Earlier this month, Nas revealed he'd finished work on his first album since 2012's 'Life Is Good'. His performance at Reading Festival could have acted as a first opportunity to preview some of that new music, but instead the New York rapper chose to remind the NME/Radio 1 Stage crowd why the first 20-odd years of his career have been so brilliantly exciting.
He brought the perfect mix of drama and fun
"Let's have some fun tonight!" Nas frequently told the passionate crowd in front of him tonight. He certainly did his utmost to help make that happen, getting fans to "jump to the sky" and bantering with them. At one point, he asked his DJ Green Lantern to play something people might not know Nas listens to "in my spare time, smoking some weed, having a little cherry wine". Mid-set, he invited drummer Eddie Cole down from his kit to help him perform a cover of Eurhythmics' 'Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)', uniting everyone in a massive singalong.
While things were mostly kept light and upbeat, he closed his set in dramatic fashion with 'One Mic'. "Coward murder, coward murder," he said quietly before beginning the track, referencing the "law enforcement" in America and the spate of killings at the hands of police officers in recent years. Where he spent most of the set bouncing about the stage, for the finale he began sitting on the steps in front of his drummer and DJ, with the red and blue lights of emergency vehicles flashing on the screen behind him. When the beat lifted, he rose up and delivered his lines with an anger and passion befitting of the song's lyrics.
He showed respect to his fans, his heroes and new favourites
"This year's been crazy. Within this year we've seen so much happen," Nas reflected after 'What Goes Around', mentioning the sad passing of Prince and then casting his mind further back to the death of Michael Jackson, paying tribute with the 'Human Nature'-sampling 'It Ain't Hard To Tell'. "Music can last forever," he said at the end, before shouting out one of his new favourites keeping things going. "Somebody I really like, I hear is out here, called Anderson.Paak," he said to cheers. "Incredible, incredible." Nas' love isn't just for musicians, though. Throughout the set he bowed to his fans and gave them the best show he could to reward their loyalty.
He delved into his back catalogue to collate a killer setlist
When you've been releasing records for 12 years, you're bound to have an absolute arsenal of tunes to choose from. Nas certainly does and he picked some of his finest cuts for tonight's performance. From opener 'Hate Me Now' to 1996's 'It Was Written', 'The Don' to the inspirational 'I Know I Can', it was a sublime setlist, but one song just sneaked above the rest. 'Hip Hop Is Dead', written to call out the state of the genre back in 2006, was the set's funnest peak, turning the tent into a sea of air-punching fists and moving bodies. "I think hip-hop is alive tonight," Nas told the audience as the song came to a close. On the basis of tonight, we'd very much agree.