As a Hip Hop lover this made me happy. But as a J Cole Stan this was like waking up on Chirstmas morning when you were 12.
Below you will find out the context of this seemingly routine “remix” and understand the importance of it. Once you understand the layers involved in it you will realise what this means to the art of Hip Hop, the legacy of one of the greatest lyricist to ever bless the mic and a young king.
“Let Nas Down” is the second last song on his sophomore album Born Sinner (2013). Cole produced the track with the help of Nate Jones sampling Fela Kuti’s song “Gentleman”. The saxophone rift and marching drums work together excellently to set the atmosphere.
In this song we witness a vulnerable and truthful J Cole. As rap listeners we are more accustomed to hearing rappers put down their peers in order to climb the ladder and show they are on top (prime example 50 and Ja Rule). Cole however tributes a whole 4 minutes and 35 seconds to his idol and living legend of the game Nas. There is a mix of emotions and feelings in this tribute, you can sense a strong respect and admiration but also a bitterness and defiance.
-Cole tells Vibe: In hip-hop there’s not a lot of love. There’s not a lot of love being spread. It’s always like ‘I’m stuntin’ on you raps, or I’m better than you raps’. It’s not a lot of ‘Yo man, I idolize you raps.’
Cole vented hard on this song. The thoughts and pressure that was torturing him for the last year and a half materialized on this track. The song is split into 3 parts by the 3 verses.
The intro is an exert from Nas’ song “Nas Is Like” and begins the song paying homage to his idol. The hook also contains a respectful shoutout to Nas, Pac and NO I.D (3 of his biggest influences).
The first verse sets the stage for the story, detailing how Cole idolised and studied Nas, meeting him on tour and Nas saying he was a fan.
“Hov askin’ where’s the record that the radio could play
And I was strikin’ out for months, 9th inning feeling fear
Jeter under pressure, made the biggest hit of my career
But at first, that wasn’t clear, niggas had no idea
Dion called me when it dropped, sounded sad but sincere
Told me Nas heard your single and he hate that shit
Said you the one, yo why you make that shit
I can’t believe I let Nas down
Damn, my heart sunk to my stomach, I can’t believe I let Nas down
I got defensive on the phone, resentment was in my tone, fuck it”
This is where we first see Coles insecurities and the pressure he was facing. He had his back against the wall with Jay Z (head of Rocnation Label) not releasing his first album until he could drop a high selling radio song and the single that saved him was “Work Out” (“When I made that song, it was a triumph” Cole speaking on the making of Work Out). The radio loved it but it received very negative reviews from his core fan base (when I first heard Work Out I felt like I was betrayed, I didnt want to accept the fact that Cole SOLD OUT!). Nas was no different and he hated the single. ‘Yo, why did he do that? Why did he put out that song? Don’t he know he’s the one? He ain’t gotta do that.’ – Nas quote to NO ID (legendary producer that both artist’s have a s regarding “Work Out”)
Verse 2 see’s Cole trying to reason with himself on why he did what he did.
“I couldn’t help but think that maybe I had made a mistake
I mean, you made “You Owe Me” dog, I thought that you could relate”
The tone is completely different in this verse. Cole is trying to defend himself and was blaming it on the pressure he was facing from the label. Cole then took a counter jab at Nas calling him out about his radio friendly club song “You Owe Me”. He finishes the verse with the lines
“I let Nas down, I got no one to blame, I’m ashamed I let Nas down
But this is God’s plan, you could never understand, fuck it”
This is a big call from Cole “this is in Gods plan, you could never understand, fuck it” Cole is done with feeling sorry for himself that he disappointing Nas. This was more than just Nas and him, this was bigger than them. God has a bigger plan.
Verse 3. Cole knows he sold out with “Work Out” but goes into detail why he sold out. We get a clear picture on what he meant by “This is in Gods plan”. He had a plan all along, unlike most rappers who sell out for the aim of making money (radio songs and club bangers) Jermaine sold out with the purpose of expanding his fan base and spreading the truth.
“If I could get them niggas to listen outside my core then I can open a door
Reintroduce ’em to honesty, show ’em that they need more
The difference between the pretenders and the Kendrick Lamars”
Cole compares himself to Christ who died on the Cross for our sins. Though that may be a crazy comparison there are a few similarities. Instead of dying on the cross Cole took the fall by releasing “Work Out” and it tainting his core fans perception of him (HOW YOU GON SELL OUT COLE YOU MEANT TO BE THE TRUTH). In knowing the risk, he still went ahead with the purpose of SAVING HIS PEOPLE.
“Apologies to OG’s for sacrificin’ my art
But I’m here for a greater purpose, I knew right from the start”
“Don’t cry mama, this the life I choose myself
Just pray along the way that I don’t lose myself
This is for the nigga that said that hip-hop was dead
I went to Hell to resurrect it, how could you fail to respect it”
This is one of the best parts of the song. Jermaine went to the dark side for a moment with “work out” and he hopes that he doesn’t get caught up in that life. There are no names mentioned but we all know who this is directed to. Nas is often heard saying Hip Hop is dead (see 2006 Album “Hip Hop Is Dead” and the self titled song from the album “Hip Hop Is Dead”). Throughout the song we sense Cole feeling ashamed of himself but the last line shows him sticking up for himself and what he believes in no matter who opposes it (even his idol). Jermaine went through hell after the release of “Work Out” but he did it to resurrect Hip Hop and bring truth back to the game. He was doing basically what Nas was promoting his whole career. HOW COULD HE FAIL TO RESPECT IT?
