Nas at FFF Fest: Inspiration from a living history of real hip-hop

Celebrating the 20 year anniversary of his debut album “Illmatic,” rapper Nas was in fine form on Saturday night. His 7:15 p.m. set kicked off and ended ten minutes late but no one complained. For the first 40 minutes or so, a loose, energetic and engaged Nasir Jones guided the crowd on a track by track journey through the classic hip-hop album. “Life is good,” he said, graciously acknowledging the fans who have supported him through his 20 year run, “It’s been amazing because of you.”

In between tracks, he shared stories, what it was like to be a young rapper coming up in Queens, how it felt when he realized the rappers he idolized were bumping his debut…on cassette. He took time to sign a vinyl copy of his album handed to him by a fan. He offered liner notes, calling “One Love” his hip-hop version of the Bob Marley song of the same name, shouting out producer Pete Rock before dropping a spirited version of the visionary call to action “The World Is Yours.” He closed out the album thanking the King of Pop for clearing the sample of “Human Nature” and launching into a blistering version of “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”

With the nine tracks of his debut squared away he moved up through time in a quick mix of his hits. “If I Ruled the World,” “I Can,” “Hate Me Know,” “Made You Look,” with each beat drop hands went up and heads nodded harder. He graciously shouted out our city, where he’s made multiple festival stops in recent years. “Everyone I said I was coming to Austin to got jealous,” he said.

Finally, he shared an emotional moment with the crowd, encouraging the writers, futures singers and rappers in the crowd. “You all have a voice,” he said, “stand up and be heard.” Urging everyone to “live your life to the fullest,” he took the set out with an electric version of “One Mic.” He brought the spirit of true hip-hop to the fest with such passion that everyone in the crowd left feeling uplifted.

Author: Deborah Sengupta Stith

Deborah Sengupta Stith has been hanging out in dimly lit corners of the city soaking in the music scene for almost 20 years. Twitter: @deborific

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