Nas Stands Tall

The annual World Ski & Snowboard Festival (April 12 to 21, 2013) was always something that I’d wanted to check out, especially for the ski competitions and free concerts, but it was always during a busy time of the year (exams) so it always got pushed to the side.  This year, I had actually completely forgotten that it was coming up until a friend of mine mentioned four days before the kickoff that he was going to be seeing hip hop legend Nas playing a free, outdoor concert that Saturday. It blew my mind that Nas was coming to BC and playing for free at Whistler, and I couldn’t believe I was completely oblivious to it. I thanked the rap gods that my friend had mentioned it, and after a quick Google search that ensured yes, he was actually coming, the next step was to book that day off work. Done.

For those unfamiliar with hiphop, Nas is consistently ranked among the top MCs of all time, with contemporaries that include Jay-Z, Eminem, 2pac and Biggie. He’s been in the industry since the ’94 release of his debut Illmatic, which is widely regarded as one of the greatest (hip hop) albums ever made.  He is a pioneer and living legend, and the fact that he was doing a free show made going a no-brainer. Whistler’s world famous party reputation and a Nas concert seemed like the perfect combination as the organizers of the WSSF indeed managed quite an impressive coup with their headliner.

Not that music is the only thing to do at the WSSF. We got there a few hours before the 8:00 start of Nas’ set and killed time getting beers and watching the aerial acrobatics of the skiers competing in the Big Air competition. The event planners did a good job on the layout, with the main stage located in Skier’s Plaza, at the foot of the ski lift, and the jump competition on the right. If you got there early enough, you could watch the entire thing from the second floor outdoor patio of the GLC, but by the time we got there it was way too late.

Finally, 8:00 came around. DJ Green Lantern strolled onto the stage and started dropping beats and getting the crowd hyped. Green Lantern, who is a notable and prolific DJ himself, has made a name producing for artists such as Eminem, Ludacris and Immortal Technique, as well as hosting numerous mixtape series.

All of a sudden, the lights dimmed, and Nas hopped on stage to the pounding beat of “The Don”, off his latest album, 2012’s Life is Good. He was certainly dressed for the Whistler weather with a black leather jacket over a hoodie, and a blue toque with the pom pom.  He seemed quite stoked to be in Whistler, judging by his rapid hand gestures and constant movement, but it’s possible he was just trying to stay warm. The autobiographical song “Back When” followed, and we got to listen to Nas talk about his roots in Queens and how he came up. After performing two more songs off of Life is Good (“Accident Murderers” and “Loco-Motive”), Nas went old school.

The unmistakable boom bap of “N.Y. State of Mind” (off his classic debut Illmatic) came blasting out of the speakers. This song is immortalized in hip hop heads’ brains much the same way as classic Jay-Z, Biggie, the Wu Tang Clan, and 2pac songs are. I felt like it was a huge deal hearing and seeing it live. It was a nice touch when Nas modified the chorus to “Whistler State of Mind”, and the shout out was much appreciated by the crowd. He went on a bit of an Illmatic spree, with “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, “Represent”, “The World is Yours”, and “Life’s a Bitch” following in rapid succession. It was old school hip hop heaven.

His set went on, with notable songs such as “If I Ruled the World”. While performing “Bye Baby”, a personal song about his failed marriage to Kelis, Nas abruptly stopped and switched to the next song saying that it “brought back too many bad memories”. The fact that he did that kind of surprised me, and it made Nas seem more relatable and human than most rappers who usually cultivate an aura of invincibility around themselves.

After doing “Halftime”, Nas yelled “HERE’S ANOTHER CLASSIC!” and cut directly into “Memory Lane”. After the first verse, he again screamed “HERE’S ANOTHER CLASSIC!” and DJ Green Lantern dropped “Hip Hop is Dead”, followed by another  “HERE’S ANOTHER CLASSIC!” that led to “One Love”. If another rapper did that it would come off as needlessly arrogant but Nas can definitely back up those claims. After doing the more gangster bangers “Got Ur Self a Gun” and “Made You Look”, Nas slowed it back down with the soulful “Cherry Wine”.

Nas wound his set down on a classy high note with “One Mic”, which ranks among his best songs and displays his raw talent as a storyteller as you get brought into his world through his words. The sound system was superb all night, and you could hear every syllable. The last song he did was the fittingly titled “Stay”, a super chilled track that drips with jazzy soul.

All in all, it was a great show where Nas showed why he is considered a legend with seasoned veteran status; it’s in how he has managed to stay true to his roots while continuing to innovate and raise the bar, with a catalogue that spans 19 years and multiple eras of hip hop.