A Conversation with Nas and Michael Eric Dyson

A Conversation with Nas and Michael Eric Dyson

October 11, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


(bell rings) – What’s going on, everybody? (audience cheers) I go by the one and only 9th Wonder, representing Little Brother. Ladies and gentlemen,
please welcome to the stage, my colleague, Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, (audience cheers and applauds) my colleague and Zulu Nation
brother, Dr. James Peterson, (audience cheers and applauds) and the legend himself,
the one and only, Nas. (audience cheers and applauds) How you doing?
– What’s up boss? – [Nas] How you doing? (clears throat) – Give it up for 9th Wonder, please. (audience cheers and applauds) You know, a couple days ago, 9th hit me up And he was like, “Listen, I wanna come, “I wanna see the conversation, “I wanna come and be in the audience,” and I said, “Bruh, can you
please bless us from the decks?” And so thank you for coming
in and doing that tribute to the brother Nas, we appreciate that. (audience applauds) I feel like I need a moment here. I need a moment, because
this is an amazing time in my career anyway,
because it’s just exciting, but the opportunity to
be here in Gaston Hall, this wonderful university, to sit between the greatest Black
intellectual of our time and the greatest emcee
of our time; give it up. (audience cheers and applauds) It’s actually very
moving for me to be here, so I don’t know how
this all came together, but I appreciate the opportunity to moderate this
conversation, and I wanna say, I do want you brothers
to be in conversation. We’re gonna talk up
here for a little while and then we will open it up. There will be Georgetown folk with mics that will be out there; you
only need to raise your hand and they’ll come to you. We’ll work all that out when we get to it, but I would just like to start off with both of you talking about,
how did y’all come together? Because this is not the
first time the three of us have sat down and had
a conversation, right? – [Nas] Nah. – So I wonder if each of
you could talk a little about how did this happen, but also, how did you first connect
and meet and come together? – Well, I’ll take that. First of all, I wanna say
to brother Gareth Ross at Kennedy Center, and
to the Georgetown board, thank you so much–
– For making this happen. – For facilitating this,
(audience applauds) and doing this. It’s so funny, I was at the
Schomburg the other day, and a woman was sitting
behind me, and said, “You won’t remember me, but
I was at Essence magazine, “and I’m the person who called together “the panel on Black men
that featured you and Nas.” I was like, “Oh, wow;” that
was years and years ago. So we first met in
person several years ago on a round table on Black
masculinity, and I was sitting next to a man whose
rhetorical genius was evident, and I started spitting some of his lyrics. And I know he didn’t
expect a old man like me to be spitting: ♫ It’s only right that
I was born to use mics ♫ And the stuff that I write
is even tougher than dykes ♫ I’m taking rapping to new
plateau, through rap slow ♫ My rhyming is a vitamin,
held without a capsule (audience applauds)
Right? And Nas was like, “Yeah.” (laughs) And that began an incredible friendship. My admiration for him is unlimited, and my appreciation for what he does, not only as an emcee, but as
a human being who’s engaged in the political realities
of the world around him and to use his platform
to articulate visions and understandings of the
world in which we live with such poetic clarity and passion. So, we’ve been doing
this for many years now. – What he said. (audience laughs) Nah. Yeah, we met at the Essence
thing at the Schomburg Library in Harlem, and… Harlem in the house.
– Give it up for Harlem. (James chuckles)
(audience members cheer) – Yeah, what’s up? So, we met, and I didn’t
know he would know my stuff, and since then, we just clicked. He’s had my back, I had his, and he’s one of the
smartest guys I’ve ever met. There’s not a lot of people
from your generation, educated people who have a voice out there who really can identify with us. And you. He’s the guy. He’s our guy. So, we’ve been tight since years. – We’re right on the cusp of
this tremendous performance you’re gonna be doing this
weekend at the Kennedy Center, and I wonder if you could
both reflect on this moment. You, Nas, just from the
perspective of where you are in your career. We’re sitting here talking about hip-hop at Georgetown University
with scholars who teach it, we got the Harvard Hip-Hop
Fellow, 9th Wonder. I don’t know if you guys know
this, but 9th’s been working up at Harvard all year long. We have Nas getting ready to… (audience applauds) We have you getting ready to
perform at the Kennedy Center. I wonder if you can
reflect on where hip-hop is as we think about the confluence of all these powerful events and powerful things happening right now. – It’s crazy, ’cause it’s so many layers to that question, and where is hip-hop. You talk about 9th Wonder at Harvard. I’ve recently been over
there and met with Skip Gates and Dr. Morgan, and just
watching where hip-hop is today, with myself re-releasing
an album from 20 years ago, it’s like, 20 years? That’s crazy. – [James] There’s a lot
of people in this audience who weren’t born 20 years ago. (audience chuckles)
– Word. Word. – Somebody said, “It’s still a classic.” That’s what I heard.
– I appreciate it. Appreciate it. So, you know, I never… When I first started, I
said, “It would be cool “to talk at colleges.” (James chuckles)
You know? “But that would never happen.” And that’s really what I thought. So it’s surreal, but at the same time, it’s what it’s supposed to be. Especially for me, at a place like the John F. Kennedy Center. I had dreams of that kinda stuff early. I didn’t think it was really possible; I kinda gave away those
dreams, I let those dreams go, but now that it’s here,
it’s come around to this, it feels like this is
where it’s supposed to be. – Well, and sitting up here with you, one of the foremost scholars
on hip-hop in America today without question, and I’ve
learned so much from you, and you and I and Nas
had a great conversation in the Aspen Institute, we
were talking about in the car on the way over here, and
when you think about the fact, the word genius is bandied about, but this guy is a rhetorical genius. And at 16, “Verbal assassin,
my architect pleases. “When I was 12, I went to
Hell for snuffing Jesus.” 16? Like, dude? Who is this guy? At the barbecue? That ain’t no regular barbecue. (Nas chuckles) And then, at 19, as a prodigy, “I need a new nigga for
this black cloud to follow, “’cause while it’s over me,
it’s too dark to see tomorrow. “I changed my motto. “Instead of,” talking about
buying a lottery ticket. What does he say? “Instead of–” – [Nas] The buck that bought a bottle coulda struck the lotto. – There it is.
(audience laughs) I just wanted him to say it. “Coulda struck the lotto.” So, the point is, that now, a
guy with a PhD from Princeton, a guy with a PhD from Penn,
is discussing the music of a guy from Queensbridge. So, his dream about getting
into college, celebrate that. (audience applauds)
Celebrate that. And to me, teaching Nas, teaching hip-hop, Jay, Pac, Biggie, Lauryn Hill, is about excavating in the common earth of our social existence, not
only relics and artifacts of their genius, but
the ongoing engagement with the most serious level of literacy. I went to see Teju Cole the other day, the Nigerian author.
