Skip to main content Skip to footer site map

Nas on Performing at the Kennedy Center

Critically acclaimed hip-hop artist Nas describes his experiences writing “Illmatic” in the projects of NYC and performing it twenty years later at the Kennedy Center. Two decades after the album’s release, Nas teamed up with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington D.C. to stage a symphonic rendition of “Illmatic,” one of the most revered albums in hip-hop history. The new concert film Great Performances — Nas Live From the Kennedy Center: Classical Hip-Hop captures the energy and nostalgia of this collaborative performance and premieres nationwide Friday, February 2 at 9PM on PBS (check local listings).

[Instrumental Music] NAS: It's crazy you know, I wrote this in the projects in New York City.

And here we are in the capitol, you know, of America, Washington D.C.. And you know, a bunch of white people with strings and all of that. Playing, playing this album and they feeling it.

[Laughs] STEVEN REINEKE: When the idea came about of collaborating with Nas and the National Symphony Orchestra of course it was something I thought was very, very exciting, but at the same time a little daunting. Because this was the first time me, as a classical orchestra conductor, was going to branch out into the the realm of doing, you know, hip-hop music and rap music and the idea of finally tackling this genre was something I was really looking forward to doing.

NAS (rapping): I know I can be what I want to be. I think I'm gonna do the chorus first.

If I work hard at it, I'll be where I want to be. Yeah.

I know I can be what I want to be.

If I work hard at it, I'll be where I want to be.

NAS: Oh, man I hope the audience look at me like 'yo, look at this kid from the hood, on the stage where he belongs' because there are lots of great artists and writers and vocalists and whoever pianists and musicians that never make it to a stage like this.

So when you see one of them that do, you know you gotta say you know this guy's doing it for everybody who didn't make it there.

[Instrumental music]


PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.