Art, Greed & Unpronounceable Symbols: Thoughts on Nas’ Scathing Letter to the Industry….
So Nas is pissed.
Earlier this week, a private email sent by Nas to executives at Def Jam, Nas’ current label home, leaked onto the internet. And it is a doozy. Nas slams the label suits for holding up the release of his highly anticipated Lost Tapes Vol. 2 collection, railing against a major label system that serves the interests of label execs at the expense of artists and fans.
The first full paragraph goes a little something like this:
“I won’t even tap dance around in an email, I will get right into it. People connect to the Artist @ the end of the day, they don’t connect with the executives. Honestly, nobody even cares what label puts out a great record, they care about who recorded it. Yet time and time again its the executives who always stand in the way of a creative artist’s dream and aspirations. You don’t help draw the truth from my deepest and most inner soul, you don’t even do a great job @ selling it. The #1 problem with DEF JAM is pretty simple and obvious, the executives think they are the stars. You aren’t…. not even close. As a matter of fact, you wish you were, but it didn’t work out so you took a desk job. To the consumer, I COME FIRST. Stop trying to deprive them! I have a fan base that dies for my music and a RAP label that doesn’t understand RAP. Pretty fucked up situation”
Damn. Straight ether.
Nas’ sentiments are passionate, honest, and dead-on. But this is not a new phenomenon. Not even close. You think an email is intense? How ‘bout changing your name to an unpronounceable symbol and purposefully sabotaging your own career?
Everybody remembers when Prince dropped his given name, and insisted on going by an unpronounceable symbol, for much of the 1990s. Unsure of how to talk about Prince verbally and/or reproduce the symbol in print, the media infamously began referring to him as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince.” And Prince didn’t stop there; he had the word “SLAVE” scrawled across his left cheek whenever he appeared publicly, refused to actually speak during interviews (employing a random, nameless, beautiful woman to relay his statements for him by whispering his responses in her ear), and purposefully released a subpar album and refused to properly promote it or include any potential hit singles in the track list (1994’s practically forgotten Come).
Well in case you didn’t know, Prince’s antics during this period were essentially one giant, multi-year fuck you to Warner Bros. for certain demands and restraints that Prince saw as artistically and spiritually stifling. He exhausted and frustrated his label, the media had a field day with his wild antics, and the public largely found the entire ordeal confusing and alienating. Prince’s career suffered to some degree, but none of that really matters today.
It doesn’t matter because Prince is a fucking badass. His body of work speaks for itself (countless classics, unmatched artistry, worldwide superstardom, beyond influential on other artists, etc.), so it’s not like Prince had anything left to prove in 1994, let alone today (much like Nas). Everybody pretty much thought Prince was supremely weird before he changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol, so nothing really changed on that front either. What Prince accomplished was a personal victory; he didn’t like being treated like a slave by untalented, out-of-touch industry people obsessed with the almighty dollar, so he went the route of a true gangsta and shut the whole shit down. He is uncompromising when it comes to his art, as any true artist should be. It may have fallen on deaf ears at the time, but today the music world respects him even more for standing up to corporate interests as valiantly as he did.
Will Nas go to these extremes? Probably not. But his sentiments are understandable and accurate, and I hope he sticks to his guns. Nas is one of very few high-profile artists in Hip Hop today that are committed to lacing their work with brutal, incisive sociopolitical commentary. His voice is not only respected and beloved; it is truly essential.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; record labels are dinosaurs. They’re big, clumsy and growing more and more obsolete by the hour. Philosophically, I am 100% down with Nas on this issue.
And besides, Lost Tapes Vol. 1 was the shit….