“We all have power, we are all able to make change,” asserted veteran artist Nas 20 minutes into the second episode of the Netflix docuseries “Rapture,” an eight-episode series that delves into hip-hop’s music and culture. The work looks at pivotal figures throughout multiple generations, offering candid, behind-the scenes moments.
“You don’t get drunk on power,” Nas continued. “You enjoy it and you use it to help others.” In the episode, he’s wearing a white hoodie with the word “Queens” written across the chest in the style of the Guess logo, a nod to the place where he cut his teeth before releasing influential 1994 album “Illmatic.” “If no one else is being helped but you, you’re in trouble.”
From there, the episode pivots from the 44-year-old living legend to his 29-year-old protégé Dave East, a fellow New York rapper recruited to Nas’ media company Mass Appeal in 2014.
“I look at myself as an older friend who has been in some places that he’s about to go to,” Nas said of East. “All of the artists that are out today, they’re about to go through all kinds of roller coasters.”
Those cross-generational twists and turns are caught on camera for “Rapture,” with eight hour-long episodes dedicated to artists such as 2 Chainz, Logic and T.I. Produced by Mass Appeal and co-created by music documentarian Sacha Jenkins, the series aims to chronicle these artists’ lives — the glitz and the grit — and to shed a spotlight on hip-hop’s rising figures.
“I love films that look into the lives of artists today,” said Nas via phone last week. “So I was on board.”
Besides East, Run the Jewels rapper (and one-time Mass Appeal signee) Killer Mike also made an appearance in the second episode, performing an unfinished track for Nas called “Black Power, White Powder.”
The song taps into the idea that most cultures in America have a romanticized story about rising through illegal means (see the Italian mob). Yet the cut argues that for black people, any reminder of a criminal history is used as a means of degradation.
“I hold [Killer Mike] up really high when it comes to people who rap,” Nas said in “Rapture.” “He can out-rap most of them out there. He has the voice, the wordplay. … He has that thing, and not a lot of people have it.”
Last month Killer Mike came under fire for speaking out against the March for Our Lives anti-gun violence protests. A clip of an interview Killer Mike did with the National Rifle Assn., in which he voiced support of gun ownership, surfaced online. The artist was quoted as saying, “I told my kids on the school walkout, ‘I love you, [but] if you walk out that school, walk out my house.”
Amid the controversy, Killer Mike expressed support on Twitter for the students protesting, and said the interview segment was taken out of context to “disparage a very noble campaign” that he supports.
When asked about the moment, Nas said, “I appreciate that Killer Mike can speak his truth whether people like it or not. The problem is not Killer Mike and his opinion, what he’s trying to get across should [be allowed to] get across.
“I feel like everyone has a right to their opinions and we all should be heard so we can have dialogue,” he continued. “As long as we’re talking about things in a peaceful way, I’m all for that. I just feel like everybody has a right to their opinion without all of us getting down on the person.”
Jenkins, who directed Nas’ episode, is chief creative officer of Mass Appeal and a veteran of the publishing, music and television industries. The longtime hip-hop chronicler was the perfect man to bring “Rapture” to life, Nas said.
“I think he knows [hip-hop’s] whole journey,” Nas said of Jenkins. “He watched it as a kid and just understands the nature of the business. He’s been a part of the hip-hop community for years. He’s perfectly seasoned to put something like this together.”
“Rapture” comes at a time when hip-hop is gaining cultural dominance, infiltrating all manner of entertainment from shows like “Atlanta” and “The Get Down” to films like “Straight Outta Compton” and “All Eyez on Me” and even on Broadway with “Hamilton.”
The docuseries also comes on the heels of the recently released Netflix biopic “Roxanne Roxanne,” which tells the story of Lolita “Roxanne Shanté" Gooden, a teen MC in the ’80s who grew up in the same Queensbridge projects as Nas and Mobb Deep’s Prodigy.
In a couple of brief but memorable scenes in the film, Shanté interacts with a young kid who pesters her to listen to him rap. It’s later revealed that the kid is Nas.
“I was honored to be in the film,” the rapper said. “Growing up in the same projects as the Queen Roxanne, I got a chance to see her early on and have those hip-hop moments with her.
“I would like for people to just take a moment to realize how important her story is,” he continued. “I’m so happy that she had a chance to get her story out there to the world, it’s such an important story.”
As for hip-hop in 2018, Nas says he is unsurprised by the genre’s pop dominance, even though the path to success today is completely different from what was available when he was coming up.
“I foresaw it,” he said. “The culture is always advancing and getting swifter. You’ve got to be swift on the business side as well. People are thinking of more inventive ways to get into the game. It’s only natural that it’s easier today to find one of those channels whereas back then we didn’t have many options.”
Nas stressed that the Top-40 appeal of the genre today won’t water it down.
“I think that it grows so much every day that it doesn’t give me a chance to just sit back and enjoy its beauty,” he said. “Because as soon as I think I know about one thing, three or four more styles pop up that I didn’t know about. But it’s just fun getting to know it all.
“It will be what it will be. I think that the essence of this culture is always going to thrive and no matter how mainstream it becomes it purifies itself. So it doesn’t matter how mainstream it gets.”
When: Any time
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
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