Touring on the strength of an album released over 20 years ago Nas stepped out onto the Tantalus stage at the Squamish Valley Music Festival in denim and an over-sized white tee to deliver a blistering performance of Illmatic along with a variety of hits from his extensive catalogue.
Nas tore through his debut album as if he had just finished recording it, moving from track to track with stories regarding the song to come which only emphasized the rapper’s raw way of life in the early 80s. Many years have past, but the stories told throughout Illmatic maintain their realism when delivered with the finesse and flow of a legend. The heaviest moment of the set was undoubtedly Nas’ performance of ‘One Love’, a rap in the form of a letter written to his friends in jail that brutally illustrates the downsides of street life.
What up kid? I know shit is rough doing your bid
When the cops came you should have slid to my crib
Fuck it black, no time for looking back it’s done
Plus congratulations, you know you got a son
I heard he looks like ya, why don’t your lady write ya?
When Illmatic drew to a close Nas knew to delay the single that started it all, emphasizing his love for the album’s closing track before diving into ‘Ain’t Hard To Tell’ with the fearlessness of a corner boy and the polish of a veteran MC.
Two decades after Nasty Nas put Queensbridge on the map he remains one of the most talented rappers in the game. If his performance of Illmatic wasn’t proof enough, Nas made efficient use of his remaining set time to throw down a bevy of singles that spanned his entire career from ‘Got Yourself A Gun’ to the notorious ‘Hip Hop Is Dead’.
It was a nearly flawless set in which Nas remained the focal point flanked only by a DJ that knew how to play his position, quietly backing up a rapper who’s lyrics speak for themselves. If there was one drawback to the performance it came in the form of omitted lyrics, specifically those dealing with drugs.
Now, I understand Nas is not likely to be the person that decided these words needed to be left out (and that drugs are a touchy subject around the B.C. festival scene lately), but he’s the performer, and I would hope after all these years he has the power to tell the stories in full, as they were intended. Nas became a legend in the rap game because of his fully-formed storytelling and lyricism, and to censor any aspect of those songs is just criminal. But I guess that is what happens when a raw veteran rapper is asked to perform a set of street stories in between sets by Serena Ryder and Bruno Mars.