PGF honors hip-hop/rap artist Nas as its person of the month for July 2003. Nas, born Nasir Jones in the tough Queensbridge housing projects in Long Island City, Queens, New York is being honored for his recent release of “I Can” a song and video all about kids. Beyond the outwardly positive message to children – speaking of their potential and right to achieve their dreams, the song touches on deeper subjects such as pride and self respect.
A tour through the song reflects the pain Nas has seen in his life. In it we recognize his desire to see young people live lives free from that pain. Nas also speaks of history, finding pride in ones family and culture. It is a powerful message that PGF supports through our efforts to promote cross-cultural respect and understanding.
Nas teamed up with director Chris Robinson to produce the “I Can” video. The video was shot in Los Angeles, and it depicts Nas speaking words of encouragement as kids perform and play beside him.
“It’s all about the kids,” Robinson said. “The honesty you see in kids’ faces is what gravitated me to it. We let the kids sing the chorus. Nas is the only adult in the whole video.”
The children performing included students found in some of Los Angeles’ performing arts schools, tap dancers discovered at Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, actor George Gore from “My Wife and Kids,” and some children from local schoolyards.
Robinson matched the kids’ activities with the lyrics in “I Can,” which begins with the verse “You can be anything in the world, in God we trust/ An architect, doctor, maybe an actress/ But nothing comes easy, it takes much practice.”
For the final verse, Robinson shot Nas performing over a projection screen with images of Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, his own “One Mic” video and others.
“We wanted to show people in the world who’ve had a passion and became what they wanted to be,” Robinson said. “Nas is wearing a shirt that says, ‘I am the American Dream.’ I think that summed it all up. You can be whatever you want to be. When you speak about it, it sounds a little corny, but when it’s delivered to you the way Nas does and you see these kids, it’s real and touches you.”
It should be noted that much of Nas’ music reflects language and culture developed in some of the toughest neighborhoods in the United States. His music is raw and powerful and much of it is not for children. The music is a dose of reality built upon the issues and challenges many try to ignore. Coming from this background and placed in that context, the “I Can” song and video speaks clearly of Nas’ and our dream for our children.
Born Nasir Jones, 14 September 1973, in Long Island City, New York, USA. Nas was the son of a touring barbershop quartet member, Charles Jones III. His father took the name Olu Dara. He and his wife Fannie moved to the Queensbridge projects and his father began a professional jazz career-which would strongly influence Nas. Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones name is Arabic and means “Helper and Protector”.
Nasir spent the next 18 years of his life on the eight city blocks that spanned from Queensboro Bridge to 41st Side. Watching Godzilla movies and reading Iron Man comic books which spurred his imagination. His father often brought him to the studio or on tour. During this time, Nasir was listening to his father’s Curtis Mayfield records and was introduced to hip-hop by the Allie brothers in his project building. Nasir had plans of becoming a producer/DJ as he hung pin-ups of the Juice Crew, Slick Rick, Rakim, LL Cool J, Salt & Pepa, and Sweet Tee on his wall. Unfortunately (or fortunately for the fans he would inspire), he was too poor to afford turntables and a beat machine, so Nas did the next best thing: pick up a pencil and a napkin to write his first rap.
At the age of 12 things were not looking good in the Jones’ household. Nas’ father’s lifestyle and habits led to divorce in 1985. Nasir started to fall into the traps of the street as he (renaming himself “Nasty Nas”), his brother Jabari (who became “Jungle”), and the rest of the crew began to hang out in front of bodega named Sandino’s. By the time he was 14, Nasty Nas dropped out of school. Nas would be forever haunted by a dramatic event, the gun violence murder of his best friend ‘Ill Will’.
Through a chance encounter, Nas hooked up with and rapped for Large Professor. His advanced flow and unheard-of-rhyme-schemes compelled LP to give this young QB native a chance. Nas did not disappoint as he exploded onto the rap scene in 1991 on Main Source’s “Live At The BBQ” posse cut. Although his verse was short, Nas shined the most brightly alongside veterans such as Chubb Rock and managed to keep his name alive in the industry. Finally, MC Serch brought Nas to Faith Newman, Director of A&R at Columbia Records, and broke a deal for Nasty Nas.
April 19, 1994 was a landmark in hip-hop history as Nas’ debut album was released. The magical combination of producers like DJ Premier, Large Professor, Pete Rock, L.E.S, and Q-Tip combined with the effortless heartfelt poetics of Nasty Nas to create Illmatic, which received an unexpected, yet well-deserved 5 mics from the then-credible rap Bible, “The Source.”
Portions of the information presented above are excerpted from “Nas’ ‘I Can’ Video Is All About The Kids” © Corey Moss, MTV News and the fan site Stillmatic.net.