Queens, NY rapper and hip-hop icon Nas performed at the Kennedy Center with the National Symphony Orchestra in 2014 to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of his debut album and he likely checked off another item from his bucket list, performing Sunday with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown LA. Nas’ 1994 career-defining debut Illmatic was played in its entirety alongside the LA Phil and maestro Gustavo Dudamel. Nas remained on stage for the 75-minute performance for separate set joined by a backing band, including keyboardist Markay Fairley, DJ Green Lantern on the turntable, Margis Miles on drums and Brandon Shaw on upright bass.
“Two decades ago it started with a dictionary”, said Nas, in a shimmering white suit. “Let’s do this shit”.
The LA Philharmonic played Illmatic opener “The Genesis”, followed by the mood-setting “N.Y. State of Mind”, walking around the orchestra while rapping. Nas’ band was situated at the front of the stage with his mic stand. He said I got so many rhymes with a lot of emphasis and the fans clapped following every verse.
“Life’s A Bitch” was next, emphasizing the song title, and the words that follow, and then you die. “Do you see this y’all?” Nas pointed to the orchestra and they played a majestic finale.
“The universe can read your thoughts, be careful what you dream about. Create your own future, create your own destiny. The entire world is yours”. The inspiring moment was followed by “The World Is Yours”, with Nas looking back at conductor Dudamel to make sure he was all cued up, on a tune that naturally blends jazz instrumentation with hip-hop. DJ Green Lantern scratched a record throughout the song and the audience repeated back the lyric the world is yours.
“LA, I love it, and I love you”, said Nas. “Over 20 years, two decades, that’s crazy. Thank God”. Someone in the crowd said “thank you” and The Walt Disney Concert Hall erupted in applause. Nas asked who had the cassettes and his questions was met with more love from the audience.
The words effortlessly spilled out of Nas on “Halftime”, sounding particularly slick with the orchestra, pointing to the ceiling when he said when it’s my time to go. DJ Green Lantern rapped along with Nas on some key moments for some extra punch.
“I still can’t believe I’m here”, reminisced Nas. “A few good men, I lost a few. But they’re like the orchestra, orchestrating my moves from up there”. It was a powerful and fitting realization shared with his fans. He played “Memory Lane (Sittin’ in da Park)”, while a faint theme from the strings hummed, the trumpets and trombones had shining moments as well adding to the nostalgia of the piece. Nas shouted “talk to me!” to the fans and gave a fist bump to Dudamel at the song’s conclusion.
Shaw was grooving on the bass on “One Love”, while Nas’ storytelling abilities shined as he painted the picture of incarcerated friends in the song. The crowd joined in on singing “one love” with a finger up during the jazzy instrumentation, accompanied with Miles’ impressive beats, a record spinning and the horns picking up. Nas tapped his heart at the end and said “Thank you” during the huge applause.
Following “Represent”, on “One Time 4 Your Mind”, Nas stood at the mic center stage for his verses, while the flutes, woodwinds and horns chimed back, bouncing off of Nas’ rhymes.
“All the 90s kids, where y’all at?” Nas visited the sides of the stage to greet the crowd for “It Ain’t Hard To Tell” with its sample of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”, which was met with lively instrumentation and cymbals crashing at the end. The crowd was loving it. Nas thanked the orchestra and earned a standing ovation. “We did that!”
The LA Phil exited the stage during the long applause and Nas remained with his four band members for a solo set of various material and numerous hits.
“There’s nothing like the classic songs, but I like the new shit too”, said Nas. Nas commanded the stage for “The Message” and “Street Dreams”, he played “Nas Is Like”, “Wave Gods”, and fist bumped fans in the front row during “I Can”, which sounded particularly strong with live piano and the energy of the crowd. 1999 classic “Hate Me Now” got the venue crazy, with all fans standing and feeling the energy of the track. The crowd sang Lauryn Hill’s part on “If I Ruled The World” with their hands up. “Rare” off Nas’ 2021 album King’s Disease II made the set list, followed by 2002 smash “Made You Look” with the band sounding particularly hot. Nas even walked his way through the empty orchestra seats during the high energy song.
“27 Summers” was next, followed by Nas’ signature “1 Mic”, with the stage dark and the spotlight on the rap icon. The police car alarm picked up by the middle of the song, as Nas rapped All I need is one mic, all I need is one blunt, one page, one pen. The powerful lyric about the pen being mightier than the sword was met with a huge applause. Nas stepped away from the mic while rapping, so it became more and more faint and then he leaned forward, adding more volume. “Thank you for allowing me to live a dream in America”. Nas concluded with 2020 track “Ultra Black”, with Nas shouting out people of all different backgrounds, saying “Whatever you are, be ultra that. Peace and love”. Nas saluted his crowd and tapped his heart during a thunderous applause.