(audience members cheer) Teju cole is a rhetorical master. This man, 20 years ago, gave us a novel in the form of Illmatic. Exploring what was happening
in his neighborhood; his letter to his brother,
which inspired me, in the book that we put out on Illmatic, to talk about my brother
who’s been in prison, and every time I see Nas,
he asks me about my brother. But when he made that One
Love, that spoke to me, he talked about suffering,
he’s talked about struggle, he’s talked about what it
meant to be a drug dealer, he talked about what it meant
to be a victim of crime. So in other words, that
album gave us, in precis, a panoramic vision of what it meant to be a young Black person
struggling for survival. So the fact is, we teach
at Harvard, at Georgetown, at Princeton, at Yale,
at Talladega, at Spelman, at Morehouse, the works
of these gifted artists because they have something
profound and important, and I think, just as we study Hemingway, I think just as we study Morrisson, I think just as we study Homer, we study a Nas to understand
the verbal invention (audience applauds)
of the culture. – [Nas] Wow. (James chuckles) – You wanna respond to that, bro? – Thank you. (audience laughs) – [Michael] Absolutely. That’s real talk, bro. – Nas, you know some people will say that hip-hop doesn’t
belong in the academy. And some of those voices will come from within hip-hop itself. I wonder if you could
both talk a little bit about some of the resistance;
it’s all sweet right now. It’s great we’re here, great audience, thank you all for coming out,
but it wasn’t always this way. Just like you had a dream about
speaking to college classes, as a young scholar, I
always wanted artists to be in the classroom, but
it’s been a long, long haul to be here, and there’s
still a lot of naysayers, people are saying, “Well,
you shouldn’t be speaking “at Georgetown,” or, “You
shouldn’t be teaching “that course at Georgetown.” What do you say to some of those haters? (audience laughs) – Man. I feel like Nature is
the young always fighting to take over the old spot,
and the old is trying to keep itself in charge,
but the laws of Nature is against that. So every time someone in power
tries to hold back the truth of, well, just the truth
in any aspect, they lose. I can’t see how you would
not want American music spoken about in an American school. (audience applauds) Especially this is the only art form where there’s a lot of words. This, there’s a lot of words, (audience chuckles) and it’s a lot of truth,
for the most part. It’s a lot of truth in the music, and you would learn so much. I spoke to someone, a really
powerful venture capitalist, and he listens to rap music. White, older guy, and he told
me that listening to rap music is the way he stays in
tune with what’s going on. You always gotta keep
your ear to the street, and if you think you’re
above this class of people or these kinda people,
the world will change before you know it, and you’ll wind up on the outside looking in. So it’s important that
academies allow us young, well, I’m not so young anymore, but us guys and girls to tell our story. It’s important. – Doc, to the naysayers? You got a lot of those too. – Well. Yeah. But you know, at the level we’re operating now, I’ve long since ceased to justify to people who are either too ignorant, too disinclined to understand,
who have no understanding of the evolution of the very thing they call classic culture. “Well, we wanna talk
about the great books.” The great books came
about in World War II. There was no genuine consensus about what constituted the
canon of American books. So now, if in 1940, 1945, we
are trying to rearticulate our conception of primal literacy, about what constitutes the American scene, we knew there were great books. Benito Cereno, we knew Moby Dick, we knew that Melville was
the most Shakespearean of American writers, but
Melville was writing pulp fiction of his day. So he’s being dismissed,
written in newspapers, that has now become classic
American literature. So I fear no claim of
hyperbole when I talk about putting this young
man and other young artists in league with some of the
greatest creative artists of all time. Colleen Litkenhaus, who’s
been working like a demon– – Shout out to Colleen. – And we should celebrate
her here tonight. (James applauds) (audience applauds)
– She’s around here, – [James] she’s probably still working. – She’s working. But this thing sold out in an hour. We could have filled up
McDonough with 2,500 people; next time we will. ‘Cause Nas has said he’s gon’ come back and we gon’ have part two, alright? (audience applauds)
For those who didn’t… For those who say, “We
don’t wanna study this,” they didn’t wanna study
sociology when it came out. Auguste Comte and the
beginnings of philosophy, the beginnings of
psychology; every major field has had its naysayers. Every form of music. When you have the spirituals. ♫ Ain’t got long to stay here Then you have the Negro spirituals, and then jubilee singing come along. “Well, I don’t know.” Then jubilee singers get established and then gospel comes along. Wait a minute, that’s that blues music that Dorsey is playing
with Big Mama Thornton and all those women in the blues clubs, now it’s up in the church. Now the gospel people mad
at BeBe and CeCe Winans, but they were dismissed as
outmoded, secular artists. Then BeBe and CeCe looks old school compared to Kirk Franklin. Now Kirk Franklin against
Lecrae, or Mary Mary. So every generation has what it sees as its sacred iconic figures
who can’t be touched, but like Nas so brilliantly said, the laws of Nature are against
the artificial preservation of your niche. Greatness will determine, and
excellence will determine, ultimately, where you end up in culture, and there’s no denying the power of what these young people do,
and so I think we have to say to the naysayers, “Just hold on. “You naysaid on Shakespeare. “You naysaid on the great
literature of every epoch and era, “and then later on, you
acclaimed as greatness. “Well, I ain’t waiting
for history to affirm “and validate what I already know. “We’re sitting in the presence
of genius; recognize.” (audience applauds) – [Nas] Yes. Wow.
– You both mention that you have, besides from
the rhetorical connection, you have this unfortunate connection that you’ve had family members in the criminal justice system and in the prison industrial complex. I wonder if each of you could
talk for a minute or two about what young people need to know about the United States
and the prison system and criminal justice in the United States. (chuckles) (audience laughs) Take your time, bruh. – Aw, man. Well, when Doc over
here said that we was… Dr. Dyson, was saying that
I have a brother in prison, it wasn’t my blood brother,
it was a friend brother, and I wrote a couple of
friends and I wrote about them on a song called One
Love on my first record. It resonated with him because
he has his real blood brother who’s behind the wall,
been there for years, and it just seems like,
of course, we all know the problem is out of hand
with the amount of Blacks, Latinos, and poor Whites
that are thrown in jail and not given a chance to get out. In New York alone, at least
46,000 a year get locked up, it’s probably the highest in the nation. Most of them are 16 and 17 years old, and they’re charged as
adults, for the most part. It’s really like a railroad system, where we know how easy
it is to be profiled, we know what we’re up against. When I was 15, 16, we were
hearing that most Black men won’t make it to be 25. So we were on a hurry-up
process: get it now, get money now, live now, have kids now, everything now, because
tomorrow’s not promised in the situation that we was in. And the more you’re out
there, you feel like it’s us against them,
then the more defiant, the more enraged, the
more trapped you feel, so what do things that are trapped do? They react. You back something in a corner, it reacts, and then we build up
our own form of thinking that’s like, “Fuck the world,” and at that point, it’s
almost the point of no return. Once that’s clicked in our
minds, it’s hard to pull us back to say that the American
dream is out there for you. You can change up, “Yo, chill;” no, once you’ve made it in your
mind that you were dealt a bad hand, you’re going all out. So I had a big problem trying
to pull a lot of my friends into the music business (chuckles), ’cause this is the only thing I had. I was 20 years old, getting
in the music business, I’m like, “All 30 of y’all, come on. (audience chuckles) “Get on the bus with me,
hotel rooms, let’s go,” and it didn’t work. It didn’t work, but I
tried what I could try, what I could try at the time,
and now that I got older, I start to think; I’m going
a little outside of that. I was trying to come
up with some solutions to bring back to the block. One thing that should
have been really strong on our minds was business. This is America, this is
capitalism at its finest, this is business, so
we’re doing everything besides legal business. We’re not caring too much
about if America’s saying, “Stop complaining, get
off your ass, Black guys, “and make something of yourself,” then it’s like, for me, I’m like, “Okay, “then let’s start teaching the lil’ dudes “and lil’ women on the block, business.” Money management, and entrepreneurship. This is what the American dream is, and we don’t have any more time to waste. There’s no more time to play around. We have to literally go back
on the block with a plan, and with people with that expertise to come down there and
show them business modules, and show them how they can
get into computer programming, get into real estate,
get into engineering, get into all the things that
are making a lot of money, all the things that are
making this country better. We can do it, it just needs to be cool. It needs to feel like it’s something cool. It needs to feel like,
“Alright, we tried this. “Watch the movie Scarface,
you know how that’s gon’ end.” Right?
