I wish I could say I didn’t cop NASIR, the new Nas album.
I wish I could say I wasn’t even excited to listen to it. I wish I could say I wasn’t hitting the refresh button on Apple Music all last Friday waiting for the damn album to hit the services so I didn’t have to resort to the janky-ass YouTube stream.
But I was. My excitement trumped how I felt when I first heard Nas’ ex-wife Kelis recount their abusive marriage in detail. That late April interview triggered me in a way that news of other piss-poor-behaving celebrities had never done before.
Based on Kelis’ account, their defunct marriage mirrors my parents’ abusive (and also defunct) marriage. My very earliest memory is of my old man shouting down mama as she crumpled against the front door of the house in tears…a tiny version of me yelling at them to stop. But mama made it a point to wait for me to become an adult before she told me that they traded blows.
When my 6-foot father struck her, my mother – 5-feet-3 inches of military trained and west side Detroit-raised spitfire – struck back. It was just as Kelis described her scraps with Nas, and the details she laid out – including her willingness to take responsibility for her role – made me believe every single word she had to say.
Hearing the stories about my father’s actions as a young man introduced complications and made me look at him a bit differently; I’d be lying if I said I fully reconciled it to this day. Kelis’ story also made me perceive Nas much differently, and it evoked a much different feeling about the then-untitled NASIR, which was announced very shortly before the interview. For a little while, at least.
You see, Nas is my single favorite artist in my favorite music genre. He’s the rapper to whom I’ve compared all others for more than 20 years. Illmatic is the finest debut album of all time, and I’ve purchased four different versions of it over the last 23 years or so. For me, canceling Nas would be like canceling the very best parts of a genre that means everything to me, and I admit that I haven’t quite worked that out in my head yet.
I know that I’m in bountiful company when it comes to fans needing to deal with the reckonings of their favorite celebrities. The ascendancy of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements force important conversations that have not only punished persistently bad behavior, but force us to look inward regarding what we will tolerate. Tangentially, we’re also placing a sharp lens on how celebrities think, which is why many folks hit the big red abort button on Kanye West for his his Fisher Price My First Politics-ass opinions.
As a hip-hop fan, if I had to delete the music of every single legitimately misogynistic and homophobic artist who’s perfectly okay with profiting from diminishing black communities via the drug trade, my iTunes collection would consist only of Enya and scores from Ridley Scott films. It would be nice if Kanye actually shut the fuck up and channeled his energies into giving us a body of work as great as Graduation again, but I won’t dump my collection of his CDs because he’s got the intellectual capacity of a pile of sunflower seed shells.
My line is drawn at artists who hurt people. I can’t listen to R. Kelly talk about bodies calling anyone knowing the age of the bodies “calling” him. I could never throw Bill Cosby another penny knowing he’s likely assaulted enough women to fill a small college lecture hall. And here you have Nas, who allegedly left bruises all over the mother of his only son.
Like Cosby did for decades and R. Kelly continues to, Nas seems to be escaping the allegations relatively unscathed – he even had a nice write-up in Esquire that doesn’t once mention Kelis’ allegations. In a country that still doesn’t truly know how to deal with violence against women in general and black woman in particular, it’s no surprise that Kanye has gotten dragged much farther for his slavery comments than Nas has for laying hands on his wife.
Admittedly, I fell into this trash-thinking abyss for a brief moment, wondering if Kelis could have done something to provoke Nas to violently respond. I snapped out of it quickly by returning to my long-held ideas: virtually any grown-ass, able-bodied man can remove themselves from a woman, and there’s no real need to “defend” yourself with physical attacks unless she’s coming at you with a Howitzer. I also realized I would need to ask the same question of my mother, which brought home the absurdity even more.
I can put an asterisk over Nas’ record, call him a “bitch-made nigga” for hitting women and bask in the glow of the Boise National Forest-level shade that is Jay-Z and Beyonce dropping an album one day after his. But the fact remains: all my life I’ve had disdain for men who batter women, and I still let “Halftime” ride when it hits the shuffle like it’s the first time I heard it. That and I gave iTunes $7.99 for NASIR.
I think that makes me part of the problem.