BUT DID HE RESPECT IT?
For Context – Story Time
Three days after Cole completed “Let Nas Down” he was doing a show in Houston with Naughty By Nature and Future. The following morning on the first flight out at 6:30am he randomly bumped into Nas on first class (second time ever meeting him). “As soon as i seen him, I knew this was fate,” he says. “This album had so many moments that let me know that I was doing the right thing, that was one of ’em.” Cole tells B.E.T. Turns out that Nas was sitting right behind him. Even more of a coincidence it turns out that at the time he bumped into Nas he was playing “Let Nas Down” on his laptop for his homie. Cole used this opportunity to show Nas the song. Nas was seated behind Cole when he played the music. “A minute into the song he’s like beating my chair! Just overall he was wild. The look on his face was like honored that I would make that, and also, highly impressed. That was a huge moment for me.”
This is what Nas said after he heard the song
-“Listen to the record he made and admire him as a poet. As one of these new dudes on fire and listening to what he was saying it’s like it was speaking right to me. And umm umm I couldn’t help it know what I mean? You can even help yourself it was like meant to be”
Exact Nas quote from interview with power 106
Shortly after this interview we received a big surprise. Nas responds with releasing “Let Nas Down Remix Ft Nas” or “Make Nas Proud”. “We’ve been working on this for the past two weeks,” Cole said. “I knew, but it still didn’t matter. It was still a major moment.” – Cole direct quote in regards to the making of “Made Nas Proud”. It was like God answered our prayers and bestowed us with a Hip Hop miracle.
The song begins much like the original, sharing the same intro exert from “Nas Is Like” and hook (Pac was like Jesus). One verse. All he needs is one verse (see “One Mic”) and Nas destroys the track. Nas’ response consists of a shoutout to his daughter, an ode to his younger days (taking rapping seriously, love for his mother and his rise to fame) and of course showing the “young king” Cole the respect he deserves, plus flexing his lyrical muscle and proving age doesn’t deter skill.
Nas wastes no time with trying to get his message across and that is evident with the first line of the verse.
“I ain’t mad at you, young king, this unsung song is haunting”
It is revealed that Nas went through his own pressures on his come up and can relate to Jermaine. Then he drops one of my favorite lines of the song. This shit is just crazy.
“The first album freedoms and them fourth album pressures
A big difference between ’em but I get why you said it
Radio records are needed, I just wanted it to bring the warning
Global warming to that cold world you was breathing
That’s some advice I never got”
This is a direct response to Coles jab of “you made You Owe Me dawg, I thought that you could relate”. Nas explains that in your debut album you have full creative control to be who you want to be and which direction you want to pave your career in. When your coming up to your fourth album you are under pressure that wasnt present during your debut album. You have record companies wanting more money and in turn diluting the product to suit the masses. When he made “You Owe Me” he was under massive pressure from his label (just like Cole), so he can understand why he said that BUT “Work Out” was the lead single from Cole’s debut album while “You Owe Me” was a single from Nas’ fourth album. I mean could you imagine if “You Owe Me” was on Illmatic …… Really. Think about it.
Nas knows that radio records are necessary to make a big splash in the game. Extremely clever wordplay by Nas.
1. Cole’s slogan/motto is “Cole World” which is derived from Cold World. (Cole World No Blanket Son – The truth no lies)
2. global warming – warning to the truth Cole was preaching (global warming to that cold world you was breathing) Global warming kills a Cold World.
Nas is trying to warn Cole that even though radio records are necessary to achieve major success in the game make sure you don’t get caught up with it. The radio records are going against the Cole World (truth) he is spreading. Radio records taint your core fans perception of you and turns you into a industry sheep like majority of the rappers. Nas wants Cole to stick with his artistic integrity and keep on spreading TRUTH. We see a veteran passing down valuable advice he didn’t receive to the heir of the throne hoping that Cole wont make the same mistakes Nas did.
“While you was writing down my rhymes I was just trying to show you
That if you say what’s on your mind, you can stand the test of time
Now I’m playing Born Sinner loud, saw you live, rock the crowd
Like wow, you made your nigga Nas proud”
From the time Cole was studying Nas’ rhymes on his bedroom wall growing up to the present the same thing remains and thats truth. If you say what is on your mind you can stand the test of time. Nas knows exactly about that. Over 20 years after he dropped his debut album and the issues he rapped about are still relevant in these modern times.
“So you ain’t let Nas down
It’s just part of the game, becoming a rap king, my nigga
You ain’t let Nas down
How that sound? Here the crown, pass it to you like nothing, nigga
You ain’t let Nas down”
Nas finishes his verse by reminding Cole about his destiny. For a rap fan you can see this is the gracious handing of the torch from a legendary veteran to the upcoming king.
The song ends with Nas giving his own rendition of the original hook, instead shouting out his own influences.
“Long live the idols, may they never be your rivals
Slick Rick was like Jesus, G Rap wrote the Bible
Now what you’re ’bout to hear’s a tale of glory and sin
Large Professor’s my mentor, that’s how the story end”
-That was an amazing feeling, man,” J. Cole tells VIBE. “You got to understand how much I used to listen to Nas and [I] still do. He felt that it was important enough to respond. And to create a moment, like people [were] calling me like ‘When I heard Nas’ part I cried.’
P.S seen Cole perform Work Out live twice and now that’s my shit haaaa can’t even deny it.
check out the songs below