(James chuckles) We know how that ends. So if we know how that ends,
let’s put pause on that for a minute, and let’s introduce a whole new way of winning. I haven’t figured it out yet, but,
(audience applauds) we have to figure out something, because at the rate that
young Blacks, Latinos, and poor Whites are thrown
in jail is outrageous, so we gotta think of something,
and we don’t have time. – Wow, that’s beautiful. I think about, to piggyback
on that brilliant analysis of how we warehouse young
people, poor Blacks, poor Latinos, poor Whites,
and how they get the book, if you will, of the court
system thrown against them, and the startling statistic
that Nas spoke about, which is why Russell Simmons was arguing against those draconian
Rockefeller laws in New York City, hip-hop has always been
on that cutting edge trying to speak to it, even
before Diddy’s Vote Or Die, and when you talk about a person like Nas who’s speaking that
narrative on his first album, spoke to me so poignantly
because in that letter, it’s an epistolary form, it
takes the form of a letter, but he’s writing to, and hearing from, his beloved in prison, and
they’re sharing the pain and the heartbreak and the
struggle, and Nas is trying to affirm him in the midst
of his own difficulty, even as he’s acknowledging
the lies, and schoolbooks, and lectures, and all the
things in “official knowledge” has worked against the very
people who are imprisoned to begin with, and helped get them there, and help keeps them there. The legitimacy, I think about what he said about young Black people;
Paul Ryan, yet again, another reinvention of Black pathology. Lazy Black men, get off your ass and do something. Well, there might be a lack of employment but it ain’t no lack of work. (chuckles) Right? They getting the work in, and the work is underground economy, the work is not above-ground economy. So you provide limited opportunities, and you stymie and
squelch the opportunities for young people to be employed, and then the underground
economy looms large, and then you punish them for
participating in the very thing that is the only outlet,
for the most part, available to them. So, I think we have to deal
with that, and then to end this, in terms of the criminal justice system, we have tonight here
attorney Jasmine Rand, who is the attorney
for; stand up, Jasmine. The attorney for Trayvon
Martin is up in here tonight. Let’s give some love.
(audience applauds) Right. And here, you’re talking about, again, it’s not simply what they do to us by putting us in jail or
prison, it’s the suspicion. It’s the skepticism. It’s the doubt about young Black people. We got 9th Wonder and Mark Anthony Neal teaching at Duke University. That’s what Black masculinity is. We got Nasir Jones, at 40,
still killing younger rappers at 20, still murking ’em
with the rhetorical finesse. (audience applauds) (Nas chuckles) We got a Black man in the White House. (audience applauds) For what that’s worth
and what it ain’t worth, so the point is… (audience laughs) For real. (laughs) But the point is that
Black men in particular, Black people more broadly,
people of color even more broadly and people in a particular
class even more broadly, are struggling against
systems of oppression, one of which is a criminal justice system manifest with the unjust
imprisonment of our bodies. Not only in prison though, Dr. Peterson; it starts with sending kids to detention. It starts with third-grade
classes that are being scoured to see how well they’re performing, to see how many jail
cells we’re gonna build. It begins with zip codes where kids live, so we can determine what
neighborhoods to racially profile. So for me, when I listen
to a guy like Nas, that’s reporting on the
front edge of the universe that we’re trying to
create, and the suffering that we’re enduring. When Chuck D said it’s
the CNN, or the MSNBC, (James chuckles) of hip-hop, let’s give MSNBC some love. (audience chuckles) Then I think that hip-hop at its best is telling the truth about
realities that we’d rather sweep under the carpet. Had we been listening to a
Nas, had we been listening to NWA back in 1988, we
wouldn’t have been surprised about police brutality and
the vicious, arbitrary forms of violence to which we are subjected. – You know, that was amazing. But you know, when you
said NWA, at that time, when they was catching so much flak because what they were talking about, I was surprised there wasn’t more support from people who would understand them, and I was like, why didn’t you listen to what they were saying? I told someone from Australia one time, they asked me about the States
and California and Brooklyn, and I’m like, “If you wanna
learn about these places, “you gotta listen to Snoop’s album. “You wanna learn about
Brooklyn, pick up Ready To Die.” ‘Cause they’re gonna tell you what streets not to walk through, and what streets…
(audience laughs) They’re gonna tell you what’s going on. So, history is written by
people who wasn’t there, for the most part. So we’re here, like you
said, on the front line, and you too, man, both you guys, we’re here on the front
lines saying what’s going on. Yeah. – I think I only have time
probably for a couple more before I have to, but I have
a thousand more questions in my head right now,
so forgive me for that. I wonder if you could talk a
little bit about the future of the music. Obviously, in your career,
especially recently, you’ve been doing
different types of music, different collaborations, really trying to explore different things. Where do you see things
going in terms of the sound of the music, the content of the music, especially in terms of dealing
with some of the issues we’ve been talking about
tonight, social justice issues. And Doc, I would love for you to answer that question as well. – I don’t see enough emcees who are brave enough to be honest. (audience applauds) I would like to see more of that– – Can somebody quote that
and tweet that out, please? (audience laughs) Somebody please, right
now, live-tweet that quote. Sorry, go ahead. (Nas and Michael chuckle) I’d like to see… There’s a lot of good stuff and
there’s a lot of bad in rap. The socially-conscious
stuff can come off sometimes as preachy and whatever,
so a lot of people tend to stay away from it, it ain’t their bag, it’s not what they do. But still, they have some
artistic responsibility to do more than what’s the latest trend. There’s party music,
there’s more intense music, there’s more techno-style rap or whatever, there’s a lot of different
people experimenting with rap music, and that’s great. I got into it when of
course, it was different. It was people like Chuck
D, Eric B. & Rakim, Slick Rick, and Kool G Rap, and KRS-One, and all of these guys.
