As one of hip-hop’s gifted and apotheosized voices, there’s no question as to how the prestigious Ivy League college institution Harvard University created a fellowship dedicated to Queens-native rap legend Nas with the Nasir Jones Hiphop Fellowship.
And with a gesture so highly esteemed, it’s only right that the Illmatic artist help “scholars and artists that build on the rich and complex Hip-Hop tradition” unpack lyrics of his debut studio album and his single “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.”
Hip-hop in its own right has long been emblematized as a form of poetry, created with elements such as narrations, rhyme schemes and word play, just to name a few. Deconstructing the song bar-by-bar, Nas sat across from Elisa New, a Harvard poetry professor, to dissert some of the more abstract lines from the song. In the third verse, he elaborates on his metaphorical line, “Wisdom be leakin’ out my grapefruit, troop,” explaining the fruit as an analogy for your head and mind and “troop” as a collective group of people.
Later on, around the 1:45 mark, Professor New raises her own interpretation of a line from the track’s third verse as well. After Nas explains that a “break loop” is the piece of the record reserved just for the drum instrumental while cutting out samples, she further applauds his originative, shape-shifting ability to portray that concept in the single. She then connects the following line back to the “loops,” where Nas mentions giving mics “men-e-strual cycles,” a connection he didn’t realize existed until she mentioned it.
Nas goes on to discuss the nature of his language used in the song and much of his work while growing up in New York, describing how the neighborhood slang impacted his gift of songwriting with respect to word play and other poetic techniques.
“Everything is rhythm,” he elaborates. “I think everything is always moving everything. The world is always rotating. Nothing is still. So I talk from that point of view, that language around my neighborhood that everybody uses. And I don’t even recognize an outside world — especially back then.”
See the full discourse with Nas and Professor New in the video below.
(Photo: Poetry in America via Youtube)