Great Performances – Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop
Premieres nationwide Friday, February 2
13-time Grammy-nominated Recording Artist
Ever since a 17-year-old Nasir Bin Olu Dara Jones appeared on Main Source’s 1991 classic “Live at the Barbeque,” hip-hop would be irrevocably changed. Nas. Gifted poet. Confessor. Agitator. Metaphor master. Street’s disciple. Political firebrand. Tongue-twisting genius. With music in his blood, courtesy of famed blues musician father Olu Dara, the self-taught trumpeter attracted crowds with his playing at age four, wrote his first verse at age seven and, with 1994’s Illmatic, created one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time before he could legally drink.
With hundreds of thousands of words alongside entire books written on the album, it seems almost trite today to discuss the universal impact and acclaim that Illmatic had on rap. Put simply: the album has long been considered a masterpiece, not just in hip hop, but music as a whole, inspiring countless subsequent rappers and establishing Nas as the most vivid storyteller of urban life since Rakim and Chuck D.
1996’s It Was Written built upon Illmatic’s foundation, with “Street Dreams” and “If I Ruled the World” (the latter with Lauryn Hill) becoming radio staples and vaulting Nas into mainstream success. For his two 1999 albums, I Am… and Nastradamus, the rapper balanced commercial aspirations with extended metaphors and rough street anthems, carving out multiple identities that better reflected the rapper’s expanded worldview.
In 2001, the rapper released his fifth album Stillmatic at the height of his escalating battle with Jay-Z for King of New York. His next album, God’s Son, with the booming anthem “Made You Look,” would follow one year later and go gold. 2006’s Hip Hop is Dead sparked widespread debate on the veracity of the title, while Nas changed 2008’s Untitled from its original title Nigger, yet still incited intense polemics on race and politics in America.
As Nas entered his 30s, his scope and breadth became even more ambitious, transcending mere rapper status. The rapper is an avid UNICEF supporter, helping to raise funds for East African region Horn of Africa and teaming up with the family of George Harrison for the organization’s Month of Giving. He also donated all proceeds of Distant Relatives, his 2010 collaboration with longtime friend Damian Marley, to help end poverty in Africa. Nas’ desire for more has also led him to new business ventures. He serves as partner in the media company Mass Appeal and has invested in several different tech companies, including Lyft, Dropbox and more.
Nas’ catalog speaks for itself. With over 13 Grammy nominations, seven platinum albums and Top 5 rankings on MTV’s 10 Greatest MCs of All Time and The Source’s Top 50 Lyricists of All Time, the legendary rapper has never been one to play it safe. Whether it’s rhyming about politics, hip-hop, race, religion, other artists or personal relationships, Nas has consistently brought unparalleled and unprecedented levels of honesty to hip-hop, a trait often overlooked in the genre.
Executive Producer, Great Performances
Director, Performance & Arts Programming, THIRTEEN Productions LLC
As the executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning series Great Performances, David Horn oversees the development, production and programming of WNET’s national performing arts presentations on PBS. During his 38-year tenure with the series, Horn has twice received the prestigious Peabody Award and has been nominated for a Primetime Emmy more than 25 times, winning five. In 2015, he was honored with The Drama League’s Unique Contribution to the Theater Award for his vital work in bringing New York theater to a larger audience across America.
In addition to Great Performances, Horn is the creator and executive producer of the Emmy Award-winning series NYC-Arts, a weekly magazine program hosted by Philippe de Montebello and Paula Zahn that features the dynamic arts and culture scene in New York City. Horn is also the creator, executive producer and director of Theater Close-Up, a series dedicated to showcasing the innovative productions of New York City’s Off- and Off-Off-Broadway theaters. Hosted by Sigourney Weaver in its first season and Blythe Danner in its second, Horn ushered Theater Close-Up into its third year with the critically acclaimed three-play cycle The Gabriels from Tony Award-winning playwright and director Richard Nelson. Reinforcing his dedication to the theater, Horn has directed several productions in a new collaboration with BroadwayHD, including the historic live stream of the Broadway revival of She Loves Me, Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, starring Kevin Kline, Paula Vogel’s critically acclaimed play Indecent, and Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn.
After his successful productions of King Lear, Cyrano de Bergerac, Hamlet, and Macbeth, all of which were recognized with Best Actor Emmy nominations for Sir Ian McKellen, Kevin Kline and Sir Patrick Stewart, respectively, Horn continued his commitment to incorporate Shakespeare into the Great Performances repertoire. In 2015, Horn served as executive producer alongside Sam Mendes and Gareth Neame for the series The Hollow Crown in 2015.Filmed as lavish adaptations of Shakespeare’s history plays, The Hollow Crown featured Jeremy Irons, Tom Hiddleston and Ben Whishaw, and was followed by The Wars of the Roses, starring Tom Sturridge as Henry VI, Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard the III, and an all-star cast including Sophie Okonedo, Judi Dench and Hugh Bonneville.
Contributing to Horn’s extensive catalog of original productions, in the 90s, Horn created In the Spotlight, a series of primetime popular music specials, and was executive producer of Sessions at West 54th, garnering the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award for both in recognition of excellence in music broadcast programming. He was also the executive producer of two landmark miniseries for PBS, Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America in 2009 and Broadway: The American Musical, which garnered the Primetime Emmy for Non-Fiction series in 2005.
Horn has also produced numerous classical music concerts from Carnegie Hall, as well as internationally in Vienna, Salzburg, Rome and Paris. He has also played an instrumental role in producing a variety of regional operas, many of them world premieres, in San Francisco, Santa Fe, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston, where he won an Emmy for John Adams’ Nixon in China.
Horn’s multi-camera directing credits include two GRAMMY Salute to Music Legends specials, the Joan Baez 75th Birthday Celebration, Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek LIVE!, Steve Martin & Edie Brickell in Concert, Great Performances 40th Anniversary Celebration, multiple Andrea Bocelli concerts including his Central Park event, Pete Seeger’s 90th Birthday Celebration at MSG, Chess in Concert, Hitman: David Foster & Friends, We Love Ella!: A Tribute to the First Lady of Song, South Pacific at Carnegie Hall, Michael Bublé: Caught in the Act, Josh Groban Live at the Greek, and many others. From 1981 to 1983, Horn produced the series In Performance at the White House.