(Michael and James chuckle) (audience applauds) The list goes on. Brand Nubian, Nice & Smooth,
De La Soul, Tribe Called Quest; it’s just the list goes on, so imagine me trying to get in that rap
game, at 19 years old? It was impossible. It was like I had to do
something that mattered or I would not have gotten
that respect from them, and if I didn’t get that
respect from them, it was over. But now, it’s a lot
easier, and a part of it about it being easier that I like is that there’s more
poor kids making money. So I love that, and I’m not against that, but I would like to see people
remember it’s an art form, because the better we all
become, we push each other to make the whole art form better, and then we won’t have to
worry about who won the Grammy, because this is not… (audience applauds) – Although we love the fact
that 9th won the Grammy. – Did you win a Grammy? Congratulations to you. And nothing wrong with a
Grammy, I love the Grammys. (audience laughs) I love it. – [Michael] He deserved it, no doubt. – And you deserved it, I’m sure. – [James] But that’s not the
only concern for this brother and it’s not the only concern for you. – No, that’s my point,
it should just really be more of a real… There should be more talent. And socially-conscious stuff was natural from Criminal Minded
album, KRS-One, Chuck D. Even Slick Rick, he wasn’t preachy when he said Hey Young World. You know, “The world is yours.” It was real honest stuff, real
good stuff form the heart, and that’s missing today, so
I’d like to see that come back. (audience applauds) I can’t say everybody’s not doing it, there’s a lot of great rappers– – But we hope to see more
of that going forward. – See more, that’s it. Yeah, yeah. – I think, obviously,
that’s an insider’s view, and that’s well spoken. I think that often, we get
the artists we deserve. Because when you listen to
the roll call of the artists that Nas cited, it wasn’t just
that his level of excellence had to match theirs, though
that’s critical enough, those artists had to speak to a generation that wanted to hear
something deep and profound. So when you’re ready,
Ralph Ellison appears. When you’re ready, Toni Morrison appears. When you’re ready, James
Baldwin announces himself. Alice Walker comes forth. It’s like preaching. You want a great sermon,
be a great audience. Be a great congregation. Say amen, give me some support. Have some theology that resonates with my divine orientation,
then we can have an imaginative rendezvous
between pulpit and pew. So, the same thing with an artist. You want great art? Be a great listener. That’s why when I go back,
(audience applauds) and I listen to Nas, there’s some stuff; I been listening to Nas, 20 years. And there’s some stuff that
you’re still discovering. Like when you go back and
look at The Godfather. “Look how they massacred my boy.” (audience laughs) It’s like, you know, “I
didn’t see Marlon Brando “do that before! “I didn’t see Pacino twist it like that.” That’s a nuance, ’cause
I been watching it, ’cause there are goodies hidden there. So when we hear Nas, ♫ I woke up early on my born
day, I’m 20, the essence ♫ Of adolescence leaves my body I mean, you go back and
listen to that, like, “Damn. “Okay, he’s in response to…” My brother on the phone
yesterday, from prison, said, “Tell the god I said hello.” He said, “He’ll know
what I’m talking about,” ’cause he’s in, not Nation
of Islam, but he’s… And not Five Percenter,
but he’s Dyson Bey. So his Moorish Temple
analysis of the world through the prism of his
own religious identity resonated with a guy 20
years ago who spoke directly to the crises, existential
and political and social, that these young people are enduring. So, to me, we get the artists we deserve. If we get this pablum,
this souped-up nonsense that some people putting out. “Superman that;” well. (audience laughs) Sorry. Didn’t mean to cite anything. (chuckles) But, you know, you get what you deserve, and if we’re willing to
be rigorous and demanding of ourselves, and you can’t just get over ’cause you positive. ‘Cause you could be positively wack. You know what I’m saying? So you gotta have something to say. (audience applauds) And I’ll end by saying this:
it’s like in the church when people say, “I’ve been saved. “I no longer do the Devil’s music.” I’ll tell you, the Devil
had better beats than you, as a Christian. Why does God get the wack stuff and the Devil gets the hot stuff? (Nas laughs) What I loved about this,
this wasn’t preaching at me like boom, but when I
listened to what he’s saying, that contains such serious,
insightful engagement with the world as we know it,
and he demanded a certain kind of excellence and rigor, artistically, that went along with his
progressive politics, ’cause you can have progressive
politics but weak artistry, ain’t nobody gon’ listen to you. You could have wack
politics and great artistry, everybody’ll hear you. But if you join them
together like Nas did, “Whose world is this? “The world is yours.” (audience applauds) – Another thing that
you both have in common is that you both have
influenced an entire generation, for you, of other artists
who are deeply influenced by your work, you, of other scholars, many of whom are right here. How many people have taken
a class with this guy here? (audience members cheer) But I wonder how, and Nas,
you can take this first, I wonder how you– – [Audience Member] What’s up Nas! (James chuckles) – I wonder how you process that. – [Audience Member] What’s up Nas! (audience laughs) – [Nas] What’s up? – We are gonna open up soon, I promise. – [Michael] We got the
Holy Ghost out there. – I wonder how you process…
(audience laughs) – Speaking in tongues! (audience laughs) I’m sorry.
– Can I? – Thank you, sir, thank you. I wonder how you process that,
the influence that you’ve had on artists, or for you, the
influence that you’ve had on a whole generation of young people. – Man, I tell you, I tell
you, I’m really humbled by my man right now, and what he’s saying. I process what I’ve had on other artists? I get it; you know why? Because the ones that came
before me, what they did for me. So it’s only natural that
somebody’s gonna hear me and say, “Yo, that inspired me,” because that’s what we’re here
to do, inspire each other. If I haven’t done that,
I’m not doing anything. But it’s still really humbling
to run into a few artists that I’ve run into, that are
really into what I was doing, and I tell them, “Yo, I
didn’t have a stylist. “I didn’t have a budget.” I had somewhat of a budget;
I didn’t have big videos, I wasn’t guaranteed a video play. This was a different time
period, so I didn’t know that it would catch on to mainstream. I didn’t know. I knew that somewhat of the
hip-hop community would know this was some good
music, but I didn’t know that it would become this. So, I tell them to block out the love, the commercial success,
that love and all of that, and just go into where you were going. Don’t watch him too much doing this thing, and don’t watch that guy
too much doing that thing, ’cause I saw a lot of guys
before me fall like that. I saw them start to dress up like Biggie, put on the hats and the Versace glasses and that was never their style. So I would say, just stick
to what you’re doing, and you’ll be surprised what’s in you, the more that’s in you that
you have to get out there that we need. That I need from these young artists, because they inspire me too. So, it’s all reciprocal. We give to each other,
we just give and take, and keep the cycle going. But it’s a lot of people
that could listen to you and really learn a thing or two. (James laughs) – Well, no, I mean, “I let Nas down”?
– I learned… – Right? “I let Nas down”? (audience applauds) – Yeah. (James chuckles) Yeah, yeah. J. Cole, yeah. Aw, man.
(audience applauds) He’s someone who’s incredible that I hear and I’m like, “Damn.” This dude, he’s incredible. But there’s so many good ones. – Yeah, but the thing it
brings out about that, is that of all the
rappers, I let Nas down, ’cause Nas is the benchmark. Nas is the standard. Nas is the lyrical genius. Nas is the rhetorical creator,
and if I let him down, that’s the ideal I have in my mind, that’s imprinted in my brain. That’s burned into my consciousness. – [James] And everyone
can identify with it. – Everybody knows
immediately what it means when I let Nas… Boom. You knew what that meant. That I capitulated to
culture, or capitulated to commercial interests, or
capitulated to record design or some A&R person trying to
tell me what to talk about, as opposed to speaking about
what comes from my heart. So, that level of intense
devotion to craft, again, is extraordinary. But when I see young people
that I’ve had the fortune of engaging with, like you. I see you on TV, I’m like
you, I was like, “Damn. “You killing it, man. “I go back and dust up on my thing,” because the way you’re
spitting it, so calmly, I’m more of an aggressively
emotional Negro. (audience laughs) I would be old Sharpton,
you would be new Obama. (Nas and James chuckle) And, you know, just killing
’em, and I was like, “Alright. “Peterson is just killing
’em softly, I like that. “He’s just murdering them.” And I’m so proud of you. I see Professor Paul Farber out here, taking it to the next level,
in terms of what he’s doing with pop culture and writing, and fusing entertainment
journalism with the best theory, and Professor Monica
Miller, who’s written one of the most brilliant books
on religion in hip-hop that you wanna check out,
both of these young people who both have written about you, but just brilliant scholarship. So when I see young people
produced, I feel proud. One of the greatest compliments
is when somebody says, “I don’t know, those your
students, but they getting you.” Good! That’s what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to hoist them up. I’m trying to lift them higher. So that they see further,
so that they teach me. And I learn from you, I learn from Farber, I learn from Miller. I learn. Look, my stylist is here. (James laughs) I’m sorry, I ain’t got no
budget, but I got a stylist. I’m balling on a budget. My man Marv the Barb, who’s
my barber, he be spitting too! He be in the chair, just
giving me lines, man. I was like, “I’m gon’ have to steal, okay. “I’ma have to steal that.” My driver, who was telling
me, “You know what Dr. Dyson, “we have to have a transition hustle.” I said, “Excuse me? “Say that again?” He said, “We have to
have a transition hustle. “Going from one thing to
another, can’t stay static.” I said, “I’m ripping that
off, I’m borrowing it. “I’m going to give you
credit the first two times, “but after that…” (audience laughs) It’s a Dysonian moment. “Yes, the transition hustle is critical.” (audience laughs) The thing is, if you’re open,
you learn from everybody, and when you see your
students, and you see people that you’ve had the good
fortune of influencing, like Nas said, then you
learn from these people. We give back by giving to
others, who then can give to others, and we keep that
cycle going, so I’m proud of the people that I’ve had
that opportunity to influence. – You know what? It makes me think of something I said. Someone asked me, “Yo, how do you write? “What inspires you to write?” I said, “Well, everybody I
meet writes my material.” Everybody I meet. People are singing songs to
me and they don’t know it. So I’m listening while you’re talking, and I do the same thing. I walk down the street,
somebody says something and it just registers, and
I’m like, “That’s a song.” You know what I mean? It happens all the time. – Yes sir. So, next album, Transition
Hustle Part One? (audience laughs) ♫ I’ma come and spit
with you, get with you Okay, I’m sorry. (audience laughs) – Okay, we now need to open–
– He’s definitely a emcee. (Michael laughs)
– Yes he is, he is! – He’s definitely a emcee. – He’s a emcee in a preacher’s body. – Yes. – [Michael] Thank you, sir. Appreciate that. – We need to open this up now. Again, there are people
from Georgetown Programming who have mics, you need
to raise your hand. Please, let me just say this. We would like to try to
get as many questions in as possible, so please make sure you have a question;
(audience titters) I’m serious, please make
sure you have a question, and then they’ll bring the mic. You don’t have to stand
up, just keep your hand up, and they’ll bring the mic to you. They’ll bring the mic to you so that you can ask your question. We have one in the back, I believe. Shh. – Alright, my name is Lusiyo. Seventh grade. – [James] Good evening, sir. (audience applauds) – I met Dr. Dyson one time
through my granddad Dick Gregory, so I’m just happy to see you again. – Wow.
