever. Ever since I was young, I’ve been like that.
So what is your watch of choice?
Rolex is the best watch. There’s a lot of great watches out there, but Rolex is the best.
How about cars?
I’m interested in a Prius right now. I’ve had a Ferrari, Maybach, Rolls-Royces… All the things you aspire to, coming from the place I came from. Great experiences. Now I want to experience the Prius.
Note: Even drinking Hennessy won’t make you rap as well as Nas does.
Any fashion advice for a guy who wants to look good but lacks Nas money?
Aw man, money’s overrated. You need it, but in excess… it can be terminal. You don’t need much. You can find good things that are not expensive. It’s all about your eye. In New York there are boutiques all over the place, and you can get some really cool things together that don’t require a gold card. Go to places downtown, places in Harlem… just get creative and bring it all home.
Do you have a favorite cocktail, particularly for the spring?
I like the Big Apple. [See recipe here.] I like rose champagne. Mimosas.
Are you a barbecue guy?
Yes, I am. I got friends who barbecue and are really good. They’re teaching me. I mean, I have friends who are really good. They have grills like ovens that sit outside that are taller than you and I. Smoker ovens. They’re doing this for real. That’s a whole world I’m excited to get into.
What do you make?
Burgers, fish, shrimp. What I really want to do is learn spices and how to make my own barbecue sauce.
Sold-out show in Sao Paulo. Yep, just another day at the office…
While touring, do you have a specific workout routine?
I hate working out. I don’t work out as much as I need to, but there’s no excuses when it comes to push-ups. You should do at least 100 a day. Every guy should at least try to do 100 a day.
It’s now universally acknowledged as a classic, but Illmatic wasn’t an immediate smash. Did you worry people weren’t going to get it?
No. It got bootlegged. It was in the streets a couple of months before it even came out, and it was my first album. It was kind of unheard of. That killed a lot of sales but it also helped. DMX went multi-platinum first time out. Drake sold records first time out. That didn’t happen for me. I prefer my way better. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with going multi-platinum with your first album. That’s amazing. But I had a chance to not miss any steps along the way.
Your new album Life Is Good includes the song “Cherry Wine” with Amy Winehouse. Is it strange listening to that tune, since she died so soon after making it?
It messes me up every time I hear it. There are records you make where you’re like, “Wow. I made that.” It’s just an honor to have her on the record. We lost her far too soon. I was very fortunate that her family was cool with her being on my record, and I was very fortunate to have her vocals. That voice was angelic. I’m really glad that it worked out.