FOUR DECADES IN THE MAKING

Nas, grammy-winning artist … it’s striking how long it took to write this sentence (or fragment of a sentence, really). The better part of four decades. After dropping his celebrated debut album in the mid nineties, the rapper won his first Grammy award in March 2021 at 47 years old and 13 albums in.

It might be apples and oranges, but it’s noteworthy that Ivy Blue Carter took home her first Grammy during the same ceremony last Sunday at the tender age of nine.

Grammy-winning rapper Nas. Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic via Getty Images
Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic via Getty Images

The fact that Nas won his first Grammy for King’s Disease while Illmatic, It Was Written, Stillmatic, God’s Son, and Life Is Good never resulted in any of the coveted gramophone trophies actually says more about the Grammys than it does about the Queensbridge rapper. While Illmatic was heralded as the best album of the year by The Source, the Grammy Awards did not even feature a rap album category yet back in 1994.

This is where I’m from. This is the struggle. And I might not make it out but here is my album. So if I don’t get out that you would know that I existed.

Nas, reflecting on Illmatic

Nas himself has been noticeably quiet on the academy’s disregard over the years. And who can blame him? “Everyone wants to be acknowledged for what they do.”, he’s admitted during a recent interview. But after the announcement was finally made, the rapper did not react publicly for several days. And even when he ultimately took to Instagram, the arguably greatest lyricist in rap history was conspicuously taciturn.

The academy’s voting procedures aside, there is no question (and has not been for decades) that Nas has always been in possession of a currency more valuable than gilded figures: The unwavering respect of his peers. “He’s the rappers’ rapper.”, notes Ludacris, one of the countless congratulates from within the industry. “There is not a rapper on this earth that is not a fan of what Nas has done.”

So while the distinction of the 2021 win cannot shake the semblance of a lifetime achievement award, the question that remains (other than the obvious “What took them so long?”) is: Does it have to? Why can’t it celebrate the acclaim of King’s Disease while simultaneously proclaiming Nas as the Grammy-winning artist we all knew he was in the first place? He himself certainly doesn’t seem to mind.

“The one thing that I never wanna be … is mainstream. My goal is not to be what the mainstream calls a legend. I just wanna do what I do.”, Nas explained in an interview with Vibe Magazine before continuing: “Legend is a big, big title. There are enough legends out there. I’m just living.” 

But while he himself remains humble, the rap world has known exactly who Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones is for the better part of four decades: A living legend. It just so happens that he now is officially considered a Grammy-winning rapper as well.

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