– Alright. – [James] Big ups to
your grandfather as well. – [Michael] Yeah, one of the great ones. – Yeah, he’s my hero. Your granddad. – So, one of my questions for Nas was, how has the change the hip-hop affected how you look at hip-hop,
from the lens of being one of the greatest in
the, not the beginning, but early stages. (audience laughs) – Yes sir. Yes sir; good, good question. That was kinda deep. (audience laughs) – Dick Gregory, sir, Dick Gregory. That’s Dick Gregory.
– “Through the lens.” – Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. If you take care of yourself, you might wind up sticking
around for a few years. And that’s what happened to me. I just knew when not to
go to certain places, and I was lucky. That’s what happened, I was just lucky. And part of that luck was
the old thing I had in me where I didn’t want to disappoint my moms by getting arrested. That stayed with me. I feared my moms more than the cops. (audience chuckles) (audience applauds) That stayed with me even as an adult, and she’s in Heaven now, but
I’m still, “I’d better behave.” You know what I’m saying? So really, that’s what it was for me. I thought, “Just stick around, “and you might wind up somewhere cool “if you just stay out of trouble.” And so far, so good. Hope that kinda answered the
deep question you had, brother. – Oh, okay. First of all, thank you so
much for coming tonight. I was just wondering, we
all know that your father is an accomplished jazz musician, and you’ve collaborated with
him on several occasions. I was just wondering, in your development as an emcee, how jazz as a genre, and your father as a jazz
musician, influenced you. – You said what about jazz? – Sorry. How jazz as a genre, and your
father being a jazz musician, how that influenced you in
your development as an emcee. – I used to hate jazz. (audience laughs) I used to hate it. Not hate it, I won’t say hate it. It wasn’t my thing, when I was a kid. But it had a cool thing
about it that I did respect, and it just felt like older people music, so it kinda made me feel
more mature, in a good way, more mature than the rest of my friends, ’cause their fathers wasn’t
jazz players or nothing, so I had that advantage in the household, the musical advantage. It worked out real good for me, because I got to look at his albums, and break his albums, and
mess up the album covers, but I did look at the labels,
the record label names, the names of the artists,
and it just started to seem like this really heavy
thing, that these guys were playing instruments,
and by playing instruments, they were painting pictures without words, and it was cool to listen
to music without words. ‘Cause sometimes, with
the words, they tell you what to think, they tell you
what your mood should be, but without it, you just
go into your own thing. I started to appreciate it later. and I then read a book on Miles Davis, his autobiography is pretty
crazy, and I started to find out about John Coltrane. But not only jazz, he
let me hear Fela Kuti. (audience applauds) And the rhythms, those
rhythms in his music, and the oppression in Nigeria,
and the freedom he demanded, and his poetics was crazy to me, so it helped me in a big way. It helped me big time, yeah. Hey. – You tweeted recently, yes I’m that girl, that feminism is the women’s mafia, and as someone who
self-identifies as a feminist and often has to justify
her love of hip-hop, I actually see a lot of
messages within hip-hop that resonate a lot with
the feminist movement, letting the haters hate,
or turning pain into power, and I was wondering if
you could extrapolate on what you meant by
that, and specifically, if that relates to maybe issues
within mainstream feminism? There’s a lot of talk
recently, for example, about upper-class white-women’s feminism. Leaning in, or getting women
into the corporate boardroom, as opposed to talking about the fact that 2/3 of minimum-wage
jobs are held by women. So, just wondering if you
could extrapolate on that. – Yeah. I don’t like extremists. Not that feminists are extremists, but when I say that’s the women’s mafia, everybody needs an army. Every organization, group,
is gonna get grimy and bloody at some point, and
everybody needs a mafia, and I heard there was a lot
of people that wanted to know what I meant by that, but it
was simple hip-hop jargon. When we say mafia, that’s a good thing. (audience laughs) (audience applauds) We have to know this. When a hip-hop artist says mafia, I’ve said it about myself,
Biggie said Junior M.A.F.I.A., so when we say it’s the
women’s mafia, to me, that’s like, “Right on.” A lot of people didn’t
understand what I meant. I was kinda saying everyone needs an army, and I meant it in a positive way. I’m sure there are feminists
that I don’t really agree with, ’cause it seems like
there’s layers that go… In anything, there’s Black
nationalism that people have points of views in that
that I’m probably not with, I’m sure I’m not with. But women who don’t get a fair share, in corporate world and in many worlds, and the court system, with rape alone, how much you have to go through to prove that you actually
were raped, is a shame. (audience applauds) So, I don’t like mistreatment of women. I have a daughter, and if
you guys gotta squad up, squad up.
(audience laughs) (audience cheers and applauds) – I just wanna say real
quick, I appreciate you clearing that up, but I
also just wanna add to that that you tweeted that out within days of having sat down with
and met Angela Davis, who is legitimately a don
in the feminist movement. – Right. I love Angela Davis. Angela Davis is one of
the reasons we’re here to have a voice, that you’re here. She’s my hero. She’s one of my heroes. I wasn’t even thinking about her. I was having a conversation
with a bunch of cool people. We were drinking some
good wine, and I said, (audience laughs) hold up! I tweeted first, “Just because a bottle “is the most expensive bottle
doesn’t mean it’s the best.” Because we had an expensive bottle of wine that taste like shit. (audience laughs) So I really tweeted it, it was literal. The next thing we got into
was a whole bunch of stuff and feminism was one. So I kinda thought, “Damn,
you guys need guns.” You guys need a crew, like you
gotta really get the things that you want out here,
and make people recognize. So feminism, you guys have your own mafia, that’s how I meant it, and
of course, the next morning, it was like, “Yo!” (audience chuckles) It was like, “Yo!” Yeah, it was crazy. So, much respect to Angela
Davis, I support her. If she call me right
now, I’ll jump on a plane and go wherever she’s at, I
support her a million percent. – Beautiful. Beautiful. – [Audience Member] Is the mic on? Hello? Hey. Alright, sorry. How you doing, Mr. Jones? – [Nas] Hey. How you doing, sir?
