[JPL] Hip-Hop Family Values

Jackson, Bobby bjackson at wcpn.org
Fri Dec 10 14:39:53 EST 2004

I loved the article Roy!  Stank you very much!

Bobby Jackson 

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Subject: [JPL] Hip-Hop Family Values 

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Hip-Hop Family Values

December 5, 2004

NASIR JONES, the 31-year-old rapper who is better known as Nasty Nas,
Nas Escobar, Nastradamus or, more simply, Nas, released his first album,
"Illmatic," in 1994. A densely textured, deeply lyrical portrait of life
in Long Island City's Queensbridge projects, the record signaled the
resurgence of the moribund New York hip-hop scene and helped pave the
way for Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z and a new generation of New York rappers.
The music press called it a hip-hop masterpiece; The Village Voice
called Nas "one of the most important writers of the 20th century." 

Its no surprise, then, that the appearance of Nas's eighth, and most
ambitious, studio album - the two-CD "Street's Disciple," which was
released Tuesday - has occasioned cover stories in leading hip-hop
magazines. More surprising is the amount of space magazines like The
Source and The Ave have devoted to a figure who doesn't fit the
archetypal hip-hop narrative: the rapper's father. But if Nas is no
ordinary M.C., his father, the Harlem-based singer, cornetist and
bandleader Olu Dara, is no run-of-the mill dad. 

Mr. Dara was born Charles Jones III, in Natchez, Miss., in 1941. His
father and grandfather were singers, and his great-uncles performed
alongside Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith in the Rabbit Foot Minstrel troupe.
Mr. Dara began his professional career at the age of 7 and went on to
play with the jazz stars Art Blakey, Henry Threadgill and Cassandra
Wilson, to collaborate with the writers Rita Dove and August Wilson, to
lead his Okra Orchestra and Natchezsippi Dance Band, and to record two
critically acclaimed solo albums. He met Nas's mother, Ann Jones, in
Brooklyn, in 1964, and married her the next year. (The couple divorced
in 1985; Mrs. Jones died of breast cancer in 2002.) Today, Nas is
engaged to the singer Kelis, whose own father, the saxophone player and
preacher Kenneth Rogers, played with Mr. Dara many times over the years.

Mr. Dara, who played the trumpet on Nas's debut, sings and plays on 2 of
"Street's Disciples" 25 tracks, and the sepia-toned video for its lead
single, the bluesy "Bridging the Gap, " features father and son
performing in front of a billboard-size panorama of family photographs.
"Bridging the gap from the blues to jazz to rap," Nas explains in the
song's first verse, "the history of music on this track."
Nas's record company, Columbia, has played up the connection, perhaps to
emphasize that Nas, who is 10 years into his solo career and sells well
into the millions, has never been closer to his roots. But the
collaboration stretches as far back as Nas and Mr. Dara can remember. 

"I started him on trumpet at 3 or 4," Mr. Dara said a few days before
Thanksgiving, in an interview that took place during a family dinner at
a Midtown steakhouse. "He was a little phenom, playing on stoops in the
neighborhood," and for the after-work crowd on Eastern Parkway in

"I never gave him lessons - he had a natural knack for musical
instruments - but his lip swelled up, and I told him to chill out until
he got to be 7 or 8," Mr. Dara continued. "He cried, hard, but by the
time he was 7 and we'd moved to Queensbridge, he'd lost interest." 

Mr. Dara, who looks much younger than his 64 years, is smaller and
slighter than his son, but the two men have the same easy way about
them. Over dinner, each spoke tenderly to the other, and both said they
had never had a fight or
argument: even Nas's dropping out of school, after the eighth grade, was
"a joint decision," they both said. In subsequent years, Nas would spend
some time dealing drugs; his best friend was killed and his brother
shot. "I was separated from Nas's mother at the time, so I couldn't
protect him as much as I wanted to," Mr. Dara says. 

"For us," Nas says, "family values are what they are due to how a family
survives. A family that's brutalized, racially profiled, systematically
destroyed. How does that family survive? We survive one way, that family
survives another way. But in hip-hop, there's no one else who comes from
a musical family that's around, that's relevant, that can come together
like we have." 

"That's a powerful message - and a dangerous one, because a lot of
people don't want to see a black man with his father," Nas continued.
"But this is our story, our blues.
Nas speaks of Nas's travels. Olu speaks of Olu's travels.
And we got together to say that maybe if the today's father sticks
around, he can influence his child to be an Olu or a Nas." 

Nas's lyrics draw heavily on his experiences in the projects.
"Everything I do is gangsta," he says. "The style is gangsta. The voice
is gangsta. I like the street. The street is all I know. I don't like
the soft, Negro rappers." 

But for all the grit and fury in Nas's music, it's easy to hear echoes
of his father's relaxed style and all-encompassing record collection in
Nas's flow, which is swift, swinging and jazzy. "The concepts are the
same," Mr.
Dara says. "And the storytelling. We came into the world at different
times, and we see the world differently. But we are father and son, you

"Actually," Nas says, "I admire his career more than mine.
My thing is the thing of the hip-hop star. Bodyguards and all of that.
He traveled the world and went places I was scared to go, while I stayed
here and took the easy route."

And though his records outsell Mr. Dara's 40 to 1, Nas has found that
his brand of celebrity isn't necessarily better.
"Olu knew all of New York, but he was cool walking down the street," Nas
says. "People who see me on the street say, Oh, Nas, I love you! Then
they run to the next guy they see on TV. I wish the real people were
into me and I made a living off them alone." 

If Mr. Dara's experiences have encouraged Nas to root his music in
deeper soil than most hip-hop histories allow for, both men see
themselves as part of a musical conversation that refuses to acknowledge
aesthetic and generational divides. "What some people call a split, we
call creativity," Mr. Dara says. "Black music, black art - it changes.
We're making this stuff all the time, every moment. You can take a ride
into Harlem right now and you'll hear blues, jazz, gospel, hip-hop -
right there, all in one place." 

As his father scans the dessert tray, Nas adds: "Hip-hop wasn't
mainstream when I was a kid. It wasn't considered an art form. There
weren't really any rich rappers. I got into it because that's what I
loved. It's what my neighborhood was. It's what I was. And now, we're
finally going to see hip-hop get old. Were going to see it have the same
life span as jazz or B. B. King. When I'm 60 years old and LL Cool J has
a show, I'll be in the front row. I mean, who else am I going to go



Roy Durfee
P.O. Box 40219
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87196-0219
rdurfee2003 at yahoo.com
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