(audience chuckles) – That’s Mississippi. – [Audience Member] Many
people don’t know… – He’s up there. Who are we going to,
are we here or up there? Balcony first. Hold on for one second. I love that t-shirt though, hold on. – I don’t know if you can
hear; alright, here we go. – It’s very hard for us to see you guys, ’cause the lights are
shining in our faces, so, sorry, but go ahead. – Alright. Nas, from all the wisdom and the knowledge that you’ve gained over your career, what’s something you would tell Ether Nas, or Illmatic Nas, what’s some
advice you would give him? Looking back, what’s some
advice you would give your younger self, just about
life and career aspirations? – It’s so crazy to hear you say
I have knowledge and wisdom. (audience laughs) I know some people who
would beg to differ, man. It’s amazing. Thanks, man. Wow. That’s like… No. You know, I’d say… What would I tell the old guy? The young guy? My young guy? I would say stay on course. Don’t worry about nothing. We worry about small things,
and when you do that, they turn to big things. So just stay focused, keep
going straight forward, and you’re good; it’s not that hard. You create your own problems. We are attached to illusions. You might be attached to something that you’re really not attached
to but you think you are, something that happened five years ago that you’re still attached
to, and it’s not even there, but only to you. So, just go forward. Keep going, have a good
time, laugh, smile, laugh as much as you can,
and focus and go forward. – That’s wisdom. (audience applauds) I think we… Did you lose the mic
over here, young blood? Ah, okay. – [Audience Member] How you doing? – No no, he was next though, he was next. He was next right here.
(audience speaks all at once) He was next. He was next. – Everyone… – Stop, wait, hold up. My man is next. It’s alright. – Come on. We gon’ try to get through as
many questions as possible. – Alright, so many people
don’t know that your father is from Natchez,
Mississippi, and I’m myself, I’m from Yazoo City, Mississippi. So, first of all, you’re
a true hero to me, and even more so, a hero to my father, who was 20 when the bible came out, (audience chuckles) and as J. Cole has said,
when the bible came out, and I won’t see my father ’til Christmas, and it would mean a lot if
you would just sign Illmatic. – [Nas] Of course. I got you. (audience applauds) – I love that he brought the album. – Yeah, yeah, yeah. – Also, who called this
the bible was J. Cole, and where do you see J. Cole in 10 years? (audience laughs) – J. Cole in 10 years? (sucks teeth) – [Audience Member] He’ll make Nas proud! (Michael laughs) – J. Cole is great now. So to think 10 years is like, (blows air). J. Cole is great now, and
I think he’s only gonna get better and better. I can only imagine. He’s someone who takes the
art form really serious. Every time I see him, he
hits me up for stories. “Yo, so what happened when,” and I love telling him the stories. He’s someone that’s paying attention, so he really cares about this thing. He’ll be at the top, for sure. He’ll be up way, way, way at the top, he’ll probably be number one. But before 10 years, I
think, he should be there. – [Michael] Will you still
be rapping in 10 years? (audience laughs) You gotta give a 55-year-old hope; come on, say yes. – You know what? I would. You know what, ’cause a friend
of mine had asked me that when we were in our 20s. He said, “You gon’ still rap when you 30?” (James and Michael chuckle) And I was like, “Yeah, yeah, 30, yeah. “30’s good.” So I would, because I
would love to come out and you guys be there in the
audience, and we all older, and we remember times like this, (audience laughing) and I could put on a suit
and walk a little slower, (James and Michael laugh) have my glass in my hand, a little cigar. That’s G shit right there.
(James and Michael laugh) (audience applauds) So, yeah! – Yes. Yes.
– Yes. – [James] Hilarious. Are we back in the balcony? – [Audience Member] I’ma
try the second time. – Yes. – [Audience Member] I grew up
with my dad, listening to NWA, Pac, obviously you, and
for me, hip-hop was always about a rebellious nature,
illuminating the American dream and the flaws within it, but
as hip-hop has become part of the mainstream of all culture, do you think it’s lost
its rebellious undertone, has it lost its responsibility to point out the flaws
of the American dream? Do you see that being what it is today? – Yeah, for sure. For sure. Definitely. Because the things that were
around then are hitting now. A lot of the things that
were going on back then when NWA and Pac was
rapping, times changed, but the problems are still
here, so there’s still a need for people to address those situations. But it’s just not. – One two. Hey. Nas, big big fan, man. My kids grew up on you and everything. – [Nas] Thank you. – But one of the questions
that I had to ask you was this. The Lost Tapes. One of my favorite albums, dude. What was your mind state, in terms of, those were recorded back when
you was doing the Nastradamus and all that. Was there a reason why you didn’t want to put those songs out? ‘Cause those songs was deep,
dude, and they was all banging, all the way through, and I’m just curious, is there a reason why you
didn’t want to put them out during that time? – Biggie had put out his
double album, Life After Death, and Pray For My Downfall,
Mo’ Money Mo’ Problems, What’s Beef, Ten Crack Commandments, it blew my mind, so I
wanted to do a double album. It was a status thing too, like
could you do a double album and charge people double? (audience laughs) ‘Cause you’re that important, right? Oh, you’re that dope that
people would buy a double, ’cause it was unheard of to
do a double album in hip-hop, and Biggie did it. Too bad he didn’t live, really,
to see what would happen with this great music. So, I wanted to do it,
and what happened is, part of that album started to leak. A song called Project Windows, a couple of songs started to leak out– – [Michael] Poppa Was A Playa. – Poppa Was A Playa, yes sir. A lot of these songs were leaking out, and I was like, once they
leaked, they ruined the plan. ‘Cause I was still working on those songs, and I was still trying to figure out what my double album would be. So, once it leaked, I
scrapped it and just moved on, but then I still had these songs. And then I called Ron Isley
come to the studio to sing on Project Windows, and it
just took on another form, and then it’s just like… Wait. Yeah, Project Windows. (audience chuckles) I don’t know if Project
Windows is on the Lost Tapes. – [Audience Member] No. – It’s not. I put it on Nastradamus. So, those songs… (audience laughs) – It’s a lot of records. It’s a big repertoire, bruh. (audience member speaks away from mic) – You’re right, my man. (audience laughs) You right, you right. Some of it landed on Nastradamus, some of it–
– Doo Rags. – Doo Rags, all that stuff. – [Michael] Purple. – Purple, yeah yeah,
that’s all Lost Tapes. – That’s one of the illest ever. – I needed a place to put it out. – So there will be a Lost Tapes 2. (Michael sings melody)
(audience applauds) – [Audience Member] Hi. Can y’all hear me? Oh, hi. Okay. I know that we’re discussing
the future of hip-hop and you were talking
about hip-hop in academia and in the classroom, and I wanted to know what your opinion is. We kinda touched on this, but
your opinion on trap music, and would you teach a class
about Migos and Chief Keef and French Montana, or do you
think it doesn’t have a place? – [Michael] You’re talking to me? – Yeah. – [Michael] Oh, you’re talking to me. – I want Nas’s opinion too, yeah. – Let me get back in it. – That’s a Dyson question. (Michael laughs) Although, not to say that
Nas couldn’t teach a class. – You know what? How ’bout me and Nas
teaching the class together, would y’all dig that? (audience cheers and applauds) – [Nas] Dope. – That’s so funny, because
Colleen passed along a message from the Tribune today,
calling me to ask me about Chief Keef. Look, I’m a fan of a lot of people that people think I shouldn’t be a fan of. Unapologetically. So, I’m a Rick Ross fan. (audience murmurs) I’m sorry. (James chuckles) ♫ From my nigga Diddy’s view Okay. So, trap music, to me, as
all forms of indiginous, local, regional music, have
to be paid attention to. For me, one of the
greatest slept-on artists of all time is Scarface. (audience cheers and applauds) – [James] Trap music before trap music. – Trap music before trap music. The kind of psychological
drama, the existential crisis, and the very beats
themselves reflect the kind, I mean, listen to it, trap music. What does that even mean? Think about 2Pac in terms
of being, “I’m trapped,” on his first album. Think about the logistics, the mechanics, the kind of interesting
lyrical derivations from the beats themselves. So yeah, for me, I think about trap music, I think about Southern culture, I think about regional culture. I think that hip-hop is
so deep and profound, and as Nas so brilliantly
said, full of words. Think about that. The wording of the world. “In the beginning, there was the word.” So that logos is the
seminal creative force that articulates a universe. So when I think about
the power and the beauty of what happens there,
every form of music itself has produced some interesting stuff. And some trash. But look, every form of
music has some trash. There’s some trashy opera. (James chuckles) It is! It’s basically gangsta rap in Italian. (audience laughs) Alright. So the point is that
yes, I would definitely pay attention to and teach
classes on a wide variety of things because of
the density of literacy that characterizes rap at its best, and hip-hop culture at its best. So yes, I think that there are classes that need to be taught on
that, on Southern culture and its relationship to hip-hop music, on the West Coast and what it’s done; think about Ralph Waldo Emerson said, that geography is destiny. Now, whether you
ultimately buy that or not, the geographic underpinnings
of particular aesthetic forms need to be paid strict attention to. So yeah, I think all of that
stuff is grist for the mill and legitimate for
those who can link them, that kind of music, to
broader issues in culture, and to broader themes in American society. – And I want to just add;
that was beautifully put. We need trap music, because
Chief Keef is telling us what’s up in Chicago. Like I was saying earlier. We could ignore it all we
want, hip-hop is always gon’ be the voice, and Chief Keef is an example, he’s a living example of
the outcry that’s happening in Chicago, like, “We
need help in Chicago.” – [James] Yes. (audience members applaud)
– And he’s saying, “Don’t sweep it under the rug, CNN.” If you do, hip-hop, through Chief Keef, is screaming at you
that we need help here. – [Audience Member] Yes sir! – And, the French president
is learning gangsta rap for his speech skills right
now, this is in the press. He’s being taught by a
specialist in gangsta rap how to boost up his speeches. So this is really a crazy thing
that’s happening right now through gangsta rap, where
the French president needs to be heard more, so he wants
to know how to do gangsta rap. (audience chuckles) – [Michael] Snoop Dogg on us. – This is real. – That’s beautiful. ♫ Falling back on that
ass, with a hellafied… – [Audience Member] Is this mic on? Oh, here we go. Excuse me Mr. Jones, I’m Marcus,
from Oakland, California. Shout out H13. I just wanted to ask you about Ether, because Ether is the best
diss track of all time, and I just…
(audience members applaud) Yeah, give it up for the man, give it up for the man.
(audience applauds) So, I just want to know
about your emotion, both when you were writing that, and then as you look back on it now. (audience laughs) – Wow. That’s the nature of rap. There’s competition, rap is competitive. Or the nature of it, it used to be really, really competitive. Emcees battling, and it was just a battle with one of the greatest lyricists who ever graced this planet, and I think you probably reacted to it
because that was the battle of… For me, I kinda missed the
Busy Bee versus Kool Moe Dee, I was a little young,
but I heard about it, I heard about that battle. I lived through MC Shan and KRS-One. So the fact that I would be in probably the next great battle of rap, I didn’t know that would happen. It just shows you, it’s just
like you take it serious as an art; I take it serious as an art, so that’s the way I approached the song. Taking hip-hop serious in a battle is what you’re supposed to
do, so that’s what I did. – [Audience Member] Peace. Yeah, yeah. Peace, god. – Peace. – First of all, thank
you for the inspiration that you’ve been to all the DC emcees, I’m repping Southeast,
but my question to you is, back in ’09, you made
a collaboration album with one of my favorite
reggae artists, Damian Marley. Distant Relatives.
(audience cheers and applauds) And so, that album, for
me, showed me the power of Black nationalism and
spiritual unification as a people. I was watching this interview
with Kendrick Lamar, and he said that he
wanted you on his tracks Sing For Me, Dying Of Thirst,
and he couldn’t contact you, but my question would be,
there’s so many artists out here with lyrical abilities, like
Joey Badass and Kendrick, and I wanna know if there’s
anybody in the rap game right now that you see
yourself collaborating with, and if so, can it please
be on some Garveyite stuff? – Wow. (Michael laughs)
Okay. I’m a fan of Garvey, too.
– Up, ye mighty race. – Yeah, yeah, fan of Garvey. That’s different. To collaborate on that subject matter. It all depends on who
I’m collaborating with and if they have the same love
for him that I might have, or maybe they might have a different idea. I would really like to work with, well… I like everybody you named. A collaboration, for me, though, would probably be Andre 3000. (audience cheers and applauds) – [Michael] That’s one of the coldest. – [James] Yeah, he’s one of the coldest. – Okay, we only have time for
two more questions, I’m sorry. Two more questions. (audience members shouting) Hold on. – Wait a minute, who’s saying we gotta go? – Colleen is. – Where is she? – Listen, folks. You’re gonna talk up the time that we have to get a couple more questions. – Where’s Colleen? – Colleen is right here. – Do we have to leave? – [James] That’s what she’s saying. – [Audience Member] Can I say something without a mic, please? – [James] Hold on, hold on. Where’s Miss Colleen, though? – Where’s Miss Colleen? (audience members talking away from mic) – Everyone, please, please. – [Audience Member] Hi
Nas, thank you for coming. – [Nas] Thank you. – My question is… I’m sorry. My question is, what’s next for you? Hold on, I’m sorry. We all know you’re one of the
greatest emcees of all time, but outside of music, what feeds you? What are your interests, or
what do you do outside of music that keeps you going? – Jamaican food. (audience laughs) – [Michael] What’d he say? – [James] Jamaican food. – [Michael] Oh, we had
some great food today. – We just had some good food.
(Michael laughs) – [Michael] It was righteous. – What feeds me? My son, he’s hilarious. He’s four. Just talked to him on the FaceTime. With his shades on. (Michael laughs) What else? What feeds me? Man. Movies kinda talk to me; books, I just read
something by James Baldwin that really blew me away. Original thinkers. People with new ways of thinking and offering different
things, that inspires me. I’m working on some TV stuff right now, producing some stuff, hopefully. – [Audience Member] How’s the startups? – Technology startups, I’ve now got into investing into technology. I spend a lot of time
in Silicon Valley now, and I’m learning about
how to get more kids from where I’m from into
computer programming, and into investing, I wanna teach them how to do what I’m doing. I’m invested in over 40 companies,
various different things that interest me. ‘Cause I believe in
these startup companies, I believe that they are
writing the future for us. So yeah, there’s different
little things I’m into. It’s the first time I’ve
probably really spoke in front of people about that thing. Thank you for that. But that’s something I
wanna talk about more. (audience member speaks away from mic) What do you wanna…? – One thing before we get to
these last couple questions, is there any way we can get
another balcony question and I don’t think we have
any questions up front. (audience members speaking away from mic) – Let me just say this before we do. Nas is gonna, he’s already
said he’s gonna come back. So I know you gonna feel
disappointed that you didn’t get a chance to talk to him tonight, but when his schedule permits it, we’ll get a even bigger
venue, fill it again, and then we’ll get a chance to
chat with him then, alright? (audience member speaks away from mic) – [Nas] Hi. What’s up? – Right up here. Up here in the balcony,
right in front of you. – [Michael] We got you. – Right in front of you. – [Michael] It’s blinding us baby, go on. – Thank you. My name is Rhonda Humphries,
I’m a highly effective educator in the District of Columbia
public school system and an emerging leader. (audience applauds) Thank you. Earlier on in the
conversation, you were talking about penetrating the
minds of young youths, and everyday I go inside and
I try and penetrate the minds of 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds. What advice do you have
to keep us motivated, ’cause we have a lot of
educators in this building who wanna go back and implement that. For Dr. Dyson, and also for you, Nas. – Right. Man. For me, it was different. The way I kinda educated
myself, if you will, I started to get into the
history of the country. I wanted to know why things
were the way they were, and you might wanna
start with asking them, “Do you know how you got here? “How did your grandparents get here? “Are you cool with your grandparents? “Do you respect them? “Do you know what they went
through to get you here? “Do you know what your
grandparents’ grandparents “went through to get you here? “You’re here for a reason. “You made it through something. “You made it through
one of the worst storms “in human history, and you’re
here because they said, “‘I’m not giving up,’
’cause those grandparents “and great-grandparents
said, ‘We gotta make it, “‘and we gotta feed our kids,’
who became your grandparents, “and your grandparents said,
‘I’m gonna feed these kids,’ “who became your parents. “So, what do you owe back to that legacy? “What do you owe back, and
what do you care, even, “about that legacy, and
do you know who you are? “Let’s start there,
young man or young lady. “Do you know who you are
and where you come from? “And what your job is
now, because we don’t have “any more time. “So we have to start
now with you, young man, “you, young lady. “I’m not letting you out of
my sight until I see a change. “Period.” (audience applauds) – Yeah, that’s… – Do we have a startup company over here? What is that? (audience member speaks away from mic) (audience members applaud) Ayo, Gabe, let’s see what
he’s talking about after this. (audience cheers and applauds) (Michael chuckles) – [Michael] Yeah, I’m not mad. Oh my God.
(audience applauds) Alright. So I would say, as an
educator, besides the wonderful and really foundational
questions that Nas talked about, sometimes teachers get burned out, and they get frustrated
because the fight is so big, you’re on the front lines, too. So I would say, first of
all, always understand you should take what you
do with deadly seriousness, but you should never take
yourself too seriously. – [Nas] Aw, man. I always say.
(audience applauds) Yes. – So, the struggle is real, the war you’re raging is concrete, and you have to really use
everything at your disposal to change young people,
but you can’t think you’re the only person left to do it. Because if that’s the case,
you burn yourself out, you exaggerate the obstacle,
and devalue your ability to challenge it. So, that’s what I mean
by taking what you do with deadly seriousness,
but yourself not so much. Go to movies, listen to music, eat Jamaican food, have fun,
FaceTime with your babies. So the point is that you have to feed and regenerate your soul in order to face another day’s battle. That’s number one in
terms of self-maintenance. Gandhi said, “If I don’t
take care of myself, “I can’t help you.” And if Gandhi said that, and
Gandhi transformed the world, we should pay attention;
that’s number one. Number two, I think, teach your
kids stuff that excites you. If it ain’t exciting you,
it ain’t gon’ excite them. ‘Cause if you ain’t excited about it, they not gon’ be excited to hear it. So you’ve got to find ways in
which you challenge yourself to think, as Nas said in
terms of self-teaching, what we call autodidacticism,
in technical terms. When I was out in LA,
I remember, I would go to Eso Won Bookstore, they
said, “Nas just left here “five minutes ago with
a bag full of books, “filled up his car.” That was constant, constant story. So the thing is, when you’re
constantly feeding your mind, when you’re constantly reading
and replenishing the source, then you get a sense of the largeness of the world you occupy, and
some of the resources you have at your disposal. So I think it’s very critical
for you to be on target in terms of what you
have at your disposal. And then thirdly, I think that
you always got to remember. My pastor used to tell me,
“We have already come through “what we have come to.” That is to say, things
used to be a lot worse than they are now. So before we start
bellyaching and kvetching about the problems we confront now, let’s remember that there were people that faced enormous odds,
and were able to overcome. Howard Thurman, the
great mystic, said this: “Never reduce your dreams
to the level of the event “which is your immediate experience.” The thing you’re confronting
now must not exhaust the palette of colors from which you draw in order to paint your picture
on the canvas of history. Never reduce your dreams
to what you’re facing now, because he said our
slave foreparents said, “This will not last always.” So you’ve got to see beyond that. Never get caught, never become
a prisoner of the moment, but become a prisoner of hope and vision. And then finally, I think, always hang around young people, too. The beautiful thing I love
about teaching undergraduates, and many of my undergraduates,
Shannon and my brother from Mississippi and other
people who were here, Mashonna Garcey is here
as a graduate student, one of the things I love
about teaching young people is that I learn so much. If you wanna learn something, teach it. If you wanna learn something, teach it. If you wanna learn yourself, be a teacher. And so for me, other people
say, “Well, you can’t do “what you wanna do, therefore you teach.” That’s not true. Teaching is a first-order
business of engaging in the process of exposing
new minds and fresh souls to the potential to expand,
and if you take that seriously, what you do is just as important
as a nuclear physicist, as a rapper, as a singer, as a dancer, and any other entertainer on this world. You are doing something more
important than anything. You are giving new minds fresh opportunity to live inside their own dreams, and if you do that correctly,
you can change the world. (audience applauds) – Do they know about the
book you wrote about me? Do they know? You know this man wrote a
book called Born To Use Mics? Anybody know it’s his?
– It’s here, isn’t it? – [Michael] It should be here. Is Born To Use Mics here? – [James] You can buy it right outside. – Oh, cool. That book is about me, man. (James and Michael laugh) It’s the only book ever
written about me, man. So this is my man right here,
because it wasn’t just fluff, it wasn’t just, you know what I mean? I never finished the book,
I was just telling him, because it’s so heavy that
I was learning about myself reading the man’s book. I had to put it down, ’cause
I couldn’t even handle me. (audience laughs) I couldn’t even handle the
way he broke down what I, I couldn’t even deal with it. I didn’t know you have it here, I need a new one. – Oh, my man. Will we sign a couple of them
before we leave, you think? – Anything for you, man. Anything. – We’re gonna sign some books here. – I would like to thank
Georgetown University, President DeGeoia–
(audience applauds) – [Michael] President DeGeoia. – President DeGeoia.
– President DeGeoia. – I wanna thank the
Georgetown Programming Board that helped to organize
this and ran the mics. I want to thank 9th Wonder. (audience cheers and applauds) – [Michael] Can you spin some more music? – And 9th, will you spin a little bit? Also, listen. I think we would be
remiss if we didn’t thank the Kennedy Center for helping us to organize this place together, and last but not least,
I would like to thank Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Nasir Jones. (audience cheers and applauds) – Thanks, man